Sunday, October 7, 2012


Figure 1 - Winged Bull from Khorsabad - Louvre Museum
Khorsabad was the capital of Assyria during the reign of Sargon II (722 - 705 B. C.). Sargon had a new capital city built for himself at Khorsabad. The ruins of his capital were first excavated by Paul-Emile Botta in 1842 - 1844. Later Victor Place worked there from 1852 - 1855. Between 1928 and 1935, archaeologists from Chicago's Oriental Institute also excavated at the site. Finally, in 1957 the Iraqi Department of Antiquities excavated at Khorsabad.

Building Khorsabad required a massive effort on the part of the Assyrians, an effort which ended with Sargon's premature death in combat and the movement of the capital to Nineveh by Sargon's son Sennacherib.

Figure 2 - Bringing Cedar Wood from Lebanon
Figure one shows a winged bull that was found by Botta and brought to the Louvre. These winged bulls, sometimes referred to as "lamassu", were protective deities with the body of a lion or a bull, the wings of an eagle and the head of a man. These huge statues were set up in doorways, no doubt as a way of impressing visitors to the King's palace. If you look carefully at one of them, you will notice that they have five legs, not four. You can see four legs in the picture here. The fifth leg is to the right of the front leg and can only be seen when looking at the statue head on. With five legs the viewer would, no matter where they were standing, see the illusion of the Lamassu having four legs. Lamassu were also used in the construction of gateways by the Babylonians and the Persians (see the Lamassu built into the "Gate of all Nations" at Persepolis).

Figure 3 - Hero with a Lion
Figure 2 comes from a wall in the King's palace showing the building of Khorsabad. In this picture you can see wooden logs being moved via water to Khorsabad (from what is now Lebanon), for use in the construction of the city.  The city of Byblos was especially famous for exporting cedar wood and many references to trade between Byblos and Egypt involving this wood are known

Finally, in figure 3 we see a common motif in Mesopotamian sculpture, a human hero with a conquered lion. Sarah Costello wrote a paper on what she calls the "Nude Hero" in 2010 and this figure may be a representation of the "nude hero" (although he is shown fully clothed in this carving). It is also possible that this representation of the hero is associated with the famous story of Gilgamesh.

Photos copyright 2012 by John Freed

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