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Ancient Egypt /
Religion
1. Introduction
2. Gods
3. Concepts
4. Cult
5. Cult centres
6. Necropolises
7. Structures

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Open map of Ancient EgyptAncient Egypt / Religion / Structures /
Sphinx



The Great Sphinx, Giza, Egypt.
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The Great Sphinx, Giza, Egypt. Pyramid of Khafre in the back, to which it belongs.

The Great Sphinx, Giza, Egypt.
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The Great Sphinx, Giza, Egypt. Pyramid of Khufu in the back.

The Great Sphinx, Giza, Egypt.
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Facing the front of the Temple of Amon at Karnak, the Avenue of Sphinxes goes on for kilometres until the facade of the Luxor Temple.
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Facing the front of the Temple of Amon at Karnak, the Avenue of Sphinxes goes on for kilometres until the facade of the Luxor Temple.

Sphinx believed to represent Hatshepsut. Now in Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt.
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Sphinx believed to represent Hatshepsut. Now in Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

The sphinx at Memphis, Egypt.
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The sphinx at Memphis.

In Ancient Egypt, mythological beast, represented as a lying lion with the head of a man. Deviations to this exist, with the head of a ram, hawk or falcon.
In the mortuary temple of Amenemhet 3 in Thebes, the sphinx even had the tail of a crocodile.
The word is from the Greek meaning "strangler" but it may have its origin in the Egyptian "shesep ankh" meaning "living image."
The Egyptian sphinx was associated with both the king and the sun-god.
One mythological background for the sphinx was in a Theban myth where there was a creature terrorizing people by telling riddles for which it demanded answers. But the sphinx represented in Egyptian religion most likely predates this myth.
For the most famous sphinx, at Giza, see below. The oldest sphinx dates back to Redjedef (middle 26th century BCE), of which only the head remains. Among other famous sphinxes were the alabaster sphinx of Memphis and the avenue of sphinxes connecting Luxor Temple to the temples at Karnak. Along the latter, there may have been as many as 900 larger-than-life statues.
The concept and form of the sphinx would spread to other cultures as well, it was introduced in Mesopotamia around 1500 BCE, and in the Levant even earlier, especially with the Hittites. In these contexts, wings were often added to the body. It would also spread to the Greek cultures, but is beyond the scope of this encyclopaedia.

The Great Sphinx
The most famous, impressive and largest sphinx is the Great Sphinx at Giza. It dates from the 26th century BCE, the reign of King Khafre. It was part of the pyramid complex of the king, and it is assumed that its face was even the king's. The nemes headscarf, which the sphinx has, was reserved for kings.
It is 73 metre long and up to 20 metres high. Its core is the mountain rock, which was cut to fit with a spacious basin around, then stones were added to complete the sculpture. About all of the higher parts of the sculpture are of natural rock.
The lions body is 22 times the normal size, but elongated, the head is 30 times that of a man. The elongation of the body appears to have come from defects in the stone at the point of the natural back of the lion.
The Great Sphinx has since long been believed to contain special powers. Around 1400 BCE, Tuthmosis 4 is supposed to have had a dream that he would become king if he cleared the sand from the sphinx.
Presently, the Great Sphinx is threatened both by erosion as well as rising ground water. It is feared that it may be destroyed, unless extensive protection is established.





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By Tore Kjeilen