Roman emperor's Sphinx seal discovered at Pattanam in Kerala

L to R: Greco-Roman head of a miniature statuette from excavations at Pattanam in Ernakulam | The marble sphinx at Corinth museum. This was placed on a stele erected on the tomb of an eminent Corinthian or Athenian in the Northern Cemetery of Corinth | Seal-ring with the image of a sphinx | Photos: Malayala Manorama

Kochi: In a significant archaeological discovery, a royal seal ring with the image of the Sphinx, used by Augustus Caesar before he became the Roman emperor, was unearthed during excavations in Pattanam area of Kerala. It is pointed out that the finding of a rare seal ring used during the Greco-Roman period could be the first instance in south India.

The discovery of the seal ring supports the growing evidence that Pattanam, situated between Kodungallur and Paravur, was a thriving base for international seafaring merchants in the past. The seal ring was found during the tenth season of excavations carried out under the leadership of PAMA, an archaeology research institute. The current excavations also found the image of a human face with Greco-Roman sculptural influence.

Researchers had earlier discovered two lockets made of the precious Cornelian stone from Pattnam. In 2010, a locket with the image of a lion was found and in 2014, another locket that had the image of the Roman goddess Fortuna was unearthed. All these three objects were seen in the same area.

Confirmation received

The latest find, the Sphinx seal ring, is sculpted out of Banded Agate, a precious stone. Augustus Caesar, who was known by the name of Octavius before he took over as the Roman emperor, had used this seal on his ring. Director of the Pattanam excavations and professor at the University of Rome Julio Rocco has confirmed that the seal ring unearthed at Pattanam had a similar image as that on the ring worn by Augustus Caesar. The seal ring is estimated to belong to the period between the first century BC and the first century AD.

The Sphinx myth

Poets have described the Greek mythological character Sphinx as a creature with a woman's face, a lion's body, wings of a bird, and a tail. Sphinx was known to pose riddles to men who harassed women.

Men who failed to give the correct reply were swallowed alive by Sphinx. After Sphinx became a nightmare for the residents of a city called Thebes, the Greek hero Oedipus intervened and solved the riddle. Subsequently, Sphinx took its own life, says one legend. However, according to another version, it was Oedipus who killed it.

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