The sirrush or mushussu is a dragon in Babylonian and Akkadian mythology which guards the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. It is also known as the Babylon dragon of Chaos.
The name "sirrush" is derived from an Akkadian word loosely translated "splendor serpent." Although it is properly transliterated mûš-ruššû, early researchers mistakenly read it as sîr-ruššû, and this is the rendering most common today.
Muhussu is a huge creature, often depicted with the fore feet of a cat, the back legs of a clawed bird, a serpent's body, and a scaled head. Its tail ends with a poisonous sting. It resembles a scaly dragon with hind legs like an eagle's talons and feline forelegs. It also has a long neck and tail, a horned head, a snakelike tongue and a crest.
History / Beliefs
The Muhussu was originally an attendant on Ninazu, the city god of Esnunna. It was 'inherited' by the god Tispak when he replaced Ninazu as city god in the Akkadian or early Old Babylonian Period, and in Lagas became associated with Ninazu's son Ningiszida. Possibly after Hammurabi's conquest of Esnunna, the creature was transferred to the new Babylonian national god, Marduk, and later to Nabu. The conquest of Babylon by the Assyrian king Sennacherib (reigned 704-681 BC) brought the motif to Assyria, normally as the beast of the state god Assur. On Sennacherib's rock reliefs at Maltai, however, the creature accompanies three different gods, Assur, Ellil (Enlil) and another god, most likely Nabu.
Bel and the Dragon, a deuterocanonical Biblical text, relates a story that Koldewey thought involved a sirrush. In a temple dedicated to Bel (Nebuchadnezzar's god), priests had a "great dragon or serpent, which they of Babylon worshiped." Daniel, the Biblical prophet, was confronted with this creature by the priests, who challenged him to match his invisible God against their living god. Eventually, Daniel poisoned the creature. The creature's distinctly feline front paws seemed incongruous, and gave Koldeway some doubt. However, In 1918 he proposed that the iguanodon, (a dinosaur with birdlike hindfeet) was the closest match to the sirrush (Sjögren, 1980).
Theories about existence
While not matching any known creature, some argue the sirrush could have been a genuine animal.
- German archeologist Robert Koldewey, who discovered the Ishtar Gate 1902, seriously considered the notion that the sirrush was real. He argued that its depiction in Babylonian art was consistent over many centuries, while those of mythological creatures changed, sometimes drastically, over the years. He also noted that the sirrush is shown on the Ishtar Gate alongside real animals, the lion and the rimi (aurochs), leading him to speculate the sirrush was a creature the Babylonians were familiar with.
- Adrienne Mayor argues that ancient civilizations often took great care in excavating, transporting and reassembling fossils, raising the possibility that it represents a Babylonian reconstruction of sauropod remains. The griffin and other mythical creatures may have been based on similar reconstructions by this reasoning. However, Willy Ley wrote that, as of the late 1950's, no fossil beds are known around Mesopotamia. Others have noted a resemblance to monitor lizards, speculating that Babylonians may have seen or captured monitors and based the sirrush upon them.
- Willy Ley suggested that the sirrush could be based on an animal that the Babylonians have heard of but that did not live in Mesopotamia. Ley proposed that since bricks of a similar type that those of the Ishtar Gate have been found around Africa, this means the Babylonians could have heard of or seen the animal somewhere else in Africa. The cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans notes that the sirrush was similar to a type of dinosaur, the sauropods. Heuvelmans then suggested that the sirrush of the Ishtar gate and the persisting rumours of sauropod-like surviving dinosaurs in Central Africa, for example Mokele Mbembe is related, and that the sirrush is based on actual unknown reptiles living in Central Africa at that time and that may still be alive.
- Another possibility is the Elasmotherium, or "Giant Unicorn," another beast fitting the approximate description.
- Book of Fabulous Beasts, Giants, Monsters, and Dragons pg 260, Waterdragon, Dict, Illiana, Morgeu, Shadowlands
- Jerome Clark (1993). Unexplained! 347 Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena. Detroit: Visible Ink Press.
- Bernard Heuvelmans (1958). On The Track Of Unknown Animals. New York: Hill and Wang.
- Willy Ley (1959). Exotic Zoology. New York: Viking Press.
- Karl Shuker (1995). In Search of Prehistoric Survivors. London: Blandford. ISBN 0-7137-2469-2
- Bengt Sjögren (1980). Berömda vidunder, Settern ISBN 91-7586-023-6 (Swedish)