On a papyrus sheet: 12 cm x 30.5 cm. Written across the fibres by a professional scribe with a careless hand. The last line contains an autograph subscription by the sender, the bishop of 'Aila. Delivered unsealed.
+ Μωυσῆς ̣ἐ[λ]̣έει θ(εο)ῦ ἐπίσκ(οπος) τοῦ ̣Ἀιλ̣άν[ου] Βίκτορι Σεργίου ἐπιστέλλ̣ω
τὰ ὑποτετάγ[μένα . . .].λ̣η[. .]ν. . . ̣τ̣τ. ἔλα̣βες [ἀπ]ὸ τοῦ Σαρακηνο[ῦ]
δοῦναι τῷ ἁγί[ῳ Σεργίῳ] ̣Νεσάνω[ν] καὶ τῷ ἁγίῳ Σεργίῳ Ἐλούσης. τοῦτο γὰρ
π̣ο̣ιῶν τὰ με̣γά̣λ[α μο]̣ι χαρίζῃ κ̣αὶ πρὸς τ̣α.[.]ηδιστα[ ̣]̣ε . . η̣σιαμφ.ηλε
. τινι το παρόντι καθυπεσημηνάμην [ἐπ]ιστάλματι. +
(hand 2) + Μουσαῖς Σερ̣γ[ίου] ἐ[π]ίσκο(πος) ὑπεσεμενά̣μην +
'+ Moses, by the grace of God bishop of 'Aila, to Viktor, son of Sergios. I am sending you the attached [- - -] you received from the Saracen to give to Saint [Sergios] of Nessana and to Saint Sergios of Elousa. You are conferring a great favour on me by doing this, and [- - -] I have added below my signature to this order. +
(hand 2): + Signed by me, Moses, son of Sergios, bishop. +'
Text: P. Nessana 51. Translation: C.J. Kraemer, lightly 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 after610
Activity not before600
Activity not after610
Place of Evidence - RegionPalestine with Sinai
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcNessana
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Nessana
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
Other lay individuals/ people
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 letter was sent by a bishop of 'Aila/'Aqaba, a harbour on the Gulf of 'Aqaba, to one Viktor, son of Sergios. The editor supposes the addressee to have been a resident of Nessana, the place where the papyrus was found, possibly identical with the Viktor mentioned in 605 in a building inscription from Nessana, together with his father Flavios Sergios, an architect (see I. Nessana, no. 72).
The bishop asks the addressee to pass something he had received from a Bedouin messenger (here, as in other papyri of Nessana, termed a 'Saracen') to an institution in Nessana named after a saint whose name is lost, and to one named after Saint Sergios in Elousa, the principal city of the district. The institution in Nessana is very likely to have been the monastery and church of Saints Sergios and Bakchos (the North Church on the acropolis hill), where the papyrus was found.
Dating: an approximate date is suggested by the editor, based on the dates of other papyri from the same collection.
Kraemer, C.J., Excavations at Nessana (Auja Hafir, Palestine), vol. 3: Non-literary Papyri (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), no. 51.
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. 648.
Whately, C., "Camels, soldiers, and pilgrims in sixth century Nessana", Scripta Classica Israelica 35 (2016), 121-135.