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Near Eastern Antiquities : Mesopotamia

Statuette of the demon Pazuzu with an inscription
Start of the first millennium BC
© R.M.N.
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Technical information
Statuette of the demon Pazuzu with an inscription
Start of the first millennium BC
Mesopotamia, Iraq
H: 15 cm; L: 8.6 cm; Depth: 5.6 cm
Purchased 1872
MNB 467
Near Eastern Antiquities
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Patricia Kalensky
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Statuette of the demon Pazuzu with an inscription

Pazuzu was one of the demon-gods of the underworld, although he was sometimes invoked to beneficial ends. This bronze statuette is one of the finest representations of the figure. The inscription covering the back of the wings describes the demon's personality: "I am Pazuzu, son of Hanpa, king of the evil spirits of the air which issues violently from mountains, causing much havoc."

A hybrid mythological being

Pazuzu first appeared in the 1st millennium BC in hybrid form, with the body of a man and the head of a scowling dragon-snake which also has both canine and feline features. He is represented as a spirit with two pairs of wings and talons like those of birds of prey. He also has a scorpion's tail and his body is usually depicted covered in scales.

A spirit invoked for protection

The inscription on the back of the wings describes the figure's personality: "I am Pazuzu, son of Hanpa, king of the evil spirits of the air which issues violently from mountains, causing much havoc." The demon Pazuzu was associated with ill winds, particularly the west wind which brought the plague. His terrifying, scowling face and his scaly body repel the forces of evil, which meant that in certain circumstances the figure was considered a protective spirit. Pazuzu, a demon from the hellish underworld, had the power of repelling other demons, and was thus invoked for beneficial ends, particularly to drive his wife Lamashtu back to the underworld. Lamashtu was a demoness who attacked men to infect them with various diseases.

A popular image during the Assyrian period

Pazuzu was widely depicted in Assyrian art of the 1st millennium BC in the form of numerous bronze statuettes and protective amulets, made in a variety of materials ranging from plain terracotta to precious steatite or jasper. During this period, many beliefs and magical practises were associated with Pazuzu. The ring at the top of the statuette suggests that this type of object was worn round the neck or hung up in the home, particularly where invalids were sleeping. Other examples of demon-gods of the underworld, including Bes and Humbaba, are also attested in the Orient of antiquity.

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Thematic Trail

The Great Goddess of Fertility
From the early Neolithic period until the fall of Babylon, Mesopotamian religious thought appears to have been marked by the image of a goddess who incarnated the natural forces of fertility and fecundity. The most developed form of this was the image of Ishtar, who was the subject of many myths.

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