We present the text as published in SEG 8, 18. The completions at the lost left-hand end, offered by René Mouterde are hypothetical, and it is not certain if the approximate length of the lost fragment was correctly established. Therefore, we have removed, some of the most implausible completions. For an earlier, alternative, but similarly tentative restoration by Adolf Kirchhoff, see the apparatus in SEG and CIG 4, no. 8800.
[+ ὅροι ἄσυλο]̣ι ̣τοῦ ἁγ(ίου) προφ[ήτ]ου Ζαχαρίου· ταῖς προσκυνηταῖς
[ἁγιωτάτ(αις) ἐ]κκλησίαις ἡ ̣κ[εχρ]εωστημένη τιμὴ προσενήνηκται
[τοῖς ὅροις] ̣τοῦ εὐκτηρίου [οἴκ]ου τοῦ ἁγίου προφήτου Ζαχαρίου, προνοίᾳ
. . . . . .̣α τοῦ τῶν τόπ[ων ἐ]πισκόπου· τοῦτο δὲ τοῦ λαμπρο-
[τάτ(ου) - - - ]̣ητος κ[ατὰ τὴν] τῶν ἱερῶν κανόνων δύναμιν
[διατυποῦντος, ὥστ]̣ε τ̣ο̣ὺ[ς κοσμί]̣ω̣ς προσφεύγοντας παρὰ μηδενὸς
[ἀποστερεῖσθαι τῆς ἀσφαλεία]ς τῆς ὀφειλομένης τοῖς εὐκτη-
[ρίοις οἴκοις, - - -]ων ποινῇ σωφρονιζομένων τῇ
[ - - -· ὥστε ὑπάρ]χειν δὲ καὶ πανήγυριν πρὸς
[ὠφέλειαν τοῦ παρόντος εὐκτ]ηρίου οἴκου πέντε ἐφεξῆς
[ἡμέρας· τῷ δὲ ἁγ(ίῳ) Ζαχαρίᾳ ἀφοσιο]ῦται ἡμέρα [πρώτη (?)]
5. κόμ]̣ητος Mouterde || 8. τῶν δὲ ἐναντιουμέν]ων ποινῇ σωφρονιζομένων Mouterde || 9. [τῷ ἁμαρτήματι πρεπούσῃ Mouterde
'[+ Boundaries of the asylum] of the holy prophet Zechariah. Due respect is bestowed upon the venerable, most holy churches (ekklesiai), (and?) [upon the boundaries] of the oratory (eukterios oikos) of the holy prophet Zechariah, by the care/under the supervision of [- - -] of the bishop of these places. The clarissimus [- - - decreed] this [according to] the power of the holy canons, that those who [orderly] seek refuge cannot [be denied] by anyone [the security], which is due to the oratories [- - -] those (?) who reasonably [- - -] to the punishment [- - -]. (And) that there is also a feast (panegyris) for [the advantage of the present] oratory, lasting for five consecutive [days. To Saint Zechariah is consecrated the first (?)] day.
Text: SEG 8, 18.
Saint NameZechariah, Old Testament prophet : S00283
Zechariah, father of John the Baptist : S00597
Saint Name in SourceΖαχαρίας
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Canonical and legal texts
Evidence not before500
Evidence not after600
Activity not before500
Activity not after600
Place of Evidence - RegionSyria with Phoenicia
Syria with Phoenicia
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcEl Bassah
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)El Bassah
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsSeeking asylum at church/shrine
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - bishops
Monarchs and their family
SourceWhite marble plaque, broken into two conjoining fragments. The left-hand end is lost. The text occupies almost the entire front face. Above the text there is a band with carvings of two busts, a man and woman with nimbi (see the attached image). The two busts are identified as those of an imperial couple by Mouterde and Feissel, who suggest also that many boundary stones could have borne similar images.
Fragment 1 was found by Charles Van de Velde at El Bassah/Betzet in the house of a Greek priest, and said to have been brought there from Khirbet Ma'asub. First published by Van de Velde in 1854 in a drawing, and identified by him as a fragment of a tombstone. A transcription with extensive, but unreliable completions, based on Van de Velde's drawing, was offered by Adolf Kirchhoff in the fourth volume of the Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum. This transcription was quoted by a number of scholars, including Leopold Wenger, who used it in his remarkable work on boundary stones and the privilege of asylum. Van de Velde's drawing was also re-published in the Galilean volume of the British survey of western Palestine (with no transcription). The stone is now probably in the National Museum of Beirut.
Fragment 2 was found in the Louvre store rooms by Alphonse Dain, and published by him in 1933, together with other notable Greek inscriptions from that collection. Dain, however, did not connect it with Fragment 1. The two pieces were identified as fragments of the same plaque by René Mouterde in 1933. Mouterde placed Fragment 2 in the upper left-hand corner of the lost passage, and published the combined text with his own completions, very different from the edition by Kirchhoff. This text was communicated to the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum by William Buckler, and this edition in the SEG is now the reference text for the inscription. The reliability of Moterde's restoration was criticised by Denis Feissel in 1992, promising a new edition of the text.. Feissel has promised a new edition of the text, which as far as we know, has not been published yet.
DiscussionThe inscription is fragmentarily preserved, but it is highly probable that it contained an excerpt from a legal text, probably an imperial letter concerning the delimitation of a zone protected by the privilege of asylum, or guidelines for the proper use of that right. Another inscription found in the territory of Tyre contains a presbyter's petition sent to the emperor Tiberius II (578-582), probably complaining that this right was being abused by unruly supplicants, and asking for the emperor's interference (see E01764).
The preserved fragments mention an oratory (eukterios oikos) dedicated to 'the holy prophet Zechariah'. This is either the Old Testament prophet (S00283), or the father of John the Baptist (S00597); John's father could be described as a prophet, since, in the Benedictus, which he declaimed at the time of his son's circumcision, he prophesied the coming of the Saviour and John's role as his Forerunner (Luke 1.68-79). It is possible that the last lines contain a reference to a five-day long feast (panegyris) celebrated in the sanctuary of the saint. Probably based on the present inscription, it has been suggested that a stone reliquary found in the village contained relics of the prophet (see E01727).
Line 5 refers to the 'power of the holy canons' (τῶν ἱερῶν κανόνων δύναμιν), and was considered by Kirchhoff to suggest that the privilege of asylum was bestowed upon churches by bishops. This idea was, however, rightly questioned by Wenger, who points out that some decisions contained in the canons may be here ascertained and enforced by the emperor.
A new edition of this text is indeed, badly needed, and may throw new light on the interpretation of this very interesting piece.
Dating: Sadly, the name of the emperor is lost. Monumental publications of imperial letters on ecclesiastical asylum are, however, characteristic of the 6th c.
Supplementum Epigrapphicum Graecum 8, 18 (with further bibliography).
Mouterde, R., "[Bibliographie: comments on Dain, A., Inscriptions grecques du Musée du Louvre... ]", Mélanges de l'Université Saint-Joseph 17 (1933), 247-248 (identification of both fragments as parts of the same inscription.
Dain, A., Inscriptions grecques du Musée du Louvre, Les textes inédits (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1933) 123-124, no. 140 (Fragment 2 , unidentified).
Conder, C.R., Kitchener, H.H. and others, The Survey of Western Palestine: Memoirs of the Topography, Orography, Hydrography and Archaeology, vol. 1: Galilee (London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, 1881), 168 (Fragment 1: drawing).
Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum IV, no. 8800 (Fragment 1).
Van de Velde, Ch., Narrative of a journey through Syria and Palestine in 1851 and 1852, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood and sons, 1854), 254 (Fragment 1, published in a drawing).
Feissel, D., "Notes d'épigraphie chrétienne (VIII)", Bulletin de correspondance hellénique 116 (1992), 401, note 66 (declaration of a forthcoming new edition).
Feissel D., "Les actes de l'état imperial dans l'épigraphie tardive (324-610): prolégomènes à un inventaire", in: Haensch, R., (ed.), Selbstdarstellungen und Kommunikation. Die Veröffentlichung staatlicher Urkunden auf Stein und Bronze in der Römischen Welt. Internationales Kolloquium an der Kommission für Alte Geschichte und Epigraphik in München, 1. bis 3. Juli 2006 (Vestigia 61, Munich: Beck, 2009), 126, no. 78 (mentioned).
Feissel, D., Documents, droit, diplomatique de l'Empire romain tardif (Bilans de recherche 7, Paris, 2010), 67, no. 78 (mentioned).
Jalabert, L., Mouterde, R., Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie, vol. 1: Commagène et Cyrrhestique (BAH 12, Paris: P. Geuthner, 1929), 116 (mentioned).
Wenger, L., "Ὅροι ἀσυλίας", Philologus 86 (1931), 433, note 8, and 439.