Introduction

The Lamassu is a creature from ancient Mesopotamian mythology and religion. The land birthed on the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, which is now modern day Iraq, was also known as the Fertile Crescent where scholars believe the human civilization basically began. These people were intelligent, artistic, gruesome, religious, and powerful. The Lamassu (also known as Shedu, it's name is reconstructed in a later part of this website) was a symbol of royal and Heavenly power. It is to these creatures that this website is dedicated. This site is meant to educate the visitors about the Lamassu: it's role in Mesopotamian society, its mythology, its meaning, and its role in art history. If you want to see a Lamassu in real life and you live in the United States, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has a pair of GORGEOUS Lamassus in their possession. It is worth the visit.




Immemorial, previously known as "Ancient Keeper", is the one and only tribute site to the amazing work of art known as The Lamassu. You may have wandered here by accident or perhaps your curiosity got the better of you. What exactly is a Lamassu? This website is meant to answer just that question. This website is purely text based! The seperate sections of Immemorial are seperated below as this site has been condensed to a single page tribute. The above illustration of the Lamassu was created by myself with the use of Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0. Please do not redistribute my artwork without permission. Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact me.


     deconstructing the beast

Lamassus is an ancient sculpture of a bull or lion mixed with the face of a regal man and the wings of an eagle. They came from the fertile crescent region of Mesopotamia (Popularly Babylon and Assyria) which is modern day Iraq/Iran. They were used in temples and palaces of the kings as guardian figures.

Lamassus were sculpted to be seen from two different angles: From the front and from the side. Because of this, the sculpture has one extra leg. From the front there can be seen two legs as though the figure is standing still, peering down on you (the viewer) and thus making you seem small and insignificant. From the side the extra leg in between the front and the back legs make the creature seem like it's in motion so as you walk past them, they walk behind you. Each lamassu sculpture is at least 8 feet tall with large, unblinking eyes that stare deep into the person's soul and are always made in pairs. They were made to be intimiadating in order to ensure the king's protection.

The creature was also a symbol of the king's power. Sometimes the face of the lamassu would be a potrait but most of the time it is an idealised face of a powerful ruler. The lion and bull bodies are creatures of power and magesty in ancient Babylonian times, the eagle wings are another symbol of grace and dignity. On top of the head of the creature is a crown which is in the shape of a Ziggurat (as seen on the right), a stepped pyramid with a shrine on the top. This shows the creature's divinity as the shrines were like summer homes for gods and goddesses to visit with human kind. The crown is fitted with six interlocking horns, again a powerful symbol. The lamassu was made to be a representation of power incarnate, a force not to be reckoned with.


In many of the Lamassu sculptures, Cuneiform has been enscribed into the base and around the figure itself. The Cuneiform is a style of writing that is similar to heiroglyphics and in some cases, heiroglyphs are also used. The cuneiform is made by lines and wedges pressed into stone or wet clay and they originated as shapes with a certain meaning. (Whether it represented a sound or a person, place, or thing.) In short, they began as pictographs and later evolved. The Cuneiform around the Lamassus is generally deteriorated and difficult to decifer. It is quite possible that it reads about the king or the myth of the creature. (The correct translation I am unsure of.)


The role of the lamassu began as a creature from a myth passed down through generations. They first began as demon roles as protectors for various gates and temples. It was not always a massive scultpure and were sometimes even painted and carved into reliefs. (Though many of these artifacts have been lost or destroyed). Over time, it became a symbol for the king's power and eventually a friendly guardian for everyone in the civilization.


     the name

The Lamassu itself was not discovered with a title and unlike other cultures there are very little records surrounding the creature that gives it a unique identity. For example, we know that in Egyptian cultures the mythological Cat/human/eagle hybrid is a sphinx and we learn from the translated works that come from that time period and other cultures, such as the Greeks who also had lived in Egypt and created art there as well.

This guardian of Babylonian history is known by many names, let's take it's first title into consideration: The Bull-man. The guardian is found in two forms: Lion body or the more common, the bull body. When this work was discovered there was no way to tell what it's ancient Babylonian name was, so it was frequently known as the Bull-man, and even is to this day. I have seen many books that call this creature by that name. It's descriptive, yes, but not at all very regal nor does it sound foreign or old. Interestingly enough, when the lamassu is referred to as the "Bull-man", this is referencing a demon that had given aid to got the ancient god Shamash.

Wikipedia lists the lamassu under the name Shedu and this name derives from the Akkadian and Hebrew (ed in Hebrew or du in Akkadian) name of a male protective diety, the role changing from being a mythical demon to a guardian figure. The name Lamassu is more commonly used in textbooks and museums, though these figures are obviously male, their name comes from the female diety Lama. The Lamassu's role had become an ever-watchful guardian to the palace of the king and were usually accompanied by winged men.

Another title is the "Apsasu", in according to Neo-assyrian text it seemed to be female form of the name given to the creatures with lion-based bodies. Though, due to the translation of the cuneiform and the nature of which it is written, it is probable that the name could either refer to something different entirely or be misinterpretted. There was a large collection of composite creatures that came to be known today as "demons" and the names could most likely differ from region to region.

Whatever the name, it still does not change the role and effect the lamassu has played on society in the past as well as the present day.


     mythology

In ancient myth the lamassu was a demon in the service of the Mesopotamian god Shamash, the god of the sun. The myth itself is not well known, but the Lamassus would hold open the gates of dawn and support the circular sun.

The Lamassu in its Bull-man role is also noted as the Bull of Heaven and is the western constellation of Taurus. According to some sources, the lLmassu or Bull of Heaven appears to Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh after Gilgamesh upsets the goddess Ishtar. The bull is then slain. It seems that in the three myths: Bull-man, Bull of Heaven, and the Lamassu tend to interchangable roles. (mesopotamia.co.uk)

The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh is well renowed because it is the first ever written epic. The original story was carved in stone walls and date back to the seventh century BCE. The story is currently incomplete because about 30,000 lines or more of the epic poem is missing. The story follows the story of the king Gilgamesh, who is based on a real life king who established the city of Uruk. The story follows the selfish king and his friend Enkidu, who was once a wild man raised by animals but tamed by a prostitute, and Gilgamesh's dramatic change in character. He meets the Bull of Heaven and defeats it and meets Utnapishtm, also known as Noah, the man who survived the Great Flood and was granted with immortality. After losing his friend Enkidu and returning from the afterlife, Gilgamesh establishes his new city in his change of heart.

The contemporary lamassu appears in fiction as a strong and mythical beast. The Lamassu has appeared in the card game Magic: The Gathering as Hunted Lamassu. The Lamassu has also made its way into Pop culture appearing on the side of the screen in such films as Alexander, Disney's Aladdin, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and also The Birth of a Nation (USA 1915).


     media and references

Here are some other images of the Lamassu. I found these all over the internet. Underneath the images are links to other sites for more images and information regarding the Lamassu.



The following images were graciously donated by Larissa on her trip to the Louvre in Paris. These images are wonderful as she shows the beautiful detail in each sculpture, the Cuneifom script, how they are displayed in pairs, and how each Lamassu has five legs (as discussed above).



Here are links to other informational sites and sites that have helped me in my short research for putting this site together. This includes anything from information to the images. If you're interested in the lamassu these sites are definitely worth checking out.

Websites
Gods Explore- Mesopotamia
Wikipedia- Shedu
Lamassu- Ancient Near East
Lamassu at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Livius.org- Lamassu
Epic of Gilgamesh (has images and information on the Bull of Heaven)
Iconography of Dieties and Demons in the Ancient Near East

Books
Art History Second Edition, Volume One. Stockstad.
Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia Stephen Bertman.


     Website Miscellaneous

And this is where I put things that don't quite go anywhere else. So for now, here are some buttons in case you feel the need to link this site. I'm also always willing to do a link exchange or affiliate with sites that have similar subjects.

If you want to link 'Immemorial', save the button to your own server and link it to
http://love-gala.org/lamassu.



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