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Headless statue of Serapis sitting on the throne

Headless statue of Serapis sitting on the throne
© BA Antiquities Museum/M. Aly

Registration Number(s)
BAAM Serial Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum Number 0247

Inv.Inventory
 (Greco-Roman Museum) 3913

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Greco-Roman Antiquities

Headless statue of Serapis sitting on the throne

Category:
Sculpture in the round, statues, human / gods and goddesses statues, headless statues
Date:
Graeco-Roman Period (332 BCE-395 CE)
Provenance:
Unknown
Material(s):
Rock, marble
Height:
69 cm
Hall:
Greco-Roman Antiquities


Description

A headless marble statue of Serapis sitting on the throne, with the three-headed Cerberus, the dog of the underworld, beside his feet.

Serapis

Serapis is the same Egyptian deity Usir-Hapy (the deceased Apis bull united with Osiris) worshipped in Memphis, and known to the Greeks as Usir-Apis. His cult started during the 26th Dynasty. At the beginning he was worshipped in the form of the sacred bull Apis. When Osir-Apis became the official god of the Ptolemaic Empire, Zeus was selected to incarnate him, to avoid the animal form which was inconvenient for the Greeks. To make the pronunciation easier he became to be known as Serapis. Isis and Harpocrates (Horus the Child) were also selected with Serapis to form a sacred triad. Thus, Serapis was meant to form a bridge between the Greek and Egyptian religions in a new age in which their respective gods were brought face-to-face with each other, so that both Egyptians and Greeks could find unity in a specific supreme entity. The cult of Serapis lasted well into the Roman period, and his temples spread all over the Mediterranean basin.

Serapis as a healing god

When Serapis had once been established by Ptolemy I in Alexandria as a chief god of the Egyptians and the Greeks, and had been presented in the visible similarity of a Greek god, he came to receive attributes analogous to one or other of the ancestral Greek gods. He became specifically assimilated to Asklepios as a god of healing. Sick men might sleep in his temple and receive instructions through dreaming regarding their case. These attributes may have been quite early attached by the Greeks to Serapis.

Cult centers

The center of worship of Serapis in Ptolemaic times was Alexandria at the great Serapeum. This temple was considered a pilgrimage site throughout the Mediterranean area, until it was destroyed by order of Emperor Theodosius in 389 CE.  The Serapeum, which Ptolemy I founded, was probably on the Hill of Rhakotis. The temple in question was rebuilt during the reign of Ptolemy III (246–222 BCE).
The cult also existed in the late Pharaonic temple complex, later known as the Memphis Serapeum, which was rebuilt during the Pharaonic Period by Nectanebo I and Nectanebo II. This building was the destination of the crowds of pilgrims who sought oracle healing while sleeping inside the god’s temple.

Serapis in art

The features of Serapis were Greek: a bearded god, resembling Zeus, or Hades or Asklepios, wearing on his head a high headdress known as the Kalathos or modius which is a cylindrical-shaped measure of grain symbolizing fertility and prosperity. He is usually depicted seated on a throne with the three-headed dog Cerberus, the dog of the underworld, beside his feet.


The information given here is subject to modification/update as a result of ongoing research.

Bibliography
  • Bevan, Edwyn. A History of Egypt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty. Volume IV. London: Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1927.
  • Hornblower, Simon and Antony Spawforth, eds. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Third edition. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, c.1999.
  • Odijk, Pamela. The Greeks. Oxford: Heinemann, 1989.
  • Empereur, Jean-Yves. Alexandria Rediscovered. London: British Museum Press, 1998.
  • مصطفى العبادي. مصر من  الإسكندر الأكبر إلى الفتح العربي. القاهرة: مكتبة الأنجلو المصرية، 1975.
  • هارولد إدريس بل.  مصر من الإسكندر الأكبر وحتى الفتح العربي. ترجمة عبد اللطيف أحمد علي ومحمد عواد حسين. القاهرة: مكتبة النهضة، 1954.
  • عزت قادوس. آثار الإسكندرية القديمة. الإسكندرية: مطبعة الحضري، 2001.
  • منى حجاج. أساطير الإغريق: ابتداع وإبداع. الإسكندرية: الرواد، 2007.
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