Serapis “God of Resurrection” is a Graeco-Egyptian God. The cult of Serapis was created during the third century BC on the orders of Greek Pharaoh Ptolemy I Soter of the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. The cultus of Serapis was spread as a matter of deliberate policy by the Ptolemaic kings. Serapis continued to increase in popularity during the Roman Empire, often replacing Osiris as the consort of Isis in temples outside Egypt. Though Ptolemy I may have created the official cult of Serapis and endorsed him as a patron of the Ptolemaic dynasty and Alexandria, Serapis was a pre-existing syncretistic deity derived from the worship of the Egyptian Osiris and Apis and also gained attributes from other deities, such as chthonic powers linked to the Greek Hades and Demeter, and with benevolence derived from associations with Dionysus.

Iconography Serapis was depicted as Greek in appearance but with Egyptian trappings, and combined iconography from a great many cults, signifying both abundance and resurrection. The Greeks had little respect for animal-headed figures, and so a Greek-style anthropomorphic statue was chosen as the idol and proclaimed as the equivalent of the highly popular Apis. It was named Userhapi (i.e., “Osiris-Apis”), which became Greek Sarapis, and was said to be Osiris in full, rather than just his ka (life force). The cult statue of Serapis that Ptolemy I erected in Alexandria enriched the texture of the Serapis conception by portraying him in a combination of both Egyptian and Greek styles. The statue suitably depicted a figure resembling Hades or Pluto, both being kings of the Greek underworld, and was shown enthroned with the modius, a basket / grain-measure, on his head, since it was a Greek symbol for the land of the dead.

Etymology the earliest mention of a “Sarapis” occurs in the disputed death scene of Alexander (323 BCE), but it is something of a mixup: The unconnected Babylonian god Ea (Enki) was titled Šar Apsi, meaning “king of the Apsu” or “the watery deep”, [b] and Ea as Šar Apsi seems to be the deity intended in the description of Alexander’s death. Since this “Sarapis” had a temple at Babylon and was of such importance that only Sarapis is named as being consulted on behalf of the dying king, Sarapis of Babylon appears to have radically altered perceptions of mythologies in the post-Alexandrian era. His significance to the Hellenic psyche, due to the mention in the story of Alexander’s death, may have also contributed to the choice of the similar-sounding Osiris-Apis as the chief Ptolemaic god, even if the Ptolemies understood that they were different deities.

Cult history There is evidence that the cult of Serapis existed before the Ptolemies came to power in Alexandria: A temple of Serapis in Egypt is mentioned in 323 BCE by both Plutarch and Arrian. Ptolemy I Soter made efforts to integrate his new Egyptian subject’s religions with that of their Hellenic rulers. Ptolemy’s project was to find a deity that would win the reverence of both groups alike, despite the curses the Egyptian priests had chanted against the gods of the previous foreign rulers (e.g., Set, who was lauded by the Hyksos). The common assertion that Ptolemy “created” the deity is derived from sources which describe him erecting a statue of Serapis in Alexandria.