Archeology Culture X-Files

Lamassu: Protective Spirits Of Mesopotamia

Lamassu: Mesopotamian Protective Spirits

A Lamassu  is an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted as having a human’s head, a body of an ox or a lion, and bird’s wings.

In some writings, it is portrayed to represent a female deity.

 Lamassu is believed to be very powerful creature, and served both as a clear reminder of the king’s ultimate authority and as symbols of protection for all people in ancient Mesopotamia.

The winged beasts are extremely famous for protecting the throne room and Lamassu secures the important parts of the city. The beast belongs to the city Dur-Sharrukin (now village in Iraqi Kurdistan) and they played a major role in the kingdom standing as an inspiration to the armies in safeguarding the city. The statues of the beasts are seen in Iraq and Kalhu and  known as protective spirits.

Lamassu: Mesopotamian Protective SpiritsNeo-Assyrian Gateway Human Headed Winged Lions 'Lamassu' from the North West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud, (883-859 BC) British Museum photo- © Mujtaba Chohan

The heavenly bodies

Lamassu frequently appear in Mesopotamian art and mythology. The first recorded Lamassu comes from circa 3,000 BC. Other names for Lamassu are Lumasi, Alad, and Shedu. Sometimes a Lamassu is portrayed as a female deity, but usually it is presented with a more masculine head. The female Lamassu were called “apsasu.”

The human headed with the bull body and winged beings are known as Shedu and are the celestial bodies that are the symbols of the zodiac. This is associated with the protectors of the rulers of various clans. The protectors belong to several cults and are associated with the gods. The royal protectors Lamassu and the Shedu are most common beings in the households during the Sumerian till the Babylonian period.

Lamassu: Mesopotamian Protective SpiritsHuman-headed winged lion (lamassu)

Mythical guardians that influenced Christianity

The lamassu were the protectors of the palaces and the ruler’s throne.A house with a Lamassu was believed to be a much happier place than one without the mythical creature nearby. Archaeological research shows that it is likely that Lamassu were important for all the cultures which lived in the land of Mesopotamia and around it.

The Lamassu motif first appeared in royal palaces at Nimrud, during the reign of Ashurnasirpal II, and disappeared after the reign of Ashurbanipal who ruled between 668 BC and 627 BC. The reason for the Lamassu’s disappearance in buildings is unknown.

Some researchers suggest that ancient Jewish people were highly influenced by the iconography and symbolism of previous cultures, and also appreciated the Lamassu.

The prophet Ezekiel wrote about Lamassu, describing it as a fantastic being created of aspects of a lion, an eagle, a bull, and a human. In the early Christian period, the four Gospels were also related to each one of these mythical components.

Furthermore, it is likely that the Lamassu was one of the reasons why people started to use a lion, not only as a symbol of a brave and strong head of a tribe, but also as a protector.

Lamassu: Mesopotamian Protective SpiritsSennacherib's palace in Nineveh - as imagined by a Victorian artist (Image Source)

Great monuments

Nowadays, Lamassu are still found standing proud. They were carved from a single block. The oldest monumental sculptures are about 10-14 feet (3.05-4.27 meters) tall and they are made of alabaster. The most recognizable difference between the older Lamassu and the ones from a later period is the form of their body. The first Lamassu were carved with the body of a lion, but the ones from the palace of King Sargon II have a body of a bull. What’s more interesting– the Lamassu of Sargon are smiling.


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