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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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

Greek inscriptions from so-called Basilica B in Rusafa/Sergioupolis (northeast Syria/Euphratesia), one just possibly referring to the cult of *Leontios (martyr of Tripolis, Phoenicia, S00216), and one to that of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033). Probably 6th c.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)

Archaeological and architectural - Extant reliquaries and related fixtures

Archaeological and architectural - Internal cult fixtures (crypts, ciboria, etc.)

Inscriptions - Graffiti

The present-day stone Basilica B in Rusafa was built after 518, in the centre of the city, by bishop Sergios II of Rusafa. It superseded a mud-brick structure, constructed in the early 430s by Alexander, bishop of Hierapolis-Bambyke in Syria, as a martyr shrine of *Sergios (see: E01440).

For a description of the present, three-aisled building, see: Key Fowden 1999, 87-91. Its size is: L. 48.50 m; W. 27.70 m. It is one of the largest churches in Syria, though it is still smaller than another church in the city, the so-called Basilica A (see: E01460; E01461).

The southern aisle ends with a
pastophorion (a room adjacent to the apse), which leads to an apsidal chamber, identified as a burial place (Kollwitz, Wirth & Karnapp 1958-1959, 31-32) or as a martyr shrine (Donceel-Voûte 1988, 280 note 1, 284, note 20). The north aisle ends with a triconch room, paved with a delicate and expensive opus sectile. It has been suggested that the room was either inaccessible to laymen or the floor was covered by carpets. The eastern conch concealed a platform, probably with a table. A recess and a channel in the platform suggest that a reliquary was sited there and holy oil produced, to be distributed among pilgrims.

On a wide ledge near the eastern wall in an annex to the triconch room, a sarcophagus was found
in situ. It was also fitted with channels for the production of the holy oil. Unfortunately, the identity of the saint, venerated here, is unknown. Johannes Kollwitz, who surveyed the church in the 1950s, suggested that Sergios was venerated in the triconch chapel, and Bakchos in the adjacent room, but the theory is no longer sustainable in the light of the epigraphic sources (E01140, E01460, E01461) and the literary evidence of the Pilgrim of Piacenza (E00571, E00572).

Basilica B was probably damaged by an earthquake in the late 6th or 7th c. and its stones were reused for the restoration of Basilica A and the construction of the Great Mosque in Rusafa.


Most of the building inscriptions for Basilica B were reused in Basilica A and in the Great Mosque, adjacent to Basilica A's courtyard (see: E01440; E01460, section 3). Unfortunately, none of them mentions the patron saint of the structure. Among the inscriptions found
in situ, two deserve our attention:

Inscription 1:

The inscription is a graffito on the door-frame in the southern square room. It is no longer legible, but in 1957 Kollwitz saw 11 or 12 lines, of which he transcribed only the 1st, 4th, and 11th.

1. Κ(ύρι)ε, βοήθη
4. ΛΕΟ

'Lord, help! Leo[- - - ] Leont[- - -]'

Text: Kollwitz 1957, 77.

Based only on this scarcely legible graffito, Gunnar Brands 2002 (48-52, 114-117) suggested that *Leontios, a soldier martyr, was venerated in Basilica B together with Sergios and Bakchos (as the three were venerated together in the city of Bostra, south Syria, see: E02234). This is, however, implausible, as the meaning of the inscription is very unclear, and the theory was questioned by Rolf Tybout (
SEG 52, 1588bis). It is almost certain that the cult of Sergios ceased at the site of Basilica B after the removal of his relics from the mud brick structure and their translation to Basilica A (see: E01440), and Bakchos was never venerated in Rusafa.

Inscription 2:

The inscription is a graffito on the outer wall of the basilica, next to a door.

Μαρ[ί]α, βοήθη Σεργ[ίῳ]

'Maria, help Sergios!'

Text: Kollwitz 1957, 73.

This is an invocation of Mary by a certain Sergios.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)
Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)
Burial site of a saint - sarcophagus/coffin

Non Liturgical Activity

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings
Construction of cult buildings
Renovation and embellishment of cult buildings
Appropriation of older cult sites
Visiting graves and shrines
Burial ad sanctos


Bodily relic - unspecified
Contact relic - oil
Making contact relics
Public display of relics
Reliquary – institutionally owned
Collections of multiple relics
Construction of cult building to contain relics

Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops


For the basilica, see:
Brands, G., "Old and new order. City and territorium of Ruṣāfa in Late Antiquity and early Islamʼ, [in:] Borrut, A., Debié, M., Papaconstantinou, A., Pieri, D., Sodini, J.-P. (eds.), Le Proche-Orient de Justinien aux Abbassides: Peuplement et dynamiques spatiales. Actes du colloque «Continuités de l’occupation entre les périodes byzantine et abbasside au Proche-Orient, VIIe-IXe siècles», Paris, 18-20 octobre 2007 (Bibliothèque de lʼAntiquité tardive 19, Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), 59-76.

Donceel-Voûte, P.,
Les pavements des églises byzantines de Syrie et du Liban. Décor, archéologie et liturgie (Publications d’histoire de l’art et d’archéologie de l’Université catholique de Louvain 69, Louvain-La-Neuve: Département d'archéologie et d'histoire de l'art, 1988), 280-284.

Gussone, M., Sack, D., "Resafa/Syrien. Städtebauliche Entwicklung zwischen Kultort und Herrschaftssitz", in: E. Rizos (ed.),
New Cities in Late Antiquity. Documents and Archaeology (Bibliothèque de l'Antiquité Tardive 35, Turnhout: Brepols, 2017), 117-136.

Key Fowden, E.,
The Barbarian Plain: St. Sergius between Rome and Iran (Berkeley, Calif.; London: University of California Press, 1999), 87-91.

Kollwitz.J, “Die Grabungen in Resafa: Herbst 1954 u. Herbst 1956”,
Archäologischer Anzeiger (1957), 73; 77.

Kollwitz, J., Wirth, W., Karnapp, W., “Die Grabungen in Resafa: Herbst 1954 und 1956”,
Les annales archéologiques arabes syriennes. Revue d'archéologie et d'histoire 8-9 (1958-1959), 31-32.

Loosley, E.,
The Architecture and Liturgy of the Bema in Fourth-to-Sxth-century Syrian Churches (Boston: Brill, 2012), 28-29; 129-131; 267-272.

Sack, D., Sarhan, M., Gussone, M., "Resafa-Sergiupolis/Ruṣāfat Hišām, Syrien. Pilgerstadt und Kalifenresidenz. Neue Ansätze, Ergebnisse und Perspektiven",
Zeitschrift für Orient-Archäologie 3 (2010), 102-129.

Sack, D., Gussone, M., "Resafa – Pilgerstadt und Kalifenresidenz am Rand der Wüste",
Spektrum der Wissenschaften, Spezial 2 (2011), 58-65.

Sack, D., "St Sergios in Resafa: Worshipped by Christians and Muslims alike", in: Blömer, M., Lichtenberger, A., Raja, R. (eds.),
Religious Identities in the Levant from Alexander to Muhammed: Continuity and Change (Contextualizing the Sacred 4, Turnhout: Brepols, 2015), 271-282.

Inscription 1:
Kollwitz.J, “Die Grabungen in Resafa: Herbst 1954 u. Herbst 1956”, Archäologischer Anzeiger (1957), 77.

Further reading:
Brands, G., Resafa VI: Die Bauornamentik von Resafa-Sergiupolis. Studien zur spätantiken Architektur und Bauausstattung in Syrien und Nordmesopotamien (Mainz: P. von Zabern, 2002), 114-117.

Reference works:
Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 52, 1588bis.

Inscription 2:
Kollwitz.J, “Die Grabungen in Resafa: Herbst 1954 u. Herbst 1956”, Archäologischer Anzeiger (1957), 73.

Reference works:
Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 52, 1588bis.


Plan of Balsilica B. From: Resafa 6, figure 13.

Record Created By

Paweł Nowakowski

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00023Sergios, soldier and martyr of RusafaUncertain
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristCertain
S00079Bakchos, soldier and martyr of BarbalissosUncertain
S00216Leontios, martyr of Tripolis (Phoenicia)Uncertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Paweł Nowakowski, Cult of Saints, E01462 -