The cult of Serapis developed largely in the 3rd century BC, under the Hellenistic ruler Ptolemy I Soter. The establishment of a new cult was essentially political policy to try and unite both the Greek and Egyptian population. The name Serapis is a culmination of Osiris-Apis, formed from the Coptic rendering. Alexander the Great, wishing to establish a unifying cult figure needed a new deity that would resonate with both his Egyptian and Greek subjects. Having favoured Amun in iconography, Alexander had wished to drive his cult however Amun was not favoured in Lower Egypt, which had a stronger Greek presence. Instead, an anthropomorphic figure was created, hailed as a manifestation of the popular Apis bull, a cult with an extreme following in Lower Egypt. Thus the cult of Serapis was first formed. Linked to Osiris, the Ancient Greeks identified Serapis with Hades, god of the dead. Iconographically they portrayed him with the modus, a grain-measure that represented the land of the dead. His worship continued well into the Roman period, absorbed into the religious fabric of society.
Isis was already an established figure in the Egyptian pantheon. A mother figure, wife of Osiris, she became a consort to Serapis and the pair were introduced to Roman society from the 2nd century BC, at the height of Hellenistic power. The pairing appealed to the Greco-Roman demographic in Egypt and naturally progressed to the mainland. The mysticism of Isis and Serapis appealed to the demographic and their own mystery rites were initiated.
To discover more about oil lamps, please visit our relevant blog post: Lighting The Way.