Silver Hemidrachm 14mm (1.74 grams) Phaselis mint, circa 167-100 B.C.
Referenc: roxell, Lycian Period II, Series 1, 47 var. (torch on right)
Laureate head of Apollo right.
Lyre; Isis crown to right, torch to left; Î¦Î‘Î£Î—Î‘
above; all within rectangular incuse.
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The goddess Isis portrayed as a woman, wearing a headdress shaped
like a throne and with an Ankh in her hand
Greek: á¼¾ÏƒÎ¹Ï‚, original
Egyptian pronunciation more likely Aset)
is a goddess in
religious beliefs, whose worship spread
Greco-Roman world. She was worshipped as the
ideal mother and wife as well as the patroness of nature and magic. She was the
artisans, and the downtrodden, and she listened
to the prayers of the wealthy, maidens, aristocrats, and rulers.Isis is often
depicted as the mother of
Horus, the hawk-headed god of war and
protection (although in some traditions Horus's mother was
Hathor). Isis is also known as protector of the
dead and goddess of children.
The name Isis means "Throne".Her headdress is a throne. As the
personification of the throne, she was an important representation of the
pharaoh's power. The pharaoh was depicted as her child, who sat on the throne
she provided. Her
cult was popular throughout Egypt, but her most
temples were at Behbeit El-Hagar in the
Nile delta, and, beginning in the reign with
Nectanebo I (380â€“362 BCE), on the island of
Philae in Upper Egypt.
In the typical form of her myth, Isis was the first daughter of
god of the Earth, and
Nut, goddess of the Sky, and she was born on
intercalary day. She married her brother,
Osiris, and she conceived Horus with him. Isis
was instrumental in the resurrection of Osiris when he was murdered by
Set. Using her magical skills, she restored his
body to life after having gathered the body parts that had been strewn about the
earth by Set.
This myth became very important during the Greco-Roman period. For example it
was believed that the
Nile River flooded every year because of the
tears of sorrow which Isis wept for Osiris. Osiris's death and rebirth was
relived each year through rituals. The worship of Isis eventually spread
throughout the Greco-Roman world, continuing until the suppression of
paganism in the Christian era.The popular motif
of Isis suckling her son Horus, however, lived on in a Christianized context as
the popular image of Mary suckling the infant son Jesus from the fifth century
The name Isis is the Greek version of her name, with a final -s
added to the original Egyptian form because of the grammatical requirements of
the Greek language (-s often being a marker of the
nominative case in ancient Greek).
The Egyptian name was recorded as á»‰s.t or
È�s.t and meant "(She of the Throne"). The
true Egyptian pronunciation remains uncertain, however, because
hieroglyphs do not indicate
vowels. Based on recent studies which present
us with approximations based on contemporary languages (specifically, Greek) and
Coptic evidence, the reconstructed
pronunciation of her name is *Usat
[*ËˆÊ”yË�sÉ™Ê”]. Osiris's name, *Usir
also starts with the throne glyph Ê”s.
Egyptologists arbitrarily choose to pronounce
her name as "ee-set". Sometimes they may also say "ee-sa" because the final "t"
in her name was a feminine
suffix, which is known to have been dropped in
speech during the last stages of the Egyptian
and Greek languages.
features of the cult
Isis depicted with outstretched wings (wall painting, c. 1360 BCE)
Most Egyptian deities were first worshipped by very local cults, and they
retained those local centres of worship even as their popularity spread, so that
most major cities and towns in Egypt were known as the home of a particular
deity. The origins of the cult of Isis are uncertain, but it is believed that
she was originally an independent and popular deity in
predynastic times, prior to 3100 BCE, at
Sebennytos in the Nile delta.
The first written references to Isis date back to the
Fifth dynasty of Egypt. Based on the
association of her name with the throne, some early Egyptologists believed that
Isis's original function was that of throne-mother.[citation
needed] However, more recent scholarship suggests
that aspects of that role came later by association. In many African tribes, the
throne is known as the mother of the king, and that concept fits well
with either theory, possibly giving insight into the thinking of ancient
Old Kingdom period, Isis was represented as the
wife or assistant to the deceased pharaoh. Thus she had a funerary association,
her name appearing over eighty times in the pharaoh's funeral texts (the
Pyramid Texts). This association with the
pharaoh's wife is consistent with the role of Isis as the spouse of Horus, the
god associated with the pharaoh as his protector, and then later as the
deification of the pharaoh himself.
But in addition, Isis was also represented as the mother of the "four suns of
Horus", the four deities who protected the
canopic jars containing the pharaoh's internal
organs. More specifically, Isis was viewed as the protector of the
Middle Kingdom period, as the funeral texts
began to be used by members of Egyptian society other than the royal family, the
role of Isis as protector also grew, to include the protection of nobles and
New Kingdom period, the role of Isis as a
mother deity had displaced that of the spouse. She was seen as the mother of the
pharaoh, and was often depicted breastfeeding the pharaoh. It is theorized that
this displacement happened through the merging of cults from the various cult
centers as Egyptian religion became more standardized.[citation
needed] When the cult of
rose to prominence, with its cult center at
Heliopolis, Ra was identified with the similar
deity, Horus. But Hathor had been paired with Ra in some regions, as the mother
of the god. Since Isis was paired with Horus, and Horus was identified with Ra,
Isis began to be merged with Hathor as Isis-Hathor. By merging with
Hathor, Isis became the mother of Horus, as well as his wife. Eventually the
mother role displaced the role of spouse. Thus, the role of spouse to Isis was
open and in the Heliopolis pantheon, Isis became the wife of Osiris and the
mother of Horus/Ra. This reconciliation of themes led to the evolution of the
myth of Isis and Osiris.
Temples and priesthood
Little information on Egyptian rituals for Isis survives; however, it is
clear there were both priests and priestesses officiating at her cult throughout
its history. By the Greco-Roman era, many of them were considered
healers, and were said to have other special
powers, including dream interpretation and the ability to control the
weather, which they did by braiding or not
combing their hair.[citation
needed] The latter was believed because the
knots to have magical powers.
The cult of Isis and Osiris continued up until the 6th century CE on the
island of Philae in Upper Nile. The
Theodosian decree (in about 380 CE) to destroy
all pagan temples was not enforced there until the time of
Justinian. This toleration was due to an old
treaty made between the Blemyes-Nobadae and the emperor
Diocletian. Every year they visited Elephantine
and at certain intervals took the image of Isis up river to the land of the
oracular purposes before returning it.
Narses to destroy the sanctuaries, with the
priests being arrested and the divine images taken to Constantinople.
Philae was the last of the ancient Egyptian
temples to be closed.
Due to the association between knots and magical power, a symbol of Isis was
the tiet or
tyet (meaning welfare/life),
also called the Knot of Isis, Buckle of Isis, or the
Blood of Isis, which is shown to the right.
In many respects the tyet resembles an
ankh, except that its arms point downward, and when used as such,
seems to represent the idea of
eternal life or
resurrection. The meaning of Blood of Isis
is more obscure, but the tyet often was used as a funerary
amulet made of red
glass, so this may simply have been a
description of the appearance of the materials used.
is associated with Isis. The appearance of the star signified the advent of a
new year and Isis was likewise considered the goddess of rebirth and
reincarnation, and as a protector of the dead. The Book of the Dead outlines a
particular ritual that would protect the dead, enabling travel anywhere in the
underworld, and most of the titles Isis holds signify her as the goddess of
protection of the dead.
Probably due to assimilation with the goddess Aphrodite (Venus),
during the Roman period, the
rose was used in her worship. The demand for roses throughout the
empire turned rose production into an important industry.
In art, originally Isis was pictured as a woman wearing a long sheath dress
and crowned with the
hieroglyphic sign for a throne.
Sometimes she is depicted as holding a
lotus, or, as a
sycamore tree. One pharaoh,
Thutmose III, is depicted in his tomb as
nursing from a sycamore tree that had a breast.
After she assimilated many of the roles of Hathor, Isis's headdress is
replaced with that of Hathor: the horns of a cow on her head, with the solar
disk between them. Sometimes she also is represented as a cow, or a cow's head.
Usually, however, she is depicted with her young child, Horus (the pharaoh),
crown, and a
vulture. Occasionally she is represented as a
kite flying above the body of Osiris or with
the dead Osiris across her lap as she worked her magic to bring him back to
Most often Isis is seen holding only the generic
ankh sign and a simple staff, but in late images she is seen
sometimes with items usually associated only with Hathor, the sacred
sistrum rattle and the fertility-bearing
The Book of Coming Forth By Day Isis is
depicted standing on the prow of the
Solar Barque with her arms outstretched.
Sister-wife to Osiris
Old Kingdom period, the pantheons of individual
Egyptian cities varied by region. During the
5th dynasty, Isis entered the pantheon of the
Heliopolis. She was represented as a daughter
of Nut and Geb, and sister to Osiris,
Nephthys, and Set. The two sisters, Isis and
Nephthys, often were depicted on coffins, with wings outstretched, as protectors
against evil. As a funerary deity, she was associated with Osiris, lord of the
underworld, and was considered his wife.
A later myth, when the cult of Osiris gained more authority, tells the story
Anubis, the god of the underworld. The tale
describes how Nephthys was denied a child by Set and disguised herself as the
much more attractive Isis to seduce him. The plot failed, but Osiris now found
Nephthys very attractive, as he thought she was Isis. They
had sex, resulting in the birth of Anubis.
Alternatively, Nephthys intentionally assumed the form of Isis in order to trick
Osiris into fathering her son.
In fear of Set's retribution, Nephthys persuaded Isis to adopt Anubis, so
that Set would not find out and kill the child. The tale describes both why
Anubis is seen as an underworld deity (he becomes a son of Osiris), and why he
could not inherit Osiris's position (he was not a legitimate heir in this new
birth scenario), neatly preserving Osiris's position as lord of the underworld.
It should be remembered, however, that this new myth was only a later creation
of the Osirian cult who wanted to depict Set in an evil position, as the enemy
The most extensive account of the Isis-Osiris story known today is Plutarch's
Greek description written in the 1st century CE, usually known under its Latin
title De Iside et Osiride.
In that version, Set held a banquet for Osiris in which he brought in a
beautiful box and said that whoever could fit in the box perfectly would get to
keep it. Set had measured Osiris in his sleep and made sure that he was the only
one who could fit the box. Several tried to see whether they fit. Once it was
Osiris's turn to see if he could fit in the box, Set closed the lid on him so
that the box was now a coffin for Osiris. Set flung the box in the Nile so that
it would drift far away. Isis went looking for the box so that Osiris could have
a proper burial. She found the box in a tree in
Byblos, a city along the Phoenician coast, and
brought it back to Egypt, hiding it in a swamp. But Set went hunting that night
and found the box. Enraged, Set chopped Osiris's body into fourteen pieces and
scattered them all over Egypt to ensure that Isis could never find Osiris again
for a proper burial.
Isis and her sister Nephthys went looking for these pieces, but could only
find thirteen of the fourteen. Fish had swallowed the last piece, his
phallus, so Isis made him a new one with magic,
putting his body back together after which they conceived Horus. The number of
pieces is described on temple walls variously as fourteen and sixteen, and
forty-two, one for each
nome or district.
Mother of Horus
Yet another set of late myths detail the adventures of Isis after the birth
of Osiris's posthumous son,
Horus. Isis was said to have given birth to
Horus at Khemmis, thought to be located on the Nile Delta.
Many dangers faced Horus after birth, and Isis fled with the newborn to escape
the wrath of
Set, the murderer of her husband. In one
instance, Isis heals Horus from a lethal scorpion sting; she also performs other
miracles in relation to the
cippi, or the plaques of Horus. Isis
protected and raised Horus until he was old enough to face Set, and
subsequently, became the pharaoh of Egypt.
It was said that Isis tricked
(i.e. Amun-Ra/Atum-Ra) into telling her his "secret name," by
snake to bite him, for which only Isis had the
cure. Knowing the secret name of a deity enabled one to have power of the deity.
The use of secret names became central in late Egyptian magic spells, and Isis
often is implored to "use the true name of Ra" in the performance of rituals. By
the late Egyptian historical period, after the occupations by the Greeks and the
Romans, Isis became the most important and most powerful deity of the Egyptian
pantheon because of her magical skills.
Magic is central to the entire mythology of
Isis, arguably more so than any other Egyptian deity.
Isis had a central role in Egyptian magic spells and ritual, especially those
of protection and healing. In many spells, she also is completely merged even
with Horus, where invocations of Isis are supposed to involve Horus's powers
automatically as well. In Egyptian history the image of a wounded Horus became a
standard feature of Isis's healing spells, which typically invoked the curative
powers of the milk of Isis.
Isis (seated right)
as she is borne into Egypt on
the shoulders of the personified Nile, as depicted in a Roman wall
Using the comparative methodology known as
interpretatio graeca, the Greek historian
Herodotus (5th century BCE) described Isis by
comparison with the Greek goddess
Eleusis offered initiates guidance in the
afterlife and a vision of rebirth. Herodotus says that Isis was the only goddess
worshiped by all Egyptians alike.
After the conquest of Egypt by
Alexander the Great and the
Hellenization of the Egyptian culture initiated
Ptolemy I Soter, Isis became known as
Queen of Heaven.
Other Mediterranean goddesses, such as Demeter,
Aphrodite, became identified with Isis, as was
the Arabian goddess Al-Ozza or Al-Uzza through a similarity
of name, since etymology was thought to reveal the essential or primordial
nature of the thing named.
An alabaster statue of Isis from the 3rd century BCE, found in
Ohrid, in the
Republic of Macedonia, is depicted on the
obverse of the Macedonian 10
denars banknote, issued in 1996.
Isis in the Roman
Roman Isis holding a sistrum and
and wearing a garment tied
with a characteristic knot, from the time of
Tacitus writes that after the
assassination of Julius Caesar, a temple in
honour of Isis had been decreed, but was suspended by Augustus as part of his
program to restore
traditional Roman religion. The emperor
Caligula, however, was open to Eastern
religions, and the
Navigium Isidis, a procession in honor of
Isis, was established in Rome during his reign.
According to the Jewish historian
Josephus, Caligula donned female garb and took
part in the mysteries he instituted.
Vespasian, along with
incubation in the Roman
Domitian built another Iseum along with a
Serapeum. In a
relief on the
Arch of Trajan, the emperor appears before Isis
and Horus, presenting them with votive offerings of wine.
Hadrian decorated his villa at
Tibur with Isiac scenes.
Galerius regarded Isis as his protector.
The religion of Isis thus spread throughout the
Roman Empire during the formative centuries of
Christianity. Wall paintings and objects reveal her pervasive presence at
Pompeii, preserved by the
eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE. In Rome, temples
were built and obelisks erected in her honour. In Greece, the cult of Isis was
introduced to traditional centres of worship in
Athens, as well as in northern Greece. Harbours
of Isis were to be found on the Arabian Sea and the Black Sea. Inscriptions show
followers in Gaul, Spain, Pannonia, Germany, Arabia, Asia Minor, Portugal and
many shrines even in Britain.
Tacitus interprets a goddess among the Germanic
a form of Isis whose symbol (signum) was
Bruce Lincoln regards the identity of this
Germanic goddess as "elusive."
The Greek antiquarian
Plutarch wrote a treatise on Isis and Osiris,
a major source for Imperial theology concerning Isis.
Plutarch describes Isis as "a goddess exceptionally wise and a lover of wisdom,
to whom, as her name at least seems to indicate, knowledge and understanding are
in the highest degree appropriate... ." The statue of Athena in
Sais was identified with Isis, and according to
Plutarch was inscribed "I am all that has been, and is, and shall be, and my
robe no mortal has yet uncovered."
At Sais, however, the patron goddess of the ancient cult was
Neith, many of whose traits had begun to be
attributed to Isis during the Greek occupation.
The Roman writer
Apuleius recorded aspects of the cult of Isis
in the 2nd century CE, including the Navigium Isidis, in his novel
The Golden Ass. The protagonist Lucius
prays to Isis as Regina Caeli, "Queen of Heaven":
You see me here, Lucius, in answer to your prayer. I am nature, the
universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of
time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen of the
ocean, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods
and goddesses that are, my nod governs the shining heights of Heavens,
the wholesome sea breezes. Though I am worshipped in many aspects, known
by countless names ... the Egyptians who excel in ancient learning and
worship call me by my true name...Queen Isis.
Ruins of the Temple of Isis in Delos
According to Apuleius, these other names include manifestations of the
Ceres, "the original nurturing parent";
Heavenly Venus (Venus Caelestis); the "sister of
Phoebus", that is, Diana or
Artemis as she is
worshipped at Ephesus; or
Persephone) as the triple goddess of the
From the middle Imperial period, the title Caelestis, "Heavenly" or
"Celestial", is attached to several goddesses embodying aspects of a single,
supreme Heavenly Goddess. The Dea Caelestis was identified with the
constellation Virgo (the Virgin), who holds the
divine balance of justice.
On the Greek island of
Doric Temple of Isis was built on a high
over-looking hill at the beginning of the Roman period to venerate the familiar
trinity of Isis, the Alexandrian
Harpocrates. The creation of this temple is
significant as Delos is particularly known as the birthplace of the Greek gods
Apollo who had temples of their own on the
island long before the temple to Isis was built.
In the Roman Empire, a well-preserved example was discovered in
Pompeii.The only sanctuary of Isis (fanum
Isidis) identified with certainty in
Roman Britain is located in
Londinium (present-day London).
Isis in black and white marble (Roman, 2nd century CE)
The cult of Isis was part of the
syncretic tendencies of religion in the
Greco-Roman world of
late antiquity. The male first name "Isidore"
in Greek means "gift of Isis" (similar to "Theodore",
The Isis cult in Rome was a template for the Christian
The Lycian League (Lukiakou systema in Strabo's Greek transliterated, a
"standing together") is first known from two inscriptions of the early 2nd
century BC in which it honors two citizens. Bryce hypothesizes that it was
formed as an agent to convince Rome to rescind the annexation of Lycia to
Rhodes. Lycia had been under Rhodian control
Peace of Apamea in 188 BC. A fragment from
Livy records a "pitiful embassy" in 178 BC from Lycia to the Roman
Senate complaining that the Lycians were being treated as slaves. Whipping had
been instituted as corporeal punishment and the women and children were being
abused. The Romans sent back a stern warning with the Lycians to Rhodes saying
that they had not intended the Lycians or any other people born in freedom to be
enslaved by Rhodes, and that the assignment was only a protectorate. A fragment
Polybius tells a slightly different version of
the story, which has the Romans sending legates to Rhodes to say that "the
Lycians had not been handed over to Rhodes as a gift, but to be treated like
friends and allies." The Rhodians sent an embassy in return claiming that the
Lycians had made the story up for reasons of their own and that in fact they
were a financial burden on Rhodes.
The continuation of the story did not survive, but in 168 BC, Rome took Lycia
away from Rhodes and turned over home rule to the League. There was no question
of independence. Lycia was not to be sovereign, only self-governing under
democratic principles. It could neither negotiate with foreign powers nor
disobey the Roman Senate. It was not independent. It could govern its own people
and for a time mint its own coins as a right granted by Rome. It did not
determine its own borders. Land and people could be assigned or taken away by
the Senate. Remarking on this protectorate Strabo says of the government:
"Formerly they deliberated about war and peace, and alliances, but this
is not now permitted, as these things are under the control of the Romans.
It is only done by their consent, or when it may be for their own
Exactly what such a statement might imply is uncertain. Lycia had not been a
sovereign state for some time. Whether the Lycian League as such is meant,
implying that it existed anciently, or some other similar government is meant,
is not clear. The statement does not say also whether there was a gap between
the former sovereign state and the new Lycian League, or whether they are to be
conceived as chronologically continuous.
According to Strabo, the league comprised some 23 known
city-states as members.
Lucius Licinius Murena (elder), Roman consul,
added three more in 81 BC: Balbura, Bubon and Oenoanda, which he had stripped
from another systema to the north, the Tetrapolis, Cibyratis, or Cabalian
League. It was dominated by the city of
Cibyra, which formed a league approximately
contemporaneously with the Lycian League. Cibyra ruled the
Turkish Lakes Region. It was called Cibyra
Megale, "Greater Cibyra," to distinguish it from another Cibyra elsewhere. The
lakes region is a string of alpine valleys in the folds of the Taurus Mountains,
which have no natural exits. Instead they have collected lakes. Cibyra was on a
low hill to the west of GÃ¶lhisar Valley and GÃ¶lhisar Lake, just north of
Cibyra dominated an ancient region, Cabalis, which was divided between the
later states of Lycia,
Lydia, subsequently incorporated in
Phrygia. According to Strabo, it spoke four
Lydian, even though Lydian had disappeared
elsewhere, Greek, Pisidian and "that of the
Solymi." Cabalis, which was later divided into
Lycian and Asian Cabalis, was the putative home of the Solymi. It included the
Milyas District of Lycia, putatively the home of the first Lycians. It is
possible that they spoke a form of Anatolian earlier than the attested Lycian,
which some have dubbed "Milyan." A further connection of this "Milyan" with
Lycian B of the
Xanthian Obelisk is pure fantasy.
Unlike the Lycian League, the Cibyratis was ruled by a succession of
deliberately ostentatious and high-handed tyrants. Having become a thorn in the
side of Rome, they attracted the attention of
Gnaeus Manlius Vulso, commander of the Roman
armies successfully fighting the
Galatian War of 189 BC. Manlius turned toward
Cibyratis with the intent of removing the thorn. The tyrant, Moagetes, barely
escaped with his life and his position by entering the Roman camp dressed in
humble clothing, with a handful of similarly dressed assistants, claiming
destitution and begging for mercy. He offered a payment of 15 talents. Manlius
set the payment at 500 talents, a huge sum, impossible of payment. Finally moved
to mercy, he allowed Moagetes to bargain him down to 100 and a substantial
payment of grain, necessary to the Roman commissary.
When the Romans had departed Moagetes dropped the pretense, and Cibyratis
resumed its arrogance. Consequently, when Murena did finally deal with Cibyratis,
he had no political mercy. Strabo says that Bubon and Balbura were transferred
to the Lycian League forthwith. He does not mention Oenoanda, but it had been a
city of the Lycians anyway. It minted coinage of the League subsequently. There
is no evidence that Cibyra was ever admitted to the League, although that
assumption sometimes is made. It was in Asian Cabalia and as such was joined to
Phrygia later, an event supported by their coin issues. The last tyrant of the
Tetrapolis was also named Moagetes, a different one, unless the term was a
title, or Strabo made a mistake.
The 23 at first and then 26 city states joined together in a federal-style
government that shared political and economic resources. A â€œLyciarchâ€� was
elected by a senate (ÏƒÏ…Î½ÎÎ´Ï�Î¹Î¿Î½, synedrion, "sitting together") that convened by
agreement beforehand at "what city they please." Each member had one, two or
three votes (presumably by different representatives), depending on the city's
size. The diminishment of some cities over time caused them to join with the
major state in their vicinity to form a sympolity. In that case they lost their
vote (if they had one) assuming an influence in the vote of the major city.
After election of the Lyciarch the Senate voted for the the other public
officials and the magistrates. The League's government took precedence, but, as
in many federal systems, the issue was not entirely settled, and the resulting
civil conflict led to the dissolution of the union.
Strabo identified the major cities of the League; that is, the three-vote
Tlos, with Patara as the capital. The full
complement has been identified by a study of the coins and mention in other
texts. The coins recognize two districts, termed, for want of a better term,
"monetary districts:" Masicytus and Cragus, both named after mountain ranges, in
the shadow of which, presumably, the communities lived and conducted business.
Where coinage before the Lycian League had often been stamped LY for Lycia, it
was now stamped KP (kr) or MA.
An inscription from Tyberissos records the treaty between Rome and Lycian
League, which is of a type the Romans called a foedus. It was much used
between Italian cities and Rome, except that their treaties provided for
contributions to Rome, but this one does not. There is a general statement and
four clauses. The general statement establishes "peace, friendship, and loyal
alliance ... by land and sea for all time." The four clauses provide for
neutrality of Rome to the enemies of the Lycian League, neutrality of the Lycian
League to the enemies of Rome, mutual assistance in the case of first aggression
by an enemy against either, and alteration of the treaty only by joint
agreement. The treaty is written as though between independent and co-equal
states, but all parties knew that this was conventional hypocrisy. The Lycian
League was subject to the decisions of the Roman Senate and the decrees of the
Roman emperors, but not vice versa. Only one state was sovereign.
In 43 AD, the emperor
Claudius annexed Lycia to the
Roman Empire as a province and by the time of
Vespasian, it was united with
Pamphylia as a Roman province. The heir of
Gaius Caesar, was killed there in 4 AD.