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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Ancient Babylonian and Assyrian Dragons Are Also Euryapsids

For Many Cryptozoologists, the Dragon of Ishtar Gate means that the inhabitants of Mesopotamia had travelled to Central Africa by 800 BC and that they knew of the Mokele-Mbembe. A little thought on the matter should have made that scenario seem a rather dubious proposition.

To my understanding, F.W. (Ted) Holiday was the first author to suggest that the bas-relief dragons rather represented a local unknown animal akin to the Loch Ness monster. He said this on the basis of how the head and neck sat at the top, a position which reminded him of the Loch Ness Monster and Longnecked Sea-Serpents. He said that the lower part of the representation including the limbs was imaginary and based on preconceived notions of what the limbs must be like. And he mentioned that other such dragon representations showed the birdlike limbs in front and the lionlike ones in back, or otherwise showed all four limbs as being those of a big cat. In this much I have found his remarks to be true. Not everything he said on the subject jibes with my understanding, and that includes his notion that the original creature is a sort of immense worm and that the mythology attached to the Euphrates Dragons was that they were necessarily evil and demonic. (see The Great Orm of Loch Ness)

The dragons were originally called Mushushu in Sumerian, "Adorned Serpents" (Otherwise interpreted as "Glamourous Serpents") The Semitic Akkadians (Ancestors of the Assyrians) rendered the name as Sirrush. [Actually meaningless in either language] "Adorned Serpent" may easily be recognised as the same as Heuvelmans' category of "Merhorse" It may also be automatically assumed that we are talking about the males of the species, gramatically speaking. The Mushushes were important as being the cultic symbol of the greater Mesopotamian God Bel-Marduk (as seen at left) and terracotta plaques showing the Ishtar Gate dragons were evidently sold to travellers as souvenirs (example from an internet art dealer's online catalogue shown below)

The basic design for the Sirrush deives from the pre-existing iconology of a creature called Sechet in Egyptian Mythology and commonly depicted as a cross between a serpent or crocodile and a leopard. The design is probably from the days of a wetter Sahara and dates back to Pre-dynastic days. At the very dawn of both Egypt and Mesopotamian Old Kingdoms there was a diffusion of an adaptation of the design into something called a "Serpopard" as depicted on the famous Pallate of Narmer. At that point, the design may have gone from describing a large lizardlike creature to describing a Longnecked creature like the Mokele-mBembe. There is a brief mention of the matter in the Congo Dragon discussion on this blog:

And I have mentioned the matter on Karl Shuker's blog as well. When I get a good copy of the Saharan Rock-art examples, I shall go into the matter more fully here in a separate blog posting.

On this terracotta example it can be seen that the birdlike hind feet are not too important as a defining characteristic of the type. It can also be seen that the head on the Ishtar Gate versions of the dragons simplify the view by showing a profile and showing only one apiece of two pair of ununsual protruberances-a set of spiky vertical horns and a set of horizontal curlicues represented as a spiral in the back of the head of the Ishtar Gate example.

It is also probably worth noting that the nose of the Ishtar Gate example seems wrinkled with a set of several transverse bands across it, and that the spiky horns are set between the eyes in that version.

There are some other and older depictions of the Dragon's head alone that make the shapes of these protrusions clearer. A bronze Dragon's head now on display at the Louvre is one often-reproduced example. This has an almost African appearance but does include some unexpected additional details. This time the spiky horns are at the back of the head but more importantly there is a pair of circular openings on the top of the head and located to the rear of the eyes that I interpret as the Euryapsid skull openings.

Furthermore, I expect that the curlicues are only a mistake made from recopying older cylinder-seals and other artwork, and that they are a repetition for different symbols also meant to indicate the same Euryapsid openings behind the eyes. In some of the other older representations, the upright spikes are represented with the horizontal circles around them.

Holiday also points out that the Ishtar Gate Dragon is depicted the same way as the Dragon Goddess Tiamat (With the same Loch Ness Monster head and neck) BUT Tiamat does not have the substantial legs attributed to the other. In fact there are hardly any legs to speak of on Tiamat (I also have some cylinder-seal pictures which show "Dragon Wings" as long and pointed, and looking very much like Plesiosaur flippers instead of usual wings)

This is a very interesting frieze made during the Assyrian domination of Phoenicia in the late 8th century BC and showing phoenician longboats (Also Dragonships with the standard "Longneck" figureheads) loading on lumber under the watchful eye of their Assyrian overlord. Among the interesting facets of the scene is the almost incidental inclusion of a Longnecked Sea Serpent in the background (Presumably the original for the Sea Dragon the ships were supposed to resemble)

The "SeaSerpent" part would be only the top part of the back showing: as usual and like an iceberg, the greater part of the body must be below water. I indicate the commonly-reported Plesiosaur-shaped body outline in this comparison.

The story behind this last representation is usually given as follows by the standard sources:
"Between 711 and 709 BC the king of Assyria (King Sargon II) was sailing in the Mediterranean Sea when he stated that he saw a sea serpent." Please note that the standard sources never ascribe this event to his illustrious namesake, Sargon The Great, who reigned nearly two thousand years earlier.

As published in The Anomalist 13, cryptozoologist Ulrich Magin examines, as he concisely says in the title of his article, “Sargon II’s Sea Serpent Sighting: The First Sighting in Cryptozoology?” Ulrich Magin says in his opening:

The Assyrian King Sargon had the first ever [first-person sighting on record]sighting of a sea serpent. Bernard Heuvelmans, in his book In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents, writes: “Thus we learn that Sargon II, who reigned in Assyria from 722 to 705 B.C., saw a sea-serpent in the Mediterranean when sailing to Cyprus. This, so far as I know, is the first mention in history of a particular sighting of the subject of this book.” This information is of particular interest, as it is generally assumed that the history of the sea-serpent starts with Olaus Magnus‘ 1539 reference to such an animal on the Norwegian coast in his “Carta Marina.“

A historical overview of this monarch is outlined in this public-domain internet source:

Shalmaneser died before Samaria was captured, and may have been assassinated. The next Assyrian monarch, Sargon II (722-705 B.C.), was not related to either of his two predecessors. He is referred to by Isaiah, 2 and is the Arkeanos of Ptolemy. He was the Assyrian monarch who deported the "Lost Ten Tribes".

"In the ninth year of Hoshea" (and the first of Sargon) "the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes." 3 In all, according to Sargon's record, "27,290 people dwelling in the midst of it (Samaria) I carried off".

While Sargon was absent in the west, a revolt broke out in Babylonia. A Chaldæan king, Merodach Baladan III, had allied himself with the Elamites, and occupied Babylon. A battle was fought at Dur-ilu and the Elamites retreated. Although Sargon swept triumphantly through the land, he had to leave his rival, the tyrannous Chaldæan, in possession of the capital, and he reigned there for over eleven years.

Trouble was brewing in Syria. It was apparently fostered by an Egyptian king--probably Bocchoris of Sais, the sole Pharaoh so far as can be ascertained of the Twenty-fourth Dynasty, who had allied himself with the local dynasts of Lower Egypt and apparently sought to extend his sway into Asia, the Ethiopians being supreme in Upper Egypt. An alliance had been formed to cast off the yoke of Assyria. The city states involved Arpad, Simirra, Damascus, Samaria, and Gaza. Hanno of Gaza had fled to Egypt after Tiglath-pileser came to the relief of Judah and broke up the league of conspirators by capturing Damascus, and punishing Samaria, Gaza, and other cities. His return in Sargon's reign was evidently connected with the new rising in which he took part. The throne of Hamath had been seized by an adventurer,named Ilu-bi´di, a smith. The Philistines of Ashdod and the Arabians being strongly pro-Egyptian in tendency, were willing sympathizers and helpers against the hated Assyrians.

Sargon appeared in the west with a strong army before the allies had matured their plans. He met the smith king of Hamath in battle at Qarqar, and, having defeated him, had him skinned alive. Then he marched southward. At Rapiki (Raphia) he routed an army of allies. Shabi (? So), the Tartan (commander-in-chief) of Pi´ru 1 (Pharaoh), King of Mutsri (an Arabian state confused, perhaps, with Misraim = Egypt), escaped "like to a shepherd whose sheep have been taken". Piru and other two southern kings, Samsi and Itamara, afterwards paid tribute to Sargon. Hanno of Gaza was transported to Asshur.

In 715 B.C. Sargon, according to his records, appeared with his army in Arabia, and received gifts in token of homage from Piru of Mutsri, Samsi of Aribi, and Itamara of Saba.
Four years later a revolt broke out in Ashdod which was, it would appear, directly due to the influence of Shabaka, the Ethiopian Pharaoh, who had deposed Bocchoris of Sais. Another league was about to be formed against Assyria. King Azuri of Ashdod had been deposed because of his Egyptian sympathies by the Assyrian governor, and his brother Akhimiti was placed on the throne. The citizens, however, overthrew Akhimiti, and an adventurer from Cyprus was proclaimed king (711 B.C.).

It would appear that advances were made by the anti-Assyrians
to Ahaz of Judah. That monarch was placed in a difficult position. He knew that if the allies succeeded in stamping out Assyrian authority in Syria and Palestine they would certainly depose him, but if on the other hand he joined them and Assyria triumphed, its emperor would show him small mercy. As Babylon defied Sargon and received the active support of Elam, and there were rumours of risings in the north, it must have seemed to the western kings as if the Assyrian empire was likely once again to go to pieces....

Isaiah warned Ahaz against joining the league, "in the year that Tartan 2 came unto Ashdod (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him)". The Tartan "fought against Ashdod and took it". 3 According to Sargon's record the Pretender of Ashdod fled to Arabia, where he was seized by an Arabian chief and delivered up to Assyria. The pro-Egyptian party in Palestine went under a cloud for a period thereafter.

Before Sargon could deal with Merodach Baladan of Babylon, he found it necessary to pursue the arduous task of breaking up a powerful league which had been formed against him in the north. The Syro-Cappadocian Hittite states, including Tabal in Asia Minor and Carchemish in north Syria, were combining for the last time against Assyria, supported by Mita (Midas), king of the Muski-Phrygians, and Rusas, son of Sharduris III, king of Urartu.

Urartu had recovered somewhat from the disasters which it had suffered at the hands of Tiglath-pileser, and was winning back portions of its lost territory on the north-east frontier of Assyria. A buffer state had been formed in that area by Tiglath-pileser, who had assisted the king of the Mannai to weld together the hill tribes-men between Lake Van and Lake Urmia into an organized nation. Iranzu, its ruler, remained faithful to Assyria and consequently became involved in war with Rusas of Urartu, who either captured or won over several cities of the Mannai. Iranzu was succeeded by his son Aza, and this king was so pronounced a pro-Assyrian that his pro-Urartian subjects assassinated him and set on the throne Bagdatti of Umildish.

Soon after Sargon began his operations in the north he captured Bagdatti and had him skinned alive. The flag of revolt, however, was kept flying by his brother, Ullusunu, but ere long this ambitious man found it prudent to submit to Sargon on condition that he would retain the throne as a faithful Assyrian vassal. His sudden change of policy appears to have been due to the steady advance of the Median tribes into the territory of the Mannai. Sargon conducted a vigorous and successful campaign against the raiders, and extended Ullusunu's area of control.

The way was now clear to Urartu. In 714 B.C. Sargon attacked the revolting king of Zikirtu, who was supported by an army led by Rusas, his overlord. A fierce battle was fought in which the Assyrians achieved a great victory. King Rusas fled, and when he found that the Assyrians pressed home their triumph by laying waste the country before them, he committed suicide, according to the Assyrian records, although those of Urartu indicate that he subsequently took part in the struggle against Sargon. The Armenian peoples were compelled to acknowledge the suzerainty of Assyria, and the conqueror received gifts from various tribes between Lake Van and the Caspian Sea, and along the frontiers from Lake Van towards the south-east as far as the borders of Elam.

Rusas of Urartu was succeeded by Argistes II, who reigned over a shrunken kingdom. He intrigued with neighbouring states against Assyria, but was closely watched. Ere long he found himself caught between two fires. During his reign the notorious Cimmerians and Scythians displayed much activity in the north and raided his territory.

The pressure of fresh infusions of Thraco-Phrygian tribes into western Asia Minor had stirred Midas of the Muski to co-operate with the Urartian power in an attempt to stamp out Assyrian influence in Cilicia, Cappadocia, and north Syria. A revolt in Tabal in 718 B.C. was extinguished by Sargon, but in the following year evidences were forthcoming of a more serious and wide-spread rising. Pisiris, king of Carchemish, threw off the Assyrian yoke. Before, however, his allies could hasten to his assistance he was overcome by the vigilant Sargon, who deported a large proportion of the city's inhabitants and incorporated it in an Assyrian province. Tabal revolted in 713 B.C. and was similarly dealt with. In 712 B.C. Milid had to be overcome. The inhabitants were transported, and "Suti" Aramæan peoples settled in their homes. The king of Commagene, having remained faithful, received large extensions of territory. Finally in 709 B.C. Midas of the Muski-Phrygians was compelled to acknowledge the suzerainty of Assyria. The northern confederacy was thus completely worsted and broken up. Tribute was paid by many peoples, including the rulers of Cyprus.

Sargon was now able to deal with Babylonia, which for about twelve years had been ruled by Merodach Baladan, who oppressed the people and set at defiance ancient laws by seizing private estates and transferring them to his Chaldæan kinsmen. He still received the active support of Elam.

Sargon's first move was to interpose his army between those of the Babylonians and Elamites. Pushing southward, he subdued the Aramæans on the eastern banks of the Tigris, and drove the Elamites into the mountains. Then he invaded middle Babylonia from the east. Merodach Baladan hastily evacuated Babylon, and, moving southward, succeeded in evading Sargon's army. Finding Elam was unable to help him, he took refuge in the Chaldæan capital, Bit Jakin, in southern Babylonia.

Sargon was visited by the priests of Babylon and Borsippa, and hailed as the saviour of the ancient kingdom. He was afterwards proclaimed king at E-sagila, where he "took the hands of Bel". Then having expelled the Aramæans from Sippar, he hastened southward, attacked Bit Jakin and captured it. Merodach Baladan escaped into Elam. The whole of Chaldæa was subdued.

Thus "Sargon the Later" entered at length into full possession of the empire of Sargon of Akkad. In Babylonia he posed as an incarnation of his ancient namesake, and had similarly Messianic pretensions which were no doubt inspired by the Babylonian priesthood. Under him Assyria attained its highest degree of splendour.
He recorded proudly not only his great conquests but also his works of public utility: he restored ancient cities, irrigated vast tracts of country, fostered trade, and promoted the industries. Like the pious Pharaohs of Egypt he boasted that he fed the hungry and protected the weak against the strong.

Sargon found time during his strenuous career as a conqueror to lay out and build a new city, called Dur-Sharrukin, "the burgh of Sargon", to the north of Nineveh. It was completed before he undertook the Babylonian campaign. The new palace was occupied in 708 B.C. Previous to that period he had resided principally at Kalkhi, in the restored palace of Ashur-natsir-pal III.

He was a worshipper of many gods. Although he claimed to have restored the supremacy of Asshur "which had come to an end", he not only adored Ashur but also revived the ancient triad of Anu, Bel, and Ea, and fostered the growth of the immemorial "mother-cult" of Ishtar. Before he died he appointed one of his sons, Sennacherib, viceroy of the northern portion of the empire. He was either assassinated at a military review or in some frontier war.
Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, by Donald A. MacKenzie, [1915], at


  1. To me the Sirrush's head may in fact belong to the Crowing Crested Snake rather than an euryapsid, with a simplified crest and additional horns.

  2. For the usual conventionalizations, perhaps, but then you are going on a general impression and not the specific anatomy. As fat as the close-up views of the head go, as far as the specific anatomy goes, the continuing reason for supposing all of these different dragons from all over the world are based on an original Euryapsid creature is that they all has these openings in the back of the top of the skull behind the eyes. Snakes do not have the openings, nor anything remotely like them. It is the skull openings which define the Euryapsid grouping. So basically if you have reports or representations of no legs or different kinds of legs, it doesn't matter: the usual visual sighting would not have included the legs anyway. And if certain artistic conventionalizations remind the viewer of one thing or another from different views in later representations, that is also not especially important when the artists are working generations later from earlier prototypes they did not understand. Unless there is a continual cross-checking of artistic representations with actual sightings, the reiterated artistic conventionalizations shall always tend to look less and less like the original, and to be less recognisable as the original creature originally meant to be represented.

    Thank you for your input,
    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  3. Drawings of dinosaurs, or at least what they thought one might look like after happening upon a triceratops' fossil, or any other number of extinct animal's remains for that. By the way, I really enjoy your scope

  4. I went looking for info on longboats and the history of water travel and got directed back here.

  5. This should not be the most important entry on longboats, were looking to find longboats in the history of water transportation? I might need to write up a separate piece for that.

    The best case for premodern reconstructions of dinosaur fossils turns out to have been done by the Sioux Plains Indians, and they have a sort of cobbled-together emblem for the type combining the body, long neck and tail of a sauropod with a round-shielded Ceratopsian skull, most likely a Triceratops, and they use that emblem to describe a former world of water monsters (dragons) that warred on the monsters of the air until all were defeated: that is not too far different from what our textbooks said up until about 1970.

    In the case of the Classical world, we are talking about an area largely devoid of Plesiosaur fossils. So they were not making reconstructions out of fossils when they represented Euryapsid Water Monsters (dragons)

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  6. if you go youtube badran 106 channel and link you will see 2 ancient carving have a dragon one from syria black stone and one from phoenicia for a strange animal on top of a lime stone box...nice to see this blog...


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