Serapis

Serapis

Overview
Serapis or Sarapis (Σάραπις) is a Graeco-Egyptian name of God. Serapis was devised during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. The god was depicted as Greek in appearance, but with Egyptian trappings, and combined iconography from a great many cults, signifying both abundance and resurrection. His cultus was spread as a matter of deliberate policy by the Ptolemaic kings, who also built a splendid Serapeum in Alexandria.
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Serapis or Sarapis (Σάραπις) is a Graeco-Egyptian name of God. Serapis was devised during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. The god was depicted as Greek in appearance, but with Egyptian trappings, and combined iconography from a great many cults, signifying both abundance and resurrection. His cultus was spread as a matter of deliberate policy by the Ptolemaic kings, who also built a splendid Serapeum in Alexandria. Serapis continued to increase in popularity during the Roman period, often replacing Osiris
Osiris
Osiris is an Egyptian god, usually identified as the god of the afterlife, the underworld and the dead. He is classically depicted as a green-skinned man with a pharaoh's beard, partially mummy-wrapped at the legs, wearing a distinctive crown with two large ostrich feathers at either side, and...

 as the consort of Isis in non-Egyptian temples. The destruction of the Serapeum
Serapeum
A serapeum is a temple or other religious institution dedicated to the syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian god Serapis, who combined aspects of Osiris and Apis in a humanized form that was accepted by the Ptolemaic Greeks of Alexandria...

 by a mob led by the Patriarch
Patriarch
Originally a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family. The system of such rule of families by senior males is called patriarchy. This is a Greek word, a compound of πατριά , "lineage, descent", esp...

 Theophilus of Alexandria in 389
389
Year 389 was a common year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Timasius and Promotus...

 is one of the key events in the downfall of ancient paganism, and the cult ceased to exist with the abolition of paganism in 391 AD
391
Year 391 was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Tatianus and Symmachus...

.

About the god


Both spellings Serapis and Sarapis are recorded. "Serapis" is used in Latin, but both appear in Greek, e.g. .

His most renowned temple was the Serapeum of Alexandria. Under Ptolemy Soter, efforts were made to integrate Egyptian religion with that of their Hellenic rulers. Ptolemy's policy was to find a deity that should win the reverence alike of both groups, despite the curses of the Egyptian priests against the gods of the previous foreign rulers (i.e Set who was lauded by the Hyksos
Hyksos
The Hyksos were an Asiatic people who took over the eastern Nile Delta during the twelfth dynasty, initiating the Second Intermediate Period of ancient Egypt....

). Alexander the Great had attempted to use Amun
Amun
Amun, reconstructed Egyptian Yamānu , was a god in Egyptian mythology who in the form of Amun-Ra became the focus of the most complex system of theology in Ancient Egypt...

 for this purpose, but he was more prominent in Upper Egypt
Upper Egypt
Upper Egypt is the strip of land, on both sides of the Nile valley, that extends from the cataract boundaries of modern-day Aswan north to the area between El-Ayait and Zawyet Dahshur . The northern section of Upper Egypt, between El-Ayait and Sohag is sometimes known as Middle Egypt...

, and not as popular with those in Lower Egypt
Lower Egypt
Lower Egypt is the northern-most section of Egypt. It refers to the fertile Nile Delta region, which stretches from the area between El-Aiyat and Zawyet Dahshur, south of modern-day Cairo, and the Mediterranean Sea....

, where the Greeks had stronger influence. The Greeks had little respect for animal-headed figures, and so a Greek-style anthropomorphic statue was chosen as the idol
Cult image
In the practice of religion, a cult image is a human-made object that is venerated for the deity, spirit or daemon that it embodies or represents...

, and proclaimed as the equivalent of the highly popular Apis
Apis (Egyptian mythology)
In Egyptian mythology, Apis or Hapis , was a bull-deity worshipped in the Memphis region.According to Manetho, his worship was instituted by Kaiechos of the Second Dynasty. Hape is named on very early monuments, but little is known of the divine animal before the New Kingdom...

. It was named Aser-hapi (i.e. Osiris-Apis), which became Serapis, and was said to be Osiris
Osiris
Osiris is an Egyptian god, usually identified as the god of the afterlife, the underworld and the dead. He is classically depicted as a green-skinned man with a pharaoh's beard, partially mummy-wrapped at the legs, wearing a distinctive crown with two large ostrich feathers at either side, and...

 in full, rather than just his Ka
Egyptian soul
The ancient Egyptians believed that a human soul was made up of five parts: the Ren, the Ba, the Ka, the Sheut, and the Ib. In addition to these components of the soul there was the human body...

 (life force).

History


The earliest mention of a Serapis is in the disputed death scene of Alexander (323 BC). Here, Serapis has a temple at Babylon
Babylon
Babylon was an Akkadian city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers south of Baghdad...

, and is of such importance that he alone is named as being consulted on behalf of the dying king. His presence in Babylon would radically alter perceptions of the mythologies of this era, though fortunately it has been discovered that the unconnected Babylonian god Ea (Enki
Enki
Enki is a god in Sumerian mythology, later known as Ea in Akkadian and Babylonian mythology. He was originally patron god of the city of Eridu, but later the influence of his cult spread throughout Mesopotamia and to the Canaanites, Hittites and Hurrians...

) was titled Serapsi, meaning 'king of the deep', and it is possible this Serapsi is the one referred to in the diaries. The significance of this Serapsi in the Hellenic psyche, due to its involvement in Alexander's death, may have also contributed to the choice of Osiris-Apis as the chief Ptolemaic god.

According to Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, Ptolemy stole the cult statue
Cult image
In the practice of religion, a cult image is a human-made object that is venerated for the deity, spirit or daemon that it embodies or represents...

 from Sinope
Sinope
Sinope may refer to:*Sinop, Turkey, a city on the Black Sea, historically known as Sinope** Battle of Sinop, 1853 naval battle in the Sinop port*Sinope , in Greek mythology, daughter of Asopus*Sinope , a moon of the planet Jupiter...

, having been instructed in a dream by the "unknown god
Unknown God
The Unknown God or Agnostos Theos is a theory by Eduard Norden first published in 1913 that proposes, based on Paul's Areopagus speech in Acts 17:23, that in addition to the twelve main gods and the innumerable lesser deities, ancient Greeks worshipped a deity they called "Agnostos Theos", that...

" to bring the statue to Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

, where the statue was pronounced to be Serapis by two religious experts. One of the experts was of the Eumolpidae
Eumolpidae
The Eumolpidae were a family of priests at Eleusis who maintained the Eleusinian Mysteries during the Hellenic era. As hierophants, they popularized the cult and allowed many more to be initiated into the secrets of Demeter and Persephone....

, the ancient family from whose members the hierophant
Hierophant
A hierophant is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy. The word comes from Ancient Greece, where it was constructed from the combination of ta hiera, "the holy," and phainein, "to show." In Attica it was the title of the chief priest at the...

 of the Eleusinian Mysteries
Eleusinian Mysteries
The Eleusinian Mysteries were initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece. Of all the mysteries celebrated in ancient times, these were held to be the ones of greatest importance...

 had been chosen since before history, and the other was the scholarly Egyptian priest Manetho
Manetho
Manetho was an Egyptian historian and priest from Sebennytos who lived during the Ptolemaic era, approximately during the 3rd century BC. Manetho wrote the Aegyptiaca...

, which gave weight to the judgement both for the Egyptians
Egyptians
Egyptians are nation an ethnic group made up of Mediterranean North Africans, the indigenous people of Egypt.Egyptian identity is closely tied to geography. The population of Egypt is concentrated in the lower Nile Valley, the small strip of cultivable land stretching from the First Cataract to...

 and the Greeks.

Plutarch may not be correct, however, as some Egyptologists allege that the Sinope in the tale is really the hill of Sinopeion, a name given to the site of the already existing Serapeum
Serapeum
A serapeum is a temple or other religious institution dedicated to the syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian god Serapis, who combined aspects of Osiris and Apis in a humanized form that was accepted by the Ptolemaic Greeks of Alexandria...

 at Memphis
Memphis, Egypt
Memphis was the ancient capital of Aneb-Hetch, the first nome of Lower Egypt. Its ruins are located near the town of Helwan, south of Cairo.According to legend related by Manetho, the city was founded by the pharaoh Menes around 3000 BC. Capital of Egypt during the Old Kingdom, it remained an...

. Also, according to Tacitus, Serapis (i.e., Apis explicitly identified as Osiris in full) had been the god of the village of Rhakotis
Rhakotis
Rhacotis, Egyptian Râ-Kedet, Greek Ῥακῶτις, was the original name of the city of Alexandria on the northern coast of Egypt, before it was renamed by Alexander the Great...

 before it expanded into the great capital of Alexandria.

The statue suitably depicted a figure resembling Hades
Hades
Hades , Hadēs, originally , Haidēs or , Aidēs , meaning "the unseen") was the ancient Greek god of the underworld. The genitive , Haidou, was an elision to denote locality: "[the house/dominion] of Hades". Eventually, the nominative came to designate the abode of the dead.In Greek mythology, Hades...

 or Pluto, both being kings of the Greek underworld
Underworld
The Underworld is a region which is thought to be under the surface of the earth in some religions and in mythologies. It could be a place where the souls of the recently departed go, and in some traditions it is identified with Hell or the realm of death...

, and was shown enthroned with the modius
Modius
Modius is the nomen of the Roman gens Modia.Modius is also a Roman unit of dry measure, approximately equal to one peck....

, a basket/grain-measure, on his head, since it was a Greek symbol
Symbol
A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

 for the land of the dead. He also held a sceptre
Sceptre
A sceptre is a symbolic ornamental rod or wand borne in the hand by a ruling monarch as an item of royal or imperial insignia.-Antiquity:...

 in his hand indicating his rulership, with Cerberus
Cerberus
Cerberus , or Kerberos, in Greek and Roman mythology, is a multi-headed hound which guards the gates of the Underworld, to prevent those who have crossed the river Styx from ever escaping...

, gatekeeper of the underworld, resting at his feet, and it also had what appeared to be a serpent
Serpent (symbolism)
Serpent in Latin means: Rory Collins :&, in turn, from the Biblical Hebrew word of: "saraf" with root letters of: which refers to something burning-as, the pain of poisonous snake's bite was likened to internal burning.This word is commonly used in a specifically mythic or religious context,...

 at its base, fitting the Egyptian symbol of rulership, the uraeus
Uraeus
The Uraeus is the stylized, upright form of an Egyptian spitting cobra , used as a symbol of sovereignty, royalty, deity, and divine authority in ancient Egypt.The Uraeus is a symbol for the goddess Wadjet, who was one of the earliest Egyptian deities and who...

.

With his (i.e. Osiris's) wife Isis
Isis
Isis or in original more likely Aset is a goddess in Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, whose worship spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. She was worshipped as the ideal mother and wife as well as the matron of nature and magic...

, and their son Horus
Horus
Horus is one of the oldest and most significant deities in the Ancient Egyptian religion, who was worshipped from at least the late Predynastic period through to Greco-Roman times. Different forms of Horus are recorded in history and these are treated as distinct gods by Egyptologists...

 (in the form of Harpocrates
Harpocrates
In late Greek mythology as developed in Ptolemaic Alexandria, Harpocrates is the god of silence. Harpocrates was adapted by the Greeks from the Egyptian child god Horus. To the ancient Egyptians, Horus represented the new-born Sun, rising each day at dawn...

), Serapis won an important place in the Greek world, reaching Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

, with Anubis
Anubis
Anubis is the Greek name for a jackal-headed god associated with mummification and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion. In the ancient Egyptian language, Anubis is known as Inpu . According to the Akkadian transcription in the Amarna letters, Anubis' name was vocalized as Anapa...

 being identified as Cerberus. In Rome, Serapis was worshiped in the Iseum Campense, the sanctuary of the goddess Isis located in the Campus Martius
Campus Martius
The Campus Martius , was a publicly owned area of ancient Rome about in extent. In the Middle Ages, it was the most populous area of Rome...

 and built during the Second Triumvirate
Second Triumvirate
The Second Triumvirate is the name historians give to the official political alliance of Octavius , Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and Mark Antony, formed on 26 November 43 BC with the enactment of the Lex Titia, the adoption of which marked the end of the Roman Republic...

. The Roman cults of Isis and Serapis gained in popularity late in the 1st century thanks to the god's role in the miracles that the imperial usurper Vespasian
Vespasian
Vespasian , was Roman Emperor from 69 AD to 79 AD. Vespasian was the founder of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Empire for a quarter century. Vespasian was descended from a family of equestrians, who rose into the senatorial rank under the Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty...

 experienced in the city of Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

, where he stayed prior to his return to Rome as emperor in 70 AD. From the Flavian Dynasty
Flavian dynasty
The Flavian dynasty was a Roman Imperial Dynasty, which ruled the Roman Empire between 69 and 96 AD, encompassing the reigns of Vespasian , and his two sons Titus and Domitian . The Flavians rose to power during the civil war of 69, known as the Year of the Four Emperors...

 on, Serapis sometimes appeared on imperial coinage with the reigning emperor. The great cult survived until 385, when a Christian mob destroyed the Serapeum of Alexandria, and subsequently the cult was forbidden by the Theodosian decree.

The Alexandrians were syncretic, and a letter inserted in the Augustan History
Augustan History
The Augustan History is a late Roman collection of biographies, in Latin, of the Roman Emperors, their junior colleagues and usurpers of the period 117 to 284...

, ascribed to the Emperor Hadrian
Hadrian
Hadrian , was Roman Emperor from 117 to 138. He is best known for building Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northern limit of Roman Britain. In Rome, he re-built the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. In addition to being emperor, Hadrian was a humanist and was philhellene in...

, refers to this indifference:

The land of Egypt, the praises of which you have been recounting to me, my dear Servianus, I have found to be wholly light-minded, unstable, and blown about by every breath of rumour. There those who worship Serapis are, in fact, Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are, in fact, devotees of Serapis. There is no chief of the Jewish synagogue
Synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

, no Samaritan
Samaritan
The Samaritans are an ethnoreligious group of the Levant. Religiously, they are the adherents to Samaritanism, an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism...

, no Christian presbyter
Presbyter
Presbyter in the New Testament refers to a leader in local Christian congregations, then a synonym of episkopos...

, who is not an astrologer
Astrologer
An astrologer practices one or more forms of astrology. Typically an astrologer draws a horoscope for the time of an event, such as a person's birth, and interprets celestial points and their placements at the time of the event to better understand someone, determine the auspiciousness of an...

, a soothsayer
Fortune-telling
Fortune-telling is the practice of predicting information about a person's life. The scope of fortune-telling is in principle identical with the practice of divination...

, or an anointer. Even the Patriarch
Patriarch
Originally a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family. The system of such rule of families by senior males is called patriarchy. This is a Greek word, a compound of πατριά , "lineage, descent", esp...

 himself, when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ.

See also

  • Serapeum
    Serapeum
    A serapeum is a temple or other religious institution dedicated to the syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian god Serapis, who combined aspects of Osiris and Apis in a humanized form that was accepted by the Ptolemaic Greeks of Alexandria...

  • Serapis Bey
    Serapis Bey
    Serapis Bey , sometimes written as Serapis, is regarded in Theosophy as being one of the Masters of the Ancient Wisdom; and in the Ascended Master Teachings is considered to be an Ascended Master and member of the Great White Brotherhood. He is regarded as the Chohan of the Fourth Ray . C.W...

    , the Ascended Master
    Ascended master
    Ascended Masters, in the Ascended Master Teachings is derived from the Theosophical concept of Masters of the Ancient Wisdom or "Mahatmas", though they differ in important aspects...

    in charge of the Ascension Temple