The Sphinx

A sphinx is a creature found in ancient myths and legends which has the head of a human and the body of a lion.

Ancient Egyptians built statues of sphinxes to guard tombs of important people and temples of the gods. Often, the head was carved to resemble a pharaoh or one of the gods.

The largest and most famous sphinx ever built is the Great Sphinx, which guards the Great Pyramids of Giza!

It was carved over 4500 years ago, around 2500 BC, and the head was sculpted to look like Pharaoh Khafra to honour him. However, Khafra was considered a cruel ruler as he closed many temples across ancient Egypt.

What’s the Sphinx made from

The Great Sphinx faces the sunrise (to the East) and sits southeast of the Great Pyramids of Giza on the Nile River, as the ancient Egyptians considered the sunrise to be very special.

The statue is made out of limestone and is 73 metres long and 20 metres high. The limestone would have been transported down the Nile to reach the site of the pyramids so the sphinx could be built.

Missing Nose

Sadly, the Great Sphinx doesn’t have a nose! Nobody quite knows what happened, but, by studying the sphinx’s face, archaeologists have found out that the nose was smashed off violently.

Some think that the nose was removed by vandals when they saw local farmers praying to the sphinx. Others think that a cannonball hit the nose and broke it off in war.

What effect has the weather had?

Because the Great Sphinx is located next to the Nile River, water erosion and the weather have had a big effect on the statue. Archaeologists think that the sphinx initially had a long braided beard (and a nose).

It was also painted in bright colours: the face and body were red to represent the sun god Ra, the beard was blue to symbolise the water of the Nile, and the headdress was yellow for the sun and the desert of Egypt.

Egyptologists (people who study ancient Egypt) think that people prayed to sphinxes as the lion was linked to Hathor.

Hathor was goddess of the sun and was the mother of Ra, protecting him from his enemies. She was one of the most popular gods and was often drawn as a lioness because she was dangerous but beautiful.

Hathor was also one of the gods who helped souls in the afterlife, so people wanted to be on her good side!

Slowly the Great Sphinx fell into disrepair over 1000 years and was buried in sand. In 1400 BC, the pharaoh Thutmose IV had a dream in which Ra ordered him to dig out the statue. It took until AD 1936 for the Great Sphinx to be fully excavated and repaired.

Facts about The Sphinx

  • A sphinx is a mythical being with the head of a human or god and the body of a lion.
  • The most famous sphinx is the Great Sphinx at Giza and was built in 2500 BC.
  • The Great Sphinx’s head was made to resemble the pharaoh Khafra.
  • The statues are often made out of limestone and are placed near the Nile.
  • The Great Sphinx lost its nose either to vandals who didn’t like people worshipping the sphinx or to a cannonball in a war.
  • Bright colours were used to paint sphinxes, with different colours representing different things about ancient Egypt.
  • People prayed to sphinxes to get on the good side of the goddess Hathor.
  • It took until AD 1936 to fully renovate the Great Sphinx!

Questions

  • What does a sphinx look like?
    It has the body of a lion and the head of a human, pharaoh or god.
  • Why did the ancient Egyptians build statues of the sphinx?
    People used them to guard important temples and tombs and to worship the sun gods.
  • Why did people worship the sphinx?
    They wanted the sun goddess Hathor to look on them favourably, as she guarded the afterlife.
  • Why did the pharaoh Thutmose VI try to restore the Great Sphinx?
    He had a dream where the sun god Ra talked to him and told him to dig it out.