Featured The Riddle of the Sphinx

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by David Atherton, Feb 19, 2021.

  1. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    I was very pleased to have recently acquired a Domitian obol from Alexandria featuring the Great Sphinx on the reverse. It has been a dream coin of mine ever since @AncientJoe and @TIF posted their examples here on CT.

    Æ Obol, 4.26g
    Alexandria mint, 91-92 AD
    Obv: ΑΥΤ ΚΑΙϹΑΡ ΔΟΜΙΤ ϹƐΒ ΓƐΡΜ; Head of Domitian, laureate, r.
    Rev: LΙΑ; Sphinx, r.
    RPC 2645 (11 spec.). Emmett 326.11.
    Acquired from Athena, February 2021.

    In Domitian's 11th regnal year at Alexandria the city's mint struck a most fascinating obol featuring the Great Sphinx of Giza on the reverse. The monolith of a mythical beast with a pharaoh's head and lion's body was carved out of solid limestone during the reign of pharaoh Khafre (c. 2558–2532 BC) and sits on the west bank of the Nile in front of the Great Pyramid. During the Roman era the monument was a source of wonderment and awe. Pliny the Elder in the late first century wrote - 'In front of these pyramids is the Sphinx, a still more wondrous object of art, but one upon which silence has been observed, as it is looked upon as a divinity by the people of the neighbourhood. It is their belief that King Harmaïs was buried in it, and they will have it that it was brought there from a distance. The truth is, however, that it was hewn from the solid rock; and, from a feeling of veneration, the face of the monster is coloured red. The circumference of the head, measured round the forehead, is one hundred and two feet, the length of the feet being one hundred and forty-three, and the height, from the belly to the summit of the asp on the head, sixty-two.' A stela was erected by the people of the nearby village of Busiris during the reign of Nero and it commemorates the Sphinx being completely freed from the sand. At this time it served as a romantic backdrop to local theatrical performances.

    This rare obol was struck in the early 90's soon after the Alexandrian mint was overhauled and new types were introduced. Traditional Sphinxes from Greek myth with a winged lion's body and woman's head had been depicted on coins before, but this is the first instance of the Great Sphinx being shown on any coin. The reclining position, lack of wings, and pharaoh's head leave no doubt that the Giza monolith is indeed what we see on the reverse. The Sphinx obol along with the Pharos hemidrachm serve as a sort of first century travelogue for the ancient traveller of what to see when visting Roman Egypt.

    Just as in ancient times, the Sphinx has remained a source of fascination and wonder.

    In the mid 19th Century.


    Early 20th Century


    Mid 20th Century.

    sphinx comic.jpg

    21st Century.


    The riddle of why this reverse type was chosen for the obol may simply come down to a fascination with this spectacular monolith, something we certainly share with our ancient forebears.

    Feel free to post your Sphinxes, Egyptian, or any other related coins.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2021
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  3. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Congrats David, awsome coin.

    Not ancient, but relevant imho:

    galba68, Curtisimo, Bayern and 8 others like this.
  4. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    One of my other collections includes some of these Francis Frith (signed in lower left corner) strereoviews from his trip to Egypt in the 1850's. Making wet plate photos in a dark-tent was very difficult and Frith was a master of his art. Another, later, worker of the 1860's is Good. I really should take some of my free time and photograph all my stereoviews.
    galba68, Theodosius, harrync and 16 others like this.
  5. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Really cool coin, David. I like this one a lot.
    David Atherton likes this.
  6. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Basileus Megalos

  7. jdmKY

    jdmKY Well-Known Member

    E25B32B7-5B5A-4529-9935-BC5727E3E8FC.jpeg T Carisius
    46 BC

  8. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Wow, fantastic Obol, @David Atherton ! Really nice find. Congrats snaring that to your collection!
  9. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Congrats .David on adding this spectacular coin. I love that you added the Strange Tales comic. For comic fans they will probably recognize that the Sphinx was drawn by none other than that genius Jack Kirby. The way he drew faces was unmistakable.

    Thanks for a great writeup
  10. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    Glad to see you've joined the provincial Sphinx club! Here's my example:

  11. kountryken

    kountryken Active Member

    Very interesting. I would certainly encourage you to photograph them. Because I, for one, would love to see them. I assume that you also have a sterograph to view them?
  12. kountryken

    kountryken Active Member

    Great coin and writeup! Enjoyed it very much.
    David Atherton likes this.
  13. rrdenarius

    rrdenarius non omnibus dormio Supporter

    Interesting streroview. I would like to see some of your others. My favorite double pic has scales found at Pompeii:
  14. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    What a wonderful coin, @David Atherton! If I'd seen it, I probably would have snapped it up myself, despite my reluctance to purchase from that particular dealer ever since my experience with his "blue Hadrian Aegyptos."

    No Great Sphinxes in my collection; only my example of the T. Carisius winged and human-headed sphinx:

    T. Carisius sphinx jpg version.jpg
  15. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I, too, have a collection of about 100 old stereoscope cards, largely amassed in my teens and 20s at a store that sold inexpensive examples. (I have a stereoscope viewer left over from when I was in second grade, and had to do eye exercises with it.) No sphinxes in my collection, but here are two of the Colosseum in Rome:

    Stereoscope cards, Coliseum, Rome.jpg

    The first one, especially, is the kind of view that's very effective in stereo.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2021
  16. Michael Stolt

    Michael Stolt Well-Known Member

    Sharing an ex coin from my collection that fits the theme:


    T. Carisius. 46 BC. AR Denarius (19mm, 3.80 g). Rome mint.

    Obverse: Head of Sibyl Herophile right, hair elaborately decorated with jewels and enclosed in a sling, tied with bands.

    Reverse: Sphinx seated right; T • CARISIVS above, III • VIR in exergue.

    Reference: Crawford 464/1

    Provenance: Ex Aureo & Calicó Auction 319 – Alba Longa, vol. I (7 November 2018), lot 223, Ex Sotheby's "Greek and Roman coins" (28 October 1993), lot 1385.
  17. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    THE IBERIAN WALKING SPHINX (related to the Praying Mantis)

    Iberia Castulo Late 2nd C BC AE As 25mm Bust Nose Hand Sphinx
  18. paschka

    paschka Well-Known Member

  19. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Underwood and Underwood that made the rrdenarius card was one of the two big stereoview companies that survived into the 20th century. The other was Keystone that made Donna's cards. Each published cards in sets including a world tour of 1000 views sold largely by door to door salesmen in the same manner as Fuller Brushes and vacuums in the first half of the 20th century. Smaller, specialized sets of 25 to 100 illustrated 'Egypt', 'Rome' and hundreds of other subjects that the family might use to educate children or remember past travels. They peaked about the turn of the century and declined rapidly as movies and radio took over entertainment dollars. These later cards were mounted on curved stock that stood straighter in the viewers and helped correct the curvature of field of the cheap lenses used in the viewers. I was a big fan of the earlier cards on flat stock with albumin prints made from wet plate negatives starting in the 1850's and out of fashion by 1890 or so. There are also really cheap cards with screened printed images that sold for 1/10th the price of those with real photos but that gave very poor stereo effect. Professional photographers sold them in racks like later were popular for post cards depicting every subject imaginable. Victorians held parties where they showed off their card collections.
    I stopped buying many of them about the time I started doing my coin website partly because the prices were then increasing at an alarming rate. Like coins, the prices varied by condition, artistic quality and subject interest. Like coins, old photos can be purchased in the form of modern copies (fakes) on eBay for more than the real thing brought thirty years ago. The highlight of my collection is what I believe to be the earliest photo of an ancient coin (shown on CT several times begging someone to show me to be wrong).
  20. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

  21. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    I couldn't think of a better representation from the 1950s! So iconic.
    +VGO.DVCKS and Orfew like this.
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