Human-Headed Winged Bull

Human-Headed Winged Bull   The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Illinois, USA
Materials: gypsum  
Place: Khorsabad, Iraq (ancient Dur-Sharrukin)   EMu user since 2010
Date: c. 705BC    

Human-Headed Winged BullThis colossal sculpture was one of a pair that guarded the entrance to the throne room of Sargon II, king of Assyria from 721 – 705 BC. A protective spirit known as a lamassu was a composite being with the head of a human, the body and ears of a bull, and the wings of a bird. It is actually represented with five, rather than four, legs. When viewed from the side, the creature appears to be walking. When viewed from the front, he appears to be standing still.

Oriental Institute archaeologists excavating at Khorsabad in northern Iraq discovered the colossal sculpture in 1929. The bull had broken into more than a dozen pieces in antiquity. The fragments were generously given to the Oriental Institute by the Department of Antiquities of Iraq. With great difficulty, the pieces were transported to Chicago, inserted through the wall of the gallery as it was being built in 1930, and assembled and restored in place. The winged bull stands at 16 feet tall and weighs approximately 40 tons.

Inscriptions in cuneiform, a wedge-shaped script of Mesopotamia, were carved onto the lamassu.

Written in the Akkadian language, each describes Sargon’s building of his new capital, giving thanks to several gods. Part of one inscription reads: “I planned day and night how to settle that city and how to raise its great shrines, the dwellings of the great gods, and my royal residential palaces. I spoke and commanded it to be built…”

Part of another inscription reads: “…I built palaces of ivory, ebony, boxwood, musukkannu-wood, cedar, cypress, juniper, burashu-juniper, and pistachio-wood for my royal dwelling. At their gates I constructed a portico patterned after a Syrian palace and roofed it with cedar and cypress beams. At their entrances, I erected animals made of white stone resembling beasts of the mountain and sea.”

Human-Headed Winged BullThe lamassu, is probably one of these “animals of white stone.” Lamassus are described by a successor of Sargon as ones who “because of their appearance, turn back an evil person, guard the steps, and secure the path of the king who fashioned them.”

Acknowledgements: Photograph 1: The Lamassu. From the collections of the Oriental Institute. OIM A7369. Photographer: Anna Ressman.
Photograph 2: Dr. Edward Chiera amid the fallen fragments of the lamassu soon after discovery in 1929. Photographed by Mrs. Chiera. Khorsabad, Iraq. Oriental Institute photograph P.17586.