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E04371: Fragmentary account of a desert trading company/caravan (koinotes), containing a prayer for the intercession of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033), *John (the Baptist, S00020), and 'all the holy martyrs'. Written in Greek on papyrus. Found at Nessana/Auja Hafir in the Negev desert (Roman province of Palaestina III). Probably late 6th/early 7th c.

online resource
posted on 2017-11-16, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Written on a reused papyrus sheet, along the fibres. Of the entire papyrus, there survive 13 fragments measuring in total 48 cm x 32.5 cm. Semi-uncial hand.

The account was drafted by one Zonainos/Zunayn (named in line 33). The editors divide it into three sections: lines 1-11 are poorly preserved, it seems that they refer to the storage of barley and wheat; lines 12-29 contain and on-going record of a number of activities: iron smelting, purchasing camels and slaves, making payments to a guide, managing expenditures and receipts for clothing and food (this section deals also with offerings made to the 'Holy Mountain', probably commissioned deliveries of donations to the sanctuaries of Mount Sinai); lines 30-43 give a list of purchases on a journey (camels, donkeys, horses, wood, oil, textiles, barley, wine), they also describe an Arab raid, contacts with an official's wife, etc.

The accounts ends with lines 44-46 which the editor identifies as 'a pious concluding prayer, followed by an overlooked entry in postscript':

(44) [- ca.16 -] καὶ πρ[ε]̣σβᾳ τῆς δεσποίνης ἡμőν τες Θεοτόκου καὶ ἀιπαρθέ̣ν[ου Μαρίας καὶ]
(45) [τοῦ ἁγίου] καὶ ἐνδόξ[ο]υ Ἰω(άννου) τοῦ Προδρόμου καὶ Βαπ̣τ[ιστο]ῦ καὶ πάντον τọ̋ν ̣ἁ[γίω]̣ν [μ]̣α[ρτύρων +]
(46) [- ca.9 -] τι̣μὶν τοῦ σάγ̣μ̣α̣τος τοῦ καμαιλου (ὁμοῦ) φόλ(λεις) σ΄

'[- - -] and through the intercession of our Lady the God-Bearer (Theotokos) and ever-virgin [Mary and of the holy] and glorious John the Forerunner and Baptist, and of all the holy [martyrs. +]
[- - -] for the price of a camel bag: 200 folles.'

Text: P.Nessana 89. Translation: C.J. Kraemer, adapted.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033 John the Baptist : S00020 Unnamed martyrs (or name lost) : S00060 All Saints : S01151

Saint Name in Source

Ἰω(άννης) ὁ Προδρόμος καὶ Βαπτιστής πάντες οἱ ἅγιοι μάρτυρες

Type of Evidence

Documentary texts - Other private document 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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miraculous protection - of people and their property

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Merchants and artisans


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 connection of the group described in the present document to Nessana and the monastery of Saint Sergios and Bakchos, where the papyrus was found, is not clear. They seem to report to a superior based in Nessana, possibly related to the family of abbots of that convent. The prayer included at the end of the document is probably a casual act of devotion, meant to ensure prosperity to the company. From the document we learn that not all of their activities were successful (they had to deal with fugitive camels, dying donkeys, aggressive Bedouin, etc.), and they certainly sought saints' help on their dangerous journeys. Dating: an approximate date is offered, based on similar, dated papyri from the same collection.


Edition: Caner D. F. (ed.) with contributions by Brock, S., Price, R. M., van Bladel, K., History and Hagiography from the Late Antique Sinai (= Translated Texts for Historians 53, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010), 266-270. Kraemer, C.J., Excavations at Nessana (Auja Hafir, Palestine), vol. 3: Non-literary Papyri (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), no. 89. See also:;3;89 Further reading: Lee, A.D., Pagans and Christians in Late Antiquity: A Sourcebook (London: Routledge, 2000), 282. 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), 84, no. 533; 101, no. 593; 112, no. 613. Whately, C., "Camels, soldiers, and pilgrims in sixth century Nessana", Scripta Classica Israelica 35 (2016), 121-135.

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