Maat - To know the history to create the future





The names of the Great Mother are so many: Inanna for the Sumerians, Ishtar for the Akkadians, Anat at Ugarit, Atargatis in Syria, Artemide-Diana at Ephesus, Baubo at Priene, Aphrodite-Venus at Cyprus, Rhea or Dictynna at Crete, Demeter at Eleusis, Orthia at Sparta, Bendis in Thrace, Cybele at Pessinus, Ma in Cappadocia, Bellona in Rome.

In Egypt her name is Isis. Daughter of Nut, goddess of the Sky, and of Geb, god of the Earth. Bride of Osiris, killed by Seth, god of the desert, and risen from the death thanks to the same Isis.

Isis is the mother of Horus, the god little boy who appears in numerous representations in the arms of Isis who suckles him. Osiris reincarnates himself in Horus, born by the union with Isis after his resurrection.

The triad Isis, Osiris and Horus represents the continuity of life, the victory over death, the life after death.

With the coming of the Ptolemaic dynasty (323 b.C.) the cult of Isis spread in the whole Mediterranean. Isis became the prototype of the Mother and of the Son.

Testimonies of the cult of Isis are found in Athens, at Tithorea near Delphi (where there was the most sacred of the Greek sanctuaries of Isis), in many centers of Greece, in the islands of the Aegean Sea (particularly at Delos), in Asia Minor, in Northern Africa, in Sicily, in Sardinia, in Spain, in Italy (especially in Campania at Pompeii, Pozzuoli, Ercolano), in Gaul and in Germany.

In Rome the cult had great success. Towards 88 b.C. it was in operation in Rome a college of pastophori: a brotherhood of priests who brought in procession small shrines with the divine images.

In 65 b.C. an altar devoted to Isis on the Capitol was destroyed by order of the Senate.

The followers of Isis, belonging to all the social classes, were involved in the political and social struggles of the last times of the Republic. The Senate ordered the destruction of temples, altars and statues of the goddess in 58, in 54, in 50 and in 48 b.C..

In 50 b.C. the consul Emilius Paolus didn't find any worker willing to demolish the sanctuary of Isis.

In 43 b.C. the triumviris (Mark Antony, Octavian and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus) promised to consecrate an Isis's temple at the Republic's expenses. But the promise was not kept.

After the battle of Actium (31 b.C.) and the death of Cleopatra (69 b.C.-30 b.C.) and of Mark Antony (81 b.C.-30 b.C.) the persecutions against the Greek-Egyptian cults resumed.

In 28 b.C. Augustus (63 b.C.-14 AD) prohibited the cult of Isis within the sacred enclosure of the city (pomoerium).

In 21 b.C. Agrippa, in absence of August, prohibited the Alexandrine cults within a kilometer and a half from the city.

In 19 AD Tiberius (42 b.C.-37 AD) ordered to demolish the temple of Isis and to throw in the Tiber River the statue of the goddess.

The situation changed with Caligula (12-41 AD), descendant of August and of Mark Antony, who built a great temple devoted to Isis in Campus Martius: the Iseum Campense.

Claudius (10 b.C.-54 AD), Nero (37-68 AD) and Vespasian (9-79 AD) gave their support to the cult of the goddess. Vespasian, before celebrating together with his son Titus the victory on the rebellious Hebrews, spent a night of prayer in the Iseum to thank the great goddess. In 71 a medal was coined with the Iseum Campense.

Domitianus (51-96 AD) saved himself by the partisans of Vitellius hiding himself in an Isis's procession. When the Iseum Campense was destroyed by a fire in 80 AD Domitianus reconstructed it.

In the second century AD Rome became the center of the religion of Isis: it became the sacrosancta civitas according to the denomination of Apuleius in the Metamorphoses.

Adrianus (76-138 AD) wanted to build in his imperial villa of Tivoli a Canopus in miniature culminating in a Serapeum. In 126 he inaugurated a sanctuary devoted to Isis at Luxor. In 127 he ordered to build an Iseum at Ostia.

Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) invoked the aid of the Egyptian gods to save himself during a military crisis in Bosnia.

Commodus (161-192 AD) made himself shaved as a pastophorus. The coins of his time show him together with Isis and with Sarapis.

Septimius Severus (146-211 AD) supported the Isis's cult. Over the coins of Julia Domna, second wife of the emperor, Isis is seen suckling Horus.

Caracalla (188-217 AD) readmitted the Isis's cult within the sacred confinements of the city of Rome. The religion of the great goddess reached its apogee.

Alexander Severus (208-235 AD) restored the Iseum Campense and the other temples of the goddess.

Diocletianus (245-316 AD), who reigned up to 305 when he decided to abdicate, probably built the Iseum of the III Regio (district) of Rome. He made to coin a lot of coins with the goddess Isis.

In the whole Roman Empire symbols of the goddess are found on jewels, pins, clasps, rings. Sanctuaries, statues and monuments were built in a lot of places.

Two solemn festivities connected to Isis were celebrated in the Roman empire: the Navigium or vessel of Isis, on March 5 and the Inventio of Osiris, from October 29 to November 1.

This happy age finished in 312 with the coming to the throne of Constantine (280-336).

After the edict of Constantine (313 AD) the Christians began to persecute the other religions.

In 380, with the edict of Thessalonica, Theodosius (347-395) declared the Christianity religion of state. All the other cults were forbidden, the temples destroyed, the statues dejected, the priests and the believers tried by the authorities or lynched by the crowds led by bishops and fanatical monks.

In 391 Theophilus, the Christian patriarch of Alexandria, called the monks "to purify" the city of the Serapeum.

In 394 the last official rites were celebrated in honor of Isis in Rome.

In 396 the Barbaric Alaric, the Goths' king, to whose retinue were the "men dressed of black" (the Christian monks), set on fire the sanctuary of Eleusis.

In 415 a group of Christian monks, followers of the patriarch of Alexandria, saint Cyril (375-444), lynched Hypatia (370-415), woman who had reached a great fame in philosophy and in mathematics, remarkable figure of the Neo-Platonic school, leading figure of the pagan intellectual world. With her death it began the decline of Alexandria as a cultural center.

In 536 the emperor Justinian (483-565) ordered the closing of the last temple of Isis, situated in the island of Philae on the Nile at the borders with the Nubia, and made it turn into a Christian church.

Was the cult of the "Goddess with many names" ended for ever?

In 431 the Christian bishops had gathered at Ephesus, the sacred city to the goddess Artemis, one of the manifestations of the Great Mother. The Council decreed that Mary, mother of Jesus, had to be called Theotokos, Mater Dei, God's Mother. The ancient title of the great goddess Isis.


Iside that he/she nurses Horus

Isis who suckles Horus
(Mural painting - Roman Epoch - Karanis, Fayyum)

Place: Mediterranean Sea

Epoch: Roman Empire

Prayer to Isis
(Apuleius, Metamorphosis XI, 2)

Regina caeli,

sive tu Ceres
alma frugum parens originalis, quae, repertu laetata filiae, vetustatae glandis ferino remoto pabulo, miti commostrato cibo nunc Eleusiniam glebam percolis;

Queen of the sky,

you fertile Ceres,
first harvests' creator,
who, in the joy to have found again
your daughter, eliminated the ancient custom
to feed oneself of acorns as the wild beasts, revealing a milder food to men, you now reside
in the land of Eleusis;


seu tu caelestis Venus,
quae primis rerum exordiis sexuum diversitatem generato Amore sociasti et aeterna subole humano genere propagato nunc circumfluo Paphii sacrario coleris;


you celestial Venus,
who at the beginnings of the world united
the difference of the sexes
making to rise the Love
and propagating the eternal progeny
of the human kind,
now you are honored in the temple of Paphos
that the sea surrounds;


seu Phoebi soror,
quae partu fetarum medelis lenientibus recreato populos tantos educasti praeclarisque nunc veneraris delubris Ephesi;


you [Diana] sister of Phaebus,
who, relieving with your cares the birth to the pregnant women,
you have given birth to so many people,
you are now worshipped in the illustrious temple
of Ephesus;

seu nocturnis ululatibus horrenda Proserpina
triformi facie larvales impetus comprimens terraeque claustra cohibens lucos diversos inerrans vario cultu propitiaris;

you Proserpina,
who in the night with your dreadful howls
and with your three-shaped aspect
you brake the impetus of the ghosts
and you block the doors of the underground world,
wandering in the forests here and there,
you welcome propitious
the various ceremonies of cult;


ista luce feminea conlustrans cuncta moenia et udis ignibus nutriens laeta semina et solis ambagibus dispensas incerta lumina;


you [Moon] who with your female light illuminate anywhere the walls of the cities
and with your dewy shine
nourish the luxuriant seed
and with your solitary peregrinations you spread your uncertain light;


quoque nomine, quoque ritu, quaqua facie te fas est invocare:


with any name, with any rite,
under any aspect
it is right
to invoke you:


tu meis iam nunc extremis aerumnis subsiste, tu fortunam conlapsam adfirma, tu saevis exanclatis casibus pausam pacem tribue.


give me your help
in the time of the extreme tribulations, consolidate my afflicted fortune,
and after so many misfortunes that I have suffered give me peace and rest.


Isis Queen
(Apuleius, Metamorphosis XI, 5)

Rerum naturae parens,
elementorum ominium domina, saeculorum progenies initialis, summa numinum,
regina manium,
prima caelitum,
deorum dearumque facies uniformis,
quae caeli luminosa culmina,
maris salubria flamina,
inferum deplorata silentia nutibus meis dispenso:

I am the mother of the universe,
the sovereign of all the elements,
the origin before the centuries,
the totality of the divine powers,
the queen of the spirits,
the first of the celestial ones;
the unique image of all the male and female divinities:
I rule
with a sign of the head
the bright peaks of the celestial vault,
the salutary winds of the sea,
the desolate silences of the hell.


cuius nomen unicum
multiformi specie,
ritu vario,
nomine multiiugo
totus veneratur orbis.


My essence is indivisible,
but in the world I am worshipped anywhere under manifold forms,
with different rites, under different names.


Inde primigenii Phryges Pessinuntiam deum matrem,


Therefore the Frigis, the first inhabitants of the earth, call me mother of the gods [Great Mother, Cybele],
adored in Pessinus;


hinc autocthones Attici Cecropeiam Minervam,


the autochtonous Attics, Minerva Cecropia;


illinc fluctuantes Cyprii Paphiam Venerem,


the Cypriots bathed by the sea,
Venus of Paphos;


Cretes sagittiferi Dictynnam Dianam,


the Cretesis skilled archers, Diana Dictynna;


Siculi trilingues Stygiam Proserpinam,


the trilingual Sicilians , Proserpina Stygia;


Eleusinii vetusti Acteam Cererem,


the inhabitants of the ancient Eleusis,
Ceres Actea;


Iunonem alii, Bellonam alii,


some people Juno; others Bellona;


Hecatam histi, Rhamnusiam illi,


the one Hecate; the other Rhamnusia [Nemesis].

et qui nascentibus dei Solis inchoantibus (et occidentis inclinantibus) inlustrantur radiis Aethiopes utrique
priscaque doctrina pollentes Aegyptii
caerimoniis me propriis percolentes appellant vero nomine
reginam Isidem.

But the two stocks of the Ethiopians,
the one illuminated by the rising rays
of the god Sun at dawn,
the others by those dying at sunset,
and the Egyptians
gifted with the ancient knowledge,
they honor me with rites that belong to me alone, and they call me
with my true name:
Isis Queen.


Bibliographical references:


Le metamorfosi o l'Asino d'oro

Bresciani E. (a cura di)

Letteratura e poesia dell'Antico Egitto


De Rachewiltz B.

I miti egizi

Donadoni S.

Testi religiosi egizi


Eliade M.

Storia delle credenze e delle idee religiose

Ferguson J.

Le religioni nell'Impero Romano

Hart G.

Miti egizi

James E. O.

Gli eroi del mito
Il Saggiatore

Meeks D. - Favard Meeks Ch.

La vita quotidiana degli egizi
e dei loro dei


Iside e Osiride

Puech H.-C.

Le religioni del mondo classico

Rundle Clark R.T.

Mito e simbolo nell'antico Egitto
Il Saggiatore