Hellenistic gems: new gods

The god Sarapis was an invention of Ptolemaic Egypt. He is popular on Hellenistic gems, often as double-portrait with the Egyptian goddess Isis. Sarapis is often identified with the king, while, from Kleopatra I onwards, the portrait of Isis often appears with royal features. Both deities become endowed with a plethora of new attributes and functions, losing their distinct spheres of action to become more general purveyors of Good Fortune.

2 Gem images

Berlin AGDS II 93 pl. 45, 213 (Zazoff 46.8) Cornelian, 218x156x52mm, face and back convex.

The bust of Sarapis in three-quarter view is of the second-century type. He wears full forelocks (anastole) and the defining basket (kalathos) on his head. In later periods the shaggy hair becomes a less common feature. This type clearly derives from sculpture rather than coins or other gems, which usually show the head in profile.

2 Gem images

Oxford 290 (1892.1572) (Plantzos 52) Jacinth 13.5x10.5x3mm, flat face and convex back.

A portrait of Kleopatra I, with the horns-and-disc crown of Isis, wearing her hair in Libyan locks, tied with a diadem. This type seems to have been preferred to the traditional Egyptian representation of Isis with the falcon headdress.

Gem image

Private collection, Garnet 19x15x3mm, flat face, convex back.

Another goddess conceived in the fourth century BC is Tyche, the goddess of Fortune. Her characteristic attributes, such as the cornucopia overflowing with fruit and cakes, show her in her positive image as provider of Good Fortune. It comes as no surprise that she was also worshipped as city protectress, wearing a crown of turrets, as on the head shown in profile on a garnet.