Head of Serapis with zodiac

Serapis: God of Fertility and the Afterlife that United Greeks and Egyptians

(Read the article on one page)

Serapis (also called Sarapis) was a deity invented by the Ptolemies, and was meant to bridge the gap between their Egyptian and Greek subjects. The Ptolemies were one of the successors of Alexander the Great, and ruled over Egypt until it was conquered by the Romans in 30 BC. As the Ptolemies were a foreign dynasty, and had both Greek and Egyptian subjects, they needed to take measures to solidify their rule. One of these was the invention of the Greco-Egyptian deity Serapis.

Serapis and Osirapis: Appealing to the Egyptians

The man responsible for the creation of Serapis was Ptolemy I, one of Alexander the Great’s most capable generals, and the founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty.

The name of this god is said to have been a fusion of the Egyptian deity Osiris and the sacred Apis bull. Prior to the coming of the Ptolemies, the cults of these two deities had already merged and a combined god, Osirapis, was worshipped by the Egyptians. Osirapis may be said to have represented the essence of ancient Egyptian religion at the time. Thus, by using these deities as the core of Serapis, the Egyptian subjects of Ptolemaic Egypt could easily identify familiar elements in the new deity.

Bust of Osiris-Apis (Osirapis) Vatican Museums.

Bust of Osiris-Apis (Osirapis) Vatican Museums. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Serapis Gains Greek Attributes

In order to appeal to their Greek subjects, a number of Greek deities were added to this Egyptian core. These deities included Zeus, Helios, Dionysus, Hades and Asklepius. By doing so, the attributes of these deities were also added to Serapis. For instance, Serapis gained divine majesty from association with Zeus and became associated with the sun through Helios.

The attributes that were primary to the nature of this new deity, however, were fertility and the afterlife. These were given to Serapis by adding Dionysus and Hades respectively. Incidentally, the aspects of fertility and the afterlife have been long associated with the Egyptian deity Osiris as well.

Head of Serapis from a 12 foot (3.7 meter) tall statue found off the coast of Alexandria.

Head of Serapis from a 12 foot (3.7 meter) tall statue found off the coast of Alexandria. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Serapis’ Strong Hellenistic Elements

Although both Egyptian and Greek deities were used to create Serapis, the deity’s final form was predominantly Greek. This can be seen in the iconography of Serapis, which was full of Hellenistic elements.

For a start, Serapis was an anthropomorphic deity, unlike the gods of the Egyptian pantheon, who were often portrayed as zoomorphic beings. Additionally, Serapis was depicted as a man wearing a Greek style robe with a Greek hairstyle and a full beard. Incidentally, Egyptian gods are usually not represented as having full beards (the god Bes is one exception).

Bust of Serapis with a full beard (3rd Century AD)

Bust of Serapis with a full beard (3rd Century AD), Louvre Museum ( Wikimedia Commons )

On top of Serapis’ head is a basket or a tall, dry corn measure (called a modius by modern scholars.) This was meant to symbolize his fertility attributes and also show his association with Osiris. Occasionally, Serapis may be portrayed as having a pair of curved ram’s horns. There are also instances where the guardian of the Underworld, the three-headed dog Cerberus, is placed at his feet.

Hellenistic Serapis with Cerberus at his side.

Hellenistic Serapis with Cerberus at his side. ( Wikimedia Commons )

The Rise and Fall of a Cult That Crossed Egyptian Borders

The cult of Serapis was a huge success for the Ptolemaic Dynasty, and various temples were built in Egypt for his worship. The main temple was in the Ptolemaic capital, Alexandria. According to the geographer Strabo, the Serapeum in Alexandria stood in the west of the city. Although it was an important site throughout the Mediterranean, it was “almost abandoned on account of the construction of the new buildings at Nicopolis” by the time Strabo wrote his Geography. Nevertheless, the building existed until 389 AD when it was destroyed by order of the emperor Theodosius.

Pope Theophilus standing on a Serapeum, showing the Christian conquest over the ancient cult.

Pope Theophilus standing on a Serapeum, showing the Christian conquest over the ancient cult. (5th Century) Goleniscev Papyrus ( Wikimedia Commons )

Strabo also mentions other temples to Serapis in Egypt. For instance, the Serapeum in Canopus is recorded to be renowned for curing the sick:

“It contains the temple of Serapis, which is honored with great reverence and effects such cures that even the most reputable men believe in it and sleep in it – themselves on their own behalf or others for them.”


Worth reading article! The Greeks and Egyptians totally manage the style and trend related to the Romans IN 30 BC, and the other facts as well.
Beards were one of the greatest asset with the men. These pictures show wonderful history of past bearded men and make today's man more encouraged to grow beards.
http://www.beard-growth.com/ growing beards is in trend now and will be carried here after as well.

Hi I just want comment I don't agree with the idea of God created to unite! In Ancient Egypt they had their own Gods & at that time Greeks were becoming a power. So the Egyptians were basically forced to give up their image of God for an image that gave the Greek conquerors all the more power they desired!
So it wasn't about "unifying" people it was about dominating the people BY force because other temples were SHUT DOWN to FORCE people to take on Serapis the foreign God that the native Egyptian did NOT recognize.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Denisova cave, some 150 km (93 mi) south of the city of Barnaul, is the only source of Denisovan's remains. Pictures: The Siberian Times
The distance from the only currently known home of the Denisovans in Altai region to the nearest point of Australia is roughly akin to the length of the Trans-Siberian railway, and yet it is looking increasingly likely that these ancient species of humanoids somehow made this epic journey deep in pre-history, perhaps 65,000 years ago.

Myths & Legends

A vase-scene from about 410 BC. Nimrod/Herakles, wearing his fearsome lion skin headdress, spins Noah/Nereus around and looks him straight in the eye. Noah gets the message and grimaces, grasping his scepter, a symbol of his rule - soon to be displaced in the post-Flood world by Nimrod/Herakles, whose visage reveals a stern smirk.
The Book of Genesis describes human history. Ancient Greek religious art depicts human history. While their viewpoints are opposite, the recounted events and characters match each other in convincing detail. This brief article focuses on how Greek religious art portrayed Noah, and how it portrayed Nimrod in his successful rebellion against Noah’s authority.

Human Origins

Sumerian creation myth
Sumer , or the ‘land of civilized kings’, flourished in Mesopotamia, now modern-day Iraq, around 4500 BC. Sumerians created an advanced civilization with its own system of elaborate language and...

Ancient Technology

The School of Athens
Much of modern science was known in ancient times. Robots and computers were a reality long before the 1940´s. The early Bronze Age inhabitants of the Levant used computers in stone, the Greeks in the 2nd century BC invented an analogue computer known as the Antikythera mechanism. An ancient Hindu book gives detailed instructions for the construction of an aircraft –ages before the Wright brothers. Where did such knowledge come from?

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article