Mystery Solved: Ancient Sphinx Inscription Reveals "Unusual" Poem in archaic Greek alphabet

ancient Dacia sphinx

The enigmatic inscription on a bronze sphinx statue, unearthed in the early 19th century, has finally yielded its secrets after a century of puzzlement.

The statue, dating back to the 3rd century, was discovered in Dacia, a Roman province encompassing modern-day Romania. However, it was tragically stolen from a European count around 1848 after its initial unveiling. While the statue itself remains lost, a detailed drawing preserved its intriguing inscription.

Dacia, a region steeped in historical upheaval, witnessed the rise and fall of various empires. Once part of the Dacian Kingdom, it was conquered by Roman Emperor Trajan in 106 AD, becoming a Roman province. However, by the 3rd century, Roman control waned under pressure from Gothic and other tribal invasions, ultimately leading to Roman withdrawal around 270 AD. Dacia's subsequent centuries saw domination by a succession of diverse tribes and empires.

The portrayal of Sphinxes first emerged in Egypt and then expanded to the Near East and Greece in the Bronze Age, followed by Central Asia during the Iron Age.
Mystery Solved: Ancient Sphinx Inscription Reveals "Unusual" Poem in archaic Greek alphabet 1

The recently deciphered inscription, revealed in a study published December 30 in the journal Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, unveils a short but "unusual" poem etched onto the base of the Sphinx. Despite employing the archaic Greek alphabet, the inscription yielded nonsensical results when interpreted using Greek phonetic values. This linguistic paradox baffled scholars for over a century.

The key to unlocking the inscription's secrets lay in its unconventional reading direction, from left to right, a notable departure from ancient norms. Researchers theorized that the scribe, utilizing the familiar form of the archaic Greek alphabet, aimed to express something in a different language. This hypothesis proved fruitful, as deciphering the phonetic values unveiled a rhythmic poem in Proto-Hungarian.

In English, the poem translates to: "Lo, behold, worship: here is the holy lion," suggesting a devotional purpose associated with the sphinx. This revelation is significant, as "the sphinx cult was not part of the mainstream ancient Roman mythology," explains Peter Revesz, the study's author and a professor at the University of Nebraska.

Revesz underscores the unique value of this artifact, highlighting its role in documenting a minority religion within the Roman Empire, for which evidence is often scarce. The deciphered poem illuminates Dacia's cultural landscape and offers a rare glimpse into ancient religious practices outside the Roman norm.

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