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  1. Temple of Isis, Philae
  2. Places of Roman Isis: Between Egyptomania, Politics, and Religion - Oxford Handbooks
  3. The Places of Roman Isis: Between Egyptomania, Politics, and Religion
  4. Greco-Roman Period Monuments

Caracalla is not alone. In a different vein, the emperor Hadrian adorned his villa at Tivoli with evocations of Egypt. His famous canopus was decorated with sculptures from across the empire, including a crocodile that functioned as a fountain and a statue of the river god Nile reclining with a sphinx under his left arm. In addition, there were the many other Egyptian and Egyptianizing sculptures on display at the villa. They are alleged to have done so for purely political, rather than religious, reasons.

In fact, it could be said that polytheism was in continuous search for new gods to be assimilated with gods of the state religion.

Temple of Isis, Philae

I suggest that while Egypt and its symbols of political and religious authority were surely integral in promoting newly won Roman authority on Egyptian soil, we also should not forget the potency of Egyptian symbols used in asserting Roman authority found on Roman turf such as his obelisks in Rome. Augustus right making an offering to Thoth, Shu, and Tefnut. Drawing of a relief from the Temple of el-Dakka, Nubia. The syncretic image of Isis-Ceres often displays attributes of Isis, such as a lotus flower atop her head, and of Ceres, such as grain held in one of her hands.

Isis was an Egyptian goddess who was often construed as un-Roman by the elite and who could take on a number of different roles while being easily assimilated within Roman visual and ideological landscapes. I now take us back to Pompeii, where I began this article. Given their dependence on the sea for trade and commerce, it could be argued that Isis-Fortuna became an important deity who watched over and protected business interests in addition to personal, familial concerns.

From Bullettino archeologico italiano 1 , plate 4. Painted or sculpted images of Isis and her entourage appear throughout Pompeii. The interpretation of these types of images has varied significantly in the past few decades. At one point, scholars were eager to identify almost any image of Isis and her entourage as a sign of cultic activity, no matter what the context. Part of the problem with interpretation is that the material record is not always consistent. In part this disappointment arises because of the ample evidence from the capital that we do possess. Two funerary monuments, from Rome and contemporary with Pompeian Isiac imagery, can serve as examples.

A funerary relief belonging to the Rabirii and Usia Prima dates to the late first century BCE and belonged to a tomb along the via Appia. It shows Usia Prima at right as a follower of Isis. Specifically, she is identified both visually, with a sistrum carved above her right shoulder, and below verbally as an Isiac priestess sac[erdos] Isidis. She wears the headdress of Isis, with two stalks of wheat, and holds a vessel in her left hand her right hand may have held a sistrum , although it is damaged. The sacred Isiac baskets with serpents appear on the sides of the altar.

To my knowledge, no such imagery has resurfaced from the necropoleis at Pompeii, a situation that is perplexing given the presence of the Iseum and the profusion of Isiac imagery within the city itself. Although Isis and her entourage appear in a wide variety of contexts throughout Pompeii, the images are extremely difficult to discuss exclusively in terms of ritual and worship. We can, however, be a bit more precise. A small alabaster statue of Horus was found in this shrine and could have been a focus of veneration. The hole in the center of the painted altar held another small shelf, intended for the presentation of actual offerings, alongside those already depicted.

Rather, I seek a middle ground. And here is where I depart from some recent scholarship on the archaeology of ritual and religion. If we consider broadly the types of material coming from Pompeii and Rome as outlined thus far, we can observe the following. At Pompeii we are confronted with images of Isis appearing in a variety of domestic and public contexts, suggestive of an Egyptomania to be sure, and within shrines, in addition to a small temple dedicated to the goddess that clearly points to ritual.

In Rome itself we have a sprawling sanctuary dedicated to Isis and Serapis on the Campus Martius; funerary monuments attesting to devotion to and priesthoods of Isis; and a smattering of images from the domestic and political realms, including the House of Augustus on the Palatine and monuments on the Campus Martius.

What can this material record tell us about the place of Isis in Roman religion, and should we attempt to separate Isiac worship from Roman Egyptomania and politics? What is at stake in making the latter query? I would like to point to an interesting trend that has taken shape in the study of Roman ritual and religion.

Ritual sparks the imagination. I have no intention of arguing to the contrary. Indeed, the Iseum at Pompeii was a space for ritual and political posturing. When modern constructs of ancient religion are taken to an extreme, however, notions of religiosity, and even belief, have less and less space in discourse on Roman religion. Part of the problem that we confront has to do with categories, both ancient and modern. As the cult of Isis has been categorized as a mystery religion, we tend to present this deity as the epistemological Other, which is part and parcel of our own Egyptomania.

We have little knowledge or grasp of the rites of Isis, so we explain them away by either trivializing them—our indebtedness to Juvenal and Apuleius, among others—or rationalizing the cultic following of Isis though our own institutional structures. It would seem that the time has come to problematize our dependence on the political meanings of Isis—a strategy that has tacitly permitted us to dismiss the places of Isis in Roman religion and ritual and thus silences the question: What is religious about Roman Isis?

Perhaps we might do well to consider Isis as a Roman deity, not just for demonstrative cultic members, but as one of many gods that individuals—whether emperor, freed slave, wealthy Roman, ordinary citizen, and so forth—could invoke, just as with any other Roman deity. Moreover, if at the heart of religion, broadly defined, and what we want to call the religious, is a set of beliefs and ritual action, 96 then a critical examination of the visual and material record can assist us in finding traces of ritual and hence religious activity.

In the case of Isiac worship, these ritual actions can occur at the very least at Isea and shrines, in both public and private realms. It is, however, important to bear in mind that ritual action can be difficult to identify.

With respect to Isis, we do possess evidence that speaks directly to religiosity, and we should not lose sight of this evidence even as we are caught up in our own version of Egyptomania. Furthermore, the Campus Martius was home to potent references to Egypt and religion, namely the highly visible and easily recognizable obelisks. These sanctuaries are first and foremost places for ritual activity in honor of the gods although other activities took place in sanctuaries to be sure, as in other Roman temples. I hasten to add, however, that we should not talk about Isis exclusively in terms of religion and religiosity.

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Alvar, Jaime. Leiden: Brill. Arslan, Ermanno A. Iside: Il mito, il mistero, la magia. Milan: Electa. Bakker, Jan Theo. Amsterdam: J. Religions of Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bendlin, A. Reprint, London: The British Museum.

Places of Roman Isis: Between Egyptomania, Politics, and Religion - Oxford Handbooks

Bragantini, Irene. Brenk, Frederick. Stuttgart: Steiner. Bricault, Laurent. Recueil des inscriptions concernant les cultes isiaques. Paris: E. Bricault, Laurent, and Miguel Versluys, eds. Power, Politics and the Cults of Isis. Meyboom, eds. Nile into Tiber: Egypt in the Roman World. Brier, Bob. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Palermo: Salvatore Sciascia Editore.

Burkert, Walter.

The Places of Roman Isis: Between Egyptomania, Politics, and Religion

Ancient Mystery Cults. Capponi, Livia. New York: Routledge. Carroll, Maureen. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Greco-Roman Period Monuments

Clarke, John R. The Houses of Roman Italy, B. Berkeley: University of California Press. Coarelli, Filippo. Crawford, Michael. Roman Republican Coinage. Curl, James Stevens. London: G. Allen and Unwin. Dal Maso, Cinzia. Pompeii: Under the Sign of Isis. Milan: 24 Ore Cultura.

Davies, Penelope J. De Caro, Stefano, ed. Rome: ARTI. De Caro, Stefano. Egittomania: Iside e il mistero. De Vos, Mariette. Mainz: P. Gordon, Richard. Grenier, Jean-Claude. Hales, Shelley. The Roman House and Social Identity. Heyob, Sharon K. Hopkins, Keith. New York: Plume. Egyptomania: Egypt in Western Art, — Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada. Jones, Prudence. Austin: University of Texas Press. Kleiner, Diana. Cleopatra and Rome. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. Kyriakidis, Evangelos. Los Angeles: Costen Institute of Archaeology. Before its gradual submergence in the reservoir created by the old Aswan Dam after , the alluvium-covered granite rock of Philae, 1, by feet by metres , had always been above the highest Nile floodings.

Accordingly, it attracted many ancient temple and shrine builders. From early Egyptian times the island was sacred to the goddess Isis ; the earliest structures known are those of Taharqa reigned — bce , the Cushite 25th-dynasty pharaoh. The Saites — bce built the earliest-known temple, found dismantled and reused in the Ptolemaic structures.

Temple of Isis

Nectanebo II Nekhtharehbe [reigned — bce ] , last pharaoh of the 30th dynasty and last independent native ruler of Egypt prior to , added the present colonnade. Its decorations, dating from the period of the later Ptolemies and of the Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius 30 bce —37 ce , were, however, never completed. The Roman emperor Hadrian reigned — ce added a gate west of the complex.

Other small temples or shrines dedicated to Egyptian deities include a temple to Imhotep and one to Hathor , as well as chapels to Osiris , Horus , and Nephthys. The Temple of Isis continued to flourish during Roman times and was not closed until the reign of Justinian I — ce. All these structures were thoroughly explored and reinforced —96 before being partially flooded behind the old Aswan Dam. In a careful inspection revealed that salts in the water were harming paints on the decorations. House of the Wooden Partition. House of the Opus Craticium.

House of the Bronze Herma. House of the Mosaic Atrium. House of the Alcove. House of the Deer. Samnite House. House of the Carbonised Furniture. House of the Neptune Mosaic. House of the Beautiful Courtyard. House of the Bicentenary. House of the Corinthian Atrium.

Additional source material

House of the Wooden Sacellum. House of the Great Portal. Central Thermae. House of the Black Hall. House of the Tuscan Colonnade. College of the Augustales. House of the Double Atrium. House of Galba. Basilica Noniana. House of the Gem. House of the Relief of Telephus. Terrace of M. Nonius Balbus. Suburban Thermae. The Sacred Area. Northwest Baths. House of the Dionysian Reliefs. Bourbon Excavation. Description of the Villa. Catalogue of Sculptures. Plan of the Villa 1.

Plan of the Villa 2. Plan of the Villa 3. Villa San Marco. Villa of the Shepherd. Villa Arianna. The 'Second Complex'. Villa of Anteros and Hercules. Villa Carmiano. Villa Petraro. Villa of Poppaea. Villa of L. Crassius Tertius. Villa Regina. Villa Pisanella. Villa of Publius Fannius Synistor. Somma Vesuviana. Torre del Greco. The Writing on the Wall. Since the Re-discovery. Links and Video Clips. Appendix A. Appendix B.

Appendix C. Appendix D. Appendix E. Appendix F. Appendix G. Appendix H.

Appendix J. Appendix K. Appendix L. Appendix M. Appendix N. Appendix O. Appendix I - Vitruvius V, I. Further Reading. Contact Us. Photo Gallery. Unique Visitors. Android App. Books that may be of interest for further reading. Check it out for yourself. The entrance A , which opens off the south side of the Via del Tempio d'Iside, bears a dedicatory inscription to its reconstruction after the earthquake of AD The reconstruction was financed by the freedman Numerius Popidius Ampliatus in the name of his son Celsinus.

The entrance opens onto a courtyard surrounded by a four sided portico. The portico was decorated in the fourth style with red panels shown below containing priests in ceremonial dress and Egyptian landscapes separated by architectural themes with small Nilotic scenes or naval battles all above a lower orange frieze of lionesses, sphinxes, dragons and dolphins.

The upper zone contained floating temples and small paintings of landscapes and still lifes on a white ground.