The order of lines in the inscription is inverted: line 1 is situated at the bottom of the panel and the others are set in order above it, line 4 at the top. Here we present a continuous text (inverted from the original):
+ ἐγένετο τὼ πᾶν ἔργ<ο>ν τῆς ἀνεγέρσεως τοῦ οἴ-
κου τῶν ἁγίων μαρτύρων ὑπὲρ σωτηρίας κ(αὶ) ἀντηλή-
μψ<ε>ως Σαμουήλου κ(αὶ) τῶν αὐτοῦ δι<α>φερόντων κ(αὶ) ὑπὲρ ἀν-
απαύσ<ε>ως τῶν π<ρ>ολαβό<ν>των, ἐν μη(νὶ) Ἰουνίῳ ἰνδ(ικτιῶνος) ιδ΄ ἔτους ϛσ΄
4. ΠΟΛΑΒΟΤΩΝ = πολυετῶν/'elders' Landau, πολυβώτων/'many feeding (parents)' or Πολυβότων/'Phrygians from Polyboton' Avi Yonah, π<ρ>ολαβό<ν>των/'predeceased' Feissel, πολ<υ>βότων/'many-feeding (benefactors/alm-givers?)' Di Segni
'+ The whole work of the erection of the house (oikos) of the Holy Martyrs was accomplished as a vow for the salvation and succor of Samuelos and those around him (i.e.: his household), and for the repose of the predeceased, in the month of June of the 14th indiction, the year 6200.'
Text: CIIP 1/2, no. 848 with a different interpretation of line 4 by D. Feissel in BE (2012), 472. Translation L. Di Segni, lightly modified.
Saint NameUnnamed martyrs (or name lost) : S00060
Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, ob. early 4th c. : S00103
Saint Name in Sourceἅγιοι μάρτυρες
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Archaeological and architectural - Internal cult fixtures (crypts, ciboria, etc.)
Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)
Evidence not before490
Evidence not after600
Activity not before490
Activity not after600
Place of Evidence - RegionPalestine with Sinai
Palestine with Sinai
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcJerusalem
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Jerusalem
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsVow
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesOther lay individuals/ people
Foreigners (including Barbarians)
SourceRectangular mosaic panel framed by a tabula ansata. W. 2.30 m. Other dimensions are not specified. Set at the west end of the carpet mosaic of the nave in a chapel in Khirbet Sheibun near Beit Ṣafafa.
Ruins of the chapel (7 m x 8 m) were excavated in the 1950s by Yohanan Landau on behalf of the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums. It was annexed to the north side of a vaulted underground crypt with six burial places with lead coffins (two for infants and four for adults, apparently a family tomb). The chapel had a nave and two aisles, and was accessible through a doorway in the east wall. It is possible that the chapel was built later than the crypt.
The inscription was first published by Michael Avi-Yoanh and Jacob Landau in 1957, and a photograph by Shmuel Yeivin in 1955. It was later reprinted by Ruth and Asher Ovadiah in their corpus of mosaic pavements from Israel (1987), and re-published in 2012 by Leah Di Segni in the Corpus inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae. For a complete bibliography see Di Segni's edition.
DiscussionThe inscription commemorates the construction of the chapel where it was found, as a vow for the salvation of Samuelos and his family. The chapel is termed oikos (which is a common designation of, for example, a church). We learn that it was dedicated to some unnamed Holy Martyrs, their names are, however, not specified and it is not clear whether any relics were deposited there.
Bellarmino Bagatti argued that the martyrs venerated in the chapel were the Forty Martyrs of Sebasteia. However, Leah Di Segni rightly points out that there is no evidence which would support Bagatti's claim. References to unnamed martyrs are frequent in the East and the martyrs mentioned here can be virtually any group (or the term could refer to a purely accidental collection of relics of saints not associated in hagiography). Di Segni hypothetically suggests that the dead buried in the adjacent tomb might have been considered as martyrs in the 6th c., and the chapel could have been erected for their veneration. But again, this is a very fragile hypothesis.
The last line of the inscription contains a dubious word: ΠΟΛΑΒΟΤΩΝ. Several different explanations have been suggested, for example: Landau understood it as a corrupted form of πολυετῶν/'elders'; Avi Yonah as πολυβώτων/'many feeding (parents)' or Πολυβότων/'Phrygians from Polyboton', and Denis Feissel as π<ρ>ολαβό<ν>των/'predeceased' (for a complete list, see the apparatus in CIIP 1/2). Di Segni, however, notes that the term occurs also in 'an unpublished inscription pertaining to the Iberians (Georgians)', and concludes that the authors of our inscription could also have been of Georgian origin. As another parallel she evokes CIIP 1/2, no. 977 (E02752), where two deacons (?) of the church of the Holy Sepulchre are allegedly termed πολ<υβ>ότων, probably the 'many-feeding' ones, i.e. involved in charity. In Bulletin épigraphique (2012), 472 Denis Feissel argues for his earlier restoration (regarding both texts).
Dating: the inscription ends with a dating formula, which records the month of June, the 14th indiction year and the 6200th year of an unspecified era. The era year was originally read by Avi-Yonah as 206, and computed by him according to the era of Diocletian as June 490, which is two months before the beginning of the 14th indiction. Therefore, Ovadiah set the date in the nearest June of the 14th indiction year, i.e. June 491. Di Segni argues that the first sign of the date should be read as 6000 (,ς΄) and that we have here a reference to a creation era. Unfortunately, as Di Segni states, neither in the Alexandrine creation era nor in the Byzantine one does the year 6200 corresponds to the 14th indiction. Therefore, she suggested that the date could be calculated according to the Georgian era (= AD 596), or another creation era. However, Pierre-Louis Gatier (2011, 14-15) and Julien Aliquot (2014, 428) underscore that the actual date of the inscription is still to be determined, and none of the so far suggested possibilities is entirely convincing. Gatier thinks that the inscription might date to the Islamic period, but the actual date is yet to be established.
The pottery found in the chapel and crypt suggests a date in the 6th c.
Cotton, H.M., Di Segni, L., Eck, W., Isaac, B., Kushnir-Stein, A., Misgav, H., Price, J.J., Yardeni, A. and others (eds.), Corpus inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae: A Multi-Lingual Corpus of the Inscriptions from Alexander to Muhammad, vol. 1, part 2: Jerusalem, nos. 705-1120 (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2012), no. 848 (with further bibliography).
Ovadiah, R. & A., Hellenistic, Roman and Early Byzantine Mosaic Pavements in Israel (Rome: "L'Erma" di Bretschneider, 1987), 80-81, no. 119.
Yeivin, S., "Archaeology in Israel (November 1951 – January 1953)", American Journal of Archaeology 59 (1955), 166, Pl. 53, figs. 24-25.
Landau, J., Avi-Yonah, M., "[A note on the date of the [Greek] inscription found at Beit Ṣafafa]", Alon 5-6 (1957), 40-43, Pl. V/3 (in Hebrew).
Aliquot, J., "Inscriptions de Jérusalem romaine et Byzantine. Àpropos d'un corpus récent", Syria 91 (2014), 428.
Di Segni, L., "The Beit Safafa inscription reconsidered and the question of a local era in Jerusalem", Israel Exploration Journal 43 (1993), 157-168.
Di Segni, L., "The date of the Beit Safafa inscription again", Israel Exploration Journal 47 (1997), 248-254.
Di Segni, L., "Christian epigraphy in the Holy Land: new discoveries", Aram 15 (2003), 247.
Feissel, D., "Notes d'épigraphie chrétienne", Bulletin de correspondance hellénique 100 (1976), 277-281.
Gatier, P.-L., "Inscriptions grecques, mosaïques et églises des débuts de l'époque islamique au Proche-Orient (VIIe-VIIIe) siècles", in: A. Borrut, M. Debié, A. Papaconstantinou, D. Pieri, J.-P. Sodini (eds.), Le Proche-Orient de Justinien aux Abassides : peuplement et dynamiques spatiales : actes du colloque "Continuités de l'occupation entre les périodes byzantine et abbasside au Proche-Orient, VIIe-IXe siècles," Paris, 18-20 octobre 2007 (Bibliothèque de l'Antiquité tardive 19, Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), 14, 15-16 (for comments on the use of creation eras in late antique inscriptions).
Madden A.M., Corpus of Byzantine Church Mosaic Pavements in Israel and the Palestinian Territories (Leuven - Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2014), 28, no. 25.
Meimaris, Y., Sacred names, saints, martyrs and church officials in the Greek inscriptions and papyri pertaining to the Christian Church of Palestine (Athens: National Hellenic Research Foundation, Center for Greek and Roman Antiquity, 1986), no. 614.
L'Année épigraphique (1993), 1628; (1994), 650; (2015), 711.
Bulletin épigraphique (1964), 522; (1977), 541; (1989), 998; (1994), 650; (2012), 472.
Chroniques d'épigraphie byzantine, 691.
Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 16, 850; 20, 493; 26, 1672; 47, 2052; 53, 1385.