On a papyrus sheet: 19 cm x 31.5 cm. Cursive script. The name of the addressee and sender, which is on the verso, is probably written by a different hand.
+ πρ<ὸ> \μ/ὲν πάντων γράφ̣ω ̣κ[αὶ ἀ]̣σπάζομε τὼν ἀβᾶν Ζονι-
νων. ἔπιτα παρακαλῶ σε ἐπιδὴ ἀσθενῶ ̣κ̣α̣ὶ ̣ο̣ὐ ̣δ̣ύ-
ναμε ἐξελθῖν εἰς τὴν ἑορτὴν τοῦ ἁγίου Σεργίου ἐὰν
ἐξέρχι εἵνα παρακαλέσες τὼν ἑγούμενων ὕνα
δώσε τὼν ἀβαν Προκωπιν τὴν εὐλογίαν μου ὕνα
μὴ ἀ̣ν̣α̣γ̣κ̣ασθῖ μετὰ τὴν ἑορτη ἐξελῖν καὶ αὐτ̣ὼς ἐπα-
λάσετε τοῦ ἀναλόματος καὶ μὲ ἀναπάειν. επαρα-
κλε̣θετ̣ι χαρίσεν με τὼ καθῖκον τοῦτο. ἁγυενον δίε̣λ̣θ[ε]
κα̣ὶ ἐάν μὲ ἐξέλθες γράψον αὐτών +
verso (by a different hand):
τ(ῷ) ἀβ(βᾷ) Ζωνινῳ Γεώργιος ̣ἐ̣λ̣έ̣ει
'+ Before everything I am writing to send greetings to abbas Zonainos/Zunayn. Next I beg you, since I am sick and cannot travel to the feast (heorte) of Saint Sergios, if you go, to beg the abbot (higoumenos) to give abbas Prokopios my donation (eulogia) so that he will not be forced to come out after the festival. Thus he will himself be relieved of the expense, and I may rest in peace (?). You are requested to grant me the favour which is my due. Abide in good health and, if you do not go, write to him.'
Verso: 'To abbas Zonainos/Zunayn. (From) Georgios, by the grace of God bishop.'
Text: P.Nessana 50. Translation: C.J. Kraemer, adapted.
Saint NameSergios, soldier and martyr of Rusafa : S00023
Saint Name in SourceΣέργιος
Type of EvidenceDocumentary texts - Letter
Late antique original manuscripts - Papyrus sheet
Evidence not before600
Evidence not after620
Activity not before600
Activity not after620
Place of Evidence - RegionPalestine with Sinai
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcNessana
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Nessana
Cult activities - Festivals
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Places Named after Saint
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsBequests, donations, gifts and offerings
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - bishops
Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy
Ecclesiastics - abbots
Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits
SourceNessana/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.
DiscussionThe document is clearly a letter of a certain bishop Georgios (his see is not specified, but it is not Nessana) concerning a feast of Saint Sergios, the martyr of Rusafa. The editor, aided by Apollon Valakis, suggests the following interpretation of its contents.
Georgios is ill and cannot attend a feast of Saint Sergios. Therefore, he writes to abbas Zunayn, and asks him to look after his donation (eulogia) if he is going to the feast. As the letter was delivered just folded and unsealed, the editor supposes that Georgios and abbas Zunayn resided in the same town, probably in different churches. It is not said where the feast takes place, but it is very probably the monastery of Sergios and Bakchos/the North Church at Nessana.
Abbas Zunayn is asked to contact an unnamed abbot (higoumenos), presumably that of the monastery of Sergios and Bakchos at Nessana, and ask him to give a donation (eulogia) to abbas Prokopios on behalf of bishop Georgios. The editor assumes that Prokopios was the priest in charge of collecting donations offered at the feast of Sergios. His affiliation is, however, not clear (could he be a subordinate of the abbot mentioned and a monk at the monastery of Sergios and Bakchos?).
The editor compares the present letter with two lists of donations (eulogiai) made to the monastery of Sergios and Bakchos, preserved in the Nessana papyri (see: E04367, one of the entries on those lists mentions precisely a donation made during a feast of Sergios), and with an inscription from Gerasa/Jerash recording a church built from the money of eulogiai (see: E02365).
Dating: The letter has tentatively been dated to the early 7th c., based on the lettering and the dates of other documents in the Nessana papyri.
Kraemer, C.J., Excavations at Nessana (Auja Hafir, Palestine), vol. 3: Non-literary Papyri (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), no. 50.
See also: ?
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), 119, no. 647.
Whately, C., "Camels, soldiers, and pilgrims in sixth century Nessana", Scripta Classica Israelica 35 (2016), 121-135.