Serapis wearing a Modius.

      Ptolemy I Soter, the first of the Macedonian kings to rule Egypt (323-283 BC), introduced a new god to provide Alexandria with a patron deity and unite the Greek and Egyptian population of the city. This new god was derived from the Egyptian god Osiris and the Apis bull. The Apis-bulls ,who where worshipped in Egypt as reincarnations of the god Ptah, were mummified and buried upon their death after which they where made immortal by Osiris and became Osiris-Apis. A manifestation of the apis bull and the Egyptian god of the underworld Osiris.

       As a sort of reincarnation of the once popular god Osiris the new god became an immediate hit with the native Egyptians but also with the Greeks who first called him Hades (to which Serapis bears a great resemblance) but pretty soon they started using a Greek form of the Egyptian name and the god became widely known as Serapis. An elaborate temple was built in Alexendria containing a huge statue of Serapis made of all different kind of stones, precious metals and gems, the so called Serapeum. The cult was actively promoted throughout the Mediterranean world. Serapis, being a manifestation of the underworld god Osiris, was just like Hades accompanied by a three headed dog who looked a lot like Cerebrus the guardian of the Greek underworld. The new version looked like a snake wrapped around a dogs body with the heads of a wolf a dog and a lion. Serapis could take the form of a bull (just like Osiris) or the form of a human with a bulls head.

Serapis with three headed dog and  modius on head

      Being a resurrected god the immortal Serapis is also seen as a god of healing and fertility (his association with Osiris, the god of grain and lord of the Nile also plays a role). In this role he is often portrayed carrying a modius (a grain measure) on his head, symbolizing the fertility and bounty of the earth. To the Greeks he unified in him the role and powers of Zeus as head of the gods, Hades as god of the underworld, Poseidon as god of the sea, Asclepius as a healing god, Dionysus as a fertility god and Helios as a sun god. This Egyptian/Greek cult rose in popularity and reached its heights in the Roman empire in the 3rd century AD. At the beginning of the 3rd century the emperor Caracalla built a big Serapistemple in Rome (135 x 98 meters with columns nearly 22 meters high).

      In 391 the Serapeum in Egypt was ordered to be destroyed by the emperor Theodosius. After his degree, which forbade the worship of pagan gods and which elevated Christianity as the state religion of the roman empire, religious riots broke out in Alexandria between Christians and worshippers of Serapis who had barricaded themselves in the huge temple. As revenge for this degree they sacrificed captured Christians to their god who where promptly declared marters by Theodosius. Although the temple was eventually destroyed, the pagans were offered mercy and set free. After this the cult of Serapis slowly faded away. Serapis appears sparingly on imperial coins but more frequently on provincial coins.