Serapis and Osiris-Apis

I always get a bit jumpy when I read statements like “Serapis is the same as Osiris-Apis.”  I want to know how anyone knows.

Today I was reading the Realencyclopadie article on Sarapis (col. 2369), which goes some way to answer this question:

Die ägyptische Schreibung des Namens S. ist Osiris-Apis, wie aus den bilinguen Inschriften mit zweifelloser Sicherheit hervorgeht. Die älteste hieroglyphische Schreibung in einer Bilinguis findet sich auf einem Goldplättchen, das in Alexandria gefunden ist und von Ptolemaios IV. Philopator (222-205 v. Chr.) und Arsinoe mit griechischer und hieroglyphischer Inschrift als Grundsteinbeigabe geweiht ist (Maspero Recueil de travaux egypt. assyr. VII (1886) 140-141). Eine demotische Bilinguis mit Osiris-Apis für Σαραπις bei Brugsch Thesaurus inscript. aegypt. V 917. Wo ägyptische Denkmäler den Apis-Stier darstellen, nennen sie ihn in der hieroglyphischen Beischrift häufig Osiris-Apis, z. B. Berlin 7304: Grabstein des Imhotep. Erman Relig.2 (1909) 238 Abb. 134.

Which translates as:

The Egyptian spelling of the name Serapis was Osiris-Apis, as shown in the bilingual inscriptions with indubitable certainty. The oldest hieroglyphic inscription is found in a bilingual text on a gold plate which was found in Alexandria, and dedicated to Ptolemy IV Philopator (222-205 BC) and Arsinoe, with Greek and hieroglyphic inscriptions, as a foundation deposit (Maspero, Recueil de travaux egypt. assyr. VII (1886) 140-141). A demotic bilingual text with Osiris-Apis for Serapis in Brugsch Thesaurus inscript. aegypt. V p.917. Where Egyptian monuments represent the Apis bull, they frequently call him  in the hieroglyphic inscription ‘Osiris-Apis’, for example, Berlin 7304: grave stone of Imhotep. Erman Relig.2 (1909) 238 Fig 134.

I wasn’t able to find the Maspero book online, but the Brugsch book is accessible, and there is indeed an inscription referring to Serapis.  (Ideally we would translate both sides, but I don’t know ancient Egyptian!) 

A couple of bilingual texts seems like evidence of a perceived equivalence in Ptolemaic times, at any rate.

10 thoughts on “Serapis and Osiris-Apis

  1. (Ideally we would translate both sides, but I don’t know ancient Egyptian!)

    I do, and the inscription on p. 917 does indeed render the Greek SARAPIDOS by Egyptian Wsir Hp, “Osiris-Apis”; but as I remarked elsewhere, I never questioned whether this identification was authentically from antiquity, but only whether it was a posteriori.

    And I only pose that question from a point of theological interest: I can see the Osiris in Serapis, but the Apis part is more obscure, inasmuch as the bull is not prominent in the iconography of Serapis. The connection may lie on the level of praxis: Serapis is an active, engaged savior God, like the living Apis, and the Osiris of Apis–i.e., the spirit of all the deceased and living Apis bulls–universalizes that agency.

  2. Thank you very much indeed for this. What does the Egyptian sentence actually say?

    I suspect the question you ask is one that is unknowable now. I’ve been walking through the literary sources, which simply don’t go down to this level of detail.

    We have to remember the meeting between Manetho the Egyptian priest and Timotheus the Elusinian hierophant, at the court of Ptolemy Soter. I don’t think we need to worry about whether the new god Serapis ‘is’ Osiris-Apis. I doubt they cared. What they would have done is pick a popular and well-known Egyptian cult which they’d like to borrow stuff from, westernise the name, add into the mix whatever other elements from the Greek side necessary to make the deity appealing to Greeks, and, hey presto! New god is created.

    I suspect the confusion over whether Serapis was really Osiris-Apis might well be original, and intentional by the Ptolemaic designers.

  3. Do you mean the demotic text in the middle of the page, or the hieroglyphic inscription at the bottom? I don’t read demotic, though I could take a crack at it.

    I attribute more sincerity all around in the emergence of Serapis. I think that if the process had really been the sort that you describe, i.e., one of “creating” a God for certain purposes, the result would have been different than what we find in Serapis.

  4. I’m not sure, to be honest — I’d have to go back and look at it, and I haven’t the time. It doesn’t really matter.

    Interesting idea, that Serapis was a more honest creation. The idea of intentional creation is all over the stuff I have read, but I’m not sure the ancient texts actually say that this happened.

  5. Hi all. I would like to thank you for opening this theme. Christina-Danai Naoum in 3rd chapter of “Hellenisation of Isis and the spread of the cult” 2008. (pg.100 f.) says that at first there was confusion with Osorapis with Serapis and that’s the reason why earlieast date of Serapis’ appearance was not clear. I think that connection with Isis should be the link between Osorapis and Serapis, and also my opinion that Osisirs-Apis and Serapis are not the same. Only similar name and difference between two cultures produced an confusion.
    While I’m here I would like to ask you something. Can you, please, tell me what do you think about statement that Serapis wasn’t worshiped in whole Egypt, only in Alexandria and few places with Greek population majority? Thank you!

  6. But there are no evidence (yet) for worshiping Serapis anywhere else deeper in Egypt. Only Delta and Fayum regions, where Greeks were majority. Or I don’t have complete information about it? If there are some evidence about cult of Serapis up stream of Nile, can You please direct me to the source of the info? Thank You again on your time to answer me, and for Your opinion.

  7. Thank You very much. If I come in possess of any kind of information about this matter I will inform You here 🙂
    Thank You for Your time.

Leave a Reply