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E04370: Letter of a cleric, mentioning a feast (heorte) of *Sergios (soldier and martyr of Rusafa, S00023), probably annual offerings to the monastery and church of *Sergios and *Bakchos (soldier and martyr of Barbalissos, S00079) at Nessana, and possibly to the intercession of two saints which saved a city. Written on papyrus in Greek. Found at Nessana/Auja Hafir in the Negev desert (Roman province of Palaestina III). Probably early 7th c.

online resource
posted on 2017-11-15, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
On a papyrus sheet: 18 cm x 13.5 cm, written across the fibres. The left-hand edge, together with a large portion of the text is lost.


[ -ca.?- ] τὴν πόλ[ιν] ̣σεσω̣σμένοι ταῖς πρεσ̣βείαις
[ -ca.?- ε]ἰσεγονόμην ἵνα εὕρω τὸ κακαιθιν
[ -ca.?- ] . . ̣ε[.]. ̣ε[. . .]̣τ̣ω̣κ̣ρ̣[ ̣ ̣ ̣] καὶ οὐχ ηὗρον ̣τ̣ὸ
[ -ca.?- ]̣β̣ι.̣ν ἔπεμψα αὐτῇ διὰ
(5) [ -ca.?- τοῦ]το τὸ κακααθιν καὶ π̣έμπω αὐτῇ
[ -ca.?- ]. .μην παρασχεῖν καθ' ἐνιαυτὸν τῷ ἐκεῖσε
[ -ca.?- τοῦ ἁγίου Σεργίου] καὶ Βάχχου. μάθε ὅτι οὕτως εἶπον ὑμῖν ἵνα
[ -ca.?- ]. ̣ω[.] τριμί̣σιν. ἐὰν οὖν ἐστὶν θέλημα θ(εο)ῦ
[ -ca.?- τ]ῆς ἑορτῆς τοῦ ἁγίου Σεργίου καὶ ̣πλήρου
(10) [ -ca.?- π]̣ολλὰ προσκύνησον ἐξ ἐμοῦ τὸν κύριν
[ -ca.?- ] . . .μ̣οι ἀκούσω περὶ τῆς ἁγίας αὐτοῦ
[ -ca.?- ].ωθεντ̣α ̣ε̣ι̣ν. . . . . . .τῷ ἀββᾷ Στεφάνῳ
[ -ca.?- τ]̣ὸ̣ν ἀββᾶν Ἰωάνν̣ην τὸν γέροντα

(15) [ -ca.?- ] ̣γ̣νῶθι ὅτι οὐδὲν η̣[ὕ]ρ̣ομεν πρὸς τὸ
[ -ca.?- ]. . ̣ο̣ι διὰ τὸν κύριον
τῷ εὐλαβ(εστάτῳ) θεοσεβ(εστάτῳ) δούλῳ Χ(ριστο)ῦ [ -ca.?- ]


'[- - -] having saved the city by the intercessions [- - -] I arrived in order to find the kakaithion [- - -] and I did not find the [- - -] I sent her by [- - -] this kakaithion and I am sending to her [- - -] to furnish annually to the (church/monastery?) there [- - - of Saint Sergios] and Bakchos. I spoke this way to you, understand, in order to [- - -] third of a solidus. If therefore it is God's will [- - -] feast (heorte) of Saint Sergios and pay [- - -] pay my cordial respects to my lord [- - -] I shall hear concerning his holy [- - -] (give?) to abbas Stephanos [- - -] (greet) abbas Ioannes, the elderly (= venerable?) bishop.


'[- - -] I want you to know that we found nothing [- - -] through the Lord.'

'To the most humble, most God-fearing, servant of Christ [- - -].'

Text: P.Nessana 52. Translation: C.J. Kraemer, lightly adapted.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Sergios, soldier and martyr of Rusafa : S00023 Bakchos, soldier and martyr of Barbalissos : S00079

Saint Name in Source

Σέργιος Βάχχος

Type of Evidence

Documentary texts - Letter Late antique original manuscripts - Papyrus sheet


  • 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 - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Places Named after Saint

  • Monastery

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miraculous protection - of communities, towns, armies

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics – unspecified 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 (about six rolls, parts of rolls, and many fragments; they belong to a 6th c. archive, and deal mainly with property rights). The second group was found in Room 8 of the North Church (damaged and mostly fragmentary documents, including some blank sheets); the room where they were kept is unlikely to have been a proper archive room, but rather a place where unneeded documents were deposited. In 1987 Dan Urman resumed archaeological exploration of the site on behalf of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, but no new papyri have been discovered. The literary papyri were published in 1950 by Lionel Casson and Ernest Hettich, in the second volume of the Excavations of Nessana. Among them is a fragmentary account of the miracles and martyrdom of *George (soldier and martyr of Diospolis/Lydda), see E04385. The documentary papyri, which we discuss here, were published in 1958 by Casper Kraemer Jr., in the third volume of the Excavations at Nessana. They can be divided into the following groups (termed 'archives' by their editors): 1) Legal documents concerning private transactions of soldiers (loans, a notice of tax transfers, marriages, inheritance, division of property, etc.), which cover the period between 505 and 596. Drafted by people with good knowledge of legal phrasing. This was probably the archive of the unit named the 'unit (arithmos) of the Most Loyal Theodosians', originally thought to have been based at the garrison of Nessana. This identification was later questions as the Theodosians are mentioned in just one papyrus, and could reside in the coastal city of Rhinokoroura/El Arish. It has been also suggested that this was one of the Palestinian units termed equites sagittarii indigenae in the Notitia Dignitatum (see Whately 2016, 122). 2) Five documents of one Patrikios (son of Sergios, grandson of Patrikios), abbot of the monastery of St. Sergios (to which the North Church in Nessana belonged), and of other ecclesiastics. Patrikios' father was likewise abbot of this monastery. The dated papyri come from the period 598-605. Sergios died in 592, and Patrikios in 628, as is known from their epitaphs (see I. Nessana, no. 12). As members of their family served in the military unit garrisoned at Nessana, Kraemer supposes that the two were involved in the depositing of Archive 1 in the North Church after the unit's disbandment in about 582-590. 3) Documents of Georgios, son of another Patrikios, and his son Sergios. Georgios' documents come from the period 682-684. He acts as a moneylender, and is possibly identical with an abbot who offered a column to the North Church (see I. Nessana, no. 77). Sergios, son of Georgios, appears more prominently. His papyri date to c. 682-689. He was a presbyter at the monastery of Sergios and Bakchos in 689, and (later?) its abbot. He acts also as an influential landowner, witness to other transactions, taxpayer, etc. 4) A small collection of documents of the Arab administration: written mainly in Arabic and Greek.


The editor identifies the letter as one sent by a cleric, whose name is lost. The precise aim of the letter is not clear, but the sender apparently asks the addressee for a favour. It is possible that a request for a donation to a saint on behalf of the sender is implied, as another letter from the same dossier contains a request for an offering to Saint Sergios on behalf of an ailing bishop (see E04361; E04369). If so, this practice was apparently widespread. In line 9, the sender mentions a feast (heorte) of Saint Sergios, and in line 6 an institution named after Saint Bakchos, and another saint whose name is lost. This is certainly Sergios, Bakchos' companion, and the institution must have been the monastery and church of Sergios and Bakchos in Nessana (the North Church). Interestingly, although the monastery was named after both saints, it was just Sergios who enjoyed there a lively cult, as several other documents refer to this feast, while we have no evidence of a commemoration of Bakchos. For this feast of Sergios, see also: E04361; E04367. Line 1 is intriguing: it seems to refer to the successful intercession of two or more saints (very possibly Sergios and Bakchos) in the saving of a city. The meaning of the term kakaithion, mentioned twice in the letter, is not clear. Dating: the editor dates the document to the early 7th c., based on other, dated documents from the same archive.


Edition: Kraemer, C.J., Excavations at Nessana (Auja Hafir, Palestine), vol. 3: Non-literary Papyri (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), no. 52. See also:;3;52 Further reading: 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. 628. Whately, C., "Camels, soldiers, and pilgrims in sixth century Nessana", Scripta Classica Israelica 35 (2016), 121-135.

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