Ancients: The Great Sphinx

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by AncientJoe, Aug 23, 2014.

  1. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    It may seem like a strange choice to replace an EF Domitian aureus in my Twelve Caesars set with a bronze provincial coin of his but I simply couldn't pass this up. I've always been intrigued by Egypt, especially the Great Sphinx, and this was the first coin I've seen which depicts the monumental sculpture rather than a stylized "conventional" sphinx. It was surprisingly inexpensive considering its rarity and has caused me to start looking closer at provincial coins in general.

    Post your Sphinxes!


    The Great Sphinx of Egypt lies near the Great Pyramid in the Giza Plateau, about six miles west of Cairo. It is a massive limestone statue, depicting the mythical Sphinx, a creature with a lion’s body and a human head. It is generally believed that the face of the Great Sphinx is that of Pharaoh Khafra who ruled during the Old Kingdom from 2558-2532BC.

    The Sphinx is the oldest and largest monolith statue in the world, standing 241 feet long, 63 feet wide, and over six storeys tall. Unlike the pyramids, it was not a tomb. It was carved whole from solid rock and reinforced with additional stone. The Egyptian engineers quarried the area, leaving behind a broad plateau, into which they carved the Sphinx.

    Its original name is lost to history - the common name of "Sphinx" was given to it by the ancient Greeks, some two thousand years after it was sculpted. It was continually damaged and restored, and because of the endlessly shifting sands, it has been buried and freed seven times in its five thousand year existence.

    The Romans admired the Sphinx, and the ancient author Pliny the Elder wrote about its majesty, saying that the Egyptians treated it as a representation of a god. Nero encouraged Sphinx worship and Antoninus Pius reinforced a stone retaining wall to try to keep out the sand. Lucius Verus, Marcus Aurelius, and Septimius Severus each made further improvements to this wall to ensure that the Sphinx remained visible.

    Despite this admiration, the Great Sphinx itself rarely appears on coinage. Most depicted sphinxes are shown seated and winged, a departure from the Egyptian Sphinx. This coin, however, clearly shows the famous monumental structure, with the sphinx posing in the same reclined stance and with the facial attributes believed to be on the original statue, which have since been damaged.

    It was minted in Alexandria, Egypt at a provincial Roman mint under the emperor Domitian. Alexandria was named for Alexander the Great and was the capital city of Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. It was the base of operations for Mark Antony and Cleopatra until they were defeated by Octavian at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. After this, Augustus made it a simple province and quickly began minting coinage, primarily of tetradrachms.

    Domitian was the first emperor to introduce a full range of five bronze denominations at Alexandria, each corresponding with a denomination of Roman coinage. This reflected the care with which Domitian treated the monetary policy of Rome and helped simplify commerce.

    This coin is an obol, valued at the equivalent of one-sixth of one denarius. The date on this coin, “IA” refers to “Year 11”, 91-92 AD, in the late portion of Domitian’s rule which ended four years later in 96 AD.

    Although this coin is only a “Good VF”, it is one of the finest known. The type is quite rare and very infrequently encountered, with only a single similar coin coming to the market in the last decade (a coin which showed Domitian’s head facing left).

    EGYPT, Alexandria. Domitian. 81-96 AD. Æ Obol (3.68 gm, 12h). Dated RY 11 (91/2 AD). Laureate head right / Egyptian sphinx reclining right; date above. RPC II 2646; Köln 396; Dattari 571; Milne 510; Emmett 327. Good VF, dark brown surfaces, very rare and among the finest known.
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  3. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Fantastic coin! Until this Alexandrian coin was brought to my attention, I was unaware that the Great Sphinx was depicted on any ancient coins. Given its rarity, the odds of me bringing one home are slim but the search is on.

    I hope this ends your foray into Roman Egyptians. The nice ones are already hard enough to find... :p
    Orfew, arizonarobin, Nvb and 2 others like this.
  4. Gil-galad

    Gil-galad I AM SPARTACUS

    I see how great that coin is but I don't understand why you'd swap one out of the set for another coin. I would have kept the set and got the bronze provincial later. But then who knows, I might feel differently after I've collected for many more years.

    I think the obverse has a better engraving style than the reverse, IMO. Although, the coin is quite excellent as are all of your coins that I've seen so far.
  5. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    That is a cool coin and you cant discount ruling out provincials, even though gold is often times better. Really cool reverse and the portrait is nice too.

    My only Sphinx and its a sorry one at that.

    Bing, zumbly, chrsmat71 and 2 others like this.
  6. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    Very cool sphinx addition ... this coin has great eye-appeal (I love the sphinx reverse)

    *rats* ... I'm pretty sure that I don't have any sphinx examples to post (man, I need to buy more coins!!)
  7. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    We, today, are so fond of the Great Sphinx and the pyramids at Giza. From antiquity we have this coin and no pyramid? As mentioned, Sphinx was a name brought in by foreigners so the other Sphinces hardly look like this one. Mine is from Castulo in Spain.

    Carl Wilmont, Ryro, tibor and 12 others like this.
  8. doucet

    doucet Well-Known Member

    This is the first coin I've seen with the Egyptian like sphinx, very nice.

    I have the Castulo sphinx as well. Here is a more Greek type that I have from Pamphylia, Perge.

    Sphynx, Artemis

    sphinx pamphylia perga sng cop 309.jpg
    Carl Wilmont, Ryro, tibor and 9 others like this.
  9. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES!

    wonderful coin, I didn't know there was an ancient coin that had "the" sphinx on it.

    I have a castulo sphinx, here's the reverse...

    Carl Wilmont, Ryro, TuckHard and 7 others like this.
  10. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    I've had four Domitian aurei, each near EF or better, some of extremely rare varieties, and while they were nice coins, they didn't excite me as much as this one. I suppose that's what makes all collections different.

    At some point, I may work on a Twelve Caesars set in gold/silver but I'm really not as won over by the concept of a Twelve Caesars collection and instead just buy coins which "speak" to me, hence my current "eclectic/haphazard" incomplete Twelve Caesars collection.

    If merely looking for completion, one could get a reasonably nice set together in a few months at a couple of auctions with sufficient funds, but they wouldn't be as special as if they were each specifically hunted and pre-selected, seeking out appealing types and styles. There are some emperors where certain denarii types appeal much more to me than their gold and I'm not one to "fill a hole", buying a coin just for the sake of completion.
  11. Zohar444

    Zohar444 Member

    Quite informative write up about the Sphinx. I also subscribe to your logic of buying selectively rather than filling a set. This was my issue when collecting US coins, always "complete the series" objective. With Talers, I took a different approach, less structured, more qualitative. With ancients I try the same, within a budgetary framework (per coin).
    Edessa likes this.
  12. vlaha

    vlaha Respect. The. Hat.

    You're killing me here AJ, that's one coin I, "wouldn't mind having". :(

    Hint: that means lock up all your valuables. :p
  13. Codera

    Codera Active Member

    I've never seen a Roman coin with the monumental Sphinx before. That is really cool! I don't have any sphinx coins whatsoever unfortunately.
  14. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    Stunning coin and excellent write-up Ancient Joe!
    Carl Wilmont likes this.
  15. willieboyd2

    willieboyd2 First Class Poster

    Here's my traditional Sphinx coin:

    Antoninus Pius Provincial Egypt Bronze Drachm - Sphinx
    Obverse: Laureate head left, "AYT K T AIL ADP ANTWNINOC CEB EYC"
    Reverse: Sphinx seated right, wings raised, left forepaw on wheel, "L IZ" (year 17)
    Catalog: Milne 2249
    Diameter: 33mm (about the size of an Egyptian magic coin)
    Weight: 19.6gm
    Struck Alexandria, Egypt AD 153-154

    I visited Egypt in 1987 and got to see the real thing myself


  16. Whizb4ng


    I think the thing that fascinates me the most about this coin is that the difference of time between the present and the minting of this coin is actually less than the difference of time between the minting of this coin and the creation of the sphinx. We are closer in time to Domitian than he was to the sphinx.

    Another fantastic coin AJ. It is good to see a bit more AE in your collection!
    Carl Wilmont, Nvb, Mikey Zee and 7 others like this.
  17. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    Sweet => wow, that's an awesome coin, willieboyd2 (I have been wantin' one of those bad boys!! ... great coin, brother)
  18. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Resurrecting this thread because it took a while but I finally acquired a Great Sphinx coin :). Dang, these types are hard to come by! I regularly searched fixed price stores, auctions, and asked various dealers to locate one. I wasn't even picky about the denomination or emperor, not that there are many options.

    Last year there was a Marcus Aurelius sphinx obol (different year) on Vcoins and the price was rather steep. I considered it but asked the seller to remove the Maybelline so I could see how the coin looked without its orange "sand" patina. He complied; I had concerns about the underlying metal and passed.

    This one won't win any beauty contests but for the type, it is actually decent. The sphinx is clear enough, the date legible, and the centering is good.

    EGYPT, Alexandria. Marcus Aurelius as Caesar
    AE obol, 20.5 mm, 6.0 gm. Alexandria.
    Year 15 (CE 151/2)
    Obv: MAVPHΛICKAICAP; bust right, bare head
    Rev: Sphinx crouched right; LIE (date) above in left field
    Ref: Emmett 1919.15, R5; Dattari 3221; RPC IV online 15684

    Marcus Aurelius Caesar
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2016
  19. Ardatirion

    Ardatirion Où est mon poisson

    That's funny, I was just discussing AncientJoe's coin with some colleagues at lunch. The sphinx is an extremely rare type, and that's an excellent example.

    TIF, I'm glad you found an example too!
  20. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    Congrats, coin princess!!

    yah, that type is super cool ... hey, Joe's baby might be a bit higher grade than your sweet new addition, but you can always try tellin' him that it's "weight" that counts!!


    ahaha => both coins are obviously awesome!! (you are kinda like Mini-Joe, eh?)


    wow, that's twice in one day that I've got to play the mini-me joke ...

    => congrats again, TIF (totally jealous)
  21. 7Calbrey

    7Calbrey Well-Known Member

    I bet you Steve that TIF has another similar coin with a much higher grade.
    stevex6 likes this.
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