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Work Plaque for protection against the female demon Lamashtu

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Mesopotamia

Plaque de conjuration contre la Lamashtu, dite "plaque des enfers''

© 2009 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Mesopotamia

Author(s):
Castor Marie-José

Intended to be hung over the patient's bed, this plaque afforded protection from the terrible female demon Lamashtu, who appears on the front. She was believed to cause many illnesses. Her husband Pazuzu, shown on the back, is invoked to persuade her to go away and thus speed the patient's recovery.

Characters in an exorcism ceremony

The exorcism scene is divided into registers. In the upper register, symbols represent the great cosmic gods that are invoked to heal the sick person: the sun of Shamash, the crescent moon of Sin, the lightning bolt of the storm god Adad, and the winged disc of Ashur, the supreme god of the Assyrian Empire. The seven spirits in the second register, each with a different animal's head, probably have a beneficial function: they seem to be symbolically guarding the door of the patient's bedchamber. The patient is in the third register, lying on a high bed surrounded by two figures dressed in fish skins like the spirits associated with Ea, god of the depths and wisdom. They are probably the priestly exorcists who are conducting the ritual, with the help of three animal-headed spirits.

Driving out evil spirits

The causes of the illness appear in the lower register. Lamashtu, sitting on a donkey in a boat, is twice as big as all the other characters. She is presented as physically fearsome, with a hairy body, lion's head, and talons. She is holding snakes and suckling two lion cubs. An inscription describes her as "furious and cruel, a dazzling goddess; she is a she-wolf; she snatches the young man on the path, the girl at play, the child from the arms of his nurse." The boat is sailing along a river full of fish, which symbolizes the world of Apsu - the underworld that is home to demons. The gifts and provisions at the side of the scene are meant to encourage her to set off on her journey back to the underworld. Pazuzu is standing behind Lamashtu, with one arm raised. Even though his gesture may seem threatening and, with his scaly winged body, dragon's head, scorpion's tail, and talons, he is physically as fearsome as his spouse, he is nonetheless there to protect the patient by coaxing his wife to retreat. Pazuzu is again seen looming up above the scene clinging on to the back of the plaque. Documents and objects that give protection from Lamashtu's evil doings were widespread in the 1st millennium in Mesopotamia, a period in which this type of belief seems to have flourished.

Technical description

  • Plaque de conjuration contre la Lamashtu, dite "plaque des enfers''

    Époque néo-assyrienne

  • Bronze

    H. : 13,80 cm. ; L. : 8,80 cm. ; Pr. : 2,50 cm.

  • Ancienne collection De ClercqDon H. de Boisgelin, 1967 , 1967

    Known as the "Hell Plaque"

    AO 22205

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Mesopotamia, 2nd and 1st millennia BC
    Room 227

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