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E04343: Greek inscriptions/graffiti invoking the God of *All Saints, the intercession of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033), *Sergios (soldier and martyr of Rusafa, S00023), *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030), probably the *Forty Martyrs (of Sebasteia, S00103, or of the Sinai Desert, S01620), and saints whose names are lost. Found in Room 7 at the North Church at Nessana/Auja Hafir in the Negev desert (Roman province of Palaestina III). Probably 5th-7th c.

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posted on 2017-11-09, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
A large number of fragmentary inscriptions and graffiti carved on chalk blocks were found in Room 7 of the North Church, probably the main archive of the sanctuary. From among them the editors published legible texts in 11 entries (I. Nessana, nos. 52-62). The following contain explicit references to saints:

Inscription 1:

On a chalk voussoir. H. 0.33 m; W. 0.44 m. The text overlaps a scratched rosette. Letter-height 0.01 m. The editors identify the script as semi-cursive.

(a) ὡ θε(ὸς) πάντον τõν ἁγίον μ(ν)ήσθετη
..̣τῆς δούλε<ς> σου κ(αὶ) τοὺς τέκνους [- - -]
εὐχῇ τῆς Θεοτόκου Μαρίας κ(αὶ) [- - -]

κ(αὶ) πάντον τõν ̣ἁ̣γ̣ίον [- - -]

(b) Στέφανος
κ(αὶ) Μηνᾶς ̣ο̣ἱ ̣υ̣ἱ-
οὶ τοῦ μακαρίου
ΒΙΤΑΛ̣Ι̣ΜΟΝ. Κύρ(ιε),
βοήθι, ἅ̣γιε
Σέργι(ε) [- - -]

5 ΒΙΤΑΛ̣Ι̣ΜΟΝ = Βιταλῖ̣νον (?) Kirk & Bradford Welles

(c) Στέφανο(ς)
κ(αὶ) Μηνᾶς οἱ [υἱο]ὶ
μακαρίου ΕΤΑ..ΟΝΟΥ
[- - -]

(a): 'O God, of All the Saints, remember [- - -] your servant and her children [- - -] through the intercession of the God-Bearer (Theotokos) Mary and [- - -] and of All the Saints.'

(b): 'Stephanos and Menas, sons of the blessed Vitalinos (?). O Lord, help, Saint Sergios [- - -]!'

(c): 'Stephanos and Menas, sons of the blessed ... [- - -].'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 52.

Inscription 2:

On a fragmentary chalk block, with preserved right-hand end of a tabula ansata. H. 0.32 m; W. 0.20 m. Letter-height 0.01 m. Rectangular script. The stone was removed and deposited in the Palestine Museum in Jerusalem (now the Rockefeller Museum).

τοῦ δο]ύλου σοῦ
]ου καὶ
μακαρ]ίας (?) Πορφυρίας
τ]ῆς αὐτοῦ εὐχῆς
]ν Σεργίου καὶ
μάρτυρες τεσσα]ράκοντα (?) καὶ
] θυγατρὸς αὐτοῦ
]ν..ς +

6. μάρτυρες τεσσα]ράκοντα (?) Kirk

'[- - - of] thy servant [- - -] and [- - -] of the blessed (?) Porphyria [- - -] through his intercession/prayer [- - -] of Sergios and [- - -] the Forty (?) [Martyrs - - -] of his daughter [- - -] ... +'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 54.

The inscription is poorly preserved, and we cannot say whether it commemorates a dedication, or is just a record of an individual's prayer on behalf of his or her family. The completions by Kirk are hypothetical: lines 5 and 6 may contain references to Saint Sergios and the Forty Martyrs (of Sebasteia or of the Sinai Desert), though one must remember that the latter group of saints only occurs very rarely in inscriptions, and the placement of the names of the saints in the middle of the text would also be unusual. If Kirk is right, one could perhaps lightly modify his restoration, e.g. τ]ῆς αὐτοῦ εὐχῆς | [καὶ τῶν ἁγίω]ν Σεργίου καὶ | [τῶν μαρτύρων τεσσα]ράκοντα/'through his prayer and of [the saints] Sergios and the Forty [Martyrs].'

Inscription 3:

Scarcely legible text in semi-cursive script on a fragmentary chalk voussoir. H. 0.32 m; W. 0.47 m. Letter-height 0.01 m. The inscribed face is badly weathered. Found in situ, in the east middle arch in the room.

The editors offer a schematic drawing and an incomplete transcription of several lines:

καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου ... [δού]λου σ[ου] ... ἁγίων ... Φεσάν(ης?) καὶ ... ὑπὲρ ... ἅγιε Στέφ[α]νε καὶ ἅγι[ε Σ]έργ[ιε βο]ηθῶσιν. ἀμήν.

'And of Saint ... thy servant ... saints ... Phesanes (?) and ... for ... may Saint Stephen and Saint Sergios help. Amen.'

In the lower right-hand corner, in big letters: Ἰσαάκι(ο)ς/'Isaakios'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 60.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

All Saints : S01151 Unnamed saints (or name lost) : S00518 Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033 Sergios, soldier and martyr of Rusafa : S00023 Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, : S00103 Forty Martyrs of the Sinai Desert :

Saint Name in Source

πάντες οἱ ἅγιοι Μαρία Σέργιος, Σέργις Στέφανος Τεσσαράκοντα μάρτυρες Τεσσαράκοντα μάρτυρες

Image Caption 1

Inscription 1. From: I. Nessana, 157.

Image Caption 2

Inscription 2. From: I. Nessana, 158.

Image Caption 3

Inscription 3. From: I. Nessana, 161.

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.


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. 52, 54, 60. Further reading: Figueras, P., "Monks and monasteries in the Negev desert", Liber Annuus 45 (1995), 425-430. Figueras, P., "Greek inscriptions from Nessana", in: D. Urman (ed.), Nessana. Excavations and Studies, vol. 1(Beer-sheva 17, Beer-Sheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press), 222*-242*. 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. 16; 84, no. 530; 118, nos. 641-642; 134, no. 711. 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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