Photograph - Ishtar Gate, Babylon, Mesopotamia, World War I, 1914-1918

Two Babylonian lions. Report – Animals in Ancient Art Two male lions, as defined by their manes, one in each panel, are striding along with mouths open toward each other, which could indicate that they are roaring. Both tales are up and the artist gives the impression that they are moving forwards along an even and flat surface. Fangs and teeth are exposed, eye wide open in each panel. These are side on-views of striding lions with very straight backs and undersides. The mane in each panel is represented by some sort of scalloping effect, which to my eye looks more like eagle feathers than fur. As a glazed ceramic surface it is very effective as a relief. The mane around the jaw line is particularly effective in this way. The artist has captured the powerful musculature of each lion and their hindquarters, legs and paws are well proportioned.

Two Panels with striding lions

Period: Neo-Babylonian

Date: ca. 604–562 B.C.

Geography: Mesopotamia, Babylon (modern Hillah)

Culture: Babylonian

Medium: Ceramic, glaze

Dimensions: 38.25 x 89.5 in. (97.16 x 227.33 cm)

Classification: Ceramics

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1931

Accession Number: 31.13.1-.2

As this is Babylonian art the eagle feather effect is likely to be deliberate and the lion becomes a mythical creature.[1]

Comparing photographic images of actual lions one can see differences in the length of the mane depicted in the Babylonian panels. The depicted Babylonian lions have manes reaching their rear leg hinds, whereas most male lion species have manes that reach only their foreleg hindquarters. This could be an example of an earlier species, or type of lion, or is a half eagle half lion type creature.

Panthera leo, genus Panthera, family Felidae. Lion phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora.[2] The African lion is the second largest big cat after the tiger. Typically in the wild they inhabit savannah and grassland, and live on average around ten to fourteen years. In captivity they generally live around twenty years.[3]

The Barbary or North African lion seems to resemble the image of a lion in the Babylonian panels more than the other species of lions I have observed through photographs posted online.

The Babylonian image tells me that their culture appreciated the lion as a representative symbol of a powerful force in nature. It depicts two powerful beasts striding toward each other in aggressive poses. Beasts fight beasts and the forces of destruction are generally represented in these symbolic depictions of beasts and monsters, according to Klingender.[4] Whereas gods, are most often depicted in human form.  Lions are depicted at the temple of Marduk in Babylon in heraldic fashion. This panel was located along the Processional Way in Babylon; and Herodotus describes the architectural majesty of Babylon.[5] Lions with human heads also guard gates at Boghazkoy, Yasilikaya, Malatya and other Hittite sites.[6] An Assyrian lion in statue form at the temple of Ishtar-belit-mali at Nimrud bears a resemblance to the Two Panels With Striding Lions.[7] The lion was a symbol of royal authority and power in Assyria, according to Alden.[8] Assyrian kings would hunt lions in great numbers at special events like palace openings; Ashurnasirpal II (883 – 859 BCE) lists that he killed four hundred and fifty big lions at the opening of his palace.[9]


Alden, Maureen. “Lions in Paradise: Lion Similes in the Iliad and the Lion Cubs of Ii 18.318-22.” Classical Quarterly 55,  (2005): pp 335-342.

Herodotus. “The Histories.” edited by A.D Godley. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920.

Klingender, Frances. “Animal Art in the Ancient near East ” In Animals in Art and Thought to the End of the Middle Ages

edited by Evelyn Antal and John Harthan. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971.

[1] Frances Klingender, “Animal Art in the Ancient near East ” in Animals in Art and Thought to the End of the Middle Ages

  1. Evelyn Antal and John Harthan(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971). p 35



[4] Ibid. p 36

[5] Herodotus, “The Histories,” ed. A.D Godley (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920). 1; 178-180

[6] Klingender. p 47

[7] Ibid. Fig. 40 p 49

[8] Maureen Alden, “Lions in Paradise: Lion Similes in the Iliad and the Lion Cubs of Ii 18.318-22,” Classical Quarterly 55, (2005). p 340

[9] Ibid. p 341