Calling Out to Isis: The Enduring Nubian Presence at Philae

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Division of the Humanities in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

By Solange Ashby

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Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
University of Chicago
Commitee: Janet Johnson, Eugene Cruz-Uribe, Robert Ritner


ABSTRACT

The expansion of the cult of Isis throughout the Mediterranean world demonstrates the widespread appeal of Egyptian religion in the Greco-Roman period. Often Nubian involvement in the cult of Isis is excluded from studies of this religious phenomenon. When Nubians are acknowledged, they are presented simply as pilgrims. However, inscriptions written in Demotic, Meroitic, and Greek reveal that Nubians served as financial supporters of the temple of Isis of Philae, where they led cult services as prophets and priests, and militarily defended the sanctity of Philae’s temple complex. This dissertation examines the participation of Nubians in the cult of Isis of Philae through their prayer inscriptions and legal agreements engraved on temple walls at Philae, Dendur, Kalabsha, and Dakka during Egypt’s Roman and Byzantine period (1st-5th centuries AD). This study explores the political, economic, and social factors that allowed Nubians to become active in the Egyptian temples of Lower Nubia. Detailed analysis of Ptolemaic royal decrees and temple imagery explain the historical reasons for the involvement of Nubians in temple financial administration in the Dodecaschoenos. Comparison of the religious rites described in Nubian prayer inscriptions and the temple relief scenes upon which they were engraved reveals a recurring Nubian cultic focus that exhibits many similarities to Meroitic royal funerary cult practices. This work collects all epigraphic evidence of Nubian worshippers in the temples of the Dodecaschoenos – inscriptions written in Demotic, Meroitic, and Greek - to present a comprehensive description of the enduring presence of Nubians in the cult of Isis of the Dodecaschoenos.