Isis, Sculpture

UnknownHellenistic Period - Roman Period (323 BC-337 AD)

Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities

Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities

Figurine, Isis-Sothis on a dog. The sculpture is made of pale brown clay with white slip. Isis is looking forward, riding on a dog, seemingly of malteser breed. She is wearing a long garment, on her chest the Isis knot. The left hand resting on her lap, the right hand resting on a curved horn. On her head is a horned crown with sun disc. Her face is detailed, especially the eyes. The dog has its forelegs raised as for a leap, the face turned to the right, wearing a necklace.


  • Title: Isis, Sculpture
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: Hellenistic Period - Roman Period (323 BC-337 AD)
  • Location Created: Egypt
  • Physical Dimensions: 8,5 cm, 14 cm
  • External Link: Object at Museum of Mediterranean (Medelhavsmuseet)
  • Ancient mysteries, text: The earliest surviving narrative of myth about Isis comes from Plutarch’s essay On Isis and Osiris, written in the second century CE, but this is certainly largely derived from original Egyptian sources. Isis was sister and wife to Osiris, and when Osiris is killed by his brother Seth, Isis goes in search of the body and eventually revives him. This story appears to relate to aspects of the cult of Isis and Osiris and to elements within the mysteries of Isis. Its similarity to the myth behind the Eleusinian mysteries (a missing family member, a searching goddess, a rediscovery) was noted early, with some writers even claiming an Egyptian origin of those mysteries. Not all of the cult of Isis was mystery cult and there was much variation in cult practice in honour of Isis between different places. The cult reached Italy by the end of the second century BCE, with the earliest temples being set up in Puteoli and in Pompeii. Sometime between the reigns of Caligula and Nero a temple of Isis and Serapis was built in the Campus Martius. Many Roman emperors would show an interest in the cult of Isis which would have increased interest in it more generally, peaking around the second century CE (the period of most of our evidence). However, we do not know how common initiation into the mysteries of Isis was. There does not appear to have been an annual festival in the course of which all initiation took place, although regular festivals were held in honour of Isis in places where her cult was well established. This terracotta figurine from Hellenistic Egypt is a representation of Isis, sitting upon the Dog-Star, holding a cornucopia in her right hand and crowned with the sun disc. The Dog-Star is Sirius (so named because of its prominence in Canis Major) whose heliacal rising tended to precede the annual flooding of the Nile. Sopdet (Sothis in Greek) was the Egyptian personification of Sirius, who during the Ptolemaic period would become subsumed into Isis, further highlighting her combined earthly and cosmic powers. The figurine was acquired from R. G. Gayer-Anderson in 1931.

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