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Posts Tagged ‘Ishtar Gate’

King Nebuchadnezzar II ruled the Babylonian Empire between 634 and 562 B.C.E. As his conquests mounted, he wanted to secure his capital and inspire awe at the same time. To do this, he build a wall around Babylon that supposedly was wide enough to race chariots on top. Visitors to the city had to pass through one of several magnificent gates.

The most famous of these is the Ishtar Gate. Excavated in 1904, it holds reliefs of several animals representing gods in the Babylonian pantheon. There are lions representing Ishtar (goddess of love), bulls representing Adad (god of storms), and the chief god, Marduk, represented by a strange creature called the sirrush.

Sirrush, also translated as mushhshushu or muhushu, is often referred to as a dragon, but that could be because nobody knew what else to call it. Like many mythological creatures, it is a hybrid beast combining a serpent’s head with forked tongue, either horns or a curled crest, a long neck, scaly body, fore paws of a lion, hind legs of an eagle, and a long tail held upright behind it.

Because the other creatures on the Ishtar Gate are realistic depictions of living animals, some scientists have suggested that the sirrush also represented an actual animal known to the Babylonians. It’s hard to imagine what that might be! However, a giraffe has been put forward as one possible model for the sirrush. They do have long necks and horns. From a distance, the giraffe’s markings might look like scales. While giraffes are not native to Mesopotamia, an empire such ad Babylon could have imported strange creatures from outside the region.

Another idea is that Babylonian scientists had discovered fossil bones and were trying to make sense of them. Either dinosaur bones or bones of a giant mammal like Paraceratherium, from Asia, could have accounted for the legends.

Join me on Wednesday for a Biblical tale of the sirrush.

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