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Faustina Friday – Isis Pharia, the Goddess of the Lighthouse

Roman Collector

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Friday felicitations, fellow Faustina fanatics! Today we'll explore the iconography of the goddess Isis as depicted on the reverse of this tetradrachm of Alexandria issued under Antoninus Pius.


Faustina II, 147-175 CE.
Roman provincial billon tetradrachm, 13.70 g, 21.4 mm, 11 h.
Egypt, Alexandria, 153/4 CE.
Obv: ΦΑVϹΤΙΝΑ ϹЄΒΑϹϹΤΗ, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
Rev: Isis Pharia right, wearing horned disk crown and plumes, chiton, and peplos which flies behind her, holding an inflated sail with both hands and left foot; in right hand, a sistrum. L I-Z (=regnal year 17) in fields.
Refs: RPC IV.4,
13787 (temporary); BMCG xv.162,1326; Dattari 3250; RIC 4743; Emmett 1949.17; Milne 2213.

As one of the ancient seaport of Alexandria's key Goddesses, Isis was closely associated with the sea. One of her epithets is Isis Pelagia, "Isis of the Sea." The ancient festival of the launching of the ship of Isis, the Navigium Isidis, marked the opening of the shipping season on the Mediterranean Sea.

But there is another epithet of Isis that connects Her with the sea, shipping, sailing, and the wind necessary for it: Isis Pharia. As Pharia, Isis relates to the great lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and a famous symbol of the city of Alexandria. The lighthouse was called the Pharos after the small island on which it stood.


"Ancient Beacon of the Mediterranean: The Pharos of Alexandria." Illustration for Wonders of the Past edited by JA Hammerton (Fleetway, c 1910). Harold Oakley, English (1869–1944). Color lithograph.

Alexandrian coins frequently represented the Goddess and the Pharos together. Roman inscriptions attest to the existence of an Isis temple or shrine on the island, very close to the lighthouse itself. Between 1994 and 1998, archeological divers in the bay of Alexandria discovered a huge, red-granite torso of a woman, the base of an Isis statue, pieces of the Pharos itself, as well as the remains of a rock-cut temple that may very well be part of the temple of Isis Pharia.[1]


Statue of an Isis priest holding an Osiris jar. It was found on the sunken island of Antirhodos in the ancient harbor of Alexandria. The statue is made from black granite. © Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation, photo: Christoph Gerigk.[2]

In Greek, the word pharos refers to a cloth or sail. In accordance with this pun, images of Isis Pharia on coins depict the goddess with a billowing sail in her hands while her cloak is blown backwards over her shoulder. In late legend, Isis was said to have invented the sail while searching for Her son, Horus.

Just as the illumination of the Pharos lighthouse turned Alexandria's dangerous seas and tricky harbors into commerce-friendly ports, the spiritual light of the Lighthouse Goddess served as a guide for humankind. Isis Pharia is the guardian of navigation and safe harbors—of ships and of souls.

Do you have any coins depicting Isis Pharia? Let's see them! Of course, comments are encouraged. Post anything you feel is relevant.



Lawler, Andrew. "Raising Alexandria." Smithsonian.Com, 1 Apr. 2007, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/raising-alexandria-151005550/.

2. Illustrated in Lawler, op. cit.

Edited by Roman Collector
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 Thanks,  @Roman Collector — Great coin and fascinating information. Quoting Johnny Carson — I did not know that! 

searched my collection for lighthouses and for Isis and came up empty except for the goddess’ headdress. 


My apologies — I realize this coin is not exactly Roman Empire 🏛️






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A very nice coin, @Roman Collector. I had no idea that Isis Pharia appeared on Alexandrian coins of Faustina II issued when her father was Emperor.  I was only familiar with the types of Hadrian and of Antoninus Pius himself (although there's a common fake of the latter that once fooled me; the dealer promptly refunded the purchase price after I provided him with the evidence).

Here's my one example, a drachm that I just posted for Hadrian in the "Reverses" thread. See that thread for the description, at https://www.numisforums.com/topic/4390-roman-coins-in-reverse-a-chronological-gallery/page/13/#comment-58455image.png.b3f7bded10f28e5596050020190b75f6.png



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Hadrian, Roman Empire
AE drachm
Obv: [AVT KAIC TΡAIAN AΔΡIANOC CEB], laureate head right, slight drapery on left shoulder
Rev: Isis Pharia sailing right, holding sistrum, the Pharos Lighthouse to right with three figures on its summit. L-I-[H] across fields
Mint: Alexandria
Date: 133-134 AD
Ref: Milne 1414; RPC 5895; Dattari 1767


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Nice coin and write up.


Here is my Faustina II with Isis Pharia


Faustina II
Obv.: ΦAVCTINA CEBACTH, draped bust right
Rev.: Isis Pharia standing, r., holding sail and sistrum, L - I - Z = year 17 of Antoninus Pius (AD 153/154).
Billon, 11.75g, 22mm
Ref.: Dattari 3250

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Hi All,

Faustina, Isis Pharia, and Pharos.


ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT Year 12 (148/149 CE)
Æ Drachma
Size: 34 mm
Weight: 23.6 g
Axis: 00:00
Broucheion Collection R-2015-11-13.001

Obv: Faustina draped bust facing right. Legend: xxx - ΦAVCTINA. Border not visible.
Rev: Isis Pharia standing right, holding a billowing sail. Pharos lighthouse with stairs before her. Legend: [LΔ] - ωΔЄ - KATOY. Dotted border.
Refs: Emmett-1989.12; Geissen-Unlisted; Dattari-Savio-3289 & 9114; Milne-2009; BMC-1338.
Prov: ex eBay seller; Ex-HA Auctions.

- Broucheion


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