ca. 2500 B.C.

The Ancient World : The Middle East : Pre-Sargonid Period


a,b) Monumental relief showing lion-headed eagle Imdugud, grasping hind-quarters of pair of stags standing back-to-back beneath its outstretched wings.
This monumetal copper relief was discovered, along with numerous other objects, at the foot of a high terrace which once supported a temple dedicated to the goddess Ninhursag and built by one of the kings of Ur at the neighboring site of al 'Ubaid. (For a discussion of this temple, see 2Bd.002.) The excavator, Sir Leonard Woolley, reconstructed the badly damaged plaque as showing the lion-headed eagle Imdugud (the head of the bird had vanished completely), and suggested that it had once been placed over the temple doorway. However, the presence of three handles on the lower portion of the relief suggests that it may have been attached to a moveable piece of temple furniture, such as a large chest, or may have been brought out of the temple for viewing only during certain religious rites or festivals.

The lion-headed eagle Imdugud, whose outspread wings were the black rain cloud and whose roar was the rumbling thunder, was the symbol of the storm god Ningirsu, the 'Lord of Girsu'. As the power in the rains which bring to life the greenery of spring upon the Mesopotamian plains, Ningirsu was the protector of animals, born wild and domesticated, and was thus customarily represented grasping a symmetrically placed pair of his charges by their hind-quarters (see also 2Bd.021, . 094).

Ningirsu was the Lagash form of Ninurta, the god of thunder, rainstorms, and floods of spring - and thus also of the spring ploughing - and son of the goddess Ninhursag. In the epic Lugal-e (which Kramer refers to as "The Destruction of Kur"), Ninurta is alerted by his weapon, Sharur, that a being called Asag, who dwells in the mountains, threatens the land. Ninurta journeys to the strange land, vanquishes his opponent, heaps up great piles of stones, and brings increased abundance to the country. Hearing of her son's heroic deeds, his mother Ninhursag is overcome by pride and rushes to him; he, in gratitude for her devotion, names the heaps of stones Hursag ('mountain') and appoints her its queen.

Jacobsen, in a review of Kramer's book (both cited below), suggests that Asag, whose name means 'The Cripple', represents the freezing cold of winter, pitted against Ninurta, the forces of spring. 'Their battle, which takes place over the mountains, can be heard in the roar of the thunderstorms which herald the Mesopotamian spring. Before Asag was vanquished, the Subterranean waters used to go up into the far mountains, where they froze, but Ninurta built the hursag, the near ranges, to prevent the waters from so doing and led them into the Tigris. This seems to have reference to that melting of snows on the high mountains in spring which causes the yearly flood. Altogether the myth of Ninurta and Asag appears to be a nature myth telling of the yearly battle of spring and winter."
Thus a relief depicting an aspect of the god Ninurta finds an important place in the temple of Ninhursag, where it nay have formed part of a spring ritual celebrating the renewal of life through the powers of the 'Lady Birth-giver' and her heroic son.

Relief (copper; ht. 3', 6 1/8", w. 7' 10").

Style or School

Mesopotamian. Early Dynastic III.

Material or Technique
Metal (restored).

Found in the temple of Ninhursag at al Ubaid.

Repository or Site

London: Mus., British; No. 114308.

Image Sources
a) from Garbini.* [JF 1211]
b) from Giedion.** [JF 2230]

*Garbini, G., Ancient World (1968), p.50; pl.22.
**Giedion, S., ...Architecture (1964), P.56; fig.19.
Kramer, S.N., Sumerian (1961), pp.79-82.
Jacobsen, T., Tammuz (1970), pp.30,32-33,121-125.
Strommenger, E., Mesopotamia (n.d.), pp.398-399; pl.79.
Woolley, C.L., Art (1961), pp.47-61; pl.p.57.
Woolley, C.L., Development (1935), P.73; pl.28b.
Levy, G.R., Gate (1948), p.101.
Parrot, A., Sumer (1961), pp.158-159; pl.187.