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*)=Isis), one of the principal Egyptian divinities. The ideas entertained about her and her worship underwent the greatest changes and modifications in antiquity. She is described as the wife of Osiris and the mother of Horus. As Osiris, the god of the Nile, taught the people the use of the plough, so Isis invented the cultivation of wheat and barley, which were carried about in the processions at her festival. (Diod. 1.14, 27, 5.69, &c.) She was the goddess of the earth, which the Egyptians called their mother (Diod. 1.12; Serv. ad Aen. 8.696; Isid. Orig. 8.11), whence she and Osiris were the only divinities that were worshipped by all the Egyptians. (Hdt. 2.42.) Being married to Osiris, Isis is the land fertilised by the Nile. (Plut. de Is. et Osir. 32.) This simple and primitive notion of the Egyptians was modified at an early period through the influence of the East, with which Egypt came into contact, and at a later time through the influence of the Greeks. Thus Osiris and Isis came gradually to be considered as divinities of the sun and the moon; and while some of the Greeks fabled that the worship of Isis had been introduced into Egypt by Ogyges and his wite Thebe (Schol. ad Aristid. Symb. 3.128), the Egyptian priests described the principal religious institutions of Greece as derived from Egypt; and after the time of Herodotus, this belief became firmly established in Greece. Hence Isis was identified with Demeter, and Osiris with Dionysus, and the sufferings of Isis were accordingly modified to harmonise with the myths of the unfortunate Demeter. Diodorus, Plutarch, and others, treat the stories about Isis according to the principles of Euhemerus, and represent her, as well as Osiris, as rulers of Egypt: but in these, as well as the mystical accounts of other writers, the original character of Isis may yet be discerned. We cannot enter here into an examination of the development which the worship of Isis underwent in Egypt in the course of centuries, but must confine ourselves to some remarks respecting her worship in Greece, at Rome, and other European parts of the ancient world. Her worship in all parts of Greece is amply attested by express statements of ancient writers and numerous inscriptions. Under the names of Pelagia (the ruler of the sea) and Aegyptia, she had two sanctuaries on the road to Acrocorinthus (Paus. 2.4.7), and others at Megara (1.41.4), Phlius (2.13.7), Tithorea in Phocis (10.32.9), Methana and Troezene (2.32.6, 34.1), Hermione (2.34.10), and Andros (see the hymn to Isis, lately discovered there, in the Class. Mus. vol. i. p. 34, &c.). In the western parts of Europe the worship of Isis became likewise established, and many places in Sicily, Italy, and Gaul, are known to have been the seats of it. According to Appuleius (Met. xi. p. 262), it was introduced at Rome in the time of Sulla : at a later time her statue was removed from the capitol by a decree of the senate (Tertull. ad Nation. 1.10, Apolog. 6; Arnob. ad v. Gent. 2.73); but the populace and the consuls Piso and Gabinius, in B. C. 58, resisted the decree. A further decree of B. C. 53 forbade the private worship of Isis, and ordered the chapels dedicated to her to be destroyed. Subsequently, when the worship was restored, her sanctuaries were to be found only outside the pomoerium. (D. C. 40.47.) This interference on the part of the government was thought necessary on account of the licentious orgies with which the festivals of the goddess were celebrated. In B. C. 50, the consul, L. Aemilius Paulus himself, was the first to begin the destruction of her temples, as no one else ventured to do so. (V. Max. 1.3.3.) But these decrees do not appear to have quite succeeded in destroying the worship of Isis, for in B. C. 47 a new decree was issued to destroy the temple of Isis and Serapis. By a mistake, the adjoining temple of Bellona was likewise pulled down, and in it were found pots filled with human flesh. (D. C. 42.26.) As it had thus become evident that the people were extremely partial to the worship of those foreign divinities, the triumvirs in B. C. 43 courted the popular favour by building a new temple of Isis and Serapis in the third region, and sanctioning their worship. (D. C. 47.15.) It would appear that after this attempts were made to erect sanctuaries of Isis in the city itself, for Augustus forbade her worship in the city, while outside of it there seem to have been several temples, which were subjected to government inspection. (D. C. 53.2; comp. 54.6.) The interference of the government was afterwards repeatedly required (Tac. Ann. 2.85; Suet. Tib. 36; J. AJ 18.3.4; Hegesipp. 2.4); but from the time of Vespasian the worship of Isis and Serapis became firmly established, and remained in a flourishing condition until the general introduction of Christianity. The most important temple of Isis at Rome stood in the Campus Martius, whence she was called Isis Campensis. (Juv. 6.329; Appul. Met. xi. p. 259.) An Isium Metellinum is mentioned by Trebellius Pollio (Trig. Tyr. 25); and other temples and chapels of Isis occur in many Latin inscriptions. The priests and servants of the goddess wore linen garments (ὀθόναι), whence she herself is called linigera. (Ov. Ep. ex Pont. 1.1, 51, Amor. 2.2, 25; comp. Tac. Hist. 3.74; Martial, 12.29, 19 ; Juv. 6.533.) Those initiated in her mysteries wore in the public processions masks representing the heads of dogs. (Appian, App. BC 4.47; Suet. Domit. 1.) As a specimen of the manner in which the festival of Isis was celebrated in Greece, the reader may be referred to that of Tithorea, which is described by Pausanias (10.32), and the naval sacrifice offered to her at Corinth, as described by Appuleius in his Golden Ass. Isis was frequently represented in works of art (Tib. 1.3, 27; Juv. 12.28); and in those still extant she usually appears in figure and countenance resembling Hera : she wears a long tunic, and her upper garment is fastened on her breast by a knot: her head is crowned with a lotus flower, and her right hand holds the sistrum. Her son Horus is often represented with her as a fine naked boy. holding the fore-finger on his mouth, with a lotus flower on his head, and a cornucopia in his left hand.

It should be remarked that Tacitus (Germ. 9) speaks of the worship of Isis among the ancient Germans, but he there applies the name Isis only on account of the analogy existing between the German divinity and the Isis of his own countrymen ; and the German goddess whom he had in view was probably no other than Hertha. (Comp. 100.39.)


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hide References (14 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (14):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.42
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.32
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.4.7
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 4.6.47
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.85
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 3.74
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 36
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 12.19
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 12.29
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 1.12
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 1.14
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 1.27
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 5.69
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