Phoenician Ivory Plaque Depicting a Sphinx


by Trustees of the British Museum
published on 26 April 2012

Phoenician, 9th-8th century BCE
Found at Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Iraq

Clear Egyptian connections

Fort Shalmaneser consisted of a palace, storerooms and arsenal for the Assyrian army. This openwork ivory plaque may originally have been part of a piece of furniture which came to Nimrud, the Assyrian capital, as part of tribute or booty. When Nimrud was plundered at the end of the seventh century BC objects such as furniture were broken up for their inlaid precious stones and metals.

The sphinx shows clear Egyptian influence since he wears the Upper and Lower crown of Egypt and hanging from his chest is an apron with a projecting uraeus (rearing cobra) worn by Egyptian pharaohs. The style shows that the ivory was probably carved by a Phoenician craftsman on the coast of the Levant. It is similar to the falcon-headed sphinxes, which wear the double crown and uraeus, on a bronze bowl also from Nimrud.

D. Collon, Ancient Near Eastern art (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

J.E. Curtis and J.E. Reade (eds), Art and empire: treasures from (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

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