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Amulet with a figure of Lamashtu

From Mesopotamia, around 800 BC

A demonic divinity who preys on mothers and children

This is a protective image of Lamashtu, a fearsome female divinity of the underworld, intended to keep evil at bay. Although she is usually described in modern works as a demon, the writing of her name in cuneiform suggests that in Babylonia and Assyria she was regarded as a kind of goddess. Unlike the majority of demons, who acted only on the commands of the gods, Lamashtu practised evil apparently for its own sake and on her own initiative. There is a cuneiform incantation on the reverse to frighten her away.

Lamashtu's principal victims were unborn and new-born babies. Slipping into the house of a pregnant woman, she tries to touch the woman's stomach seven times to kill the unborn baby, or she kidnaps the child. Magical measures against Lamashtu included wearing a bronze head of Pazuzu. Some of these plaques show a bedridden man rather than a pregnant woman, so they seem to relate to Lamashtu as a bringer of disease.

Lamashtu is described in texts as having the head of a lion, the teeth of a donkey, naked breasts, a hairy body, stained hands, long fingers and finger nails, and the talons of a bird. Plaques also show her suckling a piglet and a whelp while she holds snakes in her hands. She stands on her sacred animal, the donkey, which is sometimes shown in a boat, riding through the underworld.

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More information

Bibliography

H.W.F. Saggs, Babylonians (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

J. Black and A. Green, Gods, demons and symbols of -1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

Dimensions

Width: 2.500 inches
Length: 5.000 inches

Museum number

ME 117759

WCO23875

Location

Find in the collection online


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