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Serapis

Serapis was a syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian god in Antiquity. His most renowned temple was at Alexandria. He is represented with thick hair and rough beard, wearing a modius or calathus (basket) on his head. He usually stands with his right hand elevated and holding both the skirts of his garment and a staff transversely in his left hand.

Ptolemy Soter, wanting to integrate Egyptian religion with that of their Hellenic rulers, by promoted worship of Serapis as a deity that would win the reverence of both groups alike. This was despite the curses of the Egyptian priests against the gods of previous foreign rulers (i.e Set who was lauded by the Hyksos). Alexander the Great had attempted to use Amun for this purpose, but Amum was more prominent in Upper Egypt, and not as popular in Lower Egypt, where the Greeks had stronger influence. The Greeks had little respect for animal-headed figures, and so an anthropomorphic statue was chosen as the idol, and proclaimed as the equivalent of the highly popular Apis. It was named Aser-hapi (i.e. Osiris-Apis), which became Serapis, and was said to be Osiris in full, rather than just his Ka (life force). Ptolemy's efforts were successful - in time Serapis was held by the Egyptians in the highest reverence above all other deities, and he was adored in Athens and other Greek cities.

At length the Romans, whose fondness for new gods increased with the influence of their foreign conquests, introduced the worship of Serapis with the walls of their city; not, however, without opposition and resistance for a season on the part of the senate to the popular thirst after such novelties. Through the influence of P. Victor an altar was erected to Serapis in the Circus Flaminii, and it quickly assumed the form of a superb temple which, after its Alexandrine prototype, was called the Serapeon. The principal Italian cities, never far behind Rome, soon imitated her example, and it was not long before the worship of Serapis was extended from Italy by the different colonies sent from that country into Asia Minor.

The ancients did not agree on the attributes of Serapis.  A passage in Tacitus affirms that many recognized in this god, Aesculapius, imputing healing to his intervention; some thought him identical with Osiris, the oldest deity of the Egyptians; others regarded him as Jupiter, possessing universal power; but by most he was believed to be the same as Pluto, the "gloomy" Dis Pater of the infernal regions. The general impression of the ancients seems to have been that by Serapis, was to be understood the beginning and foundation of things.

Serapis was credited with a healing attribute, especially in cases of acute diseases. Marcus Aurelius, tortured with the malady which later killed him, made a visit to the temple of Serapis at Perinthus, in Thrace; and according to his historian, he returned in health. This is recorded on a medal struck at Perinthus, on which the head of the emperor is on the obverse and the head of Serapis on the reverse.

The Emperor Julian II, another philosopher, who at a late date preferred Paganism to Christianity, and especially honored Egyptian Polytheism, under Grecian and Roman names, consulted the oracle of Apollo for the purpose of learning whether Pluto and Serapis were different gods; and he received for an answer that Jupiter-Serapis and Pluto were one and the same divinity. 


DICTIONARY OF ROMAN COINS




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Serapis. -- The mythology of the Egyptians is more than usually obscure and difficult in explaining the powers and attributes of this divinity, whose name and worship, however thought not known to them in the earliest age, was at a later period held above all others in the highest reverence and distinction by that superstitious people.

That the ancients themselves were at variance with each other respecting Serapis is show by that passage in Tacitus wherein it is affirmed that many recognized in this god, Aesculapius, imputing the healing of sickness to his intervention; some though him identical with Osiris, the oldest deity of the Egyptians; others regarded him as Jupiter, possessing universal power; but by most he was believed to be the same as Pluto, the "gloomy" Dis Pater of the infernal regions.  Be this as it may, the general impression of the ancients obviously seemed to have been that by Serapis, was to be understood the beginning and foundation of things and accordingly we find him adored in the process of time not only at Alexandria, but at Athens and other Greek cities, some of which charged their coins with the figure of this deity. 

At length the Romans, whose fondness for new gods increased with the corrupting influence of their foreign conquests, introduced the worship of Serapis with the walls of their city; not, however, without opposition and resistance for a season on the part of the senate to the popular thirst after such novelties.  Through the influence of P. Victor an altar was erected to Serapis in the Circus Flaminii, and it quickly assumed the form of a superb temple which , after its Alexandrine prototype, was called the Serapeon. The principal Italian cities, never far behind Rome, soon imitated her example, and it was not long before the worship of Serapis was extended from Italy by the different colonies sent from that country into Asia Minor

It has already been noticed that amongst the motives for invoking this fabled deity was his healing attribute, especially in cases of acurte diseases.  Marcus Aurelius, tortured with the malady which later killed him, made a visti to the temple of Serapis at Perintheus, in Thrace; and according to his historian, he returned in health.  This is recorced on a medal struck at Perinteus, on which the head of the emperor is on the obverse and the head of Serapis on the reverse

The Emperor Julian II, another philosopher, who at a late date preferred Paganism to Christianity, and especially honored Egyptian Polytheism, under Grecian and Roman names, consulted the oracle of Apollo for the purpose of learning wether Pluto and Serapis were different gods; and he received for an answer that Jupiter-Serapis and Pluto were one and the same divinity

Serapis is represented with thick hair and rough beard, weaing a modius or calathus (basket) in capite (on the head).  He usually stands with his right hand elevated and holding a staff transversly and the skirts of his garment in his left.


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