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A sculptural behemoth of a winged figure awaits visitors at the Oriental Institute. Carved from a single piece of stone, this colossal statue depicts the strong musculature of a bull’s body, the delicately carved head of a man, and massive wings of a bird. Excavated in 1929 in Khorsabad (present day Iraq) by archaeologists from the Oriental Institute, this protective guardian to King Sargon II’s throne room is called a lamassu.
At approximately 16 feet and weighing 40 tons, this winged bull-man appears to move or stand still depending on the viewer’s perspective. From its side view, it appears to be striding on four legs while from the frontal view it is standing still with its fifth leg positioned behind the front hoof. The lamassu’s connection to divinity is evident by the presence of the horned crown on its head. While further details embedded onto the stone carving such as the man’s curly hair and beard, the striations of the wings and the veins that protrude from the bulls’ legs add to the majestic and awe inspiring quality of this sculpture.
King Sargon II, (721-705 BC) of Assyria wanted his accomplishments impressed upon any audience who came to see him and his enormous palatial complex in Khorsabad. Called Dur-Sharrukin (Fortress of Sargon) in ancient times, its outside walls were supposed to have been one mile long on each side!
One of the main purposes of this palace was to assert the authority of the King’s power visually through images and text. The palace exhibited numerous galleries of low relief carvings depicting the King’s conquests, rituals and other activities associated with his role as divine ruler of this region. A nearby stone relief depicts attendants paying homage to him. They are dressed in long vestments decorated with varied ornamental designs. Diagonal sashes or red crosses mounted their chests and each courtier adorned their bodies with a bracelet and earrings. Along with carved images, writings were inscribed onto the stone facades. Cuneiform appears on the front and rear of the lamassu, proclaiming the king’s power through his mighty conquests while also announcing his benevolence and generosity to his people.
The fortress of Sargon II at Khorsabad contained temples for different deities, one of which was devoted to the sun god Shamash. The museum boasts a bronze band containing scenes of the king’s physical strength and power. The band is believed to have surrounded a column that was located at the doorway of the Shamash temple. In the upper register of this band, King Sargon takes the bulls by their horns one on each hand. The king appears with a beard and a conical hat. In the lower register, a lone fig tree stands in the main register.
Unfortunately, Khorsabad court was abandoned shortly after King Sargon II’s death. For many hundreds of years people forgot about this place as settlements were built over part of the complex until the first half of the 19th century when French archeologist began investigating stories of purported sightings of stone sculptures in the area.