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Gane: Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art

“An examination of all the extant, provenanced depictions of composite beings, Mischwesen, in Neo-Babylonian (NB) iconography sheds important new light on the worldview of the last great Mesopotamian civilization.

Wall relief depicting a winged and eagle-headed Apkallu (Sage). This protective spirit holds a cone and a bucket for religious ceremonial purposes. From the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud (Biblical Calah; ancient Kalhu), modern day Ninawa Governorate, Iraq (Mesopotamia). Neo-Assyrian period, 865-850 BCE. The British Museum, London. Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wall_relief_depicting_an_eagle-headed_and_winged_man,_Apkallu,_from_Nimrud..JPG

Wall relief depicting a winged and eagle-headed Apkallu (Sage). This protective spirit holds a cone and a bucket for religious ceremonial purposes.
From the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud (Biblical Calah; ancient Kalhu), modern day Ninawa Governorate, Iraq (Mesopotamia). Neo-Assyrian period, 865-850 BCE.
The British Museum, London.
Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wall_relief_depicting_an_eagle-headed_and_winged_man,_Apkallu,_from_Nimrud..JPG

The types of hybrids that are portrayed include such disparate forms as the apkallu and the genius in human form, as well as creatures based on bulls, lions, canines, winged quadrupeds, fish, birds, scorpions, and snakes.

Demons, monsters, and minor apotropaic deities, from Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Demons & Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, p. 64. https://books.google.co.th/books?id=pr8-i1iFnIQC&redir_esc=y

Demons, monsters, and minor apotropaic deities, from Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, Demons & Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, 1992, p. 64.
https://books.google.co.th/books?id=pr8-i1iFnIQC&redir_esc=y

Each composite being is analyzed in terms of its physical components, its context within scenes, its historical development, and its interpretation in NB texts.

Within the hierarchical cosmic community, some lower deities and sub-divine beings appear in composite form. These play a key role in the cosmos by interacting with gods, with each other, with humans, and with natural animals.

Their behavior parallels dynamics found in natural life, such as in competition, conflict, predation, protection, and in the service of others who are more powerful.

In hybrids the capabilities of natural animals and humans are heightened by the selective addition of features derived from other species. There is no consistent correlation, however, between the strength of a natural creature and the relative power of the superhuman being that it symbolizes, or between its physical complexity and its placement in the cosmic hierarchy.

Pazuzu: a demon-god of the underworld, sometimes invoked for beneficial ends. The inscription covering the back of his wings states: "I am Pazuzu, son of Hanpa, king of the evil spirits of the air which issue violently from mountains, causing much havoc.” <br />  Pazuzu was particularly associated with the west wind which brought the plague. Under certain circumstances Pazuzu was a protective spirit, particularly to drive his wife Lamashtu back to the underworld. Lamashtu was a demoness who infected men with various diseases.<br />  Pazuzu first appeared in the 1st millennium BC with the body of a man and the head of a scowling dragon-snake, with two pairs of wings and talons of a bird of prey. He has a scorpion's tail and his body is covered in scales.<br />  http://wayback.archive.org/web/20090628125910/<br />  http://www.louvre.fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_notice.jsp?CONTENT%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198673225951&amp;CURRENT_LLV_NOTICE%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198673225951&amp;FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=9852723696500800&amp;baseIndex=56&amp;bmLocale=en<br />  Bronze statuette of Pazuzu, circa 800 BC –- circa 700 BC, Louvre Museum.

Pazuzu: a demon-god of the underworld, sometimes invoked for beneficial ends. The inscription covering the back of his wings states: “I am Pazuzu, son of Hanpa, king of the evil spirits of the air which issue violently from mountains, causing much havoc.”
Pazuzu was particularly associated with the west wind which brought the plague. Under certain circumstances Pazuzu was a protective spirit, particularly to drive his wife Lamashtu back to the underworld. Lamashtu was a demoness who infected men with various diseases.
Pazuzu first appeared in the 1st millennium BC with the body of a man and the head of a scowling dragon-snake, with two pairs of wings and talons of a bird of prey. He has a scorpion’s tail and his body is covered in scales.
http://wayback.archive.org/web/20090628125910/
http://www.louvre.fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_notice.jsp?CONTENT%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198673225951&CURRENT_LLV_NOTICE%3C%3Ecnt_id=10134198673225951&FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=9852723696500800&baseIndex=56&bmLocale=en
Bronze statuette of Pazuzu, circa 800 BC –- circa 700 BC, Louvre Museum.

In fact, the transcendence of high gods is often emphasized by their simple representation through attribute animals in natural form.

Ishtar receives the worship of an Amazon. Ishtar stands on a lion, holding a bow with arrows at her back. Her eight-pointed star is atop her head. Lusty antelopes rear on the right side, perhaps signifying the god Ea. The portrayal of the tree is somewhat problematic, as it differs from the iconic depictions of the sacred tree common in Neo-Assyrian art.

Ishtar receives the worship of an Amazon. Ishtar stands on a lion, holding a bow with arrows at her back. Her eight-pointed star is atop her head.
Lusty antelopes rear on the right side, perhaps signifying the god Ea.
The portrayal of the tree is somewhat problematic, as it differs from the iconic depictions of the sacred tree common in Neo-Assyrian art. Drawing © 2008 S. Beaulieu, after Leick, 1998: Plate 38. Used by kind permission.

 

Portrayals of composite beings often express the need for protection from malevolent powers by beneficent beings, some of whom can be accessed only through human mediators, such as ritual functionaries.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId.
Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the “lion-man,” and lahmu at left. He speculates that the “House god” appears at far right.
Limestone relief, one of a pair flanking a doorway in the N. Palace at Nineveh.
Previously published: H.R. Hall, Babylonian and Assyrian Sculptures in the British Museum, Pls. VI-IX; Cf. also Gadd, The Stones of Assyria, 191.

Special relationships between supernatural beings and elite humans, especially the king, make such humans indispensable and therefore support their roles in the existing social order.

It appears that the choice of a particular being portrayed on a given object could be influenced by factors such as its owner’s profession, religious and/or political affiliations, and especially by the apotropaic function(s) of specific composite beings.”

Constance Ellen Gane, Composite Beings in Neo-Babylonian Art, Doctoral Dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, 2012, p. 1.

Green Defines Numerous Figures

“After the lahmu, the text goes on to prescribe a type whose name is lost in the break but which is to be inscribed “Go out death, come in life!” Rittig has already pointed out, on the basis of figurines from Aššur, that this is the creature called in modern literature the “bull-man.” (F.A.M. Wiggermann has suggested to me the possible Akkadian name kusarikku; … Reade, BaM 10 (1979), 40).

ND 4114. Sun-dried clay figurine of "bull-man" type discovered together with a "spearman" in a foundation box at the W. jamb of the S.E. doorway of court 18 of the Burnt Palace at Nimrud. Previously unpublished. Plate XIVa.

ND 4114. Sun-dried clay figurine of “bull-man” type discovered together with a “spearman” in a foundation box at the W. jamb of the S.E. doorway of court 18 of the Burnt Palace at Nimrud. Previously unpublished. Plate XIVa.

Plate XIVa shows a Burnt Palace example, with obvious taurine hindquarters, and Plate XIIId a rather different type from Fort Shalmaneser, broken but still with fairly clear bull’s legs; the latter was probably inscribed in the same fashion as the Aššur examples and as ritually prescribed.

ND 9523 (IM 65138), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIIId. Sun-dried clay figurine of "bull-man" type, discovered in a foundation box on the E. side of the N.E. courtyard, at the N. jamb of the doorway leading to room NE 21, Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud. Previously unpublished. Cf. D. Oates, Iraq 23 (1961), 14.

ND 9523 (IM 65138), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIIId.
Sun-dried clay figurine of “bull-man” type, discovered in a foundation box on the E. side of the N.E. courtyard, at the N. jamb of the doorway leading to room NE 21, Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud. Previously unpublished. Cf. D. Oates, Iraq 23 (1961), 14.

The being is apparently unknown in extant Assyrian monumental sculpture, but can be seen at Pasargadae with the fish-apkallū (Plate XIVc, placed second from the bottom for reasons of formatting), perhaps copied from an Assyrian or Babylonian original; the discovery of the fish-cloaked figure and a “bull-man” together on reliefs at Nineveh is referred to in a letter of Rassam to Rawlinson (quoted by Barnett, SNPAN, 42).

A type superficially resembling the “bull-man” but with some important iconographic distinctions and a different inscription is the figure of Plate XIIIc.

ND 7901. Sun-dried clay figurine of a scorpion-tailed, bird-footed human creature, discovered with figures of other types in the fill of room SE 5 of Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud. Plate XIIIc.

ND 7901. Sun-dried clay figurine of a scorpion-tailed, bird-footed human creature, discovered with figures of other types in the fill of room SE 5 of Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud. Plate XIIIc.

The legs end in bird talons, and on the reverse (Plate XIVb) a curving ridge, formed by pressing the wet clay between the thumb and forefinger, would appear to represent a twisting scorpion-tail.

ND 7901. Sun-dried clay figurine of a scorpion-tailed, bird-footed creature, discovered with figures of other types in the fill of room SE 5 of Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud. Reverse of Plate XIIIc. This image is Plate XIVb.

ND 7901. Sun-dried clay figurine of a scorpion-tailed, bird-footed creature, discovered with figures of other types in the fill of room SE 5 of Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud. Reverse of Plate XIIIc. This image is Plate XIVb.

The type would seem, therefore, to be analogous to a scorpion-tailed figure on an Assyrian relief who has the hindquarters and claws of a bird. This creature has been identified as the girtablīlu, “Scorpion-man;” but the inscription on the Nimrud figure may possibly correspond to that prescribed in the ritual for the type immediately after the bull-legged being, while for the girtablīlu no inscription is ordained. Unfortunately the Akkadian name is again lost.

After figures of snakes, whose identification is obvious enough, the ritual mentions figurines of the well-known mušhuššu, which is surely represented by the creature of Plate XIVd, regarded by the excavators as a dog.

ND 8194 (MMA 59.107.27). Sun-dried clay figurine of a mušhuššu, discovered in the same foundation box as the figure of Plate XIa. Previously published: D. Oates, Iraq 21 (1959), Mallowan, N&R II. Double-catalogued by Rittig. Plate XIVd.

ND 8194 (MMA 59.107.27). Sun-dried clay figurine of a mušhuššu, discovered in the same foundation box as the figure of Plate XIa. Previously published: D. Oates, Iraq 21 (1959), Mallowan, N&R II. Double-catalogued by Rittig. Plate XIVd.

The following prescriptions are for figures of the suhurmaššu, “Goat-fish” and kulīlu, “Fish-man,” rare types which do not occur at Nimrud, and are illustrated here by examples probably from Aššur, Plate XV. Their identities are indicated by comparison of the prescribed legends with actual inscriptions.

Sowie Museum 9-1796, sun-dried clay figurine of a suhurmaššu, probably from Aššur. Previously published: H.F. Lutz, University of California Publications in Semitic Philology 9/7 (1930), Rittig, 97.  Sowie Museum 9-1795, sun-dried figurine of a kilīlu, allegedly from Aššur. Previously published: Lutz, op. cit., Rittig, 95f. Plate XV.

Sowie Museum 9-1796, sun-dried clay figurine of a suhurmaššu, probably from Aššur. Previously published: H.F. Lutz, University of California Publications in Semitic Philology 9/7 (1930), Rittig, 97.
Sowie Museum 9-1795, sun-dried figurine of a kilīlu, allegedly from Aššur. Previously published: Lutz, op. cit., Rittig, 95f. Plate XV.

A little later in the ritual appears the urmahlīlu, “Lion-man,” who has already been identified directly from the inscription on a bas-relief; it is the creature called in modern literature a “lion-centaur.”

After the urmahlīlu, the ritual prescribes clay figures of dogs, an actual set of which, inscribed and colored in close conformity to the prescription, was discovered by Loftus in a rectangular niche at the base of a sculptured doorway slab in the North Palace at Nineveh.

Relief at Pasargadae, in situ. Palace S. photograph by Dr. M.R. Edwards, Plate XIVc. Limestone relief at one jamb of a doorway of Palace S. at Pasargadae. Achaemenid period. Previously published: D. Stronach, Pasargadae (Oxford 1978), Pl. 59.

Relief at Pasargadae, in situ. Palace S. photograph by Dr. M.R. Edwards, Plate XIVc.
Limestone relief at one jamb of a doorway of Palace S. at Pasargadae. Achaemenid period. Previously published: D. Stronach, Pasargadae (Oxford 1978), Pl. 59.

Such clay dogs appear not to occur among the Nimrud figures, although seven copper or bronze examples, of differing breeds, sitting and standing, were found in the North-West Palace (Plate XIVe). These metal models have also been considered apotropaic, although there is no absolute proof, and the Nimrud examples were found out of context at the bottom of a well.

ND 3209. Copper or bronze figurine of a dog, discovered with six others down a well at the S. end of room NN of the N.W. Palace at Nimrud. Left ear chipped, and tip of tail broken in antiquity. Previously unpublished: see J.E. Curtis, Dissertation, II; Cf. also Mallowan, ILN 1952; Iraq 15 (1953); N&R I, 103. Plate XIVe.

ND 3209. Copper or bronze figurine of a dog, discovered with six others down a well at the S. end of room NN of the N.W. Palace at Nimrud. Left ear chipped, and tip of tail broken in antiquity. Previously unpublished: see J.E. Curtis, Dissertation, II; Cf. also Mallowan, ILN 1952; Iraq 15 (1953); N&R I, 103. Plate XIVe.

It does seem possible, therefore, to identify a number of the creatures of Assyrian religious art on the basis of these figurines and their rituals, and to this process the Nimrud figurines, while they do not show the same typological diversity as those from Aššur, are able to make a number of significant contributions.”

Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq, Vol. 45, 1983, pp. 92-4.

Green Identifies the Lahmu and the Ugallu

“Returning to the apotropaic ritual, after the fish-apkallē the text prescribes various kinds of wooden figures which cannot be identified among actual figurines, although some types may, as Dr. Reade suggested, be represented in Assyrian sculpture.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green determines in this article that the leonine-headed entity in the center is the ugallu, or "Great lion."

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green determines in this article that the leonine-headed entity in the center is the ugallu, or “Great lion.”

These wooden figures end, however, with those of the ugallu, “Great-lion,” of which clay examples do exist. The human-leonine figure of Plate XId, centre, is commonly portrayed in glyptic art from the Akkadian period onwards and in seventh-century Assyrian sculpture.

He has been identified by Karl Frank and, with reservations, Ursula Calmeyer, as an utukku-demon (K. Frank, MAOG 14 (1941), idem, Babylonische Beschwörungsreliefs (Leipzig, 1908) … Notice already a figurine of the type used to illustrate the edition of Utukkū Lemnūtu of R.C. Thompson, The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia and Assyria II (London, 1904)), but this view has been challenged by Dessa Rittig (Rittig, 108).

She is unable, however, to offer an alternative identification. Woolley once appears to interpret the creature as the ugallu, but elsewhere in the same paper as the urmahlīlu, “Lion-man,” apparently incorrectly identifying the two. Dr. Reade has suggested alternative identifications as the ugallu or the lahmu.

An ugallu, or "Great lion," ND 8190, courtesy of the Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels, Plate XIa.

An ugallu, or “Great lion,” ND 8190, courtesy of the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels, Plate XIa.

But the latter creature, as we shall see, appears to have a different identity, and the identification of this human-leonine figure as the ugallu is apparently confirmed by the Nimrud fictile examples (Plate XIa). The inscription (Plate XIb) corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual.

Inscription on the right side of ND 8181 (IM 61854), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIb. Green states that the "inscription corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual."

Inscription on the right side of ND 8181 (IM 61854), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Plate XIb. Green states that the “inscription corresponds well with that prescribed for figures of the ugallu in the ritual.”

The type must probably be distinguished from the whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion’s pelt, of which a single example occurs in the Nimrud series (Plate XIIa).

ND 9342, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Plate XIIa. Green states that this is a "whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion's pelt," from the Nimrud series.

ND 9342, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Plate XIIa. Green states that this is a “whip-carrying human figure wearing a lion’s pelt,” from the Nimrud series.

The type, as R.S. Ellis has shown, is also distinguished on the palace reliefs (Plate XIIc).

BM 136773, British Museum, a clear representation of the ugallu or "Great lion." Plate XIIc.

BM 136773, British Museum, a clear representation of the ugallu or “Great lion.” Plate XIIc.

Perhaps yet another distinctive type is the Janus-figure of Plate XIIb, having both human and leonine faces, but with no parallels known to me. The identification of both types is unclear.

ND 5296, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Green terms this figurine "Janus-faced," with both leonine and human faces. Plate XIIb.

ND 5296, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1957. Green terms this figurine “Janus-faced,” with both leonine and human faces. Plate XIIb.

The next passage of the ritual prescribes clay figures of the lahmu, inscribed and coated in gypsum, with “water painted on them in black wash.” The type of figure to which this passage refers, though not the reading of the Akkadian name, has been well recognized, since plaques from Aššur, inscribed as in the ritual, depict the figure in close conformity to his representation on the monumental reliefs (Plate XId, left).

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the "Great lion," and lahmu at left.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the “Great lion,” and lahmu at left.

The Nimrud “heroes” are in the main heavily bearded and bewigged men without the distinctive six spiral tresses (Plate XIIIa), but they are nevertheless often inscribed, in the same fashion, and so quite likely represent the same personage.

Green states that these figurines are inscribed with statements that they represent lahmu.  ND 7847, Royal Ontario Museum. Plate XIIIa.

Green states that these figurines are inscribed with statements that they represent lahmu.
ND 7847, Royal Ontario Museum. Plate XIIIa.

Most interesting, perhaps, is a Burnt Palace example on which much of the gypsum coating and painted water survive (Plate XIIIb), as on some similar figures from Ur.

ND 4111 (IM 59290), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Green, Plate XIIIb.

ND 4111 (IM 59290), British School of Archeology in Iraq, photograph by David A. Loggie. Green, Plate XIIIb.

Figurines of a human deity with one arm raised in the air in similar fashion to the ugallu (Plate XIc) have not been found at Nimrud, but the identification of the ugallu from Nimrud figurines allows a possible identification of this personage also.

Oxford 1924.701, Ashmolean Museum. Plate XIc.

Oxford 1924.701, Ashmolean Museum. Plate XIc.

A common line-up at doorways in the North Palace at Nineveh involves a trio of this god, the ugallu and the lahmu (Plate XId). In the ritual text, moreover, the passages prescribing figurines of the ugallu and lahmu occur together, preceded by a prescription for figures of the “House god” who makes a gesture with his right hand and carries a weapon in his left.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the "Great lion," and lahmu at left. He speculates that the "House god" appears at far right. Plate XId.

BM 118918, courtesy of the British Museum, plate XId. Green identifies the ugallu at the center, the “Great lion,” and lahmu at left. The lahmu can be distinguished by his idiosyncratic six curled tresses. He speculates that the “House god” appears at far right. Plate XId.

It is possible, therefore, although it cannot be proved, that the three figures of these doorway reliefs are enumerated in the same order in this ritual.”

Anthony Green, “Neo-Assyrian Apotropaic Figures,” Iraq, Vol. 45, 1983, pp. 90-2.

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