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E04392: Syriac building inscription for a martyr shrine (bēth sāhdē) built by a presbyter. Found at Kafr Nabu in north Syria, near Qalat Semaan, to the northwest of Beroia/Aleppo. Dated 525/526.

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posted on 2017-11-20, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
ܒܫܢܬ ܚܡܫܡـܐܐ ܘܫܒܥܝܢ ܘܐܪܒ[ܥ] ܐܢܐ ܩܫܝܫܐ +
ܐܒܐ ܥܒܕܝܬ ܒܣܗܕ(ܐ) ܗܢܐ

'In the year five hundred and seventy and four, I, the priest Abhā, made this martyr shrine (?bē-sāhdē, see the comments).'

Text: Littmann 1934, no. 52. Translation: E. Littmann.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Unnamed martyrs (or name lost) : S00060

Image Caption 1

Photograph 1. From:

Image Caption 2

Photograph 2. From:

Image Caption 3

Drawing. From: Littmann 1934, 42.

Image Caption 4

Drawing. From: Pognon 1907, Pl. XVIII.

Type of Evidence

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


  • Syriac

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

Beroia Qal'at Sem'an Kafr Nabu

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

Beroia Thabbora Thabbora Qal'at Sem'an Thabbora Thabbora Kafr Nabu Thabbora Thabbora

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy


Stone lintel. H. 0.80 m; W. 2.24 m. Decorated with three crosses within concentric, punctured circles. The inscription is carved directly above them, and has no frame. Letter height 0.0275 - 0.075 m. The lintel is set over the south doorway of a small stone building in the centre of the town, usually termed a 'chapel' by surveyors. Certainly in situ. In 1905, when the site was visited by the Princeton Archaeological Expedition to Syria, the building was owned by a resident of Aleppo. First published by Henri Pognon in 1907. 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. Two single letters, probably ܝ and ܣ, are legible below the inscription. This, Littmann suggests, is a stonecutter's signature.


The inscription commemorates the construction of a martyr shrine, certainly the 'chapel', on which it is displayed, by a presbyter. The text has attracted the attention of scholars for the unusual 1st person singular perfect form of the verb ܥܒܕܝܬ (normally it should be ܥܒܕܬ). Another particular form, more important for us, is the expression used to denote the character of the building founded: ܒܣܗܕܐ, which here replaces the regular ܒܝܬ ܣܗ̈ܕܐ (bēth sāhdē). Based on the spelling and pronunciation of toponyms containing the Aramaic element ܒܝܬ in Arabic, Pognon suggested that similar phonetic phenomena could be observed here, and proposed the following vocalisation: bāssohdo. Littmann agreed that we probably have here a dialectic form of the literary expression bēth sāhdē, rather than a mere stonecutter's error, but questioned Pognon's vocalisation. He convincingly argued that, for example, the word could be pronounced in North Syria bē-sāhdē, or that ܬ was assimilated to the following ܣ, and the word was pronounced bēssāhdē. For a detailed commentary and other possibilities, see Littmann 1934, 45. Dating: the date, computed according to the era of Antioch, corresponds to AD 525/526. Pognon read the number of the era year as 571 or 572 (hence he dated the construction to AD 522/523 or AD 523/524), but we find Littmann's reading more plausible.


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. 52. 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), 56-59.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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