Serapis: Greek, Egyptian or somewhere in between?

The J. Paul Getty Museum

Serapis: Greek, Egyptian or somewhere in between?

Serapis was a god basically constructed by the Greeks in Egypt for worship there because they found the existing Egyptian gods just a little bit too alien/animalistic for their liking while seeking a way to unify belief between two disparate communities living in Egypt.
(We won't go in to the vagaries of Greek mythology here, Zeus I'm looking at you and Europa, and as for what went on with Leda, the less said about that the better!).
When the Greeks settled and founded cities in Egypt, although there was the inevitable cross pollination of ideas and beliefs, it seems that many Greeks were never quite at ease there, and chose to live separately from their Egyptian neighbours in their own enclaves and cities such as the earlier Greek camp city of Naucratis. The most famous Greek city in Egypt, Alexandria was usually referred to as Alexandria ad Aegyptum - Alexandria near/towards/on Egypt. This nomenclature strongly suggests that in the ancient world, Alexandria was not considered truly Egyptian in nature. Cleopatra VII Philopator, the most famous of Queens by that name was the first Greek ruler to even bother to learn the local language hundreds of years after the Ptolemaic dynasty was founded.
Serapis combined strong elements of Osiris and the Apis Bull (a form of Ptah worshipped in the ancient capital of Memphis). The combination of divine principles in new and different entities (syncretisation) was certain a familiar concept to the ancient Egyptians. In representations he is usually bearded and has a grain measure on his head in a nod to Egyptian practice of using iconography as a type of head gear and also provides a link to the Greek god Hades and Osiris (in the role of god of crops/agriculture and thereby fertility). Serapis was also associated with Zeus and was considered king of the gods. (That must have caused some raised eyebrows in Thebes at the temple of Amun).
In his elevated position, he was worshipped with a wife chosen from the existing Egyptian gods: Isis and temples to her are to be found spreading back into Greek territory outside of Egypt, and Serapis was worshipped as far away as Rome. It is this Late Period worship that has skewed some of our perceptions as to the role and importance of Isis which were only held for a short time at the end of the pharaonic period. Serapis, like ancient Alexandria itself is not quite Egyptian but fascinating nonetheless.
To examine the zoomable painting in greater detail click the image linked below.
Further reading:
Greek city of Naucratis in Egypt:
More on Alexandria ad Aegyptum
Short bio of Serapis:
Bull cults in Egypt:


  1. In egypt we have the sam art in alfayyom👏👏👏👏👏👏

  2. Lord Anubis My name is Osiris, Guarding the underworld?, heh get my obnoxious joke (can't spell )


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