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Lamassu are creatures originally from Mesopotamian Mythology — Sumerian, Babylonian and Akkadian myth, specifically — where they were depicted as winged, human-headed bulls or lions, usually either with horns or horned hats, and characterized as protective, divine beings. They were typically described as female entities; less commonly, a largely similar creature called a shedu appeared as their male counterpart.

In modern fantasy, lamassu (often spelled "lammasu" instead) are a somewhat rare choice for creatures — they're fairly obscure, and better-known, similar beings from other mythologies are often used in their stead — but still have their share of representation. They're often used as a more exotic alternative to sphinxes, and tend to share their characterization as wise, ancient mystical beings found in deserts and southern lands. They're also a popular choice when a work or a setting is based on Middle Eastern or Babylonian themes.

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The precise distinction between lammasu and shedu is often highly varied. In some cases, only one type is present — usually lammasu — and that is that. In others, either type may be the male or female of the same species, or two distinct One Gender Races. Similarly, they may be only lion- or bull-bodied, or the two types may be distinguished by which animal they resemble. Horns may or may not be present in any given depiction.

For creatures with similar appearances, connotations and preferred stomping grounds, see Our Sphinxes Are Different. For other winged, lion-bodied or sometimes human-headed mythical creatures, see Our Gryphons Are Different and Our Manticores Are Spinier. Subtrope of Mix-and-Match Critters and Beast with a Human Face. May overlap with Mesopotamian Monstrosity.


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Examples

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    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering: In the game's history, there have been only two lammasu creature cards:
    • Hunted Lammasu, depicted with a bull-like body, wings and a bearded and horned human head, appeared in the original Ravnica block. Lammasu ruled the world's prairies in the past, before Ravnica's urban growth covered it entirely, and now endlessly roam its skies as they flee ancient enemies.
    • Venerable Lammasu, from the Asian-inspired plane of Tarkir, resembles the former, but with a face covered by a black mask with four horn-like projections. Tarkir's lammasu roam far above the world on inscrutable errands of their own, and are known to appear on the eves of great events.

    Film - Animation 
  • In Aladdin, a golden statue of this sort appears among the hoards of treasure in the Cave of Wonders.

    Film - Live Action 

    Literature 
  • The City of Brass: The shedu are winged lions and the emblem of the Nahid dynasty, who were the original rulers of the djinn. The Nahid trained them and brought them to their capital city, but they slowly vanished from the world alongside other magical creatures and haven't been seen for centuries by the time of the series.
  • Dracopedia: Dracopedia: The Bestiary describes the shedu and lamassu as being two related creatures from the Middle East that have historically been confused together. The shedu resmebles a lion with shimmering wings and draconic hindquarters, lacking any of the human-like features of its mythological counterpart, while the lamassu is more properly referred to as the buraq and is instead shown as a winged bull with a feathery tail.
  • Fablehaven: Bull-bodied lammasus are among the creatures found in the Living Mirage, a hidden preserve holding creatures more powerful, mythical or independent than those found in typical sanctuaries. They are creatures of light, and among those that answer the Fairy Queen's summons to battle the demons at the end of the series finale.
  • The Magician's Nephew has a bull with a human head as one of the many mythical creatures living in Narnia. It's not mentioned as having wings, however, so it's unclear whether it's supposed to be a lammasu-type creature or not.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The lamassu originated as a Sumerian protective deity, typically identified as female and referred to as Lamma. While Lamma was depicted as a winged human in the manner of most then-current deities, in Assyrian times the myth morphed into that of the hybrid lamassu, an entity with wings, a human head, and a lion or bull body. Lamassu were typically portrayed as protective figures, originally appearing as household protectors and later often being placed as guardian statues at city gates. Lamassu statues had the peculiarity of being carved so as to seem to be standing when viewed from the front and walking when viewed from the side; additionally, when seen in a walking pose, the leg that is closest to the viewer is always put forward, creating a kind of Ambidextrous Sprite effect. This is sometimes interpreted as them having five legs, one between and behind the front pair.
    • The shedu, a less common variant, seems to have been the lamassu's male counterpart.
  • Lamassu iconography is believed to have influenced the ancient Israelites during periods of Assyrian and Babylonian rule. The recurring motif of a mixture of human, lion, bull and eagle traits — such as an angelic being seen by the prophet Ezekiel and the four figures associated with the four evangelists — is believed to originate from the motif of the lamassu and other Mesopotamian mythical beings combining elements of these four creatures.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Lammasus, which resemble winged lions with human heads, are noble, compassionate, very literally Always Lawful Good beings who live in ruins and abandoned temples in the desert, where they spend much of their time contemplating how to promote goodness and combat evil. They are often sought out for their wisdom, magic and power; they receive good-hearted people gladly, but tolerate no evil visitors. They can cast spells as if they were clerics, and breathe fire.
    • Shedim, singular shedu, have the bodies of either winged bulls or winged equines and humanoid heads resembling those of dwarves; males typically wear large, braided beards. Aspects of their appearance have varied between editions; early art tends to favor equine bodies, while later illustrations tend more towards bovine ones. Additionally, later editions tend to give them horns and a fifth leg between and behind their front pair. Like lammasus, shedim are inveterate champions of good and use their ability to shift into the Astral Plane to combat evil creatures found there, especially the githyanki.
  • GURPS: The GURPS Horror setting The Madness Dossier draws heavily on Mesopotamian Mythology, with all of the creatures from that source being monstrosities, but its terminology and imagery are a little different to some games and stories. In particular, the kusarikku are centaur-like bull-men, with human heads and torsos on bull bodies, and are hugely strong with powers of temperature control, while the šedu are winged humanoids of inhuman beauty who could be taken for angels, an overseer caste among the monsters who seek to rule humanity.
  • Pathfinder:
    • Lammasu have lion bodies, eagle wings, and human heads adorned with flowing beards and regal jewelry. They live in deserts, often among ancient ruins, and are noble defenders of the good and helpless against evil. Lammasu are naturally given to being protective and mentoring of younger and weaker creatures, although they often come across as superior and patronizing. They are related to the buraq, human-headed pegasi with similar personalities.
    • Shedus resemble winged bulls with horned human heads. Like lammasus, they're powerful champions of good who live in ruins, caves and ancient temples in desert lands. Shedus are healers by nature; their innate magic is geared towards undoing physical harm and curing disease, and shedus put this to use by combating illness and opposing those who would spread plague. They're also naturally prescient, and can see how any choice they make will impact their own futures.
  • Troika: One of the pre-rolled playable characters is the "Skeptical Lammasu", described as having the body of a bull, head of a man, forelegs of a cat, and wings of a swan. Lammasu are divine beings whose natural home is in the clouds and who are capable of doing magic.
  • Warhammer: Lammasu are creatures native to the Dark Lands that occur as mutations of the more common Great Taurus, a species of demonic winged bulls, and are strongly associated the Chaos Dwarfs as part of the latter's Babylonian aesthetic and prominent bull motifs. Lammasu share their base species' taurine bodies and batlike wings, but have the heads of distorted, monstrous dwarfs. In contrast to the Mesopotamian lamassu, who were benevolent protective spirits, the Warhammer Lammasu are manipulative creatures that use their charisma and magical abilities to befuddle their enemies and compel other monsters, such as Wyverns and Griffons, to do their fighting for them. Lammasu are most often encountered as mounts for Chaos Dwarf sorcerers, but many question whether it is the rider or mount that is the master in their relationship.

    Video Games 
  • Axiom Verge 2: Within the world of Kiengir there is a large machine creature known as the Lamassu, who has a human head on top of a four-legged body, which is worshiped as a god.
  • God Eater: Dyaus Pita and Prithvi Mata resemble giant panthers, but the former's face is that of an old bearded man, while the latter's is that of a woman. This gives them both a wider range of expressions compared to other Aragami, with some characters commenting that, despite their feral appearance, they look cunning and cruel.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic: VI features Lamasus that are drastically different from either the mythical or fantasy versions, being corrupted attempts by the Necropolis faction to fuse humans and manticores to create stronger beastmen. The resulting creatures were badly-made and short-lived, but the Necropolis mages simply raised them as undead. The resulting horrors resemble cadaverous lions with bladed tails, draconic wings and human heads, and spread rot and disease wherever they go.

    Webcomics 
  • Skin Deep: Lamassus possess bull bodies, human heads, six horns and wings, and are usually female; shedu are much the same, but have bull bodies and tend to be male. They closely resemble sphinxes, but are separate creatures.

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