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E03603: Floor mosaics with Greek inscriptions from the basilica at Tell Aar, c. 40 km to the northwest of Ḥamāh/Epiphaneia (Roman province of Syria II, probably within the bishopric of Apameia), commemorating the paving of a church, termed ekklesia, in 375/376, and the restoration of the same sanctuary in 434/435, this time termed a shrine of the *Apostle(s), Apostoleion.

online resource
posted on 2017-08-24, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Inscription 1:

West end of the nave. The inscription is divided into two texts set next to each other within tabulae ansatae (respectively H. 0.57 m, W. 2.22 m, letter height 0.06-0.075 m; H. 0.58 m, W. 2.22 m, letter height 0.05-0.09 m) framed by a rectangular border with a braided motif (H. 1.67 m, W. 2.50 m). Black letters on white background.

ἐπὶ Δημητριανοῦ καὶ Ἡλιοδώρου
πρεσβυτέρων καὶ Βαρσύμα τοῦ
χριστιανοῦ ἐφεστῶτος ἐψηφαλο-
γήθη ἡ ἐκλησία τοῦ θ(ε)οῦ ζπχ΄ ἔτους

'Under Demetrianos and Heliodoros, the presbyters, and Barsymas, the Christian supervisor (ephestos), was paved with mosaics the church (ekklesia) of God. In the year 687.'

εὐχοὶ Ῥουφίν[ου]
καὶ Φλαουια[νοῦ]
καὶ Μαριαν[οῦ]

'Vows (?) of Rouphinos, and Flavianos, and Marianos.'

Text: Jouejati & Haensch 2010, no. 1a-b.

Inscription 2:

East end of the nave, in front of the platform preceding the apse. Rectangular mosaic panel framed by a tabula ansata. H. 0.87 m, W. 0.95 m. The last two lines are written below the lower frame.

ἐπὶ τοῦ ἁγιο(τάτου) [ἐπισκόπου Ἀλεξάνδ]ρου καὶ
Θαλασ(σ)ίου ὁσι̣ο[(τάτου) - c. 10 -]νος ὁ θα̣υ(μασιώτατος)
καὶ ἐνλογι(μώτατος) ΛΥ̣Ι[.....ὑπέρ τ]ῆς ἑαυτοῦ
σωτιρίας καὶ τ̣έ[κνων καὶ τοῦ] ἁγιοτάτου
Ἀντιόχου πρεσβ[υτέρου τοῦ ἀδ]ελφοῦ (ivy leaf)
αὐτοῦ καὶ ὑπὲρ ἀν[απαύ]̣σ̣εως ̣τ̣ῆς ψυχῆς τοῦ
τῆς εὐλαβοῦς μνή̣μ̣ης Γεμέλου τοῦ αὐτῶν ἀ-
δελφοῦ ἀνενέωσεν [κ]αὶ ἔκτισεν τὸ ἅγιον Ἀποσ-
τόλιον σπουδῇ Πέτ[ρ]ου εὐλαβ(εστάτου) διακ(όνου) ἐπὶ τῆς οἰ-
κονομίας Βασιλίου ἐ[ργολάβου (?)] ἀρξαμέ(νου) τοῦ ἔργου ςμψ΄

1. Ἀλεξάνδ]ρου Feissel in BE (2011), 599, - - -].ου Jouejati & Haensch || 10. ςμψ΄ Feissel, sμψ΄ = ζμψ΄ or ςμψ΄ Jouejati & Haensch

'Under the most holy [bishop - - -] and Tahlassios, the reverend [- - -] the most admirable (thaumasiotatos) and most eloquent (ellogimotatos) [- - - as a vow for] his salvation and of his children, [and of the] most holy Antiochos, the presbyter [and] his brother (ivy leaf), and as a vow for the repose of the soul of Gemellos of most pious memory, their brother, was restored and built the holy Apostoleion. By the zeal of Petros, the most pious deacon, under the management (oikonomia) of Basilios, the [contractor/ergolabos (?)], the work having been started in the year 746 (or: 740).'

Text: Jouejati & Haensch 2010, no. 3 with a slightly altered completion of line 1 by D. Feissel. Translation: P. Nowakowski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Apostles (unspecified) : S00084 Peter the Apostle : S00036 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Thomas, the Apostle : S00199

Image Caption 1

Inscription 2. From: Jouejati & Haensch 2010, 205.

Image Caption 2

Inscription 1. From: Jouejati & Haensch 2010, 204.

Image Caption 3

Plan of the church. From: Jouejati & Haensch 2010, 203.

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia Syria with Phoenicia Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Apamea on the Orontes Ḥamāh Tell Aar

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Apamea on the Orontes Thabbora Thabbora Ḥamāh Thabbora Thabbora Tell Aar Thabbora Thabbora

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Officials Aristocrats Other lay individuals/ people Merchants and artisans


The mosaic inscriptions were first published in 2010 by Rafah Jouejati and Rudolf Haensch. They were also discussed in an extensive note in the Bulletin épigraphique in 2011 by Denis Feissel, in the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum, and in L'Année Épigraphique by Jean-Baptiste Yon. A total number of eight floor-mosaic inscriptions were found by a local at Tell Aar in 1988. It seems that the site once housed more inscribed floor mosaics but that these had been looted prior to the reporting of the site. The site was first examined by Kamel Chéhadé, director of the Museum of Maarret en-Nouman. The most important of the mosaics were lifted and restored. They were, however, kept in the courtyard of the museum and suffered from exposure to weathering. Only later were they secured by placing them on walls and in niches. Other panels were left in situ. Therefore, the dimensions and original location of some of them are not clear. The only guide to their initial placement is a drawing made in 1988 by Ahmad Gharib, and recovered by Jouejati. Solely based on this drawing, the plan of the building was identified by Jouejati and Haensch as a five-aisled basilica, covering an area of about 800 m2, presumably with a nave preceded by a rectangular platform. The nave does not feature in the drawing, but the platform was partially excavated and identified as such in 1988. The drawing shows the presence of two extensions protruding from the south and north aisles, at their east end, which were identified as a transept. All these features make the church an exceptional site. The editors compare it with such famous five-aisled basilicas as the basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, and similar foundations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Constantinople, and Castellum Tingitanum in North Africa. Similar transepts can be found only in the basilica of St. John Lateran, and at Serjilla in the Limestone Massif of North Syria. Despite its splendour, it is unlikely that our church was an imperial foundation.


Based on the contents of the inscriptions, the editors distinguished two phases of the existence of the church. They tentatively ascribed our Inscription 1, Inscription 2, and their no. 8, respectively to at least three phases of the existence of the building, while they deemed the dating of other panels uncertain. Specific dates, were, however plausibly established by scholars commenting on the editio princeps, and a complete list is available in the SEG. Inscription 1 is dated according to the Seleucid era, and the date corresponds to AD 375/376 (Inscription no. 8, very fragmentarily preserved, is probably also dated to 376 (February), but little more than the dating formula is preserved there.). We learn that this is the date of the paving of the church with floor mosaics, which can be plausibly identified with the completion of the building. The editors note that we have just a handful of Syrian churches whose construction dates back to the 4th c. (cf., for example, IGLS 2, no. 566: Baqirha, July AD 357; E00714: Anasartha, April AD 369). The early date is perhaps the reason for the use of peculiar phrasing (e.g. ἐψηφαλογήθη for 'paving'), a feature observed also in early Syriac inscriptions from the region (see E03538). Importantly, in this phase the church is simply termed ekklesia, and we find no reference to any cult of a saintly figure. The sanctuary is said to have been built under two presbyters, Demetrianos and Heliodoros, by the efforts of one Barsymas who styles himself 'Christian'. The editors stress that the designation is extremely rare in building inscriptions, and again the early date could explain its occurrence. Feissel argues, however, that the term 'Christian' is here used in the sense of 'orthodox = Nicene Christian', and that Barsymas was a supporter of Ioannes, Nicene bishop of Apameia, backed also by Meletios of Antioch. Based on a drawing by Kamel Chehadé, Feissel argues that the name Ioannes (possibly of the bishop) could be restored in Jouejati & Haensch 2010, no. 7. The second part of Inscription 1 says that three more people contributed to the construction. Inscription 2 commemorates a restoration, probably followed by a major refurbishment or extension of the building (ἀνενέωσεν καὶ ἔκτισεν), dated by the Seleucid era to either AD 428/429 or 434/435 according to the editors, or certainly to 434/435 according to Denis Feissel (the precise date depends on the interpretation of numbers in the dating formula). This time the shrine is termed τὸ ἅγιον Ἀποστόλιον/'the Holy Apostoleion'. The designation was used to denote sanctuaries of one or more Apostles, in particular *Peter and *Paul (but also, for example, the church of John the Apostle in Ephesos is so named in the acts of the council of Ephesos 431, see the comments under E00716). The editors cite the church of the Holy Apostles in Madaba (E02465; dated 578/579), which however is described differently, and literary sources that use this term: Sozomen (regarding the Basilica of Peter in Rome), and Cyril of Scythopolis (regarding the church of Thomas the Apostle in Scythopolis). Three brothers are involved in this restoration (a principal donor whose name is lost: probably a lawyer/legal advisor or a person pursuing a similar profession as suggested by his epithets, Antiochos the presbyter, and the deceased Gemellos). Based on the contents of these two inscriptions, the editors suggest that the sanctuary was built on the estate of a man of considerable importance, probably employed in the imperial administration, and later controlled by an influential family. They suggest (p. 201, note 52) that Barsymas, the principal founder, could be identified with Rost Sohunum/Barsymas, a Persian and the author of a history, captured by the emperor Julian (PLRE I, 148), or with Barzimeres, tribunus scutariorum in 374-377 (PLRE I, 846). Denis Feissel is, however, very sceptical about this idea. Other inscriptions hypothetically dated to the same phase: mention more donors, Barnebous, Rhiannos (?), Monimos (or Mokimos), Heliodoros, Kerdon, and Gerontios (Jouejati & Haensch 2010, no. 2 = SEG 60, 1656), Heliodoros the itinerant presbyter, Barsymas the presbyter, Domninos the deacon, Markianos, and Heliodoros (Jouejati & Haensch 2010, no. 7 = SEG 60, 1651, c. AD 379?); repeat that the church was restored as a vow for the repose of Gemellos (Jouejati & Haensch 2010, no. 4 = SEG 60, 1653, AD 434/435: here termed [ἅγιος] οἶκος); commemorate the restoration of a specific mosaic panel by one Symeonios basilikarios (an equivalent of paramonarios/guardian of the church?) under the itinerant presbyter Georgios, and the deacons Kosmas and Ioannes (Jouejati & Haensch 2010, no. 5 = SEG 60, 1655, 6th/7th c.). Inscription no. 6 (= SEG 60, 1654, dated: the year 862 of the Seleucid era = AD 550/551 according to Feissel) is also of importance as it records the existence of a σηκρητάριον in the church. The editors compare it with secretaria known as meeting places of 4th and 5th c. councils in Spain, Gaul, and North Africa. Alternatively, they suggest that this could be a room for administrative purposes or ecclesiastical arbitration (episcopalis audientia), or simply a sacristy. A similar term, σήκρητον, is used in 268/269 in a letter of Paul of Samosata regarding the cathedral of Antioch.


Edition: Jouejati, R., Haensch, R., "Les inscriptions d’une église extraordinaire à Tell Aar dans la Syria II", Chiron 40 (2010), 187-208. Further reading: Jouejati, R., "Les mosaïques d’une église apostolique à Tell Aar", Zeitschrift für Orient-Archäologie 5 (2012), 272-293. Reference works: L'Année épigraphique (2010) [2013], 1702-1709. Bulletin épigraphique (2011), 599. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 60, 1649-1656.

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