May 18, 2024

Sphinx in the face of Emperor Claudius?

Archaeologists have discovered a Great Sphinx from the Roman era at the Temple of Horus in Upper Egypt. According to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, the facial features of the human-headed lion statue are very similar to those of the Roman Emperor Claudius. During his reign he was also governor of what was then the Roman province of Egypt. Whether the statue actually represented the emperor and how it was located in the temple can be revealed from a panel of figures found near the Sphinx.

In Egyptian art and mythology, the Sphinxes were seen as protective, semi-divine figures. The Egyptian term “he” for these hybrid creatures of a lion’s body and a human head stands for “mental power” and could refer to the superior combination of animal power and a human or divine spirit. Egyptian pharaohs were often depicted as sphinxes to emphasize their special relationship with the gods.

The Sphinx was excavated from the bottom of the temple basin. © Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Smiling Sphinx in the temple basin

The Sphinx with an unusual face was discovered by archaeologists led by Mamdouh Eldamaty from Ain Shams University in Upper Egypt. The team was conducting radar surveys and excavations at the Dendera Temple, about 55 kilometers north of Luxor. This temple complex was built already in pre-dynastic times and was an important sanctuary until the Greco-Roman period in Egypt. The main temple built in ancient times was dedicated to the goddess Hathor, and the additional building was a birth temple to the goddess Isis.

While exploring east of the main temple, Eldamaty and his team uncovered the remains of a late Egyptian temple to Horus. This building, which probably dates back to the Byzantine period, had two levels with a sloping foundation and floor, according to archaeologists. In a limestone water basin in this temple they discovered a sphinx made of limestone. Her head was wrapped in a veil of nemes, which was part of the regalia of the Egyptian pharaohs. As reported by Eldamaty, the face of the Sphinx exhibits a slightly smiling expression with dimples on either side of the mouth. Residues of yellow and red paint indicate that the face has been painted before.

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Facial features of the Roman Emperor Claudius

However, the facial features of the Sphinx are particularly interesting: according to archaeologists, the Sphinx’s face resembles the features of the Roman Emperor Claudius. They determined this by comparing faces with different rulers of the Roman era. Claudius ruled the Roman Empire from 41 to 54 and thus also ruled the then Roman province of Egypt. The face of the Sphinx and its regalia may indicate that this statue was intended to honor the emperor as an Egyptian pharaoh. Such reinvention was by no means uncommon in ancient Egypt: archaeologists have found several depictions of Roman emperors as pharaohs, including a sphinx with the face of Vespasian and a relief in the Temple of Isis at Shenhur showing Claudius as a pharaoh.

However, it has not been confirmed whether the now-discovered Sphinx actually bore the face of Emperor Claudius. A tablet bearing hieroglyphs and a demotic character could provide possible clues to the sitter’s identity and background to the Sphinx. According to the Ministry of Antiquities, deciphering the inscriptions is still in progress.

Source: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Facebook message