Serapeum of Saqqara

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The Serapeum of Saqqara was the ancient Egyptian burial place for sacred bulls of the Apis cult at Memphis. It was believed that the bulls were incarnations of the god Ptah, which would become immortal after death as Osiris-Apis. a name which evolved to Userhapi in Coptic, and Serapis (Σέραπις), in the Hellenistic period.


Over a timespan of circa 1400 years, from the New Kingdom to the Ptolemaic Period, at least sixty Apis are attested to have been interred at the Serapeum. The earliest burials are found in isolated tombs, as the cult gained importance underground galleries were dug that connected subsequent burial chambers. One of the cult practices involved the dedication of commemorative stone tablets with dates relating to the life and death of the Apis. This data was crucial for the establishment of an Egyptian chronology in the 19th century.

It is part of the Saqqara necropolis, which includes several animal catacombs, notably the burial vaults of the mother-cows of the Apis.



Ptolemaic Tunnel?


Greater Vaults
When the Apis died around 612 BCE, the Serapeum was in a state of decay. Pharaoh Psamtik I renovated the temple, and started a second underground gallery of burial chambers, now known as the "Greater Vaults".



Khabash Sarcophagus
A smaller sarcophagus stands at the entrance of an otherwise unused tunnel. A short text on its lid dates it to year 2 of Khabash (circa 336 BCE), who had led a rebellion against the second Persian occupation. Its lid was found on the floor nearby. Brugsch argued that the two had never been brought together to enclose the deceased Apis. The lid was, however, put on top of the sarcophagus during past restoration works.


Amasis II Sarcophagus (Year 23)
The sarcophagus of Apis Bull dying in year 23 (inspect) still stands in situ in the Serapeum and is decorated with inscriptions and panelled reliefs. This red granite sarcophagus was dedicated by Amasis II (circa 550 BCE). It is very well crafted, with the exterior of the body being embellished with panelling and a spell of the pyramid texts running round close to the upper edge. The symbols were coloured green, except the white-black Apis sign. Coffer and cover were separated, the latter now rests near the entrance ramp, also bearing an inscription, though no colour remains.


Roughly Inscribed Sarcophagus


Abandoned Sarcophagus



Chamber of Stelae


See Also


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