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E04336: Greek inscriptions and graffiti found in the martyr shrine at the North Church at Nessana/Auja Hafir in the Negev desert (Roman province of Palaestina III): the epitaph for a presbyter naming his place of burial a martyr shrine (martyrion); an invocation, probably of the God of *Sergios (soldier and martyr of Rusafa, S00023) and *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030); and two inscriptions/graffiti in cursive script, of uncertain purpose, naming various saints. One of them is dated 464. Others: probably 5th-7th c.

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posted on 2017-11-08, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Inscription 1:

Carved on a chalk voussoir from Room 16. H. 0.35 m; W. 0.54 m. Letter height 0.02 m. Found on the floor in the southeast corner of the room. Originally probably an element of the middle arch. Traces of red paint inside the carved letters. Another, scarcely legible inscription overlaps lines 5 and 6. The stone was removed and deposited in the Palestine Museum in Jerusalem (now the Rockefeller Museum). The editors offer a good photograph.

+ κατετήθη ὁ μακά-
ριος Θώαμος ὁ πρεσβ(ύτερος)
ἐν τούτου τοῦ ἁγίου μαρ-
τυρίου Δίου εἰκάδι τοῦ μην-
ὸς τοῦ ἔτους τριακοσιοστοῦ πεν-
τηκοστοῦ θ΄. τοῦ δὲ Χ(ριστο)ῦ βασιλί(α) τι-
μὴ καὶ τὸ κράτος τοὺς ἀξίους ἡ-

'+ (Here) was laid the blessed Thoamos (= Thomas), presbyter, in this holy martyr shrine (martyrion), on the twentieth (day) of the month of Dios, in the year three hundred fifty ninth. The Kingdom of Christ, (His) honour, and (His) power to those worthy of Him!'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 35. Translation: G.E. Kirk & C. Bardford Welles, lightly adapted.

The epitaph is dated according to the era of the province of Arabia. The date corresponds to 6 November AD 464. It names the burial place a 'martyr shrine'/martyrion, and on this expression rests the identification of the function of this part of the church. Another epitaph from the same area (I. Nessana, no. 37, found in Room 14) also records a burial, but it names this sector a 'holy place'/hagios topos.

Inscription 2:

Scarcely legible text, carved on a fragment of a chalk slab. Dimensions not specified. Letter height 0.04 m. Found in Room 16.

[+ ὁ θ(εὸ)ς τοῦ] ἁγί(ου) Σεργίου
[καὶ τοῦ ἁγίο]υ Στεφάνου

2. [καὶ ἁγίο]υ Kirk & Bradford Welles

'[O God] of Saint Sergios, [and of Saint] Stephen!'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 43.

Inscriptions 3 and 4:

For the two 'calendars', see $E04337.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

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

Saint Name in Source

Σέργιος Στέφανος μάρτυρες

Image Caption 1

Inscription 1. From: I. Nessana, Plate XXXI.

Image Caption 2

Inscription 2. From: I. Nessana, 154.

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Funerary inscriptions 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

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy


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.


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. 35, 38, 41, 43. 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), 118, no. 637; 134, no. 709; 145, no. 744. Whately, C., "Camels, soldiers, and pilgrims in sixth century Nessana", Scripta Classica Israelica 35 (2016), 121-135.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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