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Research Coins: Printed Auction

 

The Festival of Isis

Sale: Triton XIII, Lot: 398. Estimate $500. 
Closing Date: Monday, 4 January 2010. 
Sold For $900. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Festival of Isis. Mid 4th century AD. Æ 18mm (2.61 g, 12h). Rome mint. DEO SE RADIPI (sic), radiate and draped bust of Serapis right, wearing modius / VOTA P VBLICA, Isis advancing left, holding sistrum in outstretched right hand and situla in left. Cf. RIC VIII 498 (for reverse type; Julian II); cf. Alföldi, Festival 204; Vagi 3370. VF, attractive brown surfaces. Rare.


From the White Mountain Collection.

The Ptolemaic cult of Serapis and Isis enjoyed great popularity throughout Hellenistic and Roman times, and indeed the Romans, like the Greeks and Persians before them, were fascinated by the culture and monuments of ancient Egypt. The Ptolemies and the Roman emperors were not content with just being the foreign rulers of Egypt, but wanted to be viewed as legitimate successors of the Pharaohs. To this end, the Romans portrayed themselves as Pharaohs to the native population and even promoted the import of certain aspects of Egyptian culture and religion to their own native lands. The Egyptian concept of the Pharaoh as a god was appealing to the Roman emperors (the aging Julius Caesar was especially taken with this concept during his romance with Cleopatra). The Isis festival was a major celebration in Rome in the 3rd and 4th centuries, heralding the arrival of the ship of Isis (navigium Isidis) from Alexandria on 5 March. Besides Isis and Horus, other members of the Egyptian pantheon appear--Serapis, Anubis, Harpocrates, and Nilus. Such coins or tokens with imperial busts were first struck by Diocletian at Rome to mark the arrival of the ship, and the tradition continued through the 4th century; the latest imperial bust to appear is that of Valentinian II. Alföldi proposes that in the Middle Ages the festival associated with the Isis ship (also known as carrus navalis) became the car naval or carnival.