Temple of Isis

Aphrodite anadiomene
Aphrodite anadiomene
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Aphrodite anadiomene

The marble statuette was found on February 16th 1765 in the portico of the Temple of Isis in Pompeii and portrays Aphrodite coming out of the water. A himation (cloak), on which it is possible to see traces of the original blue coloration, is fastened around her belly to cover the lower part of her body. The sculpture was created in two parts that join at hips. No traces of the original gilding of hair, breast and necklace.

The iconographic theme derives from a famous painting by Apelles, which Augustus acquired in Coo and transported to Rome in the Temple of the Divine Julio.
The presence of the statuette in the temple of Isis is to be connected to the strong syncretism in the cult of the two goddesses, which is also supported by the use of
Isiac attributes in the representations of Pompeian Venus.


Sistro con gatta e fiori di loto
Sistrum with cat and lotus flowers

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Sistrum with cat and lotus flowers

The instrument was found on January 4th 1766 in the ekkesiasterion of the Temple of Isis in Pompeii.
The sistrum is adorned on the top with a crouched cat and on the sides with lotus flowers. The instrument was found together with some marble fragments of limbs, among which some of the hand that originally held it and of a marble head of Isis.

The fragments and the sistrum were probably pertaining to an acrolith of the goddess.
The presence of elements and attributes relevant to the cult of Isis is considerable throughtout ancient Campania and many are the sistra found in Pompeii, a sign of the great importance of the cult of the goddess in the first imperial times.

C. Norbanus Sorix
C.Norbanus Sorix


C. Norbanus Sorix

The herma was found on February 16th 1765 in the portico of the Temple of Isis in Pompeii. It portrays a middle-aged man with facial features strongly characterized: broad and receding forehead, fleshy nose, pronounced lips, prominent chin, high cheekbones. The hair, with short locks, is engraved, as well as the wrinkles and the eyebrows.
The herma is supported by a marble pillar with an inscription that says: “Caius Norbanus Sorix, actor of minor roles, magister of the pagus Augustus Felix suburbanus. The place was granted by decree of decuriones”.
A second herma of Sorix was found in Pompeii in the building of Eumachia and a third one was found in the Temple of Diana at Nemi, where there was also another Temple of Isis. The actor probably frequented the temples of Isis to participate in the sacred representations.

Mano votiva con Zeus Sabazio
Votive hand with Zeus Sabatius

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Votive hand with Zeus Sabatius

The votive object, which can be dated to the first century AD (1 -79 AD), was found in a place not specified in Herculaneum. It is a benedictory right hand with thumb, forefinger and middle finger extended, ring finger and little finger bent on the palm. A lightning held by the claws of an eagle is placed horizontally on the forefinger and middle finger. On the palm is seated Zeus Sabatius (considered to be Rhea’s son, that is a descendant of Zeus and Persephone, killed and torn to pieces by the Titans, worshipped with orgiastic mystery rites), wearing a Phrygian cap, tunic and trousers.

A large number of symbols of deities and apotropaic objects are pointed out on the whole surface of the hand. A female figure breast-feeding a child in a closed place (perhaps a cave) is represented in bas-relief on the pulse.

Sacerdotessa o fedele
Priestess or believer
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Priestess or believer

The marble head was found on November 16th 1765 in the sacrarium to the west of the portico of the Temple of Isis in Pompeii. The face is characterized by a refined outline and sweet features that are made softer, especially in the area of the mouth, by the presence of a dimple on the chin.
The face is framed by the hair combed with two waved bands clearly standing out against the forehead, on which is a bandage that grows thinner on the sides. On the nape the hair is gathered into a bun made up of four plaits folded and raised on the neck where two small tufts form a knot. Despite the classical lines, it is certainly a portrait of a believer or a priestess, as it is demonstrated by the type of hairstyle that is often found in the official portraiture of Antonia Minor, wife of Druso Mayor, emperor Tiberius’ brother, and mother of Germanicus and Claudius.

Testa di Iside
Head of Isis

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Head of Isis

The sculpture was found on March 4th 1766 in the ekklesiasterion of the Temple of Isis in Pompeii. The head of the goddess Isis shows an excellent quality of workmanship and a balanced combination of light chiaroscuro on the face and more vigorous strokes on the hair.

Below a taenia on the forehead, the hair is portrayed with locks and is gathered into a knot on the nape. Some small locks fall down on the temples, two longer locks fall down on the neck. Two locks are gathered in a knot on the forehead, referring to a well-known iconography of Venus. The ears are pierced for gold earrings.

The attribution of this statue to Isis is certain, thanks to the trace of an attribute she wore on her head and to a bronze sistrum that were probably part of an acrolith.



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The pentelic marble statue was found on March 4th 1766 in the portico of the Temple of Isis in Pompeii and dates back to the Claudian period (41 -54 AD).

Isis wears a long see-through tunic fastened with a snake-headed belt below the chest. The goddess holds her left arm along the corresponding side of the body and in her hand an ankht, symbol of life. She wears on her head a wreath with five flowers, where there is a hole that probably served the purpose of supporting another attribute, a lotus flower or a hatorica crown.

In comparison with the canonical type, instead of a pillar, there is the trunk of a tree as a support.
The statue, which preserves a large number of traces of colour, is based on the original pillar where however there is an inscription of the Flavian period “L. Cecilius Phoebus erected it. The place was granted by decree of decuriones”. Although it comes from the temple, the statue is not the image of cult worshipped in the temple, that was, instead, an acrolith.

Iscrizione dedicatoria di N. Popidius Celsinus
Dedicatory inscription of N. Popidius Celsinus
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Dedicatory inscription of N. Popidius Celsinus

The inscription, which was found on July 20th 1765, was affixed to the boundary wall at the entrance of the Temple of Isis in Pompeii. The monumental inscription, written in Latin capital letters and reconstructed by means of a large number of fragments, bears the name of Numerius Popidius Celsinus, who had the temple rebuilt at his own expense since it had collapsed for the earthquake of 62 AD. For this generous donation, although he was only six years old, he was included, without any further charge, in the Council of the decuriones (elective magistrates who governed colonies and municipia on behalf of the central government).

The epigraph in question is one of the most important epigraphic documents found in Pompeii, as it gives a significant vision of the last years of life of the town, besides precious information about the temple that was so seriously damaged by the earthquake that it had to be rebuilt from the foundations.

Io a Canopo
Io in Canopus

Io in Canopus

The painting of the Nero-Flavian period (62 – 79 AD), which was found on November 18th 1765, comes from the southern wall of the ekklesiasterion (a room dedicated to worship, where only Isiac priests could enter) of the Temple of Isis in Pompeii. The fresco, that depicts a quite rare theme present in Pompeii only in another painting coming from the House of the Duke of Aumale, certainly derives from a Hellenistic prototype, probably Alexandrine, of the third century BC, inspired by the necessity of the Ptolemaic dynasty to legitimate their power with images that documented, by means of myths like that, the common origins of Egyptian and Macedonian people.

The fresco depicts the arrival of Io in Canopus, Egypt. On the left side, there is the maiden priestess of Argive Hera, daughter of the king of Argos, Inachus, fair-skinned, with a violet cloak flowing behind her shoulders and still with the small horns on her forehead referring to her transformation into a heifer expected by Zeus. A statue of a sphinx on a high base placed on the left and a horned altar on the bottom indicate that the scene takes place near the temple.

Io, Argo ed Hermes
Io, Argos and Hermes


Io, Argos and Hermes

The fresco was removed, together with the black frame and a part of the red bottom panel, from the centre of the middle area of the northern wall in the IV Pompeian style of the ekklesiasterion (a room dedicated to worship, where only Isiac priests could enter).

On the right side, Argos, seated on a boulder, with a red cloak wrapped around his hips, leans against a pedum (stick) and looks at Hermes who, in the middle of the composition, bends to give him the syringe with a bewitching sound in order to put him to sleep with the touch of the caduceus (a winged stick entwined with snakes) and behead him. The consequences of this action, thanks to which Zeus (identified as Jupiter in the Roman world, Chronus and Rhea’s son, gods’ father, god of sky and thunder) will possess the maiden, are symbolized by two animals: the heifer into which Io will be turned and the peacock, which will come to life after the death of Argos, preserving the memory of his all-embracing vision in the numerous “eyes” of its tail.

It is a theme present in a large number of reproductions that draw on the work of the Athenian painter Nikias lived in the fourth century BC.

Sacerdote isiaco
Isiac priest

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Isiac priest

The painting, which dates back to the Nero-Flavian period (62 – 79 AD), was found on August 24th 1765 in the eastern side of the northern portico of the Temple of Isis.
It presents an Isiac priest in the foreground; he reads the ritual formula on a roll held in his hands. He wears a white long fringed robe knotted on the chest and cane sandals; he wears a gold bulla (a medallion with two valves) around his neck and two ostrich feathers on his head. He is a hierogrammateus, also called pretoforo, for the two ostrich feathers that adorned his forehead.

On the pillar, behind the priest, is crouched a black cat with a lotus flower on its head, a reference to Bast, the solar cat-shaped goddess who accompanies and protects Ra (the god of the Sun) against the snake originally hostile to him.

Paesaggio idillico sacrale
Idyllic sacral landscape
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Idyllic sacral landscape

The painting, which was found on May 2nd 1766, comes from the northern wall of the ekklesiasterion (a room dedicated to worship, where only Isiac priests could enter) of the Temple of Isis.
The fragment, pertaining to the central area of a wall in the IV Pompeian style, was originally placed on the left side of the painting depicting Io, Argos and Hermes, as demonstrated by the engraving made by Casanova on Morghen’s drawing.

Of the theatrical scene painting, in which the landscape was inserted, as if it was a real place seen through a window, remains a residue of pillar. In the middle of the composition, on a small island surrounded by dark blue water, there is a small distyle temple flanked by a sacred door. On the left side, in the foreground, there is an arula adorned with female figurines, probably Isiac priestesses, that lift with one hand the hem of their garments, while with the other carry a tray of offerings or another attribute. The only living being of the composition, which seems to evoke places of Upper Egypt, is a kingfisher with bright deep blue and violet feathering, resting on a rock, in the foreground.

Navigium Isidis tra divinità fluviali
Navigium Isidis among river gods
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Navigium Isidis among river gods

The wall painting was brought to light on October 18th 1765 in the sacrarium of the Temple of Isis in Pompeii.

On the wall is depicted a moment of navigium Isidis: the transport of Osiris by Isis. It is the transport of the sacred water, symbol of Osiris regenerator, whose body, torn to pieces by Seth (Egyptian god of Chaos) had been reassembled by goddess Isis, who had raised him with her love. In the lower register are depicted two big snakes slithering towards a wicker basket with a conical lid, adorned with a crescent moon and placed on a small pillar, behind which sprout two flowered spirals that close the composition. The wicker basket with a conical lid, which was not known in the Egyptian world and probably derives from mystery cults of Hellenistic tradition, was carried in procession during the ceremony of navigium Isidis, but its contents are still unknown.

Skyphos - Scena egittizzante
Skyphos with an Egyptian-style scene


Skyphos with an Egyptian-style scene

The skyphos, found in the frigidarium of Villa San Marco at Stabiae, was created in a unique block of obsidian and presents a deep basin with vertical sides on base, with two circular handles joined to the body of the vessel and to the rim with sculptural elements.

The decoration has an Egyptian theme and style: small coloured stones are enlaid in embeddings in the outer surface of the basin and lined with a thin gold layer. The front of the sacellum shows a solar disk with two urei (hooded snakes); between the columns, surmounted by capitals with lotus flowers, stands, on a sacred table supported by sphinxes, an Api Ox, behind which is Horus (the falcon god, son of Isis and Osiris).

The skyphos of Alexandrine production should be part of a larger group of vessels and is a document of extraordinary importance both for the value of the materials used and for the refinement of the technique.

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