Sphinxes: not just at Amphipolis!

This is a high resolution photo of the Sphinxes. Yes they differ slightly, and this sort of attempt to differentiate them was 'normal' in sculpture of the period.

Also the Ministry of Culture released this diagram of the tomb, showing what has been excavated so far, with the sphinxes at the entrance. Michaelis Lefantzis is a brilliant architect, so the architecture is accurate, but the details of the Caryatids as restored are conjecture still; I know this is confusing people, so it is worth clarifying.

Some boys see dead people, I tend to see Hecatomnids ... ;-)
There were strong links between the Argeads and the Hecatomnids, both in terms of proposed marriages and adoptions and sharing artists. But I am aware that my research tends to make me think "Hecatomnid" in terms of links.

So I see a Sphinx and think immediately of Labraunda in Caria, as I did in this post: Let's Talk About Amphipolis ...

These bearded male sphinxes from the Persian Satrapy of Caria are very much in the Achaemenid style.

This is what a 'proper' Achaemenid Persian sphinx looks like. It comes from Persepolis and was probably carved during the time of Phillip II, just before Alexander the Great conquered Persia. It is now in the British Museum.

There have been some rather odd claims made about there not having been any Greek Caryatids or no Greek sculptures of Sphinxes in the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods ... and in fact two Macedonian tombs at Vergina have sphinxes.

The first is from the throne in the so-called Tomb of Eurydice, dated by a Panathenaic amphora found nearby to 344/3 BC: photo above.

The second is on the throne in the Rhomaios tomb, dated to the early 3rd century BC and named after the excavator.

Other examples of thrones with sphinxes have been excavated at Delos - see here: Andrianou, Hesperia 75, 2006, pp. 219ff
The Nereid Monument from Lycia and now in the British Museum; ca. 400 BC.

The hind quarters of a Sphinx were also excavated (BM), showing that the Nereid tomb was decorated with sphinxes just as the 'old' Lycian tomb represented in the frieze on the monument had been, as in the photo above.

There are dozens of earlier Lycian tombs decorated with Archaic and archaising Sphinxes, eg here. There are also sphinxes on the Lycian Payava Tomb, which is dated by inscription to 375-362 BC; here.

Whilst Caria and Lycia were both part of the Persian Empire until the conquests of Alexander the Great, there is a long history of Archaic and Classic sphinxes in Greece, often on grave monuments and stele, but also as votive dedications.

This is an Attic stele with a sphinx produced circa 400 BC for Archiades son of Hagnus and Polemonikos son of Athmonon (BM).
If the heads of the Amphipolis sphinxes are slightly archaising, the way the heads of the Caryatids are ... then that would be another parallel to Hecatomnid portraits - we know the women on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus by Leochares were shown wearing an old fashioned hair fillet (saccos), and that Leochares then produced portraits for the royal court in Macedonia.

This is an early Classical rhyton from Athens of a sphinx wearing a saccos (BM).

There are lots of sphinxes linked to Amphipolis - on coins of the city, the Lion Tomb, this Roman relief later built into a Byzantine church there - so the assumption must be that there was an ancient, possibly local, myth that linked the Sphinx and Amphipolis.

Similarly there are dozens of depictions of sphinxes from Capua, mostly architectural sculpture in terracotta - eg here and the photo to left - which again suggests an ancient link between the mythical monster and the town.

And don't even get me started on the Greek style sphinxes from Ptolemaic Egypt ...


  1. Delphi museum - Large Sphinx of Naxos sitting on an Ionic column about 10m tall. circa 560 B.C. :


  2. http://www.crashonline.us/amphipolis-caryatids-fully-revealed-photos/

  3. I do believe that what you refer to as a "proper Persian Sphinx" is not a sphinx at all, but a Shedu.

  4. You're quite right! It is a Shedu! I sometimes worry about using overly precise terms, so I used Sphinx which is what they are called in more general terms.


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