The inscription is composed in five hexameter verses, laid out over two long, and one short line:
[δόγματ]ος ὀρθοτόμου ταμίης καὶ ὑπέρμαχος ἐσθλός,
ἀρχιερεύς θεόπνευστος ἐδείματο κάλλος ἄμετρον + |
[Ἀντίπατ]ρος κλυτόμητις ἀεθλοφόρους μετ' ἀγῶνας,
κυδαίνων μεγάλως θεομήτορα παρθένον ἁγνὴν |
Μαρίαν πολύϋμνον ἀκήρατον ἀγλαόδωρον. +
v. 1. [δόγματ]ος Sartre, [+ δόξης] ὀρθοτόμου Waddington || v. 3. [Ἀντίπατ]ρος Sartre, [Ἀντίπατρ]ο[ς] Waddington
'+ The treasurer and noble champion of writings on the orthodox dogma, the archpriest inspired by God, constructed this immeasurable beauty +, [Antipat]ros, famous for his prudence, who experienced victorious contests (aethlophoroi agones), who greatly honoured the Mother of God (Theometor), the pure Virgin, the much-sung Mary, the undefiled dispenser of splendid gifts. +'
Text: IGLS 13/1, no. 9119. Translation: P. Nowakowski.
Saint NameMary, Mother of Christ : S00033
Saint Name in SourceΜαρία
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Literary - Poems
Evidence not before460
Evidence not after470
Activity not before460
Activity not after470
Place of Evidence - RegionArabia
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcBosra
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Bosra
Sakkaia / Maximianopolis
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsBequests, donations, gifts and offerings
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - bishops
SourceOne of the largest basalt lintels in Arabia, broken and lost at the right-hand end. W. c. 4.30 m. Fine lettering. Decorated with carvings of leaves. There is no published detailed description.
First documented by William Waddington in the 1860s, and published in 1870 with a drawing. When recorded, the lintel was reused over the main gateway of the citadel at Bostra, facing its interior. The stone was apparently broken into three conjoining fragments after it had been mounted above the gateway. Seen and photographed by Maurice Sartre in the 1970s and republished by him in 1982. The edition in Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten is based on Sartre's readings.
DiscussionIn terms of its lettering and of the literary skills of its author, both Sartre and Waddington rightly consider the present inscription an object of very high quality (if not the highest in the whole late antique Hauran, comparable only with the dedicatory inscription for Saint *Sergios in Izra/Zorava, see: E02065). The poem is in five hexameter verses which praise an archbishop of Bostra, for the construction of a magnificent church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The location of this sanctuary is unknown and is not discussed by the editors. However, given the preserved length of the lintel, we can assume that it was a very large structure.
The poem is rich in epic phrasing. Waddington and Sartre note that it abounds in terms characteristic of epic poetry, as exemplified by the so-called Homeric Hymns, and the works by Eurypides (Ion and Women of Troy). Aglaoodoros/'dispenser of splendid gifts', used in verse 5 was an epithet of Demeter, klytometis/'famous for his prudence' (verse 4) of Hephaistos, polyymnos/'much-sung' (verse 5) of Dionysos, and akeratos/'undefiled' (verse 5) of Andromache.
Importantly, the dedicatee, Mary, is depicted by the author of the poem not only as the pure Virgin, but also as an especially successful intercessor and dispenser of heavenly gifts. She is also described by a specific epithet theometor/'mother of God' which had been used, for example, in reference to Olympias, mother of Alexander.
The name of the founder of the church is largely lost. Waddington restored it as Antipatros, and identified this figure as Antipater, archbishop of Bostra, mentioned in the Life of Saint Euthymios by Cyril of Skythopolis and in the Life of Sabbas the Sanctified. Antipater is said there to have held the see of Bostra under the emperor Zeno (457-474), and to have written several treatises against the teachings of Origen and against Eusebios of Caesarea, which are now mostly lost. In spite of this, Antipater himself was well remembered by the eastern Church as a brilliant polemicist, and was himself venerated as a saint in a later period. Sartre points out that among the preserved fragments by Antipater we also find a sermon on the Assumption of Mary, which he interprets as a sign of peculiar devotion to the Virgin, parallel to the statements of our inscription. The archbishop of our inscription is, likewise, said to have been a fierce defender of the orthodox faith, who was involved in many 'victorious contests' (aethlophoroi agones), probably disputes with heretics. As the same terms are used to describe the sufferings and testimony of martyrs, one can suppose that the efforts of our bishop to protect his dogmatic opinions, and the fact that he was exposed to heretics' attacks, are in a way compared with martyrdom by the author of the poem. Maurice Sartre, as well as Reinhold Merkelbach and Josef Stauber, see the identification of our archbishop as Antipater, as very probable.
This identification of our church's founder as Antipater is the basis for establishing the approximate date of the poem. If this is really Antipater of Bostra, the inscription must date to c. 460-470.
Merkelbach, R., Stauber, J., Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten, vol. 4 (Stuttgart: Teubner, 2002), no. 22/42/05 (after the edition by Sartre; with a German translation).
Sartre, M. (ed.), Les inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie, vol. 13/1: Bostra: nos. 9001 à 9472 (BAH 13, Paris: Librairie orientaliste P. Geuthner, 1982), no. 9119 (with a French translation by René Mouterde).
Waddington, W.H., Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie (Paris: Firmin Didot Frères, Libraires-Éditeurs, 1870), no. 1914 (and drawing no. 1917).
Sartre-Fauriat, A., "Georges, Serge, Élie et quelques autres saints connus et inédits de la province d'Arabie", in: Fr. Prévot (ed.), Romanité et cité chrétienne. Permances et mutations. Intégration et exclusion du Ier au VIe siècle. Mélanges en l'honneur d'Yvette Duval (Paris: De Boccard, 2000), 309.