Sphinx of Taharqo, c. 680 BC
Granite
40.6 (height) x 73 (length) cm
Upper Nubia (modern northern Sudan)

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Statues of sphinxes, showing kings as human-headed lions, were commonly placed as ‘guardians’ in ancient Egyptian temples. This example was excavated from a temple in Kawa, south of Egypt, in the ancient kingdom of Kush. While the statue is of Egyptian type, the facial features and skullcap are distinctly Nubian. The inscription on the chest identifies it as a representation of Taharqo, the fourth Kushite king to have ruled over Egypt. Long governed by the Egyptians at an earlier time, now Kush had conquered Egypt, maintaining control for almost a century (around 743–664 BC). Taharqo was one of the most successful Kushite kings and also an avid builder. This sphinx neatly illustrates his dynasty’s embrace of Egyptian culture. The kings of Kush saw themselves as legitimate heirs to the throne of Egypt, which at the time of their conquest was politically divided. The two cobras on the forehead are symbols of divine protection and refer to the united realms of Egypt and Kush.

 

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