Sphinx of Naxos

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Sphinx of Naxos
(560 BC)
The Sphinx of the Naxians, Delphi Archaeological Museum.
The Naxian Sphinx on its 12.5 meters (41 ft) Ionic column (reconstruction).
The Sphinx of the Naxians was erected next to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, the religious center of Ancient Greece.
Delphi is located in Greece
Original location of the Sphinx of Naxos, at Delphi.

The Sphinx of Naxos, also Sphinx of the Naxians, now in the Archaeological Museum of Delphi, is a 2.22 meter tall marble statue of a sphinx, a mythical creature with the head of a woman, the chest and wings composed of the impressive feathers of a prey bird turned upward, and the body of a lioness. The Sphinx stood on a 10 meters column that culminated in one of the first Ionic capitals, and was erected next to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, the religious center of Ancient Greece, in 560 BCE.

The first fragments were excavated from the sanctuary of the Temple of Apollo in 1860. The remainder was found in 1893. It was originally set up on a stele around 560 BC as an offering to the Temple of Apollo by Naxos, one of the richest Cycladic islands at the time. The overall height of the statue, the column and its base topped 12.5 meters.

The Greek sphinx, a lion with the face of a human female, was considered as having ferocious strength, and was thought of as a guardian, often flanking the entrances to temples.[1] Sphinxes depictions are generally associated with architectural structures such as royal tombs or religious temples.


The famous Sphinx of the Naxians stood on a column that culminated in an Ionic capital.

The statue of this mythical creature stood on a towering Ionic column, which may have been the oldest Ionic construction project in the site of the Oracle of Delphi. Her statue had been set up close to the Halos, the most sacred spot of Delphi, where Apollo had presumably killed the python. According to tradition and its mythological representation, the Sphinx had the face of a woman bearing an enigmatic smile, prey bird wings, and the body of a lioness. It was carved from a large piece of Naxian marble. The solid construction combined elements that gave the statue a character of motion and vitality, such are the details that depict the hair, chest, and wings.[2][3][4] It is also notable because it is an early example of carving in-the-round, as opposed to relief carving that was common during that time.[5] The monument was made entirely of marble and reached 12.45 meters in height. The monument created awe to the visitors and constituted a typical example of Naxian sculpture in its peak period, i.e. in the sixth century B.C.

On the base there was an inscription dated to 328-327 B.C., renewing the promanteia for the Naxians:

Delphi accorded the Naxians the right of Promanteia as before, at the time of archon Theolytos and Epigenes the Bouleutes

— Inscription of the Sphinx of the Naxians

Thus, the Naxians had the right to acquire oracles first.

Other columns[edit]

Many more similar columns crowned by sphinxes were discovered in ancient Greece, as in Sparta, Athens or Spata, and some were used as funerary steles.[6]

It has also been suggested that 6th century BCE Greek columns such as the Sphinx of Naxos may have been an inspiration for the pillars of Ashoka in 3rd century BCE India, following the contacts initiated by Alexander the Great in 320 BCE, and continued by the Greco-Bactrians and the Indo-Greeks.[6]


  1. ^ Stewart, Desmond. Pyramids and the Sphinx. [S.l.]: Newsweek, U.S., 72. Print.
  2. ^ Ροζίνα Κολώνια, Το Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο Δελφών, Κοινωφελές Ίδρυμα Ιωάννη Σ. Λάτση, Ολκός, 2006, σελ. 90.
  3. ^ The Naxian Sphinx.
  4. ^ Βαγγέλη Πεντάζου - Μαρίας Σαρλά, Δελφοί, Β. Γιαννίκος - Β. Καλδής Ο.Ε., 1984, σελ. 47.
  5. ^ "No artifact found".
  6. ^ a b c Arora, Udai Prakash (1991). Graeco-Indica, India's Cultural Contacts with the Greek World: In Memory of Demetrius Galanos (1760-1833), a Greek Sanskritist of Benares. Delhi: Ramanand Vidya Bhawan. p. 5. ISBN 978-81-85205-53-3. It can also be suggested that Lāțs topped by animal figures also have an ancestor in the sphinx - topped pillars of Greece of the Middle Archaic period (c.580-40 B.C), Delphi Museum at Delphi, Greece, has an elegant winged sphinx figure sitting on an Ionic capital with side volutes. It was the Naxian sphinx pillar datable to about 575-560 BC. Many more sphinx-pillars have been found from different parts of Greece like Sparta, Athens and Spata (Attica). Rowland traces western Asiatic inspirations in the addorsed animal capitals of Aśokas Lāțs. But the inspiration for the single animal figure Lāțs, should be traced in the sphinx pillars of Greece. Asoka's direct link with his contemporaneous Greek states of Western Asia , Africa and Greece itself can result in the conception of single animal topped Lățs , from the Delphi type sphinx pillars. Such a possibility should not be ruled out in Mauryan Age.
  7. ^ Irwin, John (1974). "'Aśokan' Pillars: A Reassessment of the Evidence-II: Structure". The Burlington Magazine. 116 (861): 715. ISSN 0007-6287.

External links[edit]

Media related to Sphinx of the Naxians (Delphi) at Wikimedia Commons