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E04345: Fragmentary Greek inscriptions/graffiti invoking *Sergios (soldier and martyr of Rusafa, S00023), *Bakchos (soldier and martyr of Barbalissos, S00292), the God of the two saints, *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030), and saints whose names are lost (possibly *Viktor, martyr of Egypt, S00749; or Viktor, martyr of Maiuma near Gaza, S00292). Scattered over unrecorded locations around the North Church at Nessana/Auja Hafir in the Negev desert (Roman province of Palaestina III). Probably 6th-7th c.

online resource
posted on 2017-11-09, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Inscription 1:

On a chalk fragment. H. 0.15 m; W. 0.30 m.

(a) On the right hand side of the inscribed face, possibly originally within a frame. The left hand-margin is probably preserved. Letter height 0.005 m.

τῶν ἁγίω[ν - - -]
Βίκτορος [- - -]
traces of letters (three lines)

'Of the saints [- - -] of Viktor [- - -]'

(b) To the left of (a). Much bigger letters, 0.03-0.04 m.

Μηνᾶ/'Of Menas'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 83.

The two texts, although published together, are unlikely to be two parts of the same invocation.

Inscription 2:

On a chalk fragment. Dimensions not specified. Letter height 0.01-0.02 m.

The editors offer a drawing, and a fragmentary transcription. Here we present all the letters legible in the drawing:



Text: I. Nessana, no. 86.

Line 2 probably contains the name Σέργιος/Sergios in the vocative form.

Inscription 3:

On a chalk fragment. Dimensions not specified. Letter height 0.015 m. Found in the proximity of the North Church, to the northwest of the hill where it is sited. Probably displaced from the church.

The editors offer a drawing, and a fragmentary transcription:

[ὁ θεὸς τῶν ἁγίων Σεργ]ίου κ(αὶ) Στεφά̣ν[ου - - -] μνήσθητι (?) Βίκτωρ̣ο[ς]. [ὁ θεὸς τοῦ] ἁγίου Βάχχου κ(αὶ) τοῦ ἁγί[ου - - -]

'[O God of Saints] Sergios (?) and Stephen [- - -], remember (?) Viktor! [O God] of Saint Bakchos and of Saint [- - -]!'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 89.

The lower part of the inscribed face of the fragment also bears letters. The inscription(s) in this sector may refer to donors: [καρποφο]ρο<ύ>ντων (?).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Sergios, soldier and martyr of Rusafa : S00023 Bakchos, soldier and martyr of Barbalissos : S00079 Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Viktor/Victor, martyr of Maiuma near Gaza : S00292 Viktor, son of Romanos, Egyptian martyr, ob. 303–311 : S00749

Saint Name in Source

Σέργιος Βάχχος Στέφανος Βίκτωρ Βίκτωρ ἅγιοι

Image Caption 1

Inscription 1. From: I. Nessana, 169.

Image Caption 2

Inscription 2. From: I. Nessana, 170.

Image Caption 3

Inscription 3. From: I. Nessana, 171.

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Graffiti Inscriptions - Inscribed architectural elements


  • 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

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. 83, 86, 89. 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), 119, no. 645; 134, no. 712. 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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