FAQs about the Great Sphinx
There are more questions about the Sphinx than there are answers and personally, that is part of the reason why I love it. On this page I've tried my best to answer some of the most common, and some of the trickiest, questions asked about the Egyptian Sphinx.
What happened to the Sphinx's nose? Did Napoleon's soldiers shoot off the nose of the Sphinx? Napoleon's soldiers did not shoot the nose off of the Great Sphinx of Giza. Pictorial and written evidence dating to decades before Napoleon's arrival in Egypt provide evidence of an earlier date for the removal of the Sphinx's nose. Illustrations from Travels in Egypt and Nubia by Frederik Louis Norden published posthumously in 1755 (based on observations and illustrations he made during his travels in 1737-38) depict the Great Sphinx of Giza without its nose. In his accompanying text he records, the Sphinx, whose enormous size attracts your admiration, and at the same time you conceive a sort of indignation at those, who have had the brutality to disfigure strangely its nose. (English edition, 1757, p127)
An image first sketched in 1798 during Napoleon's Egyptian expedition dramatically illustrating the disfigurement of the face of the Sphinx by the removal of the nose. From Volume 5 of the plates of antiquities from "Description de l'Égypt" (1822) The full original image can be seen in the digital collections of the New York Public Library at this link.
Profile of the head of the Great Sphinx from The Antiquities, Natural History, Ruins and other Curiosities of Egypt, Nubia and Thebes (1780) by Frederik Louis Norden. The image was prepared by Norden during his travels in 1737–38 and initially published posthumously in 1755. The full original image can be seen in the digital collections of the New York Public Library at this link.
Does the sphinx guard the pyramids? Yes. Sphinxes were relatively common features flanking doorways and processional ways in ancient Egypt. Although Sphinxes are usually found in pairs, or groups of pairs, there can be little doubt that part of the Great Sphinx's role was as a divine guardian of the Giza plateau and its ancient necropolis with its mastaba tombs, pyramids and temples.
A row of Sphinxes lining the processional way to the temple of Karnak.
Image Details: From Eight journeys abroad (1917) by Mary & Frank H Rosengarten
The Great Sphinx of Giza is associated with the pyramid of which pharaoh? In terms of its physical location the Great Sphinx is next to the causeway of Khafre's pyramid and valley temple. It's physical association with these structures is one of the main reasons that many archaeologists and Egyptologists believe that it was carved by, and bears the face of, the pharaoh Khafre.
How big is the Egyptian Sphinx? What are the dimensions of the Great Sphinx? The most detailed description of the dimensions of the Great Sphinx of Giza is provided by Mark Lehner who conducted a detailed survey of the monument in the early 1980s. In his 1991 PhD dissertation The Archaeology of an Image: The Great Sphinx of Giza he provides the following figures:
"The total length of the statue from the tip of the masonry-covered forepaw (which extends .26 m further east than the north forepaw) to the masonry-covered tail at the rump is 72.55 m..... The Sphinx measures 19.10 m across the haunches, its widest part....It is thinnest across the waist, measuring 10.00 m at its masonry-covered base and only 3.6 m across at its highest point. From front elbow to elbow the Sphinx is 18.50m wide. It measures 12.70 m across the chest. The total height of the statue, from its bedrock floor to the tip of the cobra on the forehead (as now preserved), is about 20.22 m, with some slight variation due to irregularities in the floor. The top of the back, at its highest point, is 12.38 m above the level of the floor." (p171-172)
"The total width of the head, including the nemes headdress, is 10.30 m north-south and 9.78 m from the front of the mouth to the break at the tail of the headdress. The nemes headdress fans out approximately 3 m to either side of the face. The face alone is 4.45 m wide across the temples. The total height of the head, from the base of the chin to the top of the remains of the cobra, is 5.88 m." (p.172)
"the eyes are 1.50 m (south) to 1.56 m (north) long and about 0.60 m wide. Together they span about 3.66 m and are separated by the bridge of the nose, which is 0.60 m wide." (p178-179)
"the complete original nose was about 2.20 m in height from its base to the top of the bridge, and about 1.20 m in width at the bottom" (p180)
"The mouth of the Sphinx is 1.90 m wide and originally measured about .68 m in thickness." (p180)
"The ears of the Sphinx are about 2.00 m in height and about 0.85 m in width." (p181)
Image Details: Mark Lehner. "Drawing d-ss-012 from Egypt/Giza/Sphinx Amphitheater/Sphinx Ditch/Sphinx Statue". (2017) In ARCE Sphinx Project 1979-1983 Archive. Mark Lehner, Megan Flowers, Rebekah Miracle (Eds.). Released: 2017-12-23. Licensed under CC by 4.0
Why was the Great Sphinx of Giza built? Nobody really knows for certain. The Great Sphinx of Giza is thought by archaeologists and Egyptologists to be a symbol of kingship with the king being represented with the body and terrifying power of a lion but the mind and wisdom of a king. It also seems to have served a role in guarding the Giza plateau and its various tombs and monuments. Due to its enormous size, it was probably meant to be a monument intended to last for a long time, the king who commanded that it was made would probably have wanted to be remembered for hundreds or thousands of years after he died. It was the biggest statue that the ancient Egyptians ever built so it was also probably meant to make those who saw it think that the king who had it carved was greater and more powerful than any other king. Once it was completed it would have been an awe-inspiring symbol of the power and resources that the king could command, and of the skill and craftsmanship of the ancient Egyptians and their ability to complete engineering and artistic works on a massive scale.
What did the Great Sphinx of Giza serve as? In the beginning it was probably designed to be a guardian of the tombs and temples of the Giza plateau as well as a symbol of the king's power. Later, in the New Kingdom of Egypt around 1500BCE, it is known that it was thought to act as an oracle. King Thutmose IV said that the Sphinx spoke to him and offered him the kingship of all Egypt if he made repairs to the Sphinx and stopped the sands of the desert swamping it. A short time later, visitors to the Sphinx would donate tablets, carved with ears in the hope that the Sphinx would listen to their prayers for help.
What does the Great Sphinx represent? The Great Sphinx of Giza is thought by archaeologists and Egyptologists to be a symbol of kingship with the king being represented with the body and terrifying power of a lion but the mind and wisdom of a king. European visitors to the Great Sphinx in the 16th-18th century often mention in their travelogues that the Sphinx represented a fusion of a lion and a maiden symbolically representing the sun rising in the zodiacal signs of Leo and Virgo, marking the point in the year when the flood waters of the Nile rose to inundate and fertilise the flood plains of Egypt. Whether or not the ancient Egyptians recognised the equivalent of the modern constellations of Leo and Virgo is another question, but it cannot be denied that the sun did indeed rise in these constellations in Egypt during the season of the flood throughout most of Ancient Egyptian history.
How old is the Sphinx? The Sphinx is in some ways very, very old indeed. Because it is carved from the solid rock of the Giza plateau you could say it is 55.8 million to 33.9 million years old because that is when the limestone layers that make up the Sphinx would have first started to form.
Most archaeologists and Egyptologists however think the Great Sphinx was carved in the 4th Dynasty during the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt around 2500BCE at the same time as the three pyramids of Giza were built.
Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock and Robert Schoch, disagree with this date. They argue that the great Sphinx of Giza was carved by an ancient ante-diluvian civilisation existing roughly 12000 years ago.
When was the Great Sphinx built? This is a particularly tricky question to answer. In some ways the Sphinx was never built, because it is actually carved from the natural rock. Most archaeologists and Egyptologists think the Great Sphinx was carved in the 4th Dynasty during the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt around 2500BCE at the same time as the three pyramids of Giza were built.
Some researchers such as Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock and Robert Schoch, disagree with this date. They have used geological and astronomical evidence to argue for a much greater antiquity for the carving of the great Sphinx of Giza, dating its creation to an ancient civilisation existing roughly 12000 years ago.
Whatever date it was intially carved, the Sphinx has undergone lots of repairs during its lifetime. Many people think that the head was recarved at some point in the monuments history. The lower body and legs have also been patched and repaired many times during Ancient Egyptian times, Roman times and even in the last few decades.
How long did it take to build the Sphinx? Because it is carved from the solid rock of the Giza plateau you could say it took 55.8 million to 33.9 million years to build the Sphinx because that is when the limestone layers that make up the Sphinx would have first started to form.
If you want to know how long it took to carve the stone and turn it into a Sphinx, that is a very difficult question to answer. People were busy building pyramids and tombs on the Giza plateau throughout the 4th dynasty of Ancient Egypt which lasted for about 100 years. Most archaeologists and Egyptologists think that the Sphinx was carved at this time but there are no records that tell us exactly who carved it, or when they carved it, or how long it took to carve.
The Sphinx has undergone lots of repairs during its lifetime. The lower body and legs have been patched and repaired many times - during Ancient Egyptian times, Roman times and even in the last few decades. So you could say that if someone started building it in the 4th dynasty of Egypt around 2500 BCE and it was finished (for now) in 1980 CE then that Sphinx took 4480 years to build!
Who built the Great Sphinx? Most Egyptologists consider the Sphinx to have been carved possibly either by Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza, or one of his sons Djedefre or Khafre.
Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock and Robert Schoch argue that is was created by an ancient civilisation existing roughly 12000 years ago.
A rare representation of Khufu now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. The tiny statuette is less than 10cm high.
The head of a statue of Djedefre now in the Louvre, Paris.
A statue of Khafre now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Photograph by Jon Bodsworth .
Who's face is on the Great Sphinx? Most archaeologists and Egyptologists think that the Sphinx has the face of the 4th dynasty pharaoh Khafre who built the second pyramid at Giza. Others disagree and say it is the face of Khufu who is thought to have been Khafre's father. Robert Temple thinks that the face is of Amenemhat II a 12th dynasty King of Egypt.
Is the Great Sphinx male or female? The consensus amongst archaeologists and Egyptologists is that the Great Sphinx is male. However, in Greek mythology the Sphinx was female, and some female sphinxes are known from Egypt, for example, those belonging to Hatshepsut, an 18th dynasty ruler of Egypt. For a more detailed discussion regarding this question, see the article on this webpage here.
Are there tunnels and chambers inside and under the Great Sphinx? The short answer to this question is yes. However, they are not filled with treasure or ancient burials (at least the ones found so far). Archaeologists and Egyptologists found a tunnel at the very back of the Sphinx. The top of the head once had a hollow cavity cut into it. And there is a wide crack in the bedrock towards the back of the Great Sphinx that was once believed to contain a burial. For a more detailed discussion regarding the tunnels and chambers inside and under the Great Sphinx, see the articles on this web page starting at this link.