The Isis of Paris ............... © Robert G. Bauval 2002

The influence of the Egyptian Goddess Isis on the City of Paris


The Arc de Triomphe and Napoleon

As early as the 15th century AD, many Parisian historians believed that the city of Paris owed its name to the Egyptian goddess Isis. There are various manuscripts from around 1402 AD at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris which contain drawings of the goddess Isis garbed as a medieval noblewoman seen arriving by boat to Paris and where she is greeted by nobles and clergymen under the caption ‘The very ancient Isis, goddess and queen of the Egyptians’ .

Plate 1. French Manuscript dated 1403 AD (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris)

The idea of a 'boat' symbol come partly from the shape of the 'Ile de la Cite' (where stands Notre Dame Cathedral) which is boat-shaped, and also because ancient 'mariners' known as 'Nauts' populated the region."

Plate 2. Official Seal of Paris, 1415 & 1406 AD.


As to why the name of the city was thought to have come from this Egyptian goddess, we have, for instance, the writings of a 14th century Augustine monk, Jacques le Grant, who claimed that:

“In the days of Charlemagne (8th century AD)… there was a city named Iseos, so named because of the goddess Isis who was venerated there. Now it is called Melun. Paris owes its name to the same circumstances, Parisius is said to be similar to Iseos (quasi par Iseos), because it is located on the River Seine in the same manner as Melun.”

In 1512, the French historian Lemaire de Belge reported that an idol of the goddess Isis had been worshipped in the Abbey of St. Germain-des-Pres in Paris . The same curious belief was also reported by contemporaries, notably Gilles Corrozet, the first historian to produce a comprehensive guide for the city. In 1550 Corrozet published a history of Paris titled Les Antiquitez, Histoire et Singularitez de Paris, in which he wrote:

“…coming to the imposition of the name (of Paris), it is said that there, where stands St. Germain-des-Pres was a temple of Isis of whom it is said was the wife of the great Osiris or Jupiter the Just. The statue (of Isis) having come in our times, of which we recall… This place is called the Temple of Isis and, for the nearby city, this was called Parisis… meaning near the temple of Isis.”

In 1608 the editors Pierre Bonfons and Jacques du Breul republished Corrozet’s book under their own names and retitled it Les Antiquitez et choses plus remarkables de Paris, recuillies par M. Pierre Bonfons et augmentees par Frere Jacques du Breul. Jacques du Breul was a Jesuit monk from St. Germain-des-Pres, and thus presumably conversant with the records kept at that Abbey. He wrote:

“at the place where king Childebert (5th century AD) had constructed the church of St. Vincent now called St. Germain, and to which he donated his fief of Issy, the consensus was that there was there a temple of Isis, wife of Osiris, also known as Jupiter the Just, and from whom the village of Issy got its name, and where can still be seen an ancient edifice and murals which are believed to be from the castle of Cildebert.”

A few years later, in 1612, the historian Andre Favyn reported that the cathedral of Notre Dame des Champs had an idol of Isis similar to the one found in the nearby Abbey of St. Germain-des-Pres:

“I believe this was due to another idol, for the proximity that there is with (Notre Dame) and the Abbey of St. Germain-des-Pres where was venerated Isis, called by the Romans Ceres…”

After his return from Egypt in 1799, Napoleon was to develop a curious interest for the Egyptian goddess Isis, and eventually set up a special commission headed by the scholar Louis Petit-Radel in order to verify whether or not the claims made by Gilles Corrozet and others that Isis was the true tutelary goddess of Paris was tenable.


After sometime, Radel reported to Napoleon that the evidence he had examined supported the claim that the ‘Boat of Isis’ was the very same as the ‘Boat of Paris’. Impressed by Radel’s report, Napoleon issued written instructions on the 20 January 1811 to the effect that the Egyptian goddess and her star be included on the coat-of-arms of the French capital city:

Plate 3. Coats of Arms of Paris commissioned by Napoleon 1811.   Note Isis on brow of boat, lead by the Star.

“We have previously authorized and do also authorize now by these present signed document by our hand, that our good city of Paris will bear the coat-of-arms as shown and coloured on the attached drawing, at the front of the ancient ship, the prow loaded with a statue of Isis, seated, in silver on a sea of the same, and lead by a star also of silver.”

The drawing which was attached to Napoleon’s letter is today filed at the Biblioteque Nationale de Paris. On this drawing can be seen the red, gold and silver coat-of-arms surrounded by a wreath of wheat. The whole is surmounted by a golden crown on which is perched the imperial eagle. The crown is transpierced by the Hermetic caduceae, the entwined winged-snakes. The main image of the coat-of-arms is the silver boat floating on a silver sea, and on its prow can be seen the goddess Isis seated on a throne and guided by a five-pointed star hovering in front of the boat. Above the boat are three golden bees, symbols of divine solar rule.

Napoleon also commissioned the baroque architects Percier and Fontaine to design the Court Carree of the Louvre, and the sculptor Jean-Guillaume Moitte to decorate the eastern façade of the inner gateway that faces the rising sun. On this façade can be seen the ancient lawgivers Moses and Numa flanking the goddess Isis seated next to the legendary Inca solar emperor and lawmaker Manco Capac . Three decades later, when Napoleon’s body was brought from St. Helena and placed in the mausoleum at Les Invalides in Paris, the renowned sculptor and architect Louis-Tullis Visconti designed the final decorations on the circular walls surrounding the Napoleon’s large sarcophagus. In one of the scenes Visconti sculpted a representation of Napoleon as a solar god much resembling Manco Capac or Sol Invictus. Here we see Napoleon seated on throne, bare-chested and with the solar rays shooting out of his head, his arm outstretched and handing the ‘law’ to the many ‘nations’ of his Empire.


The most famous of Paris’s monuments, and one that Napoleon himself commissioned in 1806, is, of course, the Arc de Triomphe which stands on the western end of the avenue of the Champs Elysees. The name of the plaza upon which the Arc stands bears the name ‘Place de l’Etoile’ i.e. ‘The Place of the Star’.

Plate 4. The Arc de Triomphe, Paris.

In view of Napoleon’s peculiar interest with Isis and her ‘star’ in connection to the city of Paris, it is not impossible that there could also be a connection between the ‘Place de l’Etoile’ and the goddess Isis. As peculiar as this may at first seem, there is, in fact, a prima fascia case to be made that supports this hypothesis. On the left side of the Arc de Triomphe facing east, is depicted a scene of the ‘triumph’ of Napoleon in classical terms. Napoleon is seen standing, dressed like a Roman general, while a naked woman places a wreath upon his head. On his left can also be seen a Roman lady wearing a sort of tower on her head and kneeling in submission at the feet of the emperor. This lady is, in fact, the goddess Cybele, a very popular deity who was venerated throughout ancient Rome and Gaul.

Plate 5. The Triumph of Napoleon, east façade of the Arc de Triomphe



The image of Cybele used for the Arc de Triomphe, however, was clearly borrowed from a bronze female head found in Paris in 1675 when the foundations of the church of St. Eustache were being excavated. According to Claude du Molinet, the bishop of St. Genevieve who first published the find in 1683, the head was of the goddess that,

“…the Greek called Io and the Egyptians called Isis, and is the same as the one the Romans honored under the same of Cybele, being the Earth or Nature that the Egyptians married to Osiris who was the Sun, in order to make it fertile and mother of all productions that form within her breasts…”

Plate 6. The ‘Cybele’ head found in Paris in 1685


It is well-known that the Greek goddess Io was closely identified to Isis. Also the same ‘tower’ headdress was often shown on Diana of Ephesus, known also as Artemis Multimammia, a goddess with numerous ‘breasts’ on her chest. Many 17th and 18th century French historians identified Diana and Artemis Multimammia with the Egyptian goddess Isis, who was also represented as Isis Multimammia i.e. ‘Isis with the many breasts’ . Such an ‘Isis’ was also linked to the so-called Druid Grotto at Chartres, where Isis Multimammia is also depicted wearing the ‘tower’ as a crown


Plate 7. (left) Diana/Artemis Multimammia and Plate 8. (right) Isis Multimammia of Chartres

It is clear that in the minds of French historians of the 17th century, the goddess with the tower headdress was none other than a representation of Isis, for the latter, too, ‘had also a tower on her head’.

Bearing all this in mind, it would not be too farfetched to equate the kneeling goddess wearing the tower seen on the Arc de Triomphe to the empress Josephine wearing the ‘crown of Isis’ of Paris. The scene on the Arc de Triomphe brings is very similar to the famous painting by the artist David of the crowning of Josephine and Napoleon. This was, in fact, the grand occasion of the coronation of the emperor and Josephine by the Pope of Rome that took place in Paris in December 1804. In the painting Napoleon is shown wearing the wreath of laurels of the Roman emperors while Josephine is seen kneeling at his feet, wearing the crown of the empire. Compare this scene with the one of the Arc de Triomphe, where Napoleon is also represented garbed as a Roman emperor and wearing the laurels, while the figure of ‘Isis-Cybele’ wearing the ‘tower’ on her head is also kneeling at his feet.


Plate 9. David’s ‘Coronation of Napoleon’ 1804-5


It is known that the artist Jacques-Louis David was particularly interested in the goddess Isis, and had taken a very active role during the 1793-4 ‘Reign of Terror’ of the Revolution, where he designed a huge statue of Isis that was erected at the Place de la Bastille on the 10th August 1792

Plate 10. 10th August 1793 celebrations at Place de la Bastille organized by David.

In view that he painted the coronation of Napoleon a few years later, in 1804-5, and that the Arc de Triomphe was designed in 1806-11 by Chalgrin, and the scene of the ‘Triumph of Napoleon’ was sculpted in 1933 by the artist Jean-Pierre Cortot, then we are justified in supposing that the sequence of events suggests that in the mind of Napoleon and the artists that undertook the work on the Arc de Triomphe on his behalf, the ‘Place de l’Etoile’ (Arc de Triomphe) was a symbol of Isis and her ‘star’, Sirius, which he also had placed on the coat of arms of Paris. Later, in 1836, the ‘Citizen’ king, Louis-Philippe I, who had been responsible for the raising of the Egyptian obelisk at the Place de la Concorde, also completed the construction of the Arc de Triomphe. In fact it was he who commissioned the artist Cortot to sculpt the ‘Triumph of Napoleon’ on the east façade. Interesting, Louis-Philippe I also requested that a ‘five pointed’ golden star be fixed on the top of the Arc de Triomphe. It should be noted that Louis-Philippe I’s father, the duc D’Orleans, had been the first Grand Master of the Grand Orient, the regulating body of Freemasonry in France. The five-pointed Star or Blazing Star is a common symbol in Freemasonry, and it is generally associated to the star Sirius, which also is five-pointed in ancient Egyptian drawings. It may be thus relevant to also note that the axis of the Champs Elysees, which runs from the Place de l’Etoile (Arc de Triomphe) to the Egyptian obelisk of the Place de la Concorde is angled at 26 degrees south of east, which is the place where Sirius can be seen rising from the latitude of Paris…

The above article was published in MAS ALLA MAGAZINE (Spain) August 2002 and in HERA MAGAZINE (Italy) Sept. 2002

The esoteric plan of Paris and its national monuments is the subject of a book by Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock to be published early next year, entitled 'Talisman', by Peguin Books, 2003.

Bibliography (not in alphabetic order):

Iside, Il Mito il Mistero La Magia, Ed. Electa, Milano, 1997

Biblitheque Nationale ms. Fr. 12420c. 1402 AD fol. XVI; ms. Fr. 598, c. 1403 fol. XVI

L.M. Tisserand, Les Armoiries de laville de Paris, Paris 1874, Chap. III, formation du sceau ou des armoiries deParis, p. 61

Jacquesle Grant, Sophologium, Paris 1475.

L. de Belge, Les Illustrations deGaule et Singularitez de Troye, Paris 1512.

La Quete D’Isis.Jurgis Baltrusaitis, Flammarion, Paris 1975

Jacques du Breul, Theatre desAntiquitez de Paris, Paris 1612.

Andre Favyn,Histoire de Navarre, Paris 1612.

Laing, Margaret.Josephine and Napoleon, Sidgwick & Jackson, London 1973

ProjetD’Achevement de L’Arc de Triomphe de L’Etoile, Monument des victories, Scienceset Arts, ou de la Legion d’Honeur, offert au Roi des Francais, Louis-Philippe1er, et au Deux Chambres.
A photograph of this project can be seen in the museum of the Arc de Triomphe.

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