054 - Fig1

PHRC054 : Foundation plaque of a shrine of Sarapis, Isis, Ptolemy IV and Arsinoe III (Alexandria) - Egypt (216/5-210/9 BC) Bilingual foundation plaque

This gold plaque inscribed with a bilingual dedication belongs to the foundation deposit of a sanctuary of the divine couple Sarapis and Isis and of the royal pair Ptolemy IV and Arsinoe III, in Alexandria. The temple was erected in a central location, along the major Canopic street, west of the city's agora, probably in the period between 216/5 (when the denomination Theoi Philopatores appear in the Greek documents) and 210/9, when dedications concerning the royal family start mentioning the prince Ptolemy (V). The anomalous dedicatory formula, which only mentions the recipients of cult without the name of the donor, has raised the question of whether the king or another agent was responsible for this initiative. A few phonetic details in the Greek text reveal the influence of the Egyptian language, thus supporting the hypothesis of a donor with an indigenous background but fully integrated within the social elite and culture of the Ptolemaic capital.

Permanent ID http://s.phrc.it/phrc054


Photo 1: photo of the object, from Savvopoulos 2018, p. 117, fig. 4

Current location

Formerly in Cairo, private collection Farouk, Inv. no. unknown


Material: Gold
Height: 5,3 cm
Width: 11,45 cm


This small gold plate is inscribed with a bilingual text. The first three lines contain the Greek dedication, whereas the Egyptian text is inscribed in lines 4-5. The letters were punched in dots from the rear.
Regular letters of the late 3rd cent. Σ and N have parallel outer strokes, whereas the hastae of M are slightly diverging; Π with equally long vertical bars. The round letters Ο and Ω are slightly smaller than the others. Probably due to the writing technique, A is rendered without crossbar.
Letter height between 3 and 3,5 cm.


Original Place: Alexandria.
Date: 216/5-210/9 BC
Justification: Formulary
Provenance: Found in 1885 during building works in the areas of the Toussoun Bourse. The plate was part of a foundation deposit discovered in a hole beneath the corner of an early-Ptolemaic building, which the text allows to identify with a shrine. The deposit contained three more plaques (respectively made of silver, a copper alloy, and opaque glass), now all lost. The findspot suggests that the temple stood in the centre of Alexandria, west of the agora, on the southern side of the Canopic street, the main E-W oriented street of Alexandria.


We provide here only the Greek text, constituted from CPI I 23. For the Egyptian text, see Tod 1942 (transliteration and translation also in CPI I, p. 75)

Other editions: Néroutsos 1888, p. 22; Strack 1897, p. 239, no. 66; I.Alex.Ptol. 18.

See also: Gauthier 1916, p. 271 no. 33 and Rowe 1948, p. 12-13 (Greek and Egyptian texts); Fraser 1972, I, p. 260, and II, p. 410, n. 557; Fassa 2015, p. 139-140 (link with Sarapis); Thompson 2020, 97, 99, 109-110 (on the material aspects of the plate); Savvopoulos 2020, 87-88. See Dechevez 2021 for an analysis of the phonetic influence of the Egyptian language on the Greek text.

Images: Savvopoulos 2018, p. 117, fig. 4.

Further bibliography: on the location of the temple, Grimm 1998, p. 26-27; McKenzie 2007, 64. On Ptolemaic foundation plaques, see Thompson 2020. On the associations between Ptolemaic rulers and Sarapis/Isis, see Bricault 1999, 2013, 2020; Pfeiffer 2008; Landvatter 2012; Fassa 2015; see also commentary to PHRC 001 and 005. .

Online record: PHI; TM 6691


Σαράρπιδος <κ>{χ}αὶ Ἴσ<ι>δος Θεῶν Σωτήρων
καὶ βασιλέως Πτολεμαίου καὶ βασιλίσσης
Ἀρσινόης Θεῶν Φιλοπατόρων.


Line 1: χαὶ and Ἴσδος on the stone


(J. Dechevez)
Of Sarapis and Isis Theoi Soteres and of King Ptolemy and Queen Arsinoe, Theoi Philopatores.


(S. Caneva)
Di Sarapis e Isis Theoi Soteres e di re Tolemeo e della regina Arsinoe, Theoi Philopatores.


(J. Dechevez)
De Sarapis et Isis Theoi Soteres et de roi Ptolémée et de la reine Arsinoé, Theoi Philopatores.


This bilingual golden plate was part of the foundation deposit for a shrine of Sarapis, Isis, Ptolemy IV and Arsinoe III erected in an absolutely central position in Alexandria, west of the agora, on the southern side of the Canopic street (Grimm 1998, 26-27; McKenzie 2007, 64). In Ptolemaic inscriptions jointly addressing Sarapis and Isis with a ruling couple, the primacy accorded to the divine pair is the most common solution, though not the only possible one (contrast PHRC 001 and PHRC 005). The habit of burying a certain number of sacred objects (inscribed and/or uninscribed, and made of various materials) underneath the corners of sanctuaries under construction was a long Egyptian tradition surviving down to the Ptolemaic period. At this time, this tradition also met with some important innovations, such as the introduction of Greek and bilingual texts, longer dedicatory formulae, and the occasional mention of royal donors other than the king himself. Ptolemaic Greek or bilingual foundation plaques are almost exclusively attested in a limited geographical area and chronological phase: Alexandria and the western Delta under Ptolemy III and Ptolemy IV (for details see Thompson 2020).

Our specimen shows an interesting blend of Greek and Egyptian, old and new features. It was made of gold, whereas the other plaques found on the same site were silver, copper alloy, and glass: all materials well attested in the Egyptian tradition (Thompson 2020, p. 102-103). It shows innovative aspects such as the bilingual text, with the Greek version preceding the Egyptian one, and the addition of the royal couple to the divine one. Moreover, the divine recipients Sarapis and Isis display a fully Ptolemaic characterization: in the Egyptian text, the male god is not mentioned as Osiris (Wsỉr), but Sarapis (Wsỉr-Ḥp); together with Isis, he bears the compound epiclesis Theoi Soteres, which was bestowed upon these two deities after Ptolemy IV’s victory at Raphia (217 BC: see Bricault 1999; commentary to PHRC 001). The terminus post quem can actually be moved a little bit later, since the royal epithet Theoi Philopatores was introduced in Alexandria in 216/5, when the ruling couple was added to the eponymous cult of Alexander, the Theoi Adelphoi and the Theoi Euergetai (Clarysse – Van der Veken 1983, p. 16-17, no. 75; Minas 2000, 107-112); before this date, we only know the Egyptian version of the epithet, probably introduced c. 220 BC (Lanciers 1988). On the other hand, it is tempting to infer a lower chronological limit of 210/9 BC from the absence of any reference to the couple’s son (the future Ptolemy V; see commentary to PHRC 015).

To this period date a considerable number of inscriptions testifying to the great success of the cult of Sarapis and Isis across the Ptolemaic empire. In the capital Alexandria, one can mention the dedication of two temples by Ptolemy IV to members of the ‘Isiac familiy’: a temple of Isis ( I.Alex.Ptol. 17; CPI I 16) and one of Harpokrates in the Serapeum complex at Rhakotis ( I.Alex.Ptol. 21; CPI I 18): cf. Bricault 2020, 37. Two roughly contemporaneous dedications to Sarapis and Isis were made by members of the Alexandrian society for (hyper) Ptolemy IV and Arsinoe III ( I.Alex.Ptol. 48 = CPI I 19; I.Alex.Ptol. 19 = CPI I 20); the list is completed by a dedication to Anoubis for the same royal couple ( I.Ptol.Alex. 24 = CPI I 22).

In contrast to the royal dedications I.Alex.Ptol. 17 and 21, our foundation plaque does not mention the donor, but uses a genitive formula focusing on the result of the dedicatory act: the divine and the royal couple are the joint recipients of the dedication and thus the owners of the temple. Attempts at identifying the donor with the king himself or the royal couple (Fraser 1960b, p. 12, n. 4; cf. Bricault 1999, p. 337, n. 16; Bricault 2020, 38 mentions Ptolemy IV as the possible donor, with a question mark) remain hypothetical. In addition to the anomalous absence of the royal name, In addition to the anomalous absence of the royal name, one should notice that contemporaneous dedications jointly addressing Sarapis and Isis stem from the initiative of members of the Ptolemaic elite, army and administration, not from the royal house itself. Furthermore, the Greek text presents a few phonetic features that do not occur in the two above-mentioned royal dedications by Ptolemy IV and which rather suggest an Egyptian speaking donor, or at least an Egyptian stonecutter: the replacement of K with X in καί and the loss of the unaccented internal vowel of Ἴσιδος are consistent with Egyptian phonetics. Finally, the uncommon genitive formula used in the Greek version of the foundation text, which replaces here the standard syntax mentioning the donor in the nominative and the recipient in the dative, might be influenced by the formula of the Egyptian dedication, which uses the possessive preposition ‘ns’ (Dechevez 2021; on Egyptian phonetics in Greek dedications, see also Caneva 2016e, p. 52-53, and commentary to PHRC 058). Thus, as already proposed by Bevan 1934, p. 273-274 (cf. Fassa 2015, 139-140), a plausible alternative hypothesis is that the temple was dedicated by an individual or a group of Egyptian origins, but belonging to the social elite of the Ptolemaic capital. If this is the case, then we should once again highlight the fact that the donors decided to adopt the religious and ideological message promoted by the court, by dedicating the temple to Sarapis, not to Osiris (see, by contrast, OGIS 97, with commentary in Caneva 2016e, p. 50-57), and by referring to the divine couple with an epiclesis closely related to the contemporaneous ideology of royal power after Raphia.

Julien Dechevez, Stefano Caneva, on 08.06.2021

Content licensed under
All citation, reuse or distribution of this work must contain somewhere a link back to the URL http://phrc.it and the filename, as well as the date of consultation (see Licences for details of how to cite).
No valid return data for this setting.
No valid return data for this setting.
No valid return data for this setting.
Travocial - Social Travel & Storytelling Practicalities of Hellenistic Ruler Cults
Marie Curie PISCOPIA project no. PISC14IGRU, University of Padova (2015-2017)
FNRS project no. 98368 (2017-2020)
Stefano Caneva
Follow me
Logo Università di Padova
Logo Marie Curie
Logo Liege
The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Commission, Seventh Framework Programme, under Grant Agreement n° 600376 (2015-2017), and from the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS), Belgium (2017-2020).
Powered by: #mappiamo