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Guardians of the Middle East

Animal imagery was regularly used in the ancient Near East as religious symbolism. The usage of lions, which were native to the region, was prominent from around 3000 BCE.

Image Credit: Konstantinos Fais

Although its symbolism slightly shifted through time, the theme of the lion was pre-eminently a symbol of power, divinity, and overcoming adversity. Kings commonly likened themselves to these creatures because of their ability to defend territory as well as their control of the natural world. They are found in literature, reliefs, and megalithic art.

During the Uruk period, the display of the lion became especially prominent and began to speak to the power of the king. In the context of protection, lions were set up in pairs to guard royal passageways and ritual spaces. As the region began to organize into city-states, the temple began to play a greater role in society, with giant statues of lions protecting its doors. In the Akkadian Empire, Sargon used religion to legitimize his rule, linking kingship and priesthood.

During the Achaemenid Persian Empire, the symbol of the lion became more prominent, being used in textiles, carpets, and beyond.


An extra special thanks to our collaborator, Konstantinos Fais. All images have been used with permission; his bio is included below:

Based in Greece, Konstantinos Fais is an artist, researcher, and author with an interest in ancient history. Currently, he is undertaking a project called "Guardians of the Middle East" in which he depicts major sites and megalithic finds from the Middle Eastern region.


Works cited:

Salive, Natalie. Lions and Kings: The Transformation of Lions as an Index of Power in the Middle East. 2017.

Achaemenid Persian Griffin Capital at Persepolis | Studio Michael Shanks ~ Stanford.

“Iraq’s Ancient City of Babylon Gets Long-Overdue International Recognition.” Middle East Institute,

“Unrivalled Riches of Nimrud, Capital of World’s ‘First’ Empire.” BBC News, 6 Mar. 2015,

“Ain Dara Temple Footsteps.”,


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