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What is a Lamassu? Is it evil or good?

Origins and Evolution

Initially depicted as a female deity in Sumerian times, when it was called Lama, it was later depicted from Assyrian times as a hybrid of a human, bird, and either a bull or lion—specifically having a male human head, the body of a bull or a lion, and bird wings, under the name Lamassu. A less frequently used name is shedu.

The lamassu as we know it appeared in the Assyrian culture between the 9th and 7th centuries BCE. The Assyrians envisioned a protective spirit that was part bull and part human (and sometimes part eagle). Instead of being female, this spirit was male, with a nice, long Assyrian beard. It's worth noting that there were female lamassu as well, which are called ''apsasu''.

Female Lamassu called Apsasu, later known as Sphynx. Fragmented limestone, Cypriot, 5c. BC.

The Role of the Lamassu

The Lamassu is an ancient Mesopotamian protective deity.

Lamassu were supernatural spirits, sometimes called demons or genies depending on which language you're translating from, who first served to protect the gods.

Front of a Lamassu statue
Lamassu sentinel

Front of Lamassu placed at entrance as a sentinel.

They were then also household protective spirits of the common Babylonian people, becoming associated later as royal protectors, and were placed as sentinels at entrances. They were often placed as a pair at the entrance of palaces. At the entrance of cities, they were sculpted in colossal size, and placed as a pair, one at each side of the door of the city, that generally had doors in the surrounding wall, each one looking towards one of the cardinal points.

The palace of the king was often guarded with a pair of massive lamassu as well, generally carved from single blocks of stone. Anybody entering the palace would have to pass between these fearsome guardians, reminding them of the king's power. From what we can tell, it seems that these sculptures were believed to protect the palace and king from evil supernatural forces as well. In some cases, the lamassu statues were accompanied by plaques extolling the virtues of the king and threatening curses upon any who would wish to harm him.

Clay tablet of a lamassu
Lamassu Clay Tablet

To protect houses, the lamassu were engraved in clay tablets, which were then buried under the door's threshold.

Assyrian King pectoral necklet showing winged creatures

Lamassu's powers and duties:

  • Sentinels

  • Protectors against evil supernatural forces

  • Shield from evil magic

  • Frighten away the supernatural forces of chaos

  • Curse master

  • Bringer of peace

Lamassu pendant



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