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E04386: Syriac inscription commemorating the construction and completion of a church dedicated to *Phokas (probably the martyr of Antioch, S00413). Found at Basufan in north Syria, near Qalat Semaan, c. 30 km to the northwest of Beroia/Aleppo. Dated 491/492 (beginning of the construction) and 495/496 (completion).

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posted on 2017-11-20, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
ܫܘܒܚܐ ܠܡܪܢ+
ܢܗܘܐ ܕܘܟܪܢـܐ
ܛܒـܐ ܠܡܪܝ
ܕܡܝܢـܐ ܕܐܬܩܢ
ܗܢـܐ ܐܬܪܐ
ܠܡܪܝ ܦܘܩـܐ
ܫܪܝܢܢ ܒܒܢܝܢـܐ
ܒܫܢܬ ܚܡܫܡـܐܐ
ܘܐܪܒܥܝܢ ܘܫܟܠܠܢ
ܒܫܢܬ ܚܡـܫܡـܐܐ
ܘܐܪܒܥܝܢ ܘܐܪܒܥ
ܫܡـܫـܐ ܕܢܝܐܠ
ܡܪܐ ܘܣܝܥܬܗܘܢ
ܕܘܟܪܢܗܘܢ ܠܒܘܪܟܬܐ

'+ Praise be to our Lord! Pious remembrance be to mār periodeutes (itinerant presbyter) Damianos, who founded this place for mār Phokas! We began the building in the year five hundred and forty, and we completed (it) in the year five hundred and forty four: the deacons Daniel, Mara, and their fellows. Their memory be blessed!'

Text: Littmann 1934, no. 50. Translation: E. Littmann, lightly adapted.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Phokas, martyr of Antioch : S00413

Saint Name in Source

ܡܪܝ ܦܘܩـܐ

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)



Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia Syria with Phoenicia Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Basufan Beroia Qal'at Sem'an

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Basufan Thabbora Thabbora Beroia Thabbora Thabbora Qal'at Sem'an Thabbora Thabbora

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits


Carved on a raised stone plaque, shaped as a tabula ansata (H. 0.38 m; W. 0.81 m), built into the outer south wall of the church at Basufan, between two arched windows and two doorways. The moulding at the left-hand end of the block forms part of the adjacent window, so it is clearly in situ, although, curiously, the text is set out at a right-angle to the block. Letter height: line 1-13: 0.03-0.05 m; lines 14-15: 0.025-0.04 m. The church is a three-aisled basilica (24 m x 15.4 m) with an apse flanked by two chambers. The shrine is of considerable importance, as it is believed to have been built on the plan of Qalaat Semaan, the sanctuary after which other churches in Jabal Semaan were modelled. Therefore, the date offered by our inscription is considered a terminus ante quem for Qalaat Semaan. The inscription was first published by Henri Pognon in 1907. Re-visited by the Princeton Archaeological Expedition to Syria and re-published by Enno Littmann in 1934. We reprint the text as published by Littmann, for the slightly different readings of Pognon, see his edition and the comments by Littmann.


The inscription commemorates two phases of the construction of the church, and says that it was dedicated to Saint Phokas, probably the martyr of Antioch. The church is termed here ܐܬܪܐ/'place' which is a counterpart of Greek τόπος, a frequently used denotation of Christian sanctuaries. Based on a reference to the 'fellows' in line 14, Littmann suggests that the church belonged to a monastery, and points out that a monastery of Phokas is attested in AD 567 at Dārōsjāpā, probably identical with modern el-Buwētāt in Jabal Semaan, by the subscription of an abbot in a Syriac manuscript (see Littmann 1922, 182 and EXXXX). Dating: The inscription gives two dates computed according to the era of Antioch. The first date, the beginning of the construction, is the year 540 (= AD 491/492). The other, the completion of the church, is the year 544 (= AD 495/496).


Edition: Littmann, E., Publications of the Princeton University Archaeological Expeditions to Syria in 1904-5 and 1909, division IV: Semitic Inscriptions, Section B: Syriac Inscriptions (Leiden: Brill, 1934), no. 50. Pognon, H., Inscriptions sémitiques de la Syrie, de la Mésopotamie et de la région de Mossoul (Paris: Imprimerie nationale; Librairie V. Lecoffre, J. Gabalda, 1907), 60-61. Further reading: Littmann, E., "Zur Topographie der Antiochene und Apamene", Zeitschrift für Semitistik und verwandte Gebiete 1 (1922), 182.

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