University of Oxford
4 files

E04333: Greek inscriptions and graffiti found in the entrance hall at the North Church at Nessana/Auja Hafir in the Negev desert (Roman province of Palaestina III), invoking *Sergios (soldier and martyr of Rusafa, S00023), *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030), the God of Stephen and Sergios, and the God of unnamed martyrs. It is possible, but very unlikely, that *Bakchos (soldier and martyr of Barbalissos, S00079) was invoked together with Sergios in one of the texts. Probably 5th-7th c.

online resource
posted on 2017-11-07, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Inscription 1:

Carved on a stone lintel reused as the sill in the east doorway of Room 9. H. 0.25 m; W. 1.70 m. Letter height 0.02-0.025 m. Traces of red paint are preserved inside the letters. The inscription is on both sides of a cross within a circle.

εἷς θεὸς ὁ ἅγιε Στέφανε βοίθι-
̣β[οηθῶν] σον

'There is one God, the helper. Saint Stephen, help (us)!'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 27. Translation: G.E. Kirk & C. Bardford Welles, lightly adapted.

Inscription 2:

Sixteen sets of inscriptions and graffiti in cursive script, written by different hands, and containing complex invocations, were recorded on a chalk voussoir from Room 9 (H. 0.37 m; W. 0.47 m). The stone was removed from the site and deposited in the then Palestine Museum in Jerusalem (now the Rockefeller Museum). Below we retain the original numbering of the sets, and reproduce only those texts which contain direct references to saints. The readings are by George Kirk, aided by Sir Harold Idris Bell. The editors offer a good photograph of the inscribed face of the block.

(g) Lower middle sector. Letter height 0.02 m.

+ ἅγιοι μάρτυρες βοηθ(εῖτε)
τοῦ οἴκου Στεφάνου

'+ O holy martyrs, help the household of Stephanos!'

(j) Lower middle sector, below (g). Letter height 0.005-0.01 m. Cursive script.

+ Κ(ύρι)ε καὶ ἅγιε Σέργι(ε) [κ(αὶ)] Στέφαν(ε) βοηθ(εῖτε) Σελαμῖνος
(καὶ) Ζήνων (καὶ) Θέσου (καὶ) Εὐθυμία (καὶ) Στεφανία
κ(αὶ) Γεοργίου (καὶ) πάντες ἐν τοῦ καλο[ῦ] βίου
ἀπὸ μικρõν ἕος μεγάλον καὶ Κάσι(ος) (καὶ)
ἰνδ(ικτιῶνος) γ΄ Χοίαχ κγ΄

'O Lord, and Saint Sergios, and Stephen, help Selaminos, and Zenon, and Thaisos, and Euthymia, and Stephania, and Georgios, and all in the good life from small to great, and Kasios, and Selminas. In the 3rd indiction, on the 23rd (day) (of the month of) Choiak.'

(l) Below and to the left of (j). Letter height 0.01-0.015 m. Partly rectangular, partly cursive script.

Κ(ύρι)ε κ(αὶ) ἅγ̣ι̣ε Στέφαν̣ε κ(αὶ) ἅγιε Σέργι(ε)
βοητεῖτε [- - -]

'O Lord and Saint Stephen, and Saint Sergios, help [- - -]!'

(o) Lower left-hand corner. Letter height 0.02 m.

ΚΥΒ expanded by the editors as Κ(υρίο)υ Β[άχχου (?)]/'Of the Lord Bakchos' (possibly the martyr, or an ordinary person). We suggest a different expansion: Κύ(ριε), β[οήθει]'Lord, help!'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 30. Translation: G.E. Kirk & C. Bardford Welles, lightly adapted.

Inscription 3:

Written on a chalk block from Room 9. H. 0.27 m; W. 0.35 m. Letter height 0.015 m. Rectangular script. Removed from the site and deposited in the Palestine Museum in Jerusalem (now the Rockefeller Musem).

ὁ θε(ὸς) τοῦ ἁγίου Στεφάνου κ(αὶ) [τοῦ]
ἁγίου Σεργίου βοή(θη)σον Ἰωάνης
κὲ Μαρίε

'O God of Saint Stephen, and of Saint Sergios, help Ioannes, and Maria!'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 32. Translation: G.E. Kirk & C. Bardford Welles, lightly adapted.

Inscription 4:

Written on a chalk block from Room 9. Dimensions not specified. Letter height 0.015 m. Oval/cursive script. The inscription was scarcely legible, and the editors offered just a schematic drawing followed by a provisional transcription of several passages.

Στεφάνου ... καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου Σεργ(ίου) ... τοῦ δούλου ... μάρ(τυρος?) Στεφάν(ου) ... Φλαυίου

'[God?] of Stephen ... and of Saint Sergios ... (thy?) servant ... of the martyr (?) Stephen ... Flavios'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 33. Translation: G.E. Kirk & C. Bardford Welles, lightly adapted.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Sergios, soldier and martyr of Rusafa : S00023 Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Bakchos, soldier and martyr of Barbalissos : S00079 Unnamed martyrs (or name lost) : S00060

Saint Name in Source

Σέργις, Σέργιος Στέφανος μάρτυρες

Image Caption 1

Inscription 2. From: I. Nessana, Plate XXXIII.

Image Caption 2

Inscription 1. From: I. Nessana, 145.

Image Caption 3

Inscription 3. From: I. Nessana, 148.

Image Caption 4

Inscription 4. From: I. Nessana, 149.

Type of Evidence

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


  • 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)

Nessana Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Children Other lay individuals/ people


Nessana/Auja Hafir was an important town (actually termed a kome/'village' in documents) in the southwest Negev desert, located on the caravan route from 'Aila/'Aqaba to Gaza, and the pilgrim route towards Sinai, and is sometimes identified with the site of the hostel (xenodochium) of Saint George, visited by the Piacenza Pilgrim (see E00507; for an alternative identification, see E02006). The site was excavated by the Colt Expedition, led by Harris Dunscombe Colt, between 1935 and 1937, on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. Although the site had suffered serious damage during World War I, it soon yielded rich epigraphical evidence (more than 150 Greek and Nabataean inscriptions), and two invaluable collections of 6th-7th c. documentary and literary papyri, comprising several distinguishable archives. The first, smaller collection of papyri, was found in Room 3 of the South Church, the other in Room 8 of the North Church. It is thanks to these documents that the ancient name of the site - Nessana - was revealed. The Colt Expedition excavated two churches. The 'North Church' on the acropolis, probably monastic and housing a martyr shrine, they dubbed the Church of *Sergios and Bakchos. It is now known as Church no. 1. It was the biggest sanctuary in the town, and the presence of numerous graffiti suggests that it was a popular shrine, while its papyri show that it had close relations with the monks of Mount Sinai. The inscriptions we present here, come from this establishment. The second church, excavated by Colt was the 'South Church', presumed to have been dedicated to *Mary, Mother of Christ. It is now termed Church no. 2. The Colt Expedition also mentions the 'East Church'/the 'Monastic Church', which is probably the one that had been explored by Woolley and Lawrence, now termed Church no. 3, and a local cemetery. Inscriptions of different kinds were found in all of these locations. In 1987, Dan Urman resumed the archaeological exploration of the site on behalf of the Ben Gurion Univeristy of the Negev. His campaigns led to the discovery of three more churches in Nessana: the double church (= Church no. 4-5), and a small monastic chapel (= Church no. 6). As for the history of epigraphical research, Auja Hafir had been surveyed by several scholars interested in inscriptions well before the Colt expedition. They were: the Dominican Father La Grange, the German military chaplain Father Hänsler, Theodore Wiegand and Albrecht Alt, and two more Dominicans, Fathers Abel and Tonneau. The epigraphic finds of the Colt Expedition were first published in 1962, in the first volume of Excavations at Nessana. The expedition's epigraphist, George Eden Kirk, who made the transcriptions in the field, was, however, unable to finish the edition due to his induction into military service. The draft was forwarded to, and revised by, C. Bradford Welles, who claimed responsibility for the final shape of the text. A small group of new fragmentary inscriptions, found by Urman's mission, were published by Pau Figueras in 2004. This collection, however, yields no new evidence for the cult of saints.


The inscriptions are probably visitors' graffiti. Some of them suggest that the supplicants were named after the saints they venerated (e.g. Stephania in Inscription 2, addressing Saint Stephen). As suggested by the members of the Colt Expedition, the so-called 'North Church' comprises several buildings, the history of which can be accounted as follows: A small church dedicated to Stephen and Sergios (the excavators deduced the names of the patron saints on the basis of Inscriptions 2 and 3 in E04333) was built at the site before 464 (for the date, see Inscription 1 in E04336), and at some point thia was termed a 'martyrion'. Under the emperor Justinian, and probably with his aid, a large church was added to this establishment before 541, perhaps now dedicated to Sergios with his companion martyr Bakchos, but the old building ('martyrion') was still in use (see I. Nessana, nos. 24 and 25, the first of which is dated AD 584). In 601, the baptistery and the north chapel were added to the Justinianic church (see I. Nessana, no. 17 which commemorates the completion of the baptistery). Other annexes probably date to the extension of 601 or are slightly later. It is possible that the Justinianic re-building of the site was linked with the foundation of the Church of Sergios and Bakchos in Constantinople (EXXXX), an event which is said to have fostered the cult of Bakchos as Sergios' companion. The presumed introduction of the cult of Bakchos to Nessana did not, however, prove to be successful, as the saint is hardly ever invoked in visitors' inscriptions (see E04345).


Edition: Kirk, G.E., Bradford Welles, C., "The inscriptions", in: H.D. Colt, and others (eds.), Excavations at Nessana (Auja Hafir, Palestine), vol. 1 (London: British Schools of Archaeology in Jerusalem, 1962), nos. 27, 30, 32, 33. Further reading: Figueras, P., "Monks and monasteries in the Negev desert", Liber Annuus 45 (1995), 425-430. 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), 19, no. 15; 112, no. 612; 118, nos. 634-636; 134, nos. 706-708. Whately, C., "Camels, soldiers, and pilgrims in sixth century Nessana", Scripta Classica Israelica 35 (2016), 121-135.

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager