The so-called Lion of Babylon (Asad Bābil) is a 2600-year-old black basalt statue of a lion trampling a man. It was initially thought that the statue was built by king Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (605-562 BC), especially because it was discovered in 1876 by a German archaeological mission in the ancient city. More recently however, more archaeologists support the theory that the statue was created by Hittites who lived in Babylon in the second millennium BC. Hoever created it, the statue became a national symbol for Iraq. It would symbolize strength and resilience and is associated with the goddess Ishtar, one of her primary symbols being a Mesopotamian lion. The statue’s back has marks indicating a saddle upon which the goddess Ishtar would’ve sat as part of the original composition.
Today, the 2.6 meters long majestic statue stands lonely in the northern end of the Processional Way. The singular landmark is extensively featured in official Iraqi imagery, both before and during the rule of the Ba‘th Party. The World Monuments Fund intervened in 2013 due to the deteriorating state of the statue. The lion was cleaned, reinforced and restored after which new signs were added to protect the lion from visitors and tourists.
The Iraq national football team features the Lion of Babylon statue as its association crest. The team is known by its fans as Usūd al-Rāfidayn, the Lions of Mesopotamia. This is a reference to the famed Mesopotamian lion, which the aforementioned statue is based on. The Lion of Babylon was also an Iraqi locally manufactured T-72 battle tank during the late 1980s. The tank saw service in the 1991 Persian Gulf War as well as the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Omer Sayadi (*1993) is a former student of the Catholic University of Leuven with a special love for the Middle East and North Africa. After receiving his Master’s degree in Arabic Language and Islamic Studies, he’s working with both refugees from the region as well as foreigners seeking to learn the Dutch language. He wrote columns on Islam in Europe and migration, and started MENA Symbolism as a means of combining everything history, politics, symbolism and society in one place.