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E04352: Fragmentary Greek graffiti invoking the God of *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030), probably *Sergios (soldier and martyr in Rusafa, S00023), and saints whose names are lost. Scattered over unrecorded locations at Nessana/Auja Hafir in the Negev desert (Roman province of Palaestina III). Probably 6th-7th c.

online resource
posted on 2017-11-10, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Inscription 1:

On a chalk block. Graffiti are scratched on two adjacent faces. Dimensions of Face A: 0.16 m x 0.21 m; Face B: 0.19 m x 0.16 m. Letter height c. 0.02 m. The drawing published by the editors shows more letters than the transcription they offer. Below we present transcriptions based on the drawing:

Face A:
Κ(ύρι)ε ὁ θε(ὸς) τοῦ [ἁγίου]
Στεφάνου [- - -]
[- - -]
Τιμοθέ[ου - - -]

'O Lord, God of [Saint] Stephen [- - -] Timotheos [- - -].'

Face B:
+ CΙ
+ Κ(ύρι)ε ὁ θε[ός - - -]

'+ O Lord, God of [- - -]. Α Ω.'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 109.

Inscription 2:

On a limestone fragment. H. 0.34 m; W. 0.20 m. Letter height 0.02-0.03 m. The Greek texts are accompanied by an Armenian graffito. Found on the east side of the acropolis hill. Original location unknown.



'O Sergios (?) [- - -] save [- - -]. Praise (?)'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 104.

The editors suggest that line 1 contains the name Sergios in the vocative case, and that the text may be an invocation of Saint Sergios. The last three lines are within a rectangular frame and may belong to a different text.

Inscription 3:

On a chalk fragment. H. 0.33 m; W. 0.11 m. Letter height 0.01-0.02 m. The stone was removed from the site and deposited in the Palestine Museum in Jerusalem (now the Rockefeller Museum).

The editors publish a drawing with no transcription. In the drawing one can see the beginning of an invocation of a saint, probably Sergios or Stephen (+ ἅγιε C[- - -]), possibly references to donors ([καρποφορ]ούντων, [καρπο]φορουν[- - -]), and the formula 'remember' ([μνήσ]θητι).

Text: I. Nessana, no. 110.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Sergios, soldier and martyr of Rusafa : S00023 Saints, name wholly or largely lost : S01744

Saint Name in Source

Στέφανος Σέργιος

Image Caption 1

Inscription 1. From: I. Nessana, 178.

Image Caption 2

Inscription 2. From: I. Nessana, 179.

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 - 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.


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. 104, 109-110. 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), 134, no. 713. 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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