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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world

Fragments of a Greek dedicatory inscription with a poem in honour of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) by an unknown author inspired by the poetry of Nonnos of Panopolis. Found in Aphrodisias (Caria, western Asia Minor). Probably 6th c. or later.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)

Literary - Poems

In hexameter verse:

A: / + ἐκ Μαρίης θεόπαιδος ἀπηνέος [- - -]
B: [- - -] θεοδέγμονα κῆπον vacat/
C: [- - -]ΝΙ θῆκα τὸ δῶμα + /

A. θεοπαῖδος I. Aphrodisias || B. ΘΕΟΔΕΙΜΟΝΑ Reinach || C. [ἀνε]θήκατο δῶ[μ]α (?) Grégoire, ΔΩΙΟΙΑ the drawing by Reichel, [- - -]ΝΙ θῆκα τὸ or θήκατο Feissel, θήκατο Merkelbach & Stauber

A: '+ From Mary, whose child was God, of harsh [- - -].'
B: '[- - -] the God-receiving Garden.'
C: '[- - -] I set the house +.'

IAph2007 7.2. Translation: Ch. Roueché.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Non Liturgical Activity

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings
Construction of cult buildings


Four white marble blocks. Two of them conjoin and form one piece. Current dimensions – A: W. 0.76 m, Th. 0.355 m; B: W. 0.535 m, Th. 0.355 m; C: W. 0.485 m, Th. 0.36 m.

The piece with verse C was copied in 1893 by Wilhelm Kubitschek (K.V.6) and Wolfgang Reichel (R.I.30). When they visited Aphrodisias during their journey across Asia Minor; they found the fragment reused in the wall of a house. Henri Grégoire published it in
IGC as the entry no. 264bis. Later it was revisited by members of the MAMA expedition and in 1962 J.M.R. Cormack prepared an edition in the eighth volume of the MAMA series (no. 603).

The fragment with verse B was discovered in the narthex at the Temple/Church site by Paul Gaudin, a director of the Rail Line Smyrna – Kassaba. In 1904 he acquired a license to start archaeological research in Aphrodisias that resulted in 221 squeezes and pictures of inscriptions (see Reinach 1906, p. 79). Part B was recorded by the squeeze no. 69. Theodore Reinach used it to publish the text in 1906 in
Revue des Études Grecques (Reinach 1906, no. 207). Later Henri Grégoire improved the reading and published it in IGC, no. 263, but at the same time, he separated it from the verse C, already known and likewise reprinted in IGC.

Part A, the most recent find, was found in the Section 5 of the triconch church, next to the southern wall. It consists of two fragments, which fit together, the left-hand edge is preserved. They were first noticed by the NYU Aphrodisias expedition in 1961, then in 1962 and in 1969.

Verses A, B and C were identified as deriving from the same inscription and published together by Charlotte Roueché in 1989 (no. 100; the entry was briefly commented on by Feissel 1991, p. 372, n. 25). Later she reprinted the inscription in Roueché,
ala2004, no. 100 and in IAph2007, no. 7.2. Reinhold Merkelbach and Josef Stauber included them also in SGO I, no. 02/09/97.


The inscription offers us remnants of a poem written in hexameter verse with two words deriving from the poems of Nonnos. Both Nonnian references have long been recognised. They reveal that the author of the inscription was inspired by the Paraphrase of the Gospel of John (for Nonnos' authorship of the Paraphrase see Shorrock 2013, 51; Sherry 1996 and the introduction to theThesaurus Pseudo-Nonni quondam Panopolitani, pp. vii-xxiv).

The first reference occurs in verse A: the word θεόπαις resembles a passage from Nonnos
par. Jo 19,138.

The Nonnian context of the second word, the adjective θεοδέγμων, raises no doubts either. It was the proposal of Henri Grégoire to correct Reinach's reading of ΘΕΟΔΕΙΜΟΝΑ in verse B into θεοδέγμονα and compare it with the poetry of Nonnos. Grégoire was, of course, aware that the whole expression θεοδέγμων κῆπος did not occur in Nonnus's poems, so he searched for similar passages. It was likewise Grégoire who suggested the literal interpretation of the phrase as “a garden”: either Paradise or the Mount of Olives. The literal interpretation was supported by subsequent scholars dealing with this text. G.W.H. Lampe accepted both possibilities (see
PGL, s.v. θεοδέγμων 1). Charlotte Roueché opted for another, but still similar, meaning. She understood θεοδέγμων κῆπος as the garden in which Jesus was buried. She went one step further and suggested that the actual theme of the poem was the life of Jesus – first his birth, followed by “the harsh experiences of His life”, and finally his burial. Roueché was also in favour of understanding the inscription as a kind of a label which could accompany a series of paintings showing the life of Jesus.

However, the poem can be understood in a different way. There is at least a theoretical possibility that the expression θεοδέγμων κῆπος was in this peculiar case metaphorically used to represent the Virgin Mary and the idea of the immaculate conception rather than any of the gardens mentioned in the Scriptures (see Nowakowski 2015). There are two major arguments in favour of such a supposition. The first argument is that before the 12th c. the adjective θεοδέγμων was never associated with regular gardens or with the tomb of Jesus. In contrast, the dedicatory inscription from the church of the Dormition of the Virgin of Skripou (Orchomenus) in Boeotia (AD 873/4), consisting of 12 Homeric hexametres, clearly shows that the word θεοδέγμων perfectly fits the Virgin Mary. The crucial reference is in lines 5-6, which read: μητρὸς ἀπειρογάμου, θεοδέγμονος ἰφιανάσσης, / τερπνὸν ἀποστίλβον περικαλλέα πάντοθεν αἴγλην: 'of the virgin Mother, the great sovereign who received God, / a delight, such a beautiful brightness gleaming all around' (trans. Prieto-Domínguez 2013, pp. 168-169).

The other argument supports this reasoning: the word κῆπος can be as easily referred to the Virgin Mary and virginity, as to the tomb of Jesus. In two greetings the Virgin Mary is even explicitly called a garden. In the
Oratio in Sanctam Mariam Deiparam by Chrysippos of Jerusalem, Gabriel the archangel addresses her: 'the garden of the Father' (χαῖρε, ὁ κῆπος ὁ τοῦ πατρός: Chrysipp. Oratio in Mariam Deiparam 1 (PO 19: 337)). John of Damascus goes even further and calls Mary the closed garden (χαῖρε, κῆπος κεκλεισμένος: Jo. D. Homilia in nativ. BMV 7 (PG 96, col. 692)) accessible to no-one except God. The metaphor of the closed garden (κῆπος κεκλεισμένος) goes back to the 12th verse of the fourth book of the Song of Solomon which reads: 'A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed': κῆπος κεκλεισμένος ἀδελφή μου νύμφη / κῆπος κεκλεισμένος, πηγὴ ἐσφραγισμένη.

Dating: 6th c. or later: based on the clear echoes of the poetry of Nonnos.


IAph2007 7.2.

Roueché, Ch. (ed.),
Aphrodisias in Late Antiquity. The Late Roman and Byzantine Inscriptions including Texts from the Excavations at Aphrodisias conducted by Kenan T. Erim (Journal of Roman Studies Monograph 5, London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 1989), no. 100.

Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten
, no. 02/09/97.

Monumenta Asiae Minoris Antiqua
VIII, no. 603 (piece C).

Grégoire, H. (ed.), Recueil des inscriptions grecques chrétiennes d'Asie Mineure, vol. 1 (Paris: Leroux, 1922), no. 263 (piece B).

Grégoire, H. (ed.), Recueil des inscriptions grecques chrétiennes d'Asie Mineure, vol. 1 (Paris: Leroux, 1922), no. 264bis (piece C).

Reinach, Th., "Inscriptions d'Aphrodisias",
Revue des Études Grecques 19 (1906), no. 207 (piece B).

Further Reading:
Couile, B., Sherry, L.F., and the CETEDOC team (eds.), Thesaurus Pseudo-Nonni quondam Panopolitani. Paraphrasis Evangelii S. Ioannis (Turnhout: Brepols, 2005), vii-xxiv.

Feissel, D., "Les inscriptions d'Aphrodisias (250-641 ap. J.-C.)",
The Journal of Roman Archaeology 4 (1991), 372.

Nowakowski, P., "A note on the meaning of θεοδέγμων κῆπος in a Nonnian verse inscription from Aphrodisias",
Eos 102 (2015), 155-164.

Prieto-Domínguez, O.,
On the Founder of the Skripou Church: Literary Trends in the Milieu of Photius, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, 53 (2013), 166–191.

Roueché, Ch.,
Aphrodisias in Late Antiquity,electronic second edition (London, 2004), ch. VII.16, 23.

Sherry, L.F., "The Paraphrase of St. John attributed to Nonnus",
Byzantion LXVI 1996, 409-430.

Shorrock, R.,
The Myth of Paganism: Nonnus, Dionysus and the World of Late Antiquity (London – New York: Bristol Classical Press, 2011, 2013), 51.


Fragment A; from: IAph2007 7.2.

Fragment B; from: IAph2007 7.2.

Fragment C; from: IAph2007 7.2.

Record Created By

Pawel Nowakowski

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΜαρίαCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Pawel Nowakowski, Cult of Saints, E00840 -