University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


This paper examines the evolution of Isis, ostensibly the "sacred mother," as a political tool in Egypt and (especially) in Rome. Through an analysis of primary and secondary source materials, it is established that Isis' treatment by Roman politicians represented a running discourse on the contemporary political relationship between Rome and Egypt, and, at times, on Rome's complex negotiation of foreign influences on its own society. Following the deaths of the first two Roman emperors, Isis was gradually elevated from the status of pariah to an acclaimed goddess within the Roman pantheon who was deemed worthy of beneficence and protection from the imperial government. This investigation of the religion of Isis in Rome from the Late Republic through the Early Empire encapsulates the inseparability of religion tolerance from fluctuating political climates. By analyzing the political rationale behind the oscillations between the persecution and tolerance, or even promotion of this decidedly un-Roman goddess, it becomes apparent that hostility resulted from governmental disdain for Isis' home country and also for the need to sway public opinion, while tolerance arose from harmony with Egypt, smooth trade relations, and the need to mollify Rome's diverse and dynamic lower-to-middle class population, many of whom were brought or emigrated from Egypt, Libya, and the Levant.