Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Development and Diffusion of the Cult of Isis in the Hellenistic Period
by Moss, Kelly A., M.A., The University of Arizona, 2017, 92; 10281055
Abstract (Summary)

During the 4th century BCE and the Hellenistic period (323–31 BCE), the cult of Isis increasingly appeared outside of Egypt throughout the Greek world. The widespread diffusion of her cult at this time occurred due to Alexander III of Macedon’s conquest of the Achaemenid Empire. His conquest of the eastern Mediterranean and Egypt led to the reorganization of the Greek world politically and economically. This reorganization influenced the religious atmosphere of the 4th century BCE and subsequent centuries for Greeks. Popular cults, like the mysteries of Demeter and Dionysus, often focused on the afterlife and individuals more than poleis. Isis fit the new religious atmosphere since she was a universal goddess with ties to the afterlife and daily life.

Under the Ptolemies, Isis became syncretized with Greek deities, such as Aphrodite and Demeter, which resulted in the increased likelihood of the reception of Isis’s cult in Greek cities. Her Alexandrian cult emphasized sailing and healing through her connections with the Pharos and the healing cult of Serapis, her consort in the Ptolemaic Egyptian pantheon. Through a case study of sites with shrines dedicated to Isis in the Greek world, including Athens, Corinth, and Delos, it is evident that these sites had political and economic ties to Egypt and that her cult was often adapted at these sites based on the needs of the people at that location.

Previous scholarship regarding the cult of Isis has emphasized her role in Egypt during the Pharaonic period or her reception among the Greeks and Romans from the 3rd century BCE to the 4th century CE. There is little literature that emphasizes Isis’s reception during the 4th century BCE and early Ptolemaic period when her cult was first appearing at Greek sites or that discusses the relationship between Isis’s cult and the political and economic factors of the Hellenistic period. This thesis attempts to examine the development of the cult of Isis in Egypt in order to trace the Hellenistic religious domain of Isis back to the potential origins during the Pharaonic and Macedonian periods in Egypt.

I argue that Isis’s role as a protectress and establishment in Alexandria as a deity associated with sailors and navigation led to Isis’s reception in Greece first in ports, such as Piraeus, Corinth, and Delos. Furthermore, while sailing was important to the spread and reception of her cult during a period with increased economic activity, Isis gained popularity at these sites due to her vast patronages that increased the likelihood of her appeal to a variety of people and sites. The adaptability of her cult led to the widespread diffusion during the Hellenistic age, and the endurance of her cult into the Roman period. Her role as a seafaring protectress starting from the 4th century BCE indicates that there was a focus on economics and travel that resulted in a preoccupation with fortune and safety. Isis was a natural fit, as a protectress deity, for the religious landscape of the Hellenistic zeitgeist.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Voyatzis, Mary E.
Commitee: Bauschatz, John, Creasman, Pearce Paul
School: The University of Arizona
Department: Classics
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: MAI 56/04M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology
Keywords: Diffusion, Egypt, Greece, Greek, Isis, Religion
Publication Number: 10281055
ISBN: 978-1-369-80517-8
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