Here there be dragons: Sirrush

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For an awesome, respected, Mesopotamian beast featured on one of the most amazing buildings extant from the ancient world, we don’t know much about the sirrush. It looks like a dragon. Early archaeologists gave it the wrong name. That’s about it.

The reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate

The Ishtar Gate in ancient Babylon was once one of the wonders of the ancient world. Like, on the official list of seven, but then the Greek Pharaohs built the lighthouse of Alexandria and someone dropped the gate from the list. I really think they should put it back and drop the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, actually, since we can’t prove they existed.

In any case… the German archaeologist Professor Robert Koldewey started excavation of the Ishtar Gate in 1899. When he got down a ways, he discovered the blue gate was covered in golden animals. Lions, bulls, and… that other thing. A scaly, long tailed, four legged creature with a serpent’s tongue and the hind feet of a bird.

Archaeologists called it sirrush, an ancient Akkadian word meaning “splendor serpent.” Except now that we know more about Akkadian, we know it should really be “mushushu.” Somehow (and I don’t know how), they discovered the beast was the sacred animal of Marduk (you remember him).


But that’s all we know. No clue if there’s a connection to the vicious Tiamat, what inspired the creature, what it’s doing there looking pretty much like the realistic bull and lion. Were the Babylonians portraying a real live animal, or a mythical protector of their city?

The reconstructed gate is now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Well, the smallest part of it. The bigger, second gate is in storage, since it’s too big.

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Tiamat: The First Dragon

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.
– King Lear Act 1, Scene 4, William Shakespeare

The great Babylonian mother of gods, Tiamat, would have agreed with Shakespeare on that one, on a bunch of levels.

You see, once upon a Babylonian time, Tiamat, the spirit of salt water and chaos, and her husband Apsu, the spirit of fresh water and emptiness, were the only things that existed. They got along pretty good, and since there wasn’t much else to do, they ended up having a bunch of kids, and those kids were gods.

Apparently gods are noisy folk, and they riled Apsu, who was used to his peace and quiet. Apsu told his wife he was going to kill the kids. Tiamat plead with him not to, that they were all right in their own way, but he didn’t listen.

Ea, one of the loud offspring, had the gift of seeing the future. I don’t know if it’s a ‘gift’ to have a premonition your own father will kill you, but there you have it. Ea decided he wouldn’t put up with that kind of thing and in a preliminary strike, killed dear old dad.

This pissed mom right the crap off. She transformed herself into a dragon so she could kill Ea (who didn’t see that one coming, I guess).

All the gods got together and asked Marduk to kill Tiamat. He said okay, so long as he got to be the boss of everyone when he was done. His brothers and sisters decided he probably wouldn’t live anyway, and agreed.

Huge battle. Marduk and his siblings on one side. Tiamat and the monsters she’d given birth to on the other.

Marduk makes a hurricane and shoves it down Mom’s throat. While her jaw is stuck open, Marduk fired an arrow down in right into her heart.

Tiamat is dead.

Marduk slays the rest of the horde and finds the TABLETS OF DESTINY inside one of them. For fun, Marduk goes on to create the earth and the sky out of the cut-in-half body of his dead mother. As a topping for the sundae, he makes people out of her blood so they can serve the gods and the gods ‘may be at ease.’

The other gods decide okay, the guy who killed the huge dragon, made the sky and the earth, plus people, and has something called the TABLETS OF DESTINY, we’re all right with him being the king of gods.

Next time: Jörmungandr: The last dragon