A sphinx was a mythical creature with the body of a lion, lying down, and usually the head of a pharaoh, with his nemes headdress. Sphinxes stand both for the pharaoh and for the sun god, Re.


'Sphinx' is a Greek word, and the sphinx also appears in Greek mythology, for example in the story of Oedipus. It is possible the word comes from the Egyptian 'shesep ankh', which means 'living image', and was used as a name for sphinxes.


Most sphinxes are a little larger than life size, and were often used to line important roads. The entrance to Karnak Temple has rows of sphinxes in front, with the head of a ram (a 'criosphinx'). These stand for Amun, the god to whom the temple is dedicated. The road leading to Hatshepsut's temple was lined with sphinxes bearing her head.


Hatshepsut sphinx



The road approaching the temple of Luxor was also lined with sphinxes, bearing the name of the pharaoh Nectanebo, who ruled 380-362BC.


The Great Sphinx


The most famous sphinx of all is the Great Sphinx. This is an enormous statue lying in front of Khafre's pyramid at Giza. Most people think it shows his face, although some say it is his father Khufu's, or another pharaoh, Djedefra. It is 73m long and 20m high. For more on the Great Sphinx click here.