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Alfred Twardecki

Greek Christian Inscriptions in the Collections of the National Museum in Warsaw

                 The collection of Greek Christian inscriptions in the National Museum in Warsaw numbers 30 objects; a great majority of it is in the Early-Christian Art Collection (only two of them belong to the Ancient Art Collection)[1]. No doubt it is the greatest collection of this kind in Poland. The inscriptions can be divided in two categories. Texts gained during Polish excavations executed in Faras (101-107) and in Old Dongola (109-113) should be numbered into the first category, whereas the second one includes inscriptions which formerly belonged to the collection of Lyceum Hosianum in Braniewo (Braunsberg; (7-12; 25; 26; 28; 94-100; 108)). The first group altogether with the monuments of Christian paintings from Faras constitutes one of the most interesting complexes of that kind in Europe. It is very well documented and has been displayed on many different occasions. The second group of inscriptions is much less known, apart from a limited circle of specialists, although not less interesting. I would like take the opportunity to present in this paper all inscriptions together to the wide circle of addressees.

Inscriptions No. 7-12 were found at the beginning of the 20th century in Constantinople during the excavations in the quarter of Pera (north of the Golden Horn). In antiquity there was a necropolis from which many of sepulchral inscriptions were preserved. Such as the ones we are dealing with in the above mentioned collection, which is good example of typical Christian sepulchral inscriptions of 6th-7th centuries for this area. Together with a number of other similar inscriptions it is good auxiliary material in research on not only Christian sepulchral customs, but also on the type of beliefs (to a certain degree) of the inhabitants of Constantinople and its vicinities.

The first of the above mentioned inscriptions (7; 198800)[2] is on the Marcella's tombstone deceased shortly after her birth (4th cent.), whose mother - Dionysia was still alive in the time of raising the monument by Augustinos, surely the girl's father. Marcella was buried in a tomb of Glykea; most probably her paternal grandmother. The inscriptions consists of formulas that prove Marcella's baptism (parqe/noj xrhstianh\ a)po\ mikro/qen) - that happened immediately after her birth and wasn't that obvious at the time. Further inscriptions are: tombstone of Thimotheos (6th-7th cent.) from the place of Konana (Iustinianopolis) (8; 198831) and Theodora's (5th-6th cent.) from Claudiopolis (9; 198742) which were very common at the time. In the nest inscription - tombstone of Martyria (10; 198782) (5th-6th cent) we find the term (pisth/) meaning that the deceased woman was baptised contrary to the woman said to be katexoume/nh. It is a proof for the type of godliness according to which baptism was very often saved for the last moment of people's lives. Since baptism washes away all the previous sins, people considered to be worthy of being baptised right before death. That was the reason for a large number of so called catechumen who, even though they might be pious Christians, were not baptised until death.

Another monument is an epitaph of Theodotos (11; 198794) (5th or 6th cent.). There's a very curious mention in the inscription referring to a Golden Crown that Theodotos was given after his death by Christ as a prize for good life. It is undoubtedly an influence of pagan beliefs. The crown was a traditional honour and a prize for a winner in games (agon); not only in the sport games but also for various (including military) merits, and services for the entire society. In other words it was a way of rewarding an individual being outstanding in some certain sphere of life. The motive of a Golden Crown being a prize for Christians in their after-lives is to be found in the New Testament. The closest, however, analogy to the final part of our inscription can be found in St. John's Apocalypse (3,11). The mention about the crown in the text of invocation has become a part of a funeral liturgy of the Byzantine Church, whilst in Christian sepulchral inscriptions mentioning of the crown is not so often. The crown being handed, after death, by Jesus as a prize for good life appears as a consequence of one's (imagining) idea of life being an agon in which the final judge is Jesus Christ. An inscription, therefore, is an interesting proof of an interference of a mentality formed on a basis of an antique pagan civilisation and an influence of Christian religion on the other hand. The last monument of this group is a tombstone of Theodula (12; 198799 + 198843) (5th-6th cent.). Alike in this case we find a formula meaning that the deceased was baptised (pisth/).

                The next inscription from the epitaph of Euphemia (25; 198760) (6th-7th cent) begins with a group of inscriptions the provenience of which is not so well documented. On a basis of the text and the shape of the relic we may presume it's provenance to be the vicinities of Constantinople. Further inscription is a tombstone Rhode (26; 198791) (6th-7th cent.). Rhode was baptised too (pisth/), however in the epitaph she is also defined with a term laobotane, which is not known from any other text (nomen hapax). And so we have in the collection an inscription which as the only one proves the existence of such a term in the Greek language. It may be interpreted in three different ways. Firstly as an equivalent of a term "human plant", secondly as a people's bread-winner and thirdly as a name of a place Rhode was from. In the first case we might be dealing with an almost poetic text: "Here lays Rose (Rhode), a human plant"; in the second case an epithet might be used bringing to one's mind pagan religions, especially those related to the fertility cults; whereas in the third case Rhode might be from the city of Laobota (or likewise with a root laobot-). Also in this case the place of the provenance is unknown though many arguments are convincing for a Minor Asian provenance rather and not an Egyptian one. Following inscription commemorates the merits of Phirminianos in works executed at the aqueduct of St. Socrates (28; 198825) (488 A.D.). Inscription comes from Zenonopolis (Iznebol of the modern day Turkey). This one not only belongs to a different category than the ones presented above but it is also a one of the most interesting (and more often published) Christian texts in the collections of the National Museum in Warsaw. As well in this text there's a nomen hapax (e)cwu/dron) signifying a fountain located in a church under the invocation of St. Socrates, though this kind of installations were quite common in churches, and other sacral buildings and are proved by a comparatively large amount of inscriptions. Further inscriptions are: a very brief epitaph of a monk Bictorinos (Victorinos) (94; 198726) (6th-7th cent., most probably from Panopolis), tombstone of Thekla (96; 198727) (6th-7th cent., which provenance is impossible to locate, not even roughly), and a sepulchral inscription of Genadia (97; 198735) (6th-7th cent., also in this case it is hard to say anything precise of the provenance of the monument), and the tombstone of Comis (98; 198840) (6th-7th cent., most probably made in Egypt) and a tombstone of apa Joannes (99; 198750) (6th-7th cent, surely made in Egypt also). We must notice, however, that the term apa, abba, papa those days did not mean that the person was a monk and it was also used referring to other laic people. As the last of this group we ought to mention a tombstone of Collythos (100; 198836) (6th-10th cent.), most probably from Nubia. It differs from other tomb inscriptions because of its length and the contents, since first eleven verses are a prayer for the deceased and at the same time the first seven verses are almost an exact quotation from Psalm 50,3.

                One of the most curious inscriptions of that category is an epitaph of Jesus the son of Mariame (108; 198759+198763+198842) (21st of February 1173 A.D.) also from Nubia. It differs from other inscriptions by, place of provenance and the date of its making as well. Although it is from the collection of Lyceum Hosianum, it is still related, by its contents and form, to the Greek inscriptions found during the Polish excavations in Nubia. It belongs to the group of some dozens epitaphs found in the Nubian territory and dated to the 9th-13th centuries A.D.[3] In the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw there are three more inscriptions of that group (in the mentioned catalogue they bear the numbers 109-111). A characteristic feature of those epitaphs is quite extensive prayer for the deceased:


2.             In the name of the Father and Son

and the Holy Spirit, amen

Oh God of ghosts and all the body,

5.             Who wiped out the death

and crushed Hades and gave life

to the world, let your servant,

Jesus the son of Mariame, rest on the bosom

of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in

10.           the place of the heavenly paradise

in the place of rest, (from) where (fled)

grief, mourning and sigh fled from.

(Absolve him from) All the sins which

he committed either in (words) speaking or in deeds

15.           or in thought (absolve him from) (you) who are noble

and loving people. Because there's no man

who lived and wouldn't sin,

Since only you, God, are

beyond sin and (your) fairness

of yours (is) fairness for eternity

and the Word of Yours (is) truth - since You are (the Truth)



                It is also known as an element of funeral liturgy in the Greek-Orthodox Church. Itís earliest examples are to be found in the texts dating back to the 8th cent. A.D. The above quoted text differs a little from the Byzantine examples. In one case it was change of little importance, of one word: to\n #(/idhn katapath/saj was changed for/into to\n dia/bolon katapath/saj (that is a change of Hades for Devil). In the second case however the formula "on the bosom/of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob" is completely absent which may signify its specific popularity in Nubia. Through the mediation of the Byzantine Church this prayer became a part of liturgy of the Armenian Church and Slavonic churches (we can find it in the Old Church Slavonic texts), while in Africa it preserved in the liturgy of the Ethiopian church. We must add that, apart from Nubia, it was never placed in the tomb inscriptions.

                Small collection of the Greek Christian inscriptions preserved in the National Museum in Warsaw cannot be considered as being representative for the Early Christian Period. No doubt, the most interesting are the better known inscriptions from Nubia, but, as it was my aim to point out, someone who studies the origins of Christianity can find some points of interest in the other inscriptions, lesser known to a vast public.


Concordance of the inscriptions mentioned in this publication:

7; 198800

8; 198831

9; 198742

10; 198782

11; 198794

12; 198799 + 198843

25; 198760

26; 198791

28; 198825

94; 198726

96; 198727

97; 198735

98; 198840

99; 198750

100; 198836

108; 198759+198763+198842

[1] All the Greek inscriptions in the collections of the National Museum in Warsaw were studied in: A. £ajtar, A. Twardecki, Catalogue des Inscriptions Grecques du Musťe National de Varsovie,(in print). For a better clarity of the present paper I keep the numbering applied in the above mentioned catalogue. More detailed bibliographical data are to be found in the catalogue as well. Christian inscriptions in the catalogue were studied by Adam £ajtar and the above text was written on a basis of his statements.

[2] The first number refers to the number in the catalogue, the second one is the inventory number of the National Museum in Warsaw. The same rule was applied in the further part of the text.

[3] Full list of the above mentioned inscriptions is to be found in: A. £ajtar, Varia Nubica IV: Das alteste nubische Epitaph mit dem Gebet vom sogenannten Euchologion Mega?, "Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie und Epigraphik" 113, 1996, pp. 101-108, see annotations in: Catalogue..., op.cit.