Assyrian Lamassu, Evil Repellent

5/6/2006 6:12:19 AM
Lamassu Patch

You see it on the shoulders of giants, but few people know what the creature is. It's in the centre of the blue and gold shoulder patches worn by the headquarters staff of Multi-National Division Southeast (MND-SE) in Iraq and by the Australian soldiers of the Al Muthanna Task Group.

The creature is a Lamassu, which were ancient Assyrian sculptures positioned in pairs as gate guardians to cities and palaces. The "Sheedu Lamassu", to give it its full name, translates as "the repellent of evil", and embodies the power of the Assyrian kings who ruled a vast empire centred in northern Iraq from the 9th to 7th centuries BC. The Lamassu symbolises the supernatural powers of the kings and were used to ward off evil spirits.

The sculptures consist of the body of a bull (sometimes a lion's body is used), the wings of an eagle and a crowned human head.

Lamassu Patch

The bull demonstrates strength - in Assyrian times the wild bulls of Mesopotamia were huge beasts, up to 183cm at the shoulder, and were hunted by the kings.

The eagle, being the most powerful bird in the sky, symbolises the king's power as he looks over those he rules.

The crowned human head represents intelligence, with the face of the Lamassu carved to represent the king who ruled at the time the sculpture was created.

On top of the head is a crown, which features horns as a sign of divinity.

The sculpture has five legs, as the Lamassu could be viewed from the front and side: from the front it looked as though the Lamassu was standing firm, and from the side it looked as though the Lamassu was striding, giving the impression of motion.

The Lamassu was chosen for the divisional patch by the current MND-SE commanding officer, Major General Jonathan Riley, British Army, because of its symbology as a protector against evil and because it was used as the symbol of the World War I British-led Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force that defeated the Ottoman Turk Army who held the land now known as Iraq. The Lamassu also features on the reverse side of Britain's Iraq campaign medal, as a symbol of the region.

So it is appropriate that the Lamassu have been resurrected as a symbol of good against evil in a land they have watched over for nearly three millennia.