The Mythical Lamassu: Impressive Symbols for Mesopotamian Protection
In 713 BC, Sargon founded his capital, Dur Sharrukin. He decided that protective genies would be placed on every side of the seven gates to act like guardians. Apart from being guardians and impressive decoration, they also served an architectural function, bearing some of the weight of the arch above them.
Sargon II had an interest in Lamassu. During his reign, many sculptures and monuments of the mythical beasts were created. In this period, the body of Lamassu had a high relief and the modeling was more marked. The head had the ears of a bull, face of a man with a beard, and a mouth with a thin mustache.
A Lamassu at the British Museum. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
During the excavations led by Paul Botta, in the beginning of 1843, archaeologists unearthed some of the monuments which were sent to the Louvre in France. This was perhaps the first time when Europeans saw the mythical creatures.
Currently, representations of Lamassu are parts of collections in the British Museum in London, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and The Oriental Institute in Chicago. During the operation of the British army in Iraq and Iran in 1942-1943, the British even adopted Lamassu as their symbol. Nowadays, the symbol of the Lamassu is on the logo of the United States forces in Iraq.
The motif of Lamassu is still very popular in culture. It appears in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, in the Disney movie Aladdin, in many computer games, and more.
Featured image: The Gate of Nimrud (Metropolitan Museum) ( CC BY 2.0 )
Albenda Pauline, Le palais de Sargon d'Assyrie, 1986.
Ascalone, Enrico, Mesopotamia, 2008.