The Lion Temple

The Lion Temple of Musawwarat es-Sufra dates to the late 3d century BC, to the reign of the Meroitic king Arnakhamani (235-218 BC). The temple with its pylon and six interior columns is the first known Meroitic one-room temple. This type of temple was specifically built for the cult of indigenous gods and differs in its structure from temples built for gods from the Egyptian pantheon. The temple was dedicated to the powerful local Meroitic lion-headed god Apedemak, who may have been worshipped at Musawwarat already before the construction of the sandstone building.

The inner and outer walls of the Lion Temple as well as its columns were decorated with reliefs. On the outer north and south wall the king and a prince are shown offering to Apedemak and other male (on the south wall) or male and female gods (on the north wall). This distinction in groupings of male and female gods possibly reflects concepts of war/destruction and peace/creation. Hieroglyphic inscriptions accompanying the reliefs name the beings depicted. A hymn to Apedemak names the god as the lord of Aborepe, the ancient name for Musawwarat. The six columns in the interior of the temple are decorated with vignettes showing the king before gods as well as various scenes with mythical beings, such as sphinxes. The interior wall reliefs show the king before the gods Apedemak and Amun as well as various greeting, offering and coronation scenes. Further architectural decoration can be attributed to the entrance area, such as a two lion statues and one of the famous triple protomes that are specific to the monuments of Musawwarat. The relief decoration at the Lion Temple is interspersed with some ancient graffiti.

The Lion Temple was surrounded by an oval enclosure. It is located immediately beside the Great Hafir of Musawwarat and seems to post-date its construction. The temple collapsed in antiquity in a manner that preserved its walls well enough to allow its re-erection by its excavator, Fritz Hintze, in 1969/70.

Text: Cornelia Kleinitz (2014)

Side Photo
'Lion Temple' at Musawwarat, dedicated to the god Apedemak (photo: Cornelia Kleinitz, 2008)

Side Photo
View of the interior of the re-erected Lion Temple (photo: Cornelia Kleinitz, 2009)