SEMIMYTHICAL BEAST of the Middle East.

Etymology: Akkadian (Semitic) word, translated 
as “dragon.” Plural, sirrushu. The proper 
decipherment is now considered to be Mushush 
or Musrush (plural, mushushu or musrushu), 
“glamorous snake.”

Physical description: Covered with scales. 
Head like a snake’s, with folds of skin. Single 
vertical horn on its head. Forked tongue. Long, 
maned neck. Front legs of a lion. Back legs of an 
eagle. Slender tail.

Significant sightings: This DRAGONlike animal 
appears on bas-reliefs adorning the Ishtar Gate, 
an arch built by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar 
II in the sixth century B.C. that became 
the chief ceremonial entrance to the city of 
Babylon. The king’s inscription reads, in part: 
“I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the 
gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious 
splendor so that people might gaze on them in 
wonder.” The wild bulls were probably Aurochs 
(Bos primigenius), which survived in Europe 
until the seventeenth century. The gate was excavated 
in 1902 by Robert Koldewey near Baghdad, 
Iraq, and is currently located in the Pergamon 
Museum in Berlin. Sirrushu also appear in 
other Babylonian works of art and on cylinder 
seals dating from as long ago as 2300 B.C.

In the Old Testament apocryphal book Bel 
and the Dragon, Nebuchadnezzar II is said to 
have kept a living dragon in the Temple of Bel 
(from the Aramaic baal, “lord”) in Babylon. It 
may be this animal that is depicted on the Ishtar 
Gate. The book was written as an addition to 
the Book of Daniel in the second century B.C.

Possible explanations: 
(1) A depiction of a MOKELE-MBEMBE from 
Central Africa or a distorted version based 
on travelers’ tales about such a creature. The 
extent of Mesopotamian knowledge about 
Central Africa in the sixth century B.C. is 
unknown. The Babylonians and the 
Assyrians before them were not particularly 
renowned for their seafaring prowess, but 
their conquests and trading ventures put 
them into contact with people who were. In 
particular, the Egyptians may have had 
contact with rain forest cultures as early as 
3000 B.C. and were probably the first to 
circumnavigate Africa about the same time 
that the Ishtar Gate was built. 
(2) Robert Koldewey identified the Sirrush 
as an iguanodontid dinosaur, a family of 
heavily built, bipedal or quadrupedal 
herbivores known from the Cretaceous of 
Europe and North Africa. 
(3) An unknown reptile from the Tigris 
marshes, perhaps the AFA, suggested by 
Peter Costello. 
(4) The Desert monitor (Varanus griseus), 
suggested by Burchard Brentjes. This 
brownish-yellow lizard grows up to 3–4 feet 
long and is found from North Africa to 
(5) An imaginary animal incorporating 
certain characteristics of the Cheetah 
(Acinonyx jubatus), proposed by Robert 

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