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Festival of Isis

229, Lot: 445. Estimate $200.
Sold for $1000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Festival of Isis. Mid 4th century AD. Æ 16mm (2.33 g, 6h). Rome mint. [DEO S]E-RAPIDI, radiate and draped bust of Serapis right, wearing modius / VOT[A] PVB[LIC]A, Isis standing left, holding sistrum and reins, in tensa drawn by two mules. Cf. RIC VIII 500-1 (for rev. type; Julian II); Alföldi, Festival 207; Vagi 3371. VF, earthen green patina, pierced at 1h.

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 Roman rulers portrayed themselves as Pharaohs to the native population (the Egyptian concept of the Pharaoh as a god was certainly appealing to the Roman emperors).

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.