The Mushussu was a dragon from Akkadian and Babylonian mythology. Its mission was to guard the gate of Ishtar of Babylon.
The Babylonian dragon appearance
In the ancient legends of Mesopotamia, Mušhuššu was a huge chimerical animal, looking like a dragon. Indeed, it was a creature with scales, and composed of different animal parts:
- Back legs of birds with claws (eagle…),
- Front legs of feline (cat, lion…),
- Body of snakes surmounted by a horned and scaled head,
- Tongue of snakes,
- Long neck,
- Long tail ending with a poisonous spike,
- Physically, it really reminds us of the manticore.
Mushussu the Babylonian dragon origin
The Mušhuššu was sometimes also called Mushkhushshu or Sirrush.
In Sumerian, Mus is used to designate the “snake”. And, Mušhuššu means “reddish snake”, or “fierce snake”.
Other sources say that Sirrush can be translated as “serpent of splendor”.
He was also famous as the dragon of the Chaos of Babylon.
The Babylonian dragon legends
a. a sacred animal
Originally, the Mušhuššu was a servant of Ninazu, a god worshipped in Eshnunna. It was the god of Tishpak (Tišpak) who privileged the Mušhuššu to become the new god of this city, in the Akkadian or early Babylonian period.
In Lagash, he was associated with the son of Ninazu, Ningishzida.
It is very likely that after the capture of Eshnunna by Hammurabi, it was the sacred animal of Marduk and his son Nabu during the Neo-Babylonian Empire. It should be noted that Marduk was the greatest Babylonian deity.
It is the story of Mušhuššu that inspired the creature of the Hydra of Lerna, which is found in Greek mythology.
Thus, in the astronomical manuscripts of Babylon, the constellation of the Hydra was named Bašmu “the Serpent.” Moreover, this constellation of the Hydra still exists.
This constellation has an appearance very similar to that of Mušhuššu:
- Fish torso,
- Tail of a snake,
- Front legs of a lion,
- Hind legs of an eagle, with wings,
- Head similar to that of Mušhuššu.
b. temple of Bêl
In a temple dedicated to Bel, the god of Nebuchadnezzar, the priests had a “great dragon or serpent, which the Babylonians worshipped.”
The priests confronted Daniel, the biblical prophet, with this creature. They challenged him to make a connection between his invisible god and their living god.
Finally, Daniel poisoned the dragon.
Did the Babylonian dragon really existed?
Although the Mušhuššu has never been authenticated as an animal that formally existed, some claim that it would have been a real animal.
The German archaeologist Robert Koldewey discovered the Ishtar Gate in 1902. He submitted the hypothesis that the Mušhuššu had indeed existed.
Indeed, he found that the representation of the Sirrush in Babylonian art was regular for several centuries. At the same time, it is known that mythological creatures have changed a lot over time. All this tends to strengthen the hypothesis that the Mušhuššu was real.
The German archaeologist also noticed that the Mushkhushshu was in the presence of other real animals (lion…) on the door of Ishtar.
Where does Sirrush appear?
The best known of the Mushkhushshu is on the reconstructed Ishtar Gate of the city of Babylon, originally dating from the sixth century BC.