Nubian Pregnancy Protection

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Wall Painting of Saint Sisinios at Bawit

Nubian Pregnancy Protection: A Saint Sisinios Amulet from Qasr Ibrim

Ed.princ., apparatus and preliminary translation by Joost Hagen

Introduction and commentary by Giovanni Ruffini

Object number 80-3-11/2, an amulet on paper excavated at Qasr Ibrim in 1980, was entered in the sequence of textual finds as NI 113, indicating that its excavators took it to be Old Nubian. In fact, with the exception of one word, the 28-line text is entirely Greek, and contains a medieval Nubian version of the legend of Saint Sisinios, a protective hero with over two thousand years of history in Mediterranean folklore. The provenance of the amulet is recorded as the northwest bastion, "A3 – 41 – LC1 – 30 – Room 4."<ref>“Qasr Ibrim Running Register of Textual Finds, 1978-1980” housed in the British Museum Qasr Ibrim Archive.</ref> This context indicates that the amulet dates no earlier than the late twelfth century AD. Thus, it is a remarkable example of the very late use of Greek in Lower Nubia, and as importantly, a remarkable example of Nubian Christianity’s adaptation of hagiographical traditions widespread in other areas of the Christian world.

Apotropaic heroes named swswny (Aramaic), Sisinios (Greek), and other variants appear to have their roots in a protective figure named Ssm. This protective figure first made its appearance in a Phoenician amulet in the seventh century BC.<ref>Stol 2000, 229.</ref> In Hellenistic and later versions of the story, the hero’s nemesis is a baby-stealing or baby-killing demon named "Iron" (sideros or werzelya in Aramaic and Ethiopic versions) or Gellou (in Greek versions).<ref>Stol 2000, 228.</ref> One trick this demon frequently employs is to masquerade as a midwife.<ref>Stol 2000, 230.</ref> Versions of this story gradually assimilated into Christianity in the form of Roman-era hagiographical accounts. In one Greek version, set in the reign of Trajan, the demon cannot vomit up one of her victims until she drinks from the breast of the baby’s mother.<ref>Naveh and Shaked 1985, 114, providing the Greek text and translation of the story given in Perdrizet 1922.</ref> In an Arabic synaxary based on a Coptic original, Saint Sisinios is the son of a member of Diocletian’s court.<ref>Naveh and Shaked 1985, 117.</ref> Sisinios is often depicted on a horse, as in the Trajanic version just mentioned, and depicted as a mounted military saint in a wall painting at Bawit.<ref>Clédat 1904, 80-81 with Plate 55.</ref> References to Sisinios frequently appear in texts intended to serve an apotropaic function. Ethiopian amulets designed to protect newborns include examples invoking the name of Susenios (Greek Sisinios).<ref>Halevy 1907.</ref>

The text we present here is a Greek version of a portion of the Saint Sisinios story, one with no direct relationship to the other known Greek versions. If we take the nemesis belselleia as the Greek basileia and suppose her to have been some member of the royal family, we may have a version close to that in the Arabic synaxary, depicting Sisinios as part of Diocletian’s court circle. Sisinios does not appear in W. H. C. Frend's study of the cult of military saints in Nubia, and indeed, one modern author has questioned whether Sisinios can be considered a warrior-saint properly speaking.<ref>Frend 1979 and Walter 2003</ref> Nonetheless, this text shows that Nubia inherited the image of a mounted Saint Sisinios - like that known from Bawit - warring against evil demons. From the closing lines of the text, this amulet seems to have invoked this Sisinios story to protect an unnamed daughter of Tittiko, or more specifically, to protect either her pregnancy or her recently born child. This text is thus a piece of Nubian magic to protect against the vagaries of child-birth.

The original has not been consulted. The text given here is produced by reference to photographs and transcripts located in the British Museum’s Qasr Ibrim Archive.

Courtesy of the Qasr Ibrim Archive, British Museum, and the Egypt Exploration Society

QI 80-3-11/2

+ Εν ονοματι του π(ατ)ρ(ο)ς (και) του υ(ιο)υ (και) του αγι-

ου πν(ευματο)σ. αν(θρωπ)ος της ονομα σισινιος ελα-

βεν γυναυκα (και) υηγενειν αυτου γενν-

4 α αυτου την γαθερα (και) ιδωνκειν αυ-

των την γατερα αυτου ανδρι (και) η παι-

ς συλλαβουσα (και) εγεννησεν αρρανα.

(και) ονδυσασα η βελσελλεια πονα-

8 ξασα τουτο παιδιον απεντινεν (και)

καθησαν η θυγατηρ του αγιου σισινι-

ος εκκληυεν επεντη ταις θυγα-

τρι τιτος . . παλισο ημερος . . . .

12 δρα σκυτροπαζειν. λειγει αυτου

η βελσελλειαν ειςελθυσαν απεκ-

τινεν του υπνουσα. εξελθω δε

αγιος σισινιος επιφας επι τον

16 ιππον αυτου λευβον επ[ι]ρευθη

εξ ραυνον . αυτον. ευρον γυνεκα την-

α κατειμενων. λειγει αυτης αρα τε

ορησας την βασιλεαιν. αυτη δε εφη

20 οτι εισελθεν εις τω αμπελωνα των

αντικρισου (και) κειμενος. αυτη δε

εισηλθων εις τω αμπελωνα

ευρην αυτη καθημενων τον εξ-

24 ουσιων του σκοτους (και) καθηκοναι

αυτους. καταβας απου του ιππον κλ-

ηνας των αγι . να προς τον κ(υριο)ν λεγει.

τον δ(ουλον) σου μεδjου θυγ(ατερα) τιττικο. ηφη.

χπθ γ(α)β(ιρη)λ χμ



+ In the name of the Father and the Son and the Ho|ly Spirit. A certain man named Sisinnios took | a wife, and his (wife) bore | a daughter of his family (genna), and they (autôn for autoi?) gave [5] his daughter to a man, and the girl, | having become pregnant, bore a male (child). | And going in, the princess, suffering, | killed that young child and, | sitting, the daughter of Saint Sisinni- [10] os ... ((lamented?)) (her) five daugh- | ters (?) breast (?), ... ... ((day?)) ... ((man?)), | (he / it) (the baby?) (??) grumbling / being unhappy (?). | The princess spoke to him, entered, and killed | the sleeping woman. And leaving / going outside, | [15] Saint Sisinnios, having appeared on | his white horse, coming to the rescue (?) | from his ... . He found a certain woman | sitting (/ going down / passing by) (?). He said to her: ’Have | you seen the princess?’ And she said: [20] ’She went into the vineyard | opposite (?) and is lying (?) (there).’ And he, | going into the vineyard, | found her, sitting with / bringing down (??) the | powers of darkness (?) and making them descend (?). [25] Having dismounted from the horse, | having bowed (?) (the) ... for the Lord, he spoke. | <Your> servant, the servant, daughter of Tittiko. (Three ring letters.) (<Lord Jesus Christ, protect>) | Michael, Gabriel, Raphael.


Jesus Christ

Archangel Raphael.


4-5. idônkein… têngatera… andri: For edôken thugatera andri, used of parents giving a daughter to a man in marriage; Il. 6.192, Od. 4.7 (Liddell & Scott).

7: ondusasa: From enduô?

7 and 13: belselleia: Taken as an error for basileia on the basis of the latter's appearance in 19. As the name or identity of the nemesis in this story, consider its possible relationship to the name of the nemesis in the Ethiopic version, Werzelya, which has been suggested as a distortion of Basileia.<ref>Naveh and Shaked 1985, 116.</ref>

7-8. ponaxasa: From poneô?

10: ekklêuen: From ekkêleô? "cast a spell upon".

10-11: The reference to five daughters after the loss of a sixth is a clear connection to other versions of the Sisinios story, in which the female protagonist has six daughters in all. It is unclear precisely how titos (for breast) connects with the grammar of the sentence. Consider Stol 2000, 230, which reports a version of the story in which the nemesis says, "Let me put my breasts in your daughters’ mouths."

16: epireuthê: From epirrothos?

26. The prayer to follow is omitted from the text.

27. For an exactly parallel form, in which the Greek phrase "your servant" is followed by the Old Nubian word for "servant," followed by a Greek patronymic, see P.QI inv. 76.2.14/12 lines 12-14.