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E02131: Floor-moasic with a Greek inscription commemorating the paving of a church of *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030), and a reliquary. Found at Umm er-Rasas/Kastron Mefaa, to the southeast of Madaba (Roman province of Arabia). Dated probably 718 or 785.

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posted on 15.12.2016, 00:00 by pnowakowski
ἐπὶ τοῦ ἁ[γι]ωτάτου Σεργίου ἐπισκώπου [ἐτελ]ιώ[θη] ἡ ψίφωσης τοῦ ἁγιου κ(αὶ) ἐνδοξου
πρωτωδιακόνω κ(αὶ) προτωμάρτυρος Στεφάνου σπουδῇ Ἰω(ά)ννου Ἰσακίου
Λέξου θεοφιλεστάτω διακόνω κ(αὶ) ἄρχοντι Μεφαον οἰκονόμου κ(αὶ) παντὸς
τοῦ φιλοχρίστου λαοῦ κάστρου <Με>φαων ἐν μηνὶ Ὀκτωβρίω ἰνδικτιόνος
β΄ τοῦ έτους ἠπαρχίας Ἀραβίας χιγ΄ κ(αὶ) ὑπὲρ μνήμις κ(αὶ) ἀναπαύσεος Φιδόνου Αειας φιλοχ(ρίστο)υ

5. χιγ΄ Schick, χπ΄ Piccirillo 1987, χν' Piccirillo 1994

'Under the most holy bishop Sergios the mosaic pavement (of the church) of the holy and glorious First Deacon (protodiakonos) and First Martyr (protomartys) Stephen was completed by the zeal of Ioannes, son of Isakios, grandson of Lexos, the most dear-to-God deacon and archon of the Mefaonitoi, and steward (oikonomos), and (by the zeal) of all the Christ-loving people of Kastron Mefaa. In the month of October, 2nd indiction, the year 613 (?) of the province of Arabia and as a vow for the memory and repose of Phidonos, son of Aeias (?), the Christ-loving.'

Text: Piccirillo 1987, no. 4 with altered readings by R. Schick. Translation: P. Nowakowski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

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



Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Arabia Arabia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Madaba Umm er-Rasas/Kastron Mefaa

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

Madaba Sakkaia / Maximianopolis Σακκαια Sakkaia Saccaea Eaccaea Maximianopolis Shaqqa Schaqqa Shakka Umm er-Rasas/Kastron Mefaa Sakkaia / Maximianopolis Σακκαια Sakkaia Saccaea Eaccaea Maximianopolis Shaqqa Schaqqa Shakka

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Aristocrats Officials Other lay individuals/ people

Cult Activities - Relics

Reliquary – institutionally owned


Framed rectangular mosaic panel in the ruins of the church of Saint Stephen which is the southeast church in the complex at Umm er-Rasas. The sanctuary was a three-aisled basilica with an apse flanked by two 'sacristies'. Its floor is richly decorated with mosaics containing inscriptions. The panel is situated in the nave, in front of the choir, between a pillar and the pulpit (see the enclosed plan). H. 0.62 m; W. 4.35 m. Letter height 0.12 m. Black letters. It seems that some sections of the mosaic, including the date, were at some point restored. Below the inscribed panel there is another rectangular field with images of trees and figural depictions removed in a period of iconoclasm. The church, in its last phase of existence, was a three-aisled basilica (13.50 m x 24.00 m) with an inscribed apse (5.20 m x 3.00 m) flanked by two chambers. It underwent many restorations and its actual shape in different periods is disputed. The basilica was built over the foundations of an earlier structure, but its actual character and purpose are not clear. The church is richly decorated with floor-mosaics, ones of the most remarkable in Jordan, showing animals, people, cities and floral motifs, and with long mosaic dedicatory inscriptions which occupy mainly the space of the choir and the east end of the nave and aisles. Here we reproduce only the one that contains a direct reference to Saint Sergios. Figural depictions were carefully removed from mosaics in the nave and aisles in a period of iconoclasm. Anne Michel notes that no reliquaries were found in the church, but a stone casket lacking a lid was discovered in a courtyard, to the south of the church (see Michel 2001, 391). It is supposed that the north chamber flanking the apse was devoted to the cult of martyrs and a niche is present in its east semicircular wall (presumably a reliquary socket). The church was excavated in 1986-1988 under the auspices of the Department of the Antiquities of Jordan. Our mosaic was first published in 1987 by Michele Piccirillo with a drawing and photograph. Later discussed by Robert Schick, Denis Feissel, Pierre-Louis Gatier, Janine Balty, and Annie Sartre-Fauriat. A re-edition by Piccirillo appeared in 1994. For a description of the church, see Michel 2001, 388-394, no. 144c.


The inscription commemorates the paving of the church. The undertaking was completed under bishop Sergios of Madaba, known as Sergios II (as another Sergios, Sergios I, held that see in the 6th c.). The precise timeframe of his episcopacy is not known. The pavement was funded by a local notable, Ioannes, and by contributions of other inhabitants. In addition to his usual epithet, First Martyr (protomartys), Saint Stephen is here named also First Deacon (protodiakonos), which refers to the passage of Acts 6:5 saying that Stephen was the first of seven deacons, appointed by the Apostles to take care of the needs of the Jerusalem community and distribute wealth to the poor. Dating: the dating formula contains a reference to the era of the province of Arabia and to the 2nd indictional year. Since this fragment of the panel was restored in antiquity, the reading of the era year is not clear. Piccirillo originally read the era year as ΧΠ = 680 = AD 785. However, it is not the 2nd but the 8th indiction that falls in this AD year. Therefore, Denis Feissel suggested that the mosaic floor could have been completed in a 2nd indiction after AD 756, which is the date of the completion of another mosaic floor in this church. The two nearest 2nd indictions after 765 are AD 763 and 768. The best solution is, however, that suggested by Robert Schick (1990) who read the era year as ΧΓΙ = 613 = AD 718, since the latter part (September-December) of the 613th year of the era of the province of Arabia nicely corresponds to the 2nd indiction. Schick's idea was accepted by Janine Balty (1998), but criticised by Pierre-Louis Gatier (1992) who argued for a much earlier date, falling in the period AD 575-597. In 2011 Gatier, however, admitted that he could have been wrong, and that Schick's dating was the most plausible option (see Gatier 2011, 24). In 1994, in his second edition of the mosaic, Piccirillo suggested that the date could read ΧΝ, arguing that the number was actually corrupted ΧΠ, as in the preceding line an inexperienced mosaicist restored the term ΜΕΦΑΩΝ as ΝCΑΩΝ. Therefore, he was likely to make a similar mistake in the number denoting the era year. Although the date of the inscription falls slightly above our upper chronological limit (which is AD 700), we decided to include this text as an interesting evidence for the cult of Stephen in Jordan in the Umayyad or Abbasid period.


Edition: Piccirillo, M., "Le iscrizioni di Kastron Mefaa", in: Piccirillo, M., Alliata, E., Umm Al-Rasas (Mayfa'ah), vol. 1: Gli scavi del complesso di Santo Stefano (Jerusalem: Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1994), 244-246. M. Picirillo, "Le iscrizioni di Um er-Rasas – Kastron Mefaa in Giordania I (1986-1987)", Liber Annuus 37 (1987), 183-186, no. 4. Further reading: Balty, J., "Les mosaïques d'Umm al-Rasas et la date de 718", The Journal of Roman Aracheology 11 (1998), 700-702. Di Segni, L., "The involvement of local, municipal and provincial authorities in urban building in late antique Palestine and Arabia", in: The Roman and Byzantine Near East: Some Recent Archaeological Research (Journal of Roman Archaeology. Supplementary Series 14, Ann Arbor, MI: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 1995), 316. Di Segni, L., "The use of chronological systems in sixth-eight centuries Palestine", Aram 18-19 (2006-2007), 114, 120. Gatier, P.-L., "Les inscriptions grecques d'époque islamique (VIIe-VIIIe siècles) en Syrie du sud", in: P. Canivet, J-P. Rey-Coquais (eds.), La Syrie de Byzance à l'Islam: VIIe-VIIIe siècles: actes du colloque international Lyon - Maison de l'Orient méditerranéen, Paris - Institut du monde arabe, 11-15 Septembre 1990 (Damas: Institut français de Damas, 1992), 149-150. Gatier, P.-L., "Inscriptions grecques, mosaïques et églises des débuts de l'époque islamique au Proche-Orient (VIIe-VIIIe) siècles", in: A. Borrut, M. Debié, A. Papaconstantinou, D. Pieri, J.-P. Sodini (eds.), Le Proche-Orient de Justinien aux Abassides : peuplement et dynamiques spatiales : actes du colloque "Continuités de l'occupation entre les périodes byzantine et abbasside au Proche-Orient, VIIe-IXe siècles," Paris, 18-20 octobre 2007 (Bibliothèque de l'Antiquité tardive 19, Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), 14, 21-25. Meimaris, Y.E., Kritikakou, K., Bougia, P., Chronological Systems in Roman-Byzantine Palestine and Arabia. The Evidence of the Dated Greek Inscriptions (Meletēmata 17, Athens: Kentron Hellēnikēs kai Rōmaikēs Archaiotētos, Ethnikon Hydryma Ereunōn, 1992), 303, no. 526. Michel, A., Les églises d'époque byzantine et umayyade de Jordanie (provinces d'Arabie et de Palestine), Ve-VIIIe siècle: typologie architecturale et aménagements liturgiques (avec catalogue des monuments; préface de Noël Duval; premessa di Michele Piccirillo) (Bibliothèque de l'Antiquité tardive 2, Turnhout: Brepols, 2001), 388-394, no. 144c. Piccirillo, M., "The Province of Arabia during the Persian Invasion (613-629/630)", in: K.G. Holum, H. Lapin (eds.), Shaping the Middle East. Jews, Christians, and Muslims in an Age of Transition, 400-800 C.E. (Bethesda, MD: University Press of Maryland, 2011), 101-102. Sartre-Fauriat, A., "Georges, Serge, Élie et quelques autres saints connus et inédits de la province d'Arabie", in: Fr. Prévot (ed.), Romanité et cité chrétienne. Permances et mutations. Intégration et exclusion du Ier au VIe siècle. Mélanges en l'honneur d'Yvette Duval (Paris: De Boccard, 2000), 307. Schick, R., 'The fate of the Christians in Palestine during the Byzantine Umayyad transition', in: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on the History of Bilad al-Sham (Amman, : 1989), 37-48. Schick, R., "Is 718 AD the correct date of the mosaic in the nave of the church of Saint Stephen at Umm er-Rasas, Jordan?" Paper Presented at the Conference on the History of Bilad ad-Sham during the Abbasid Period, University of Jordan, March 1990. Schick, R., 'The patriarchate of Jerusalem during the early Abbasid period, A.D. 759-813', in: Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on the History of Bilad al-Sham (Amman: , 1991), 63-80. Schick, R., The Christian Communities of Palestine from Byzantine to Islamic Rule: A Historical and Archaeological Study (Studies in late antiquity and early Islam 2, Princeton, N.J: Darwin Press, 1995), 472-474. Reference works: Chroniques d'épigraphie byzantine, 905. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 37, 1553; 50, 1518; 57, 1812.

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