University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E04164: Painted Greek inscriptions (dipinti), one of them invoking the help of *Theodore (presumably the soldier martyr of Amaseia and Euchaita, S00480), accompanied by rough paintings of two saints (probably Theodore, and possibly *George, soldier and martyr, S00259). Found at Avdat/Oboda in the Negev desert (Roman province of Palaestina III), in a rock-cut tomb, converted in Late Antiquity into a dwelling. Probably 6th/7th c.

online resource
posted on 2017-10-17, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
The inscriptions and paintings were found in a former Nabataean rock-cut tomb, located on the slope of the acropolis hill, which was converted into a dwelling in the late antique period. The place was dubbed the 'Saints' Cave' by modern explorers, after the images of two saints.

The paintings show two standing male figures en face, with crosses on top of their heads. The upper figure is wearing a cloak and has a belt, probably with a sword attached, below his left arm. In his right hand he is holding a lance or a staff with a cross on top. The lower figure is wearing an ornamented tunic with a belt. In his left hand he is holding a small buckler, in his right hand a spear with a pennant, with which he is piercing a snake with a human face. He is also holding a cord tied around the neck of an animal, probably a horse.

Between the two figures is the small image of a camel-driver with his camel. The animal is carrying a kind of wooden platform on its back. Next to it there is a large cross within a circle, flanked by a cross and probably a christogram. One more man is perhaps depicted next to the horse.

The paintings are accompanied by the following inscriptions:

Inscription 1:

καλῶς ἔκτισεν
ὑγιένω[ν] ἀπόλ[αυε]

ὑγιένω[ν] ἀπόλ[αυε] Feissel in BE (1989), 1013, Ὑγιένω[ν - -] Ἀπολ(- -) Negev, υγιενω .. λπολ .. Alt

'He beautifully built. Enjoy good health!'

Inscription 2:

Κύριε βοήθηθι
καὶ ἀβάσ-
καντα τῷ
οἰκῷ σου

'O Lord, help! Free from envy and from harm may your household be!'

Inscription 3:

ο(ν) ὁ φθο-
νῶν λακισθῇ

ὁ φθο|νῶν λακισθῆ̣ Feissel in BE (1990) 956, ἀφθό|νων φ[υ]|λακῆς Negev, Alt

'Help! The envious, may he burst!'

Inscription 4:

βοήθε Οὐάλης Ἰωάνν[ου]
ἅγιος σου Θεό̣δω-


'O your (sic) saint Theodore, help Ouales son of Ioannes! May you live in wealth!'

Text: SEG 28, 1404, and 37, 1479.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Theodore, soldier and martyr of Amaseia and Euchaita : S00480

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Graffiti Images and objects - Wall paintings and mosaics


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Avdat/Oboda Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Private ownership of an image

Cult Activities - Miracles

Healing diseases and disabilities Miraculous protection - of people and their property Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures


The site was first recorded by Antonin Jaussen, Louis-Hugues Vincent, and Antonie-Raphaël Savignac during their expedition to the Negev desert in January/February 1904. The paintings and inscription were first described the same year in a report of their expedition (written by the surveyors, but signed by Marie-Joseph Lagrange and Paul Séjourné as those who communicated it to the editors of CRAI), and in 1905, this time under the names of the finders themselves (with a good drawing). In the 1910s the site was discussed by Alois Musil, and the inscriptions were republished by Albrecht Alt in 1921, in his corpus of inscriptions of Palaestina III. Avraham Negev visited the 'cave' during his excavations at Avdat in the 1950s. He noted that the text and paintings had faded away in many places, so both his editions (of 1978 & 1981) are based on Alt's text. Negev also offers a recent photograph of the wall. The text, as published by Negev, was examined and briefly commented on by Denis Feissel in the Bulletin épigraphique, where he offers a new interpretation of several lines.


The inscriptions are apotropaic texts, half magical formulas, half religious invocations, meant to protect the dwellers from envy, curses, the evil eye, and all other kinds of calamities. Notably, they are strongly bound to the depictions of the saints they surround, and Inscription 4 openly invokes Saint Theodore. We find similar formulas in nearby Nessana, see the comments by Feissel in BE (1990), 956. Jaussen, Vincent, and Savignac, the first surveyors who saw the dipinti, argued that the upper of the two saints was to be identified as Theodore, and the lower one as George. They based this supposition on the fact that in Byzantine hagiography George was often described as a soldier on horseback, slaying a dragon. However, a dragon also appears in the hagiographic texts associated with Theodore, likewise a soldier and holy rider. Furthermore, as one of the dipinti call for Theodore's protection, whilst they say nothing about George, and Theodore was venerated in the South Church on the acropolis, it is perfectly possible that both images represent Theodore (or Theodore and an unidentified fellow soldier saint). Even though a horse does appear in the image, the two saintly characters are shown on foot, resembling the reliefs of the soldier saints Theodore, George, *Longinos, and *Isidoros on column capitals from 'Aila (E02617, E02618), located to the south. Dating: The inscriptions and painting certainly belong to the phase of occupation of the tomb; they can be dated stylistically to the 6th or 7th c.


Edition: Negev, A., The Greek inscriptions from the Negev (Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1981), no. 44. Negev, A., "The Greek inscriptions from 'Avdat (Oboda)", Liber Annuus 28 (1978), 121, no. 44. Alt, A., Die griechischen Inschriften der Palaestina Tertia westlich der 'Araba (Berlin – Leipzig: Vereinigung wissenschaftlicher Verleger, 1921), 45, no. 147. Musil, A., Arabia Petraea, vol. 2, part 2 (Vienna: K. Akad. d. Wiss., 1908), 144, and fig. 114. Musil, A., "", Anzeiger der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien. Philosophisch-historische Klasse 44 (1907), 141. Jaussen, A., Vincent, L.-H., Savignac, A.-R., "III. 'Abdeh (Suite)", La Revue biblique (1905), 77-81 [Jaussen, A., Vincent, L.-H., Savignac, A.-R.], "Rapport sur une exploration archéologique au Négeb", Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (1904), 286-287. Further reading: Figueras, P., "Monks and monasteries in the Negev desert", Liber Annuus 45 (1995), 434. Negev, A., "Avdat, a caravan halt in the Negev", Archaeology 14 (1961), 128. Bulletin épigraphique (1989) no. 1013; (1990), 956. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 28, 1404; 37, 1479.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager