Kids' Animal Station

For kids who love animals by a kid who loves animals

Anatomy of A Monster: The Lamassu

As an art historian often found dwelling at the British Museum, the Lamassu caught my admiration and attention while strolling about. The Lamassu is a legendary Mesopotamian creature from early Assyria, in modern day northern Iraq. The set in The British Museum is only one example of the winged, colossal guardian figures forever standing watch outside the large, bronze gates of palaces throughout the history of Mesopotamian kings. The Lamassu wowed the contemporary subjects of the kingdom and present-day onlookers alike. Monoliths carved into stone, 4.5 meters tall and over 30-40 tonnes in weight, the Lamassu also sent a clear message to the enemies of the empire: do not mess with us! If the looming, magnificent appearance of the statues alone is not enough, there are inscriptions in cuneiform, the cone-shaped writing language of Mesopotamian civilization, declaring “might and punishment for those who opposed him.”

A Real-Life Lamassu?!

The Lamassu was described as a giant mythical beast with a bearded human head, a bull’s body and horns, and breathtaking eagle wings. Every beautiful adornment displays sheer power, with painstaking details like thick veins running through the legs and long, billowing wings. It was thought of as a protective, legendary “demon” from the Epic of Gilgamesh, master of the spiritual realm and the physical alike.

Interestingly enough, the Lamassu is often seen in “twisted perspective,” also called “double-aspect.” What does this mean? Let’s have a quick art history lesson! Remember when I said that it was the guardian of the gates? While that is definitely true–from the front, the Lamassu appears to have two forward-facing legs, as one entered the palace, the Lamassu seemed to ‘switch’ perspective, seen with four legs from a side profile. Thus, the Lamassu actually has 5 legs, not 4! A bit confused? Check out this diagram below, and count the legs.

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