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E04376: Poorly composed, unfinished private letter, or a writing exercise, containing conventional greetings and saying that the writer's family are well, thanks to 'the grace of God, and of Saints *Sergios and *Bakchos' (soldiers and martyrs of Rusafa and Barbalissos, S00023 and S00079). Written in Greek, on papyrus. Found at Nessana/Auja Hafir in the Negev desert (Roman province of Palaestina III). Probably 6th-7th c.

online resource
posted on 2017-11-16, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
On a papyrus sheet: 23 cm x 25 cm.


Lines 1-7:
The main body of the letter/exercise is written along the fibres. Very narrow margins. Script: large capitals (termed 'rather childish' by the editor).

[+ . . . διὰ] γραμάτον παρόντων μου γράφω κ̣α̣ὶ ̣π[ρ]̣οσκυ̣ν̣ῶ ̣τ̣ὴ[ν - - -]
[. . .].νουραν τὴν θῖάν μου Μαρίαν καὶ πάντ[α]ς τοὺς ̣δ̣ιαφέρ̣ο̣ν[τας - - -]
μ[ε]γάλου καὶ ὥλον τὸ χορήον. αἴπιτα διὰ τῖς θεοῦ χάριτ[ος]
καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου Σεργίου (καὶ) Βάχχου καλõς ἔχ̣ο̣υ̣σ̣ι̣ν . . . ιεναι . . . .[ -ca.?- ]
ος πλιρονο τὰ γράματα. ἔπιτα ζητίσατε πέμσειν ἡμῖν ωλ̣υ̣ν[ -ca.?- ]
.ολαχαν καὶ αἵψιμα καὶ οἰνάριν καὶ ̣δ̣ε . . . . η.[. . . . .] καὶ ηρι[ -ca.?- ]
[. . . . .] σου

1. διὰ] Rizos

'[+ - - - through] the present letter, and I am writing to and greeting [- - -] my aunt Maria, and all the household members, and the whole village. Now, through the grace (charis) of God and of Saint Sergios and Bakchos they are well [- - -] completed (?) the letter. Now, try to send us [- - -] and grape juice syrup, and oinarion (= weak wine), and [- - -] your'

At this point the author abandoned writing the letter, and began playing with words, and scribbling the same phrase, having turned the sheet upside down:

Line 8: in the middle of the remaining, unused part of the sheet; large script:

[ἐν ὀν]όματη τοῦ καὶ δεσπότου Εἰσοῦ Χρηστ̣ο̣ῦ

'[In] the name of (sic) and Master (despotes) Jesus Christ'

Line 9: eight cm below line 8; large script; overlapping line 7:

[ἐν ὀ]̣ν̣όματι τοῦ ̣Κ̣υρίου καὶ Δεσπότου Εἰ̣σ[οῦ] ̣Χ[ριστοῦ]

'[In the name] of the Lord (kyrios) and Master (despotes) Jesus [Christ]'


Lines 10-15:

καλõς ἔχομεν καὶ . . . τη ενομ̣ε̣ι διὰ τῖς τοῦ θεοῦ χάριτος . .[ -ca.?- ]
[κα]ὶ δεσπότου Εἰσοῦ traces
[Κυρ]̣ίου καὶ Δεσπό̣του [Εἰ]̣σοῦ Χρηστοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ
ἐν ὀνόματι τοῦ κυρ . . . . ̣θ̣ε̣ός
[- ca.15 -] Εἰσοῦ Χρηστοῦ τ̣ο̣ῦ [θεοῦ -ca.?- ]
[Κυρίου] καὶ Δεσπότου

'We are well and [- - -] through the grace (charis) of God [- - - and] Master (despotes) Jesus Christ, God. In the name of the Lord [- - -] God [- - -] Jesus Christ, God [- - - of the Lord (kyrios)] and Master (despotes) Jesus.'

Text: P.Nessana 145. Translation: P. Nowakowski.


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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miraculous protection - of people and their property

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women 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 (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.


This document is a draft or failed attempt to write a private letter, or a writing exercise. The editor suggests that the author, disappointed by his poor skills in writing Greek, abandoned writing in the middle of line 7, and began scribbling. Then he tried to start the letter from scratch on the verso, or continued practicing. The first version of the letter, the one on the recto, contains formulaic greetings, saying that some people are well through the grace of God. In our case, however, this expression is followed by an additional statement saying that they are well also thanks to the grace of Saints Sergios and Bakchos. Thus, the letter is an interesting testimony to the influence of the cult of Sergios and Bakchos, venerated in the monastic North Church at Nessana, on the mentality and day-to-day life of the inhabitants of the village. Dating: an approximate date is offered, based on the dates of other papyri from the same collection.


Edition: Kraemer, C.J., Excavations at Nessana (Auja Hafir, Palestine), vol. 3: Non-literary Papyri (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), no. 145. See also:;3;145 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), 117, no. 629. 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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