Sphinx (Egypt)

The Sphinx, Old Kingdom, Egypt
The Sphinx, Old Kingdom, Egypt. Daniel A.

Definition: The ancient Egyptian sculpture called The Sphinx is located on the Giza plateau, and was probably carved at the request of the 4th dynasty Old Kingdom pharaoh Khafre. The statue is carved out of the native bedrock, and has the body of a lion and Pharaoh Khafre's face. The Sphinx measures 238 feet long, and is 65 feet high at its head. Its nose is broken off, and and so is the false beard, which according to New Kingdom illustrations was a long plaited affair.

The stela between the Sphinx's paws dates to the New Kingdom, when the Sphinx became associated with the Egyptian god Harmakhis.

Sphinx as Archetype

More generally, the Egyptian sphinx was a long-lived icon of Egyptian society--in fact one of the characteristics of dynastic Egypt is they knew a good icon when they saw one, and used styles and characteristics for thousands of years. The archetypal sphinx was a hybrid of a lion's body with a human head of a royal figure wearing a headdress and usually with a short false beard. The Giza Sphinx lies with its paws stretched out, although some sphinxes were illustrated on murals inside tombs as either walking on all fours or seated. In the New Kingdom there were even female sphinxes.


Christine Zivie-Coche, translated from the French by David Lorton. 2001. Sphinx: History of a Monument. Cornell University, Ithaca.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.
Sources for the term include the references listed on the front page of the Dictionary, and the websites listed in the sidebar.