This Day in History, March 5: Navigium Isidis

Navigium Isidis

The Navigium Isidis or Isidis Navigium (trans. the vessel of Isis)[1] was an annual ancient Roman religious festival in honor of the goddess Isis,[2] held on March 5.[3] The festival outlived Christian persecution by Theodosius (391) and Arcadius’ persecution against the Roman religion (395).[4]

In the Roman Empire, it was still celebrated in Italy at least until the year 416.[5] In Egypt, it was suppressed by Christian authorities in the 6th century.[5]

The Navigium Isidis celebrated Isis’ influence over the sea and served as a prayer for the safety of seafarers and, eventually, of the Roman people and their leaders.[6] It consisted of an elaborate procession, including Isiac priests and devotees with a wide variety of costumes and sacred emblems, carrying a model ship from the local Isis temple to the sea[7] or to a nearby river.[8]

Modern carnival resembles the festival of the Navigium Isidis,[1] and some scholars argue that they share the same origin (via carrus navalis, meaning naval wagon, i.e. float – later becoming car-nival).[9][10][11][12][13] Many elements of Carnival were in turn appropriated in the Corpus Christi festival, most prominently in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal).[14]


  1. Jump up to:a b Valantasis (2000) p.378
  2. ^ Haase and Temporini (1986) p.1931
  3. ^ Michele Renee Salzman, On Roman Time: The Codex Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity (University of California Press, 1990), p. 124.
  4. ^ Alföldi (1937) p.47
  5. Jump up to:a b Valantasis (2000) p.370
  6. ^ Michele Renee Salzman, On Roman Time: The Codex-Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity (University of California Press, 1990), 169–175.
  7. ^ Malcolm Drew Donalson, The Cult of Isis in the Roman Empire: Isis Invicta (The Edwin Mellen Press, 2003), 68–73.
  8. ^ Jaime Alvar, Romanising Oriental Gods: Myth, Salvation, and Ethics in the Cults of Cybele, Isis, and Mithras, trans. & ed. Richard Gordon (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 299.
  9. ^ Rudwin (1919)
  10. ^ di Cocco (2007)
  11. ^ Alföldi (1937) pp.57-8
  12. ^ Forrest (2001) p.114
  13. ^ Griffiths (1975) p.172
  14. ^ Ruiz, Teofilo (2012). “8”. A King Travels: Festive Traditions in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain. p. 359-ff.


Further reading

  • Brady, Thomas A. (1938) Reviewed work(s): A Festival of Isis in Rome under the Christian Emperors of the Fourth Century by Andrew Alföldi, in The Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 28, Part 1 (1938), pp. 88–90
  • Rademacher, Carl (1932) Carnival in Hastings ERE 3, pp. 225–9