Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Oriental Institute's "Striding Lion" of Babylon

A "Striding Lion," from ancient Babylon. I spotted it a few weeks ago on a cold December day in Chicago and took its picture.

One of the many gems on permanent display at the Oriental Institute, the University of Chicago’s remarkable museum which displays well its large collection of objects from the ancient Near-East, particularly Mesopotamia, Assyria, Egypt, and Persia.

Per the museum: From Babylon. Molded and glazed brick. Neo-Babylonian Period, circa 604-562 B.C.

Excerpt from legend: This colorful striding lion, its mouth opened in a threatening roar, once decorated in ancient Babylon (the Biblical city of Babel) a side of the “Processional Way,” which led out of the city through a massive gate named for Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war whose symbol was the lion.

These structures were built by Nebuchadnezzar II of Hanging Gardens fame. The Encyclopedia Britannica informs me that the Processional Way was a stone- and brick-paved avenue which ran over half a mile, and that its sides were decorated with an estimated 120 brick lions. The Ishtar Gate itself was decorated with hundreds of dragons and bulls, and along with the Processional Way has been partially rebuilt in Berlin at the Pergamon Museum from excavated material. I saw a short video of the museum exhibit on a TV travel show a while back and it looked quite impressive. Wikipedia has a photo from the Pergamon as well as sketches of how the original structure must have appeared (link).

The aesthetics seem remarkably refined and developed for a society near the beginning of recorded civilization.

Other posts here on the Oriental Institute:
Ancient Assyria & the Transience of Economic Strength