Abercius.

Author of the queen of Christian inscriptions.


Attributed text(s).
Epitaph, or inscription of Abercius.

Abercius was the bishop of Hieropolis in Phrygia. A Byzantine biography is extant, but it is very late. His real claim to fame is the wondrously worded inscription that he left as an epitaph, which describes a journey to Rome, then back to Phyrgia via Syria and the land across the Euphrates.

For more information, I recommend the Abercius page at Early Christian Writings.

The inscription must date to late century II or early century III. This transcription is based on the text in Orazio Marucchi, Christian Epigraphy, translated by J. Armine Willis (the text itself is based in turn on the reconstruction by De Rossi).

Face 1.
  1. Εκλεκτης πολεως ο πολει-
    της τουτ εποιησα
  2. ζων ιν εχω καιρω
    σωματος ενθα θεσιν·
  3. ουνομ Αβερκιος ων ο
    μαθητης ποιμενος αγνου
  4. ος βοσκει προβατων αγελας
    ορεσιν πεδιος τε,
  5. οφθαλμους ος εχει μεγαλους
    παντη καθορωντας·
  6. ουτος γαρ μ εδιδαξε
    τα ζωης γραμματα πιστα.
I, the citizen of an eminint city, made this [tomb] while living so that in due season I might have where to place my body. Abercius is my name, being the disciple of the chaste shepherd who feeds his flocks on mountains and plains, who has great eyes looking everywhere; for he taught me faithful writings.
Face 2.
  1. Εις Ρωμην ος επεμψεν
    εμε{ν} βασιλειαν αθρησαι
  2. και βασιλισσαν ιδειν χρυσοσ-
    τολον χρυσοπεδιλον,
  3. λαον δ ειδον εκει λαμπραν
    σφραγειδαν εχοντα,
  4. και Συριης πεδον ειδα
    και αστεα παντα, Νισιβιν,
  5. Ευφρατην διαβας, παν-
    τη δ εσχον σ{υ}νομιλους·
  6. Παυλον εχων επο{μην}·
    πιστις παντη δε προηγε,
  7. και παρηθηκε τροφην
    παντη ιχθυν απο πηγης
  8. πανμεγεθη καθαρον ον
    εδραξατο παρθενος αγνη,
  9. και τουτον επεδωκε φι-
    λοις εσθιειν δια παντος,
  10. οινον χρηστον εχουσα,
    κερασμα διδουσα μετ αρτου.
He sent me to kingly Rome to contemplate it and to see the queen, golden-robed, golden-shoed. And there I saw a people having the lustrous seal. And I saw the plain of Syria and all the cities, Nisibis, having crossed the Euphrates. And everywhere I had associates. Having Paul I followed; faith led everywhere, and everywhere set before me as food the fish from the fountain, mighty, clean, which a chaste virgin grasped, and this gave to friends to through everything, having fine wine, giving it, mixed, with bread.
Face 3.
  1. Ταυτα παρεστως ειπον
    Αβερκιος ωδε γραφηναι,
  2. εβδομηκοστον ετος και
    δευτερον ηγον αληθως·
  3. ταυθ ο νοων ευξαιτο υπερ
    Αβερκιου πας ο συνωδος.
  4. ου μεντοι τυμβω τις εμω
    ετερον τινα θησει
  5. ει δ ουν Ρωμαιων ταμειω
    θησει δισχιλια χρυσα
  6. και χρηστη πατριδι Ιερο-
    πολει χιλια χρυσα.
These things I, Abercius, being present, said to be inscribed, truly in my seventy-second year. Let the one who understands these things, every man who thinks likewise, pray for Abercius. Let no man place any other tomb on mine. But if so he shall pay two thousand gold pieces to the treasury of the Romans, and a thousand gold pieces to my fine fatherland Hieropolis.
The boldfaced parts represent the fragmentary inscription itself, discovered by William Ramsay in 1883 in Phrygia. The rest of the text De Rossi reconstructed from Symeon Metaphrastes, a Byzantine hagiographer (century X), who published the Acts of Abercius. The inscription consists of three different sections, or faces.