: article by Jona Lendering ©
A bull-man from Khorsabad
Babylonian protective demon with a bull's body, eagle's wings, and a
The name lamassu is problematic. The Sumerian word lama,
which is rendered in Akkadian as lamassu, refers to a protective
deity, who is usually female. She is often shown as a standing figure
that introduces guests to another god. Her male counterpart is called
alad or, in Akkadian, êdu.
During the Neo-Assyrian Empire (c.883-612), monumental bulls, often
with wings and always with human heads, were placed as gateway guardians
at the entrances of royal palaces. The general idea behind them was that
they warded off evil. (In jargon: they were apotropaic figures.) Usually,
they have five legs. Lion-bodied protective deities are also known, and
are usually called "sphinxes".
Two lamassu's in the Gate
All Nations, Persepolis)
These monumental statues were called aladlammû ('protective
spirit') or lamassu, which means that the original female word
was now applied for a rather macho demon. In one modern interpretation,
they combine the strength of a bull, the freedom of an eagle, and the
intelligence of a human being. Female lamassu's are called apsasû.
Lammasu's are also known from the palaces of the
Achaemenid kings. Those in
Pasargadae have now disappeared, but in
Persepolis, we can still see them in the
Gate of all nations. The hoofs are visible in the
Unfinished gate; in the building that is identified as either
a Council Hall or a
Tripylon ("triple gate"), lamassu's served as the capitals of
It would be interesting if we could establish a link between the
Asian bull-man lamassu and the Greek bull-man Minotauros,
although the first one has a man's head and a bull's body, and the
Minotaur has a man's body and a bull's head.
: index :
The creature is a Lamassu, which were ancient
Assyrian sculptures positioned in pairs as gate
guardians to cities and palaces. The "Sheedu Lamassu",
to give it its full name, translates as "the
repellent of evil", and embodies the power of the
Assyrian kings who ruled a vast empire centred in
northern Iraq from the 9th to 7th centuries BC. The
Lamassu symbolises the supernatural powers of the
kings and were used to ward off evil spirits.
The sculptures consist of the body of a bull (sometimes
a lion's body is used), the wings of an eagle and a
crowned human head.
The bull demonstrates strength - in Assyrian times
the wild bulls of Mesopotamia were huge beasts, up
to 183cm at the shoulder, and were hunted by the
The eagle, being the most powerful bird in the sky,
symbolises the king's power as he looks over those
The crowned human head represents intelligence, with
the face of the Lamassu carved to represent the king
who ruled at the time the sculpture was created.
On top of the head is a crown, which features horns
as a sign of divinity.
The sculpture has five legs, as the Lamassu could be
viewed from the front and side: from the front it
looked as though the Lamassu was standing firm, and
from the side it looked as though the Lamassu was
striding, giving the impression of motion.
The Lamassu was chosen for the divisional patch by
the current MND-SE commanding officer, Major General
Jonathan Riley, British Army, because of its
symbology as a protector against evil and because it
was used as the symbol of the World War I British-led
Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force that defeated the
Ottoman Turk Army who held the land now known as
Iraq. The Lamassu also features on the reverse side
of Britain's Iraq campaign medal, as a symbol of the
So it is appropriate that the Lamassu have been
resurrected as a symbol of good against evil in a
land they have watched over for nearly three
Palacio de Sargón II en Khorsabad, Asiria-Metropolitam