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Giza's Great Sphinx

Giza's Great Sphinx

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 326. Good VF, dark brown surfaces, very rare and among the finest known.