Lion of Babylon

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Lion of Babylon is an ancient Babylonian icon which symbolically represented the King of Babylon. The depiction is based on the Mesopotamian lion (also known as the Asiatic Lion), which used to roam in the region.

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The Asiatic or the Mesopotamian Lions are depicted on vases dating as far back as to about 2600 BCE that were excavated near Lake Urmia in Iran. The lion was an important symbol in Ancient Iraq and is depicted in a stone relief at Nineveh in the Mesopotamian Plain.

In order to illustrate the power of the king, for over a millennium before these reliefs, it seems that the killing of lions was reserved in Mesopotamia for royalty, and kings were often shown in art doing so.

The lions may sometimes have been raised in captivity. Ashurnasirpal II, in an inscription boasting of his zoo, stated: "With my fierce heart I captured 15 lions from the mountains and forests. I took away 50 lion cubs. I herded them into Kalhu (Nimrud) and the palaces of my land into cages. I bred their cubs in great numbers."

List of Notable Depictions

circa 600/500 BCE

Processional Street of Ishtar Gate
The Lion of Babylon from a portion of the Processional path, leading up to the Ishtar Gate. Some 120 lions were created in polychrome relief tiles for the processional way towards the northern entrance to Babylon, the Gate of Ishtar, as well as Nebuchadnezzar's Throne Room. Several museum around the world are in posession of these polychrome lions.

circa 600/500 BCE

Basalt Lion Statue
The basalt Lion of Babylon statue at Babylon, Iraq, notice the absence of "eagle's wings". Discovered in 1876 it may have been built by either Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BCE) or Hittites. It was found by a German expedition near Babil Gardens in Iraq, but many people are unaware of the story of this statue, which is what we will tell you in this article.

circa 600/500 BCE

Dadan Lion Tombs
The funerary lion sculptures at Dadan are an outstanding example of the Mesopotamian influence (i.e. Lion of Babylon) in the adjacent regions or Arabia, and are the proud iconic figures of this ancient oasis. An inscription on one of these two tombs indicates that it belonged to a member of the Minaic community of Dedan that originated from Ma'in in today's Yemen.

circa 700 BCE

The Epic of Gilgamesh
The lion has an important association with the figure Gilgamesh, as demonstrated in his epic. Gilgamesh is also represented in a carved relief as the "Master of Animals", grasping a lion in his left arm and snake in his right hand, in an Assyrian palace relief (713–706 BCE), from Dur-Sharrukin, now held in the Louvre.

circa 650 BCE

Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal
A famous group of Assyrian palace reliefs from the North Palace of Nineveh, now in British Museum, show a formalized ritual "hunt" by King Ashurbanipal (reigned 669–631 BCE) in an arena, where captured Asian lions were released from cages for the king to slaughter with arrows, spears, or his sword.

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