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Archaeologists in Egypt discover Sphinx-like statue likely depicting Roman Emperor Claudius

A Unit Ministry Team from Task Force 34, the Combat Aviation Brigade stationed at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, took a group of their Soldiers to the Ur archeological site. (DVIDS)
March 10, 2023

Archeologists working in the temple of Denera in Qena Province, just south of Cairo, Egypt, unearthed a smaller sphinx statue that some believe depicts Emperor Claudius buried in a two-level tomb near Hathor Temple. 

Unlike the world-famous sphinx in Giza, the smaller statue bears a smile. Nearby, a slab was discovered carved with demotic and hieroglyphic scripts, which archeologists are working to translate. 

Claudius was a Roman Emperor who ruled from 41-54 A.D., during the period of time that Rome controlled Egypt. 

Mamdouh Eldamaty, professor of archeology at Ain Shams University and former minister of antiquities, released a statement that describes remnants of red and yellow paint seen on the statue’s face, which he believes may depict Claudius. 

Not all scholars agree with this assessment, however. According to Live Science, Oliver Hekster, a history professor at Radboud University with a specialty in Roman emperor depictions, declined to confirm or deny whether the statue could depict Claudius.   

“From the photos, I find it impossible to make any statement about whether the features resemble Claudius,” Heckster said via an email. 

Confirmation that the sphinx depicts Claudius may have significance to Egyptian historians and archeologists. The limestone tomb in which the statue was found is believed to date to 500 years after Claudius’s reign. 

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Claudius was also confirmed to have been depicted in previously discovered Egyptian artifacts, most notably in the discovery of a carving of Claudius as a pharaoh in the Temple of Isis in Shenhur, Egypt, in 2012. 

Artifacts that depict Roman Emperors in sphinx statues have been discovered previously, with Emperor Vespasian, who ruled from 69-79 A.D., having a likeness discovered on a sphinx in an earlier excavation. 

Examples of Roman Emperors depicted in Egyptian artifacts may provide archeologists with valuable clues regarding the relationship between the two ancient cultures and how they interacted. 

Dendera has long been a valuable resource to the archeological exploration of Egypt, with excavations of the site dating to 1915 by Clarence Fisher under the guidance of the University Museum in Philadelphia. 

Artifacts from the site are displayed in the Cairo Museum, the Louvre, and the British Museum. 

The Temple at Dendera is currently undergoing restoration under the direction of Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, with the hopes of allowing public touring upon completion. The temple is one of the best-preserved Egyptian temples known to exist and features columns, shrines, crypts, and extensive carvings that depict ancient Egyptian beliefs, from carvings of deities to a Zodiac ceiling.