Sarapis : a study in the syncretism of religion and iconography in Graeco-Roman Egypt
Smithers, Stephen George
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Religious syncretism began in the Mediterranean area long before the advent of Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic period. In Egypt, the association of the Greek pantheon with corresponding native Egyptian divinities had been fostered by Greek trading colonies in the Nile Delta. The advance of Alexander in the East served to accelerate the process of syncretism while his world empire was growing. It is with the formulation of the Hellenistic cult of Sarapis that this process of religious fusion becomes most evident. My thesis examines religious syncretism from its earliest known beginnings in Ancient Egypt and Greece with Sarapis as the culmination. Sarapis is also viewed as one of the major pagan influences instrumental in the development of the Early Christian iconography of Christ. My study is structured in four major units. The first part deals with the three major divinities of Ancient Egyptian religion instrumental in the formulation of the Hellenistic god Sarapis: Osiris, Apis and Osorapis. These are presented both individually and as part of the continuing process of religious syncretism leading to their eventual interrelationship and fusion. The second part of my thesis presents the similar trend of religious syncretism evident in Greek religion. The primary Greek divinities associated with the development of Sarapis (Hades-Plouton, the Chthonian Zeus, Asklepios, and Dionysos) are illustrated along with the elements common to their joint chthonic nature. The third portion of my thesis examines the development and spread of the cult of Sarapis during Ptolemaic times (305-30 B.C.). Emphasis is placed upon the formulation of religious attributes and the iconography of the god during this period. Accounts by ancient authors and extant sculptures depicting Sarapis are explored to envision the possible form of the original cult statue attributed to the sculptor Bryaxis (active c. 350 B.C.). The last section surveys the advance of the cult of Sarapis throughout the Mediterranean world during the Roman period. Changes in both the powers and the iconography attributed to the god are emphasized. Included in this section are sources referring to the final destruction of the cult image of Sarapis at the hands of the Patriarch Theophilus in A.D. 391.