Napoleon Bonaparte and the Great Sphinx of Giza, Treasures of Ancient Egypt

Napoleon Bonaparte and the Great Sphinx of Giza, Treasures of Ancient Egypt

One of the world’s biggest riddles, the Great Sphinx of Giza has a mystery of its own. What happened to its nose? Despite evidence to the contrary, many people believe that Napoleon Bonaparte’s soldiers used the Sphinx as target practice. Here’s why that can’t be true.

When Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Egypt, he took along his artists, historians, civilian scholars and a group of scientists known as savants. Although Napoleon was not an archaeologist, he is considered an early Egyptologist. He was one of the first world leaders to recognize the treasures of ancient Egypt, and the need to preserve not only the artwork but the culture itself.

The battle of the pyramids took place in July 1798 between the French Army and the local mamluk forces in Egypt. Six months before Napoleon entered Egypt, he sent ahead many of his savants, who contributed to the Description de L’Egypte (Description of Egypt published in1809), a comprehensive report of modern and ancient Egypt. These chronicles and sketches clearly show that the damage to the Sphinx had been done well before Napoleon arrived. Even if there was no other proof to debunk the myth that Napoleon was responsible for defacing the Sphinx, his devotion to Egypt would be enough to dispute the idea.

So, what happened to the famous statue? The most likely explanation is simple erosion from the sands of time. The Sphinx was carved from a solid piece of limestone, a material that is soft and wears easily. Besides the missing nose, there are several cracks in the face. If you observe statues of all sizes from ancient Egypt, you’ll notice that the nose is the one common feature missing from most of them. This explanation is, perhaps, not as exciting as that of Napoleon’s soldiers, but it’s certainly more plausible. 

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