Ancient Zodiacs, Star Names, and Constellations: Essays and Critiques


Critique of Willy Hartner's Astronomical Interpretation of Lion-Bull Iconography by Gary D. Thompson

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Critique of Willy Hartner's Astronomical Interpretation of Lion-Bull Combat Iconography

The lion-bull motif is a persistent Near Eastern motif. The lion and the bull have an important place in the iconography and mythology of the Near East. (The tiger and water buffalo is present in the iconography of India.) The use of a lion attacking a bull scene (lion attacking bull, biting into its hindquarters) was a very popular motif in the ancient world. The lion and the bull are among the earliest figures to appear on coinage. The best example of this usage is the mid 6th-century BCE coinage of the Lydians. By this time the lion attack motif was already in use in mainland Greece. Human-animal contest/combat scenes were also common. Contests between heroes and animals first appeared on cylinder seals in the late 4th-millennium BCE. By the middle of the 3rd-millennium BCE the combatants, which might include mythological opponents, had assumed heroic status. The contest was a favorite subject during the Akkadian period. In Western cultures, the the lion-bull symplegma is thought to represent royal power and the eternal struggle of cosmic forces. The worlds of the ancient Mesopotamians and Persians were connected with nature. Ancient people observed the ways in which natural forces disrupted human events and activities. A number of scholars believe that the bull and lion represent binary oppositions in nature: night and day, sun and moon, heat and cold, etc.

Scenes of combat/contest are constantly depicted throughout the whole history of Mesopotamia, especially on cylinder seals. The combat/contest scene was one of the most popular subjects in the iconography (glyptic art) of the ancient Near East (especially Mesopotamia). The combatants/contestant depicted were mostly drawn from the natural world and consisted mostly of bulls, deer, lions and other felines such as leopards and cheetahs. There are only relatively few examples of of mythical beasts such as griffins. (The bestiary on cylinder seals is diverse. As examples: The lion appears in combat scenes with a horse (which can also be a winged horse). The dragon (which can also be a winged dragon) is attacking a lion in some scenes but a bull in others. The ostrich appears with a man in one combat/contest scene and also appears behind the lion in another scene of a man-lion combat.) Of all these animal combat/contest scenes, those depicting the bull and the lion are the most common and the most widespread. Depictions of lion-bull combat/contest were continually produced throughout all periods of cuneiform civilisation in Mesopotamia. Predator attacking prey was common during the Qajar period (circa 1880-1920 CE). However, combat/contest scenes were most popular throughout the 3rd-millennium BCE.

Animal combat/contest scenes were one of the principal subjects of cylinder seals, and date from as early as the Uruk Period. (A cylinder seal is a type of object that is often subject to reuse (re-carving). This re-use results in a prolongation of its useful life. However, it does present problems with its dating.) Interestingly, the combat/contest scenes on the early seals from the Uruk and Jemdet Nasr periods depict domesticated animals being attacked by wild animals. Animal combat/contest scenes from the late 4th-millennium usually generally represent a lion attacking a bull from behind. The depicted reaction of bull to the lion attack is usually expressed only by the turn of the head. This depiction was later developed into a front-facing combat/contest. Seals from Elam show a variation on the naturalistic depictions of Mesopotamia. An impression of a Proto-Elamite clay tablet from Susa dating to circa 2900 BCE shows a lion and bull adopting human poses. In this depiction the lion shoots an arrow at a bull, while a 2nd bull uses a club to strike a lion on the head. Another Elamite seal depicts a bull standing upright on its hind legs dominating 2 lions and a lion in the same posture dominating 2 bulls.

The symbolic meaning of Mesopotamian animal contest scenes i.e., lion-bull combat/contest scenes depicted on cylinder seals (and also other items), which are a recurring theme in Mesopotamian art, has been lost. (According to the Assyryiologist Gwendolyn Leick in her book A Dictionary of Near Eastern Mythology (1991), Plate 44: "They used to be associated with Gilgames, but they may refer to a quite different tradition which has no known literary parallel.") (Cylinder seals are closely connected with the innovation of writing on clay tablets. Cylinder seals were a means of control and authority. A cylinder seal is basically a personal object inscribed to establish the identity of its owner with his sealings. (Note: Cylinder seals of particular materials also had amuletic value.) Cylinder seals are small spool-shaped objects that were usually made of stone. (Cylinder seals were designed to be small, pierced, and easily portable.) A vast variety of imagery was carved on the outside surface of cylinder seals in reverse so that it would appear as a relief in positive on the clay surface it was rolled out on. (More rarely they had both a design and inscription carved on the outside surface.) Early cylinder seals often had a handle on top but by circa 3000 BCE they were pieced longitudinally (i.e., perforated vertically) to enable them to be worn on a cord around the neck or wrist, or on a pin suspended from clothing. In this manner they were also used as amulets or items of jewellery. Cylinder basically had an administrative purpose. Their impression formed an official, individualised seal. Beginning the 3rd-millennium BCE the cylinder seals replaced stamp seals introduced in the 5th-millennium BCE. They were in use from circa 3400 BCE til circa 400 BCE as a sealing device for marking ownership (and protecting property). In the Old Babylonian period they were particularly used for sealing letters and contracts written on clay. For reasons of security, identity status, and adornment they travelled with their owners or users. (Throughout the history of Mesopotamia contracts were held in great esteem.) The name of the seal owner was frequently included and they were used as identifiers in commercial transactions and served to uniquely identify a person or institution. (An automatic signature device.) Their rolled impressions marked containers and documents related to the exchange of goods. Other items depicting lion-bull combat/contest scenes range from pitchers and jars to the stairway walls at Persepolis. (Persepolis is a Greek name of one of the capitals of the ancient Achaemenid Empire.) Basically, the meaning of cylinder seal symbolism remains elusive. No explanations for them exist within the material recovered from ancient Mesopotamia. Adding to the difficulty of modern interpretation is the fact that the designs on cylinder seals vary from region to region and also changed over time.

Jean-Paul Roux believes the answer to the question of the animal combat/contest is to be found in Central Asian shamanism ("Le combat d'animaux dans l'art et la mythologie irano-turcs." in: Arts Asiatique, Tome 36, 1981, Pages 5-11). However, bulls and lions are found among the fabulous beasts in heraldic groups in the so-called proto-Elamite glyptic art of north-western Iran. Pierre Amiet, Conservateur en Chef, Departement des Antiquites Orientales at the Louvre, holds that those associations may simply stand for "elementary powers charged with the stability of the world."

Though particular to Mesopotamia, under Mesopotamian influence their use and iconography were adapted in neighbouring countries. The lion-bull symplegma can be found in numerous Near Eastern cultures in a clear line of historical transmission. It passed from culture to culture during periods of contact, with each new group expressing the symbol with its own emphasis.

The lion-bull combat/contest scene has proved difficult to interpret. Modern attempts to recover the meaning of cylinder seal symbolism need to ensure that a suitable standard of evidence is being brought to bear on the problem - to ensure we are not reading into any of the scenes depicted meanings which were not intended to be conveyed. The interpretation that the bull is being defeated by the lion may not be correct. A more suitable/accurate term would perhaps be 'attacking lion.' There are a number of different ways in which the lion is depicted attacking prey animals (and without forming a symplegma). These include: forward attack, side/back attack, and rear attack. It has been commented that in the wild it is usual for a group of female lions to attack a large prey. A single male lion depiction is likely about status and power. However, we know that male lions are large prey specialists. In the wild it is not necessarily usual for a group of female lions to attack a large prey. We know that a single male lion will attack a buffalo bull weighing over 700kg and also a rhinoceros. The lion nearly always leaps onto the lower part of an animal's back and will remain hanging there until the prey is tired. It is only then that the lion proceeds to kill its victim. (However, In the wild it is not unusual for a group of female lions to attack a large prey.) On the Acropolis, on one of the gables of the Old Athena Temple (Archaios Neos) built on the north side of the Acropolis circa 600 BCE, and also on the old Bluebeard Temple (Hekatompedon) built circa 550 BCE, there are depictions of lions savaging a bull. (See: "The "Lion Attack" in Archaic Greek Art: Heroic Triumph." by Glenn Markoe (Classical antiquity, Volume 8, Number 1, April, Pages 86-115).)

In their 1964 essay "The Conquering Lion," Willy Hartner and Richard Ettinghausen express their belief that undoubtedly the significance of the motif has changed over time. They see the lion-bull combat/contest as an astronomical symbol in its earliest occurrences, thereafter a symbol of royalty, and finally a religious motif. This view is supported by Mirjam Gelfer-Jørgensen: "Thus these animal combat motifs, once their precise significance from days gone by has faded away, can in the long run become a symbol of the forces of renewal, a kind of life-giving symbol (Medieval Islamic Symbolism and the Paintings of the Cefalū Cathedral by Mirjam Gelfer-Jørgensen (Page 120))." A possible scenario for change in the significance of the motif may be from astronomical symbol to symbol of royal power then to symbol of seasonal change (i.e., the lion as symbol of summer, defeats the bull a symbol of winter).

The lion-bull combat/contest motif also made an appearance in Islamic court art. Two examples are: (1) the 11th-century CE Umayyed Andalusian ivories with images of a bull attacking a lion, and (2) the 12th-century entrance gateway of the Great Mosque in Diyarbakir (a city in southeastern Turkey) showing a lion-bull combat/contest on either side. (See: Late Antique and Medieval Art of the Mediterranean World by Eva Hoffman (2007, Page 340).) Another description of this latter depiction is given along the lines of: A limestone bas-relief, of a lion crouched on the back of a fleeing bull, and digging his claws into the flanks of the bull and sinking its teeth into the bull's neck for the kill, is set into the basalt gateway arch of the walled citadel at the heart of the ancient city of Diyarbakir in southeastern Anatolia. The lion-bull combat/contest depiction was carved into the fortress gate circa 1200 CE when the Artuqids, a Mesopotamian dynasty, ruled the region. 

Attempts to reasonably identify animal contest scenes (such as lion-bull combat/contest scenes) have broadly varied between naturalistic and astronomical explanations. It is certainly not established, however, that the lion-bull iconography has a single intended meaning. (Two influential studies for an astronomical interpretation of lion-bull combat/contest scenes are: "The Lion and the Unicorn" by the art historian Cyril Bunt (Antiquity, Volume IV, 1930, Pages 425-437); and "The Earliest History of the Constellations in the Near East and the Motif of the Lion-Bull Combat" by the science historian Willy Hartner (Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Volume XXIV, 1965, Numbers 1 and 2, Pages 1-16, and Plates 1-XVI).) Both Bunt and Hartner argued for Lion and Bull constellations being depicted. Hartner's method for relating pre-literate era lion-bull combat/contest iconography to the sky consisted of working back in time, on the basis of precession, to achieve a "matching" situation with the positions of the historical lion and bull constellations. Hartner interpreted/speculated that the Lion was the constellation Leo and that the Bull was the constellation Taurus (their earliest appearances in the sky as constellations). This method invites scepticism. (In his article "On the Origin of the Zodiacal Constellations" (Vistas in Astronomy, Volume 36, 1993, Page 181) the astronomer and historian Alexander Gurshtein credits Hartner's 1965 article as a strong stimulus for his own method of constellation reconstruction.) Hartner was actually seeking to substantiate Hezfeld's earlier conjecture.

Hartner termed the lion-bull symplegma motif the "Lion-Bull Combat." He associated this motif with the development of the Near Eastern agricultural calendar; specifically the marking of the beginning of Spring (in February, 4000 BCE) by the meridian crossing of the Lion constellation and the simultaneous setting of the Bull constellation. Hartner's 'calculations' were for the latitude of the city of Ur, for the night of February 10, 4000 BCE. Some problems with Hartner's assumption's and claims were discussed in the Bulletin (1988, Issues 13-24) of the (Canadian) Society for Mesopotamian Studies. Some kind of system for determining key times in the agricultural cycle would have been very important to the early farmers of the ancient Near East. However, calendars were not a prerequisite for the development of agriculture. In the period before the development of writing early farmers may have simply depended on knowledge of the seasons from changing seasonal temperatures, changes in vegetation, animal births, the flight of birds, onset of rains, or the flooding of rivers.

Hartner's influential interpretation of the lion-bull combat/contest motif, as evidence for fourth millennium BCE Lion and Bull constellations being used as seasonal markers (a 4-constellation zodiac), has received later endorsement by several other astronomers. However, both Assyriologists and historians of Mesopotamian art, with the exception of Ernst Herzfeld, have not done so. (Peter van der Veen has stated (2008) the Pleiades are depicted on many Mesopotamian cylinder seals by the so-called '7 dots' symbol.) As recent as 2002 the David Stronach, the British Archaeologist and expert on ancient Iran, denied the validity of Hartner's interpretation. (See: "Icons and Dominion", Iranica Antiqua, Volume 37, 2002.) (Hartner believed that by February 4000 BCE the Sumerians had originated (for agricultural purposes) a quartet of constellations (i.e., a simple proto-zodiac), comprising the Bull, the Lion, the Scorpion, and the Ibex (later to become the Water Carrier?) marking the 4 tropical points of the sky. Hartner's speculation of an early Ibex constellation remains undemonstrated. A fundamental problem is the "internal evidence" approach to solely argue the case whilst not being able to show that there are any direct supporting statements (or even "hints") contained in any type of texts. (For support by astronomers see: "The Origin of the Zodiac" by Owen Gingerich (Sky and Telescope, Volume 67, 1984, Pages 218-220); "Mathematics and Astronomy in Mesopotamia" by Bartel van der Waerden (Dictionary of Scientific Biography, edited by Charles Gillispie, Volume XV, Supplement 1, 1978, Pages 667-680); "Night Gallery: The Function, Origin, and Evolution of Constellations" by Ed. Krupp (Archaeoastronomy, Volume XV, 2000, Pages 43-63); and "Moon and Megaliths" by John North (Times Literary Supplement, 1971, Pages 633-635).) For confirmation of Ernst Herzfeld's views see Note 6 of Hartner's 1965 paper. Herzfeld's own publications show his liking for astronomical interpretations of mythological themes (see his: Archaeological History of Iran (1934)). (It would appear that the archaeologist and art historian Ernst Herzfeld was the first person to draw attention to the combat/contest depictions on cylinder seals.)

Jack Lindsay proposed (Origins of Astrology, 1971, Page 22) that the lion-bull combat/contest depicted dusk. The lion-star attacks the bull of day.

Hartner never altered his ideas on the astronomical significance of particular early iconography. See his paper on "Old Iranian Calendars" in The Cambridge History of Iran edited by Ilya Gershevitch, Volume 2, Chapter 16, 1985; specifically pages 726-736. Here he argues that particular early iconography is evidence for calendrical concepts using constellations as seasonal markers. His analysis and the case he makes is generally viewed as good but not conclusive.

Archaeologists specialising in the ancient Near East and assyriologists have continued to ignore Hartner's "Lion-Bull Combat" claims. This encompasses Hartner's "Lion-Bull Combat" seasonal marker circa 4000 BCE claim and New Year's festival at Persepolis circa 500 BCE claim. Hartner was basically an astronomer with no background in either period of history he is making claims about. Also, Hartner had no background in art history in either period he is making claims about. (Hartner was trained in Frankfort as a celestial mechanician and later specialised in the history of pre-Newtonian astronomy.) I have not been able to identify any expert art historian who would separate the lion/bull symplegma into 2 separate motifs to give them meaning. I also have not been able to identify any example in ancient art where this has been done. So it is not simply a matter of lack of texts that results in lack of support for Hartner. Helene Kantor (1919-1993), who was a Near Eastern Archeologist and Art Historian in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, was not persuaded. She was an expert in art historical analysis and considered one of the finest interpreters of ancient Near Eastern art. Several astronomers only have endorsed Hartner's ideas a reasonable. Over the past 50 years no supportive texts have been found for Hartner's views. Hartner's other major iconographic venture into astronomical detective work was his book, Die Goldhorner von Gallehus (1969). It would appear that the conclusions of this study were well received by the scholarly community. (See the favourable (English-language) book review by the MIT classicist Harald Reiche in Isis, Volume 64, Number 2, June 1973, Pages 236-239.)

For all of it numerous merits, The Feline-Prey Theme in Archaic Greek Art. Classification-Distribution-Origin-Iconographical Context by Sven von Hofsten (2007) is ultimately influenced by, and the author apparently supportive of, Hartner's "Lion-Bull Combat" viewpoint. (For the merits of this short book see the (English-language) book review by Amalia Avramidou (Northwestern University), Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.03.42.

The lion-bull combat/contest was one of the scenes that was characteristic of Near Eastern art at an early stage. "The animal combat motif can be traced back to the figurate art of the third millennium, where the geometrical motifs are replaced by narrative symbolic representations (Medieval Islamic Symbolism and the Paintings of the Cefalū Cathedral by Mirjam Gelfer-Jørgensen (Page 47))."

The iconographic theme of combat/contest appears to have been introduced with the lion-bull combat/contest depicted on a ewer (i.e., a pitcher) dated to the latter part of the Protoliterate Period circa 3300 BCE, from Warka (= Uruk). (The Protoliterate Period of Uruk extended from 4000 BCE to 3200 BCE. The Late Protoliterate Period for Uruk "began" circa 3400 BCE.) The ewer has a relief depiction of a lion attacking a bull from behind (see: The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, by Henri Frankfort (3rd Revised Impression 1963, Page 12); Man and Images in the Ancient Near East, by Edith Porada (1995, Pages 129-131)). (A cylindrical stone jar from Elam dated circa 2600 BCE has a bestiary and pantheon, including a lion-bull combat/contest scene (see: Ancient Near Eastern Art, by Dominique Collon (1995)).) (Hartner's interpretation, in his 1965 article, of the eight-petaled rosette appearing as a shoulder ornament on lions and being an astral symbol (as early as circa 2500 BCE regarding the statue depicting lions supporting the throne of Innina) is not necessarily correct. (See: Note 11 on Pages 3-4, and Figure 9a: Lions Supporting the Throne of Innina.) The rosette can also have a non-astral meaning. See: "The Identification of Inanna with the Planet Venus" by G. Kurtik (Astronomy and Astrophysics Transactions, Volume 17, 1999, Pages 501-513).)

During the Uruk Period (circa 4000-3100 BCE) the lion was the animal that personified the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who was connected with both love and war. Interestingly, in an early extant religious poem, a Sumerian lament called "The Wild Bull Who Has Lain Down and Died," the goddess Inanna who is associated with the lion) laments the death of her husband Dumuzi, represented in the poem as a bull: "Dumuzi, the slain wild bull lives no more. The slain wild bull lives no more." (See: The Harps That Once by Thorkild Jacobsen (1997, Pages 47-49).)

The lion-bull combat/contest depictions are not, however, consistent. Lions and bulls have appeared commonly as attacker and victim. (Throughout the history of animal combat/contest iconography the lion is chiefly depicted as attacker.) In some of the earliest depictions of the lion and bull in combat/contest both are depicted as achieving supremacy over each other. (For an example from an early Elamite seal see: The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, by Henri Frankfort (3rd Revised Impression 1963, Page 12). "... an Elamite seal of this period [i.e., the Late Protoliterate Period] shows [/depicts] two equivalent groups: a[n upright] bull dominating two lions and a[n upright] lion dominating two bulls.) However, their combat/contest is never actually resolved and they are depicted in perpetual opposition to each other (see: The Power of the Bull, by Michael Rice (1988)). Interestingly, on one Proto-Elamite cylinder seal impression from Susa (circa 2900 BCE) the lion and the bull are depicted standing upright on their hind legs acting out their combat/contest with the lion shooting an arrow at the bull, and the bull responding by striking the lion on the head with a club (see: The Power of the Bull, by Michael Rice (1998)).

Basically, objections to a purely astronomical origin can point to a lack of any other type of supportive evidence for the deductive seasonal marker argument. (From all periods of Mesopotamian history there is still a lack of written sources to enable the certain identification of any of the animal combat/contest iconography.) Also, Hartner's iconographic evidence of any substance does not actually originate circa 4000 BCE (which is the first significance date - precisely February, 4000 BCE - calculated by Hartner for including Lion and Bull constellations as seasonal markers) but some 700 years later. (Hartner's use of a stylized lion-bull depiction on an early Elamite seal dating from the fourth millennium BCE is not really convincing. Whilst the figures are touching they are barely so and hardly form a symplegma (the combat/contest scenes often depict the animals bodies crossed) and hardly make a convincing combat/contest scene.) Hartner's interpretation has not been supported by the content of any early mythological themes or, excepting for the Babylonian practice of recording most constellation names in Sumerian, cuneiform tablets having any astronomical content. On the subject of seal designs Beatrice Goff observes: "Whether myths underlie the designs on any seals of the Uruk Period is very uncertain" (Symbols of Prehistoric Mesopotamia (1963, Page 67). However, whilst efforts to identify mythological themes on Mesopotamian seals have been largely unsuccessful one mythic story known as the "Legend of Etana" has been identified on over twenty seals. It is certainly not demonstrated that the Babylonian practice of recording most constellation names in the Sumerian language establishes Babylonian borrowing of earlier constellations established by the Sumerians. Simply, Sumerian was the Latin of the later Babylonians. The later Babylonians preserved the Sumerian language/writing for ritual and technical (i.e., mathematical and astronomical) purposes. "As the scholars have not been able to trace the use of Sumerian ... it is difficult to say whether some notions expressed in the preserved Sumerian language are in origin Sumerian or are Babylonian notions recorded in anachronistic Sumerian" (Early Astronomy from Babylonia to Copernicus, by William O'Neil (1986, Pages 16-17). The advantage to the Babylonians of adapting Sumerian cuneiform as "ideograms" to their Semitic language was brevity. Words could be easily represented by a single Sumerian word-sign.

Up to and including the Sargonid Dynasty (circa 2350-2230 BCE) astral associations may not be relevant as no traces of Sumerian astronomical texts have yet been identified. Simply, no original Sumerian tablets have been identified as containing significant astronomical content (see the discussion in: Cylinder Seals, by Henri Frankfort (1939, Pages 68, 108, 156-158, & 199-200)). No known Mesopotamian star-list is older than the second millennium BCE. Samuel Kramer's statement in his book The Sumerians (1963) that we have a list of about 25 stars from Sumer probably relied on the assertion by the Assyriologist Ernst Weidner in his article "Fixsterne" (Reallexikon der Assyriologie (Dritter Band 3, 1957-1971)) that we have a star-list dating to the third millennium BCE. However, Weidner, an avid Panbabylonist in his youth, was incorrect and the earliest star-lists mentioned by him actually date from the Old Babylonian Period. Thus the earliest written evidence provides no justification for invoking descriptive astronomy (i.e., constellation figures) as an aid to the explanation of cylinder seal designs of the Sumerian and Akkadian Period.

In his comprehensive article "Das Werden der babylonisch-assyrischen Positions-Astronomie und einige seiner Bedingungen" (Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Band 88, 1934, Pages 302-337) the Assyriologist Albert Schott discusses the complete absence of any traces of Sumerian astronomy or astrology texts. For a recent discussion of the issue of Sumerian astronomy (i.e., star charts) see: Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, by Wayne Horowitz (1998, Pages 166-168). Also, his previous paper in Acta Sumerologica (Japoniensia), Volume 13, 1991, Page 411ff., in which he shows that some star names could have originated during the Ur III Period (i.e., Third Dynasty of Ur, circa 2112-2004 BCE). Specifically, Horowitz makes a case for dating mul-d.sul-gi ("The Old Man"= Perseus) to the Ur III Period. However, such an approach may be legitimate for seal designs of the Old Babylonian Period (circa 1830-1530 BCE). The reason for the difference is we have evidence of (much) later Babylonian usage of such i.e., great gods/goddesses representing the planets and figures symbolizing some of the constellations that were to form part of the 12-constellation zodiac (see: Cylinder Seals, by Henri Frankfort (1939, Pages 156-158)). For a recent attempt to establish the astral nature of kudurru symbols (from the Cassite Period, circa 1530-1160 BCE) see: "Eine neue Interpretation der Kudurru-Symbole," by Ulla Koch, Joachim Schaper, Susanne Fischer, and Michael Wegelin (Archive for History of Exact Sciences, Volume 41, 1990/1991, Pages 93-114). However, the attempts to date kudurru by assuming their iconography has astral significance and then using the arrangement of their iconography to establish astronomical dates is both speculative and unproven. Ursula Seidl, a present-day kudurru expert, maintains in her article "Göttersymbole und -attribute." (Reallexikon der Assyriologie (Dritter Band 3, 1957-1971, Pages 483-490)) that kudurru iconography has no astral significance. (See also her book: Die Babylonischen Kudurru-Reliefs Symbole Mesopotamischer Gottheiten (1989). In this book, regarded as the standard study of kudurru iconography, she maintains her scepticism that kudurru symbols have an astral significance.)

A major objection to Hartner's constellation theory is the sheer variety of animal combatants/contestants depicted. The opponents are not always lions and bulls but a vast variety of different animals. Often the opponent animals are griffins and stags. (Other animals appearing in the scenes of combat/contest are horses, ostriches, and dragons. (See: Cylinder Seals, by Henri Frankfort (1939, Page 203).) Whilst the lion remains the main (though not exclusive) opponent a variety of horned animals appear as victims of the lion i.e., stags, gazelles, goats, ibexes, circa 3000 to 2000 BCE. The iconographic variety involving the types of animals depicted in combat/contest scenes makes an astronomical interpretation difficult. It is not possible that all these animal symplegmas are constellations having a seasonal significance. Interestingly, in Hartner's opinion, the scene of combat between lion and deer is to be regarded as "equivalent" to the scene of combat between lion and bull. (It can not be argued that changes in iconographic animals depicted in combat/contest scenes match precessional changes.)

If the particular lion-bull iconography denoted constellations which were specifically used as seasonal markers why then, when the effect of precession must have noticeably changed their reliability for continued use, were no additional constellations evidently used to re-establish reliability? It cannot be argued that changes in iconographic animals depicted in combat/contest scenes match constellation changes due to the requirement to deal with the effect of precession (on seasonal markers).

Splitting the lion-bull symplegma to interpret it is controversial and not a requirement supported by the most recent interpreters of animal combat/contest scenes. (In any scene depicting a lion and a bull they are seldom depicted separated from each other - they are usually depicted as a symplegma. It would seem to be the intention to depict them as locked together in a perpetual union and a perpetual conflict.)

A significant problem with the astronomical interpretation is the extremely long history and wide diffusion of representations of lion-bull combat/contest; the earliest of which date to the Protoliterate Period. That this combat/contest theme occurs over such a long period of time strongly suggests that it must have a deeper symbolic meaning. However, there is no textual evidence for what this meaning could be.

However, for some, the persistence of the use of the symbol through time and culture is somehow seen as support for Hartner's viewpoint. The lion-bull combat/contest once again became powerful symbol during the short-lived Persian Empire founded by King Cyrus and ending with King Darius III.

The lion-bull combat/contest was a common motif in the relief decoration at Persepolis. The lion is depicted attacking the bull from behind and sinking its claws and teeth into the bull’s rump. The bull is depicted rearing, and turning to face the lion. This motif is a standard filling for corners. Because the lion-bull combat/contest is depicted so frequently at Persepolis, and because it appears in important locations, such as near the throne room, it suggests that this image has an important symbolic significance. The reliefs at Persepolis, the dynastic national shrine of Archaemenid Persia circa 500 BCE, are believed by some scholars to depict the New Year's festival (i.e., the spring festival Norouz). The city of Persepolis is an outstanding complex of palaces and other buildings; but not temples. Here the lion-bull combat/contest appears on a number of carved stone reliefs and decorations on objects (the most prominent being the panel depicting the lion-bull combat/contest located at the southern end of the façade of the western stairway, at the Palace of Darius). (The lion-bull combat/contest decorates the side of the main staircase that leads to the imperial complex at Persepolis. The fact that the lion-bull combat/contest is centrally located on the royal staircase entrance at Persepolis signifies to its important symbolic significance.) (Other scenes of a lion attacking a bull appear on two sides of the stairways at the Apadana (the audience hall, the largest and most magnificent building), and these figures are repeated at each corner of the Apadana.) John Hinnells states: "The motif of a lion attacking a bull occurs twenty-seven times at Persepolis [on the palace facades] and thereafter in much Persian art. Its frequent appearance and key locations (near the throne room) at Persepolis strongly suggest that it had important symbolic significance, but we do not know precisely what it was (Persian Mythology, Revised edition 1985, Page 104).

In their book A History of Zoroastrianism (1982) the authors Mary Boyce and Frantz Grenet (Pages 105-106) write: "In the Persepolis version ... the victim is a noble bull, which rears on its hind legs, turning its head backwards to resist the lion, which is rending its haunches with tooth and claw."

The assertion that the lion-bull combat/contest reliefs at Persepolis depict the New Year's festival (i.e., the spring festival Norouz) is not firmly established. Indeed, the theory of Persepolis as a "ritual city" has been increasingly questioned and rejected. The archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld (the first person to carry out an archaeological investigation of the site) only suggested this idea after attending a contemporary Norouz festival at Persepolis. There are reasons for believing that Persepolis was not permanently settled during its period of use. Consequently, this has also added to the idea that Persepolis was a sacred site used only for performing certain ceremonies and events. There are, however, problems with this idea. The "ritual city" theory has been recently criticised for its lack of evidential support. The argument relies on establishing the assumption that Persepolis was the place where the Persian king celebrated the New Year. Simply, there is no textual evidence. (see the discussion: Calmeyer, Peter. 1980. "Textual Sources for the Interpretation of Achaemenian Palace Decorations." (Iran, Volume 18, Pages 55-63.).) Also, no shrine or temple has yet been identified at Persepolis. This adds further arguments against any ritual activity or function at the site. It has also been pointed out there are no contemporary Old Persian texts that describe a spring festival (i.e., the Norouz festival) being part of Persian rituals circa the 5th-century BCE. The earliest (and only) sources for a description of a Persian spring festival are Arabic and date from the 11th-century CE. However, there is a general acceptance amongst scholars that the Persian Norouz festival was a major festival during the pre-Islamic era in the Mesopotamian basin.

In the entry "Persepolis" the online Encyclopaedia Iranica states: "The aims of Darius, and hence the function of Persepolis, are debated. Many scholars (Herzfeld, 1941, p. 270, Krefter, Erdmann, Ghirshman, and Porada, 1965, pp. 152) maintain that it was built as the site for celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year festival. Others (notably Nylander, 1974; Calmeyer, 1980; Mousavi, p. 206) deny that there is any evidence for celebrating Nowruz in the Achaemenid period, and ergo at Persepolis. Some have seen Persepolis as illustration of royal power (Root, 1979, pp. 153-61 and passim), or a political, economic, and administrative center of the empire, or an observatory for correcting time-reckoning systems. But Darius himself specifies that he was building a stronghold, not a political center (see below), and the case for considering Persepolis as the site of the Nowruz festival cannot be taken lightly (see Shahbazi, 2003)." (For a speculative 'reconstruction' of a supposed New Year's Festival at Perseplis see: "The Persepolis Ritual." by James Fennelly (The Biblical Archaeologist, Volume 43, Number 3, Summer, 1980, Pages 135-162).)

That Persepolis was an astronomical observatory for determining the day of the spring equinox, and that its buildings were arranged in a manner to conduct observations of heavenly bodies is generally regarded as a somewhat unconvincing hypothesis. However, see: Appendix 2: Possible Alignments at Persepolis.

John Hinnells notes that the lion-bull motif occurs 27 times at Persepolis. The pervasiveness would seem to preclude narrowing its significance to a specific time of the year or a specific festival. John Wallace (The Mithras List, February 24, 2003, Message #3780) has commented: "If the lion-bull motif at Persepolis did in fact relate to the New Year's festival (i.e., the spring festival Norouz) by depicting the lion-bull combat/contest shouldn't the city be oriented east-west to the spring equinox? The city is oriented around 24 degrees towards either the summer solstice sunrise (to the NE) or winter solstice sunset (to the SW, which in fact is what the western stairway of Darius' Palace would point towards). If the main astronomical symbolism was the culmination of a sign (e.g., Leo) then we should expect a north-south alignment - but Persepolis lacks this. The Tiragan festival, which fell near the summer solstice, might correspond to the orientation of Persepolis; this would relate to Leo's imminent rising right after the summer solstice but would hardly relate to the bull (unless the bull being moved - due to the rising of the lion/Leo - from a culminating position was seen as significant …. The most famous building, the reception hall known as the "Apadana" (where all of the satrapal countries present their tribute to the king), has its two monumental stairways with bull-lion motifs only on the north and on the east side …. Granted I have introduced the problem of orientation - which may bear no relation to Persepolis (and seems to be otherwise ignored in the discussion of this subject) - but if the lion-bull is related to constellations as "seasonal markers" then they must have had some spatial relationship to the horizon or structures of Persepolis. Finally, all of this may be irrelevant as the lion could just have been a symbol of royal power. I would note that the lion is repeatedly shown on the hem of the king's robe and on his chariot …. Even if the lion refers to Leo it may simply take on the same significance of the Greek season of opora when the fruitfulness of the earth reaches its apex under the heat of the "Dog Days"/Leo; the very tribute presented by the satrapal countries being a result of the king's beneficence - the divine personage who makes the earth fruitful as the winged solar disk/Ahura Mazda's representative on earth."

According to Iranian born Behrouz Far (Associate Professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Calgary) at his Persepolis webpage: "The lateral triangles [on The Central Panel] show the New Year's symbol- the lion devouring the bull. This might be interpreted as the vigorous incoming new year replacing the old. However it has great mythological, astrological and practical importance. In 550 BC the astronomers of Persepolis could still see the constellation of Leo at the zenith, while Taurus (the Pleiades, Regulus, and Canopus) was visible only a few degrees above the southern horizon, completely disappearing in the following days, to reappear only forty days later. This striking constellation occurred only once a year: The triumphant lion in the zenith with the bull escaping below the horizon marked the beginning of the agricultural activity after the winter."

The meaning of this iconography to the Persians, however, appears to be distinctly different to that which Hartner proposed for the Sumerians some 3500 years earlier. At Persepolis the lion-bull iconography is not interpreted as depicting constellations used for seasonal markers. No constellations at all are involved. (Though claims have been made that other constellation symbolism has been found in monuments at Persepolis.) Instead the lion-bull depiction is believed to broadly depict seasonal change. The scholar James Fennely interpreted the lion-bull combat/contest depictions, at Persepolis, as seasonal representations and attempted to use Babylonian texts to support this idea. (See: "The Persepolis Ritual." by James Fennely (Biblical Archaeologist, Volume 43, 1980, Pages 135-162).) The scholar Wolfgang Letz attempted to correlate the siting of Persepolis with astrological/astronomical factors. (The specific reference presently eludes me.) (See the general discussions in: Persia from the Origins to Alexander the Great, by (the art historian) Roman Ghirshman (1964, translated by S. Gilbert and J. Emmons); Persian Architecture, by (the art historian) Arthur Pope (1965); New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, edited by Felix Guirand (1968, translated by Richard Aldington and Delano Ames); and, Persian Mythology, by John Hinnells (1973, specifically page 99.) John Hinnells offers: "One interpretation is that the creatures represent the astrological signs of Leo and Taurus and the sequence of the seasons. As the lion is a symbol of kingship, it may also express the mighty power of the monarch which devours all enemies" (Persian Mythology, Revised edition 1985, Page 104).

The features of the Persepolis reliefs are now not generally regarded as being connected with the ritual of the New Year festival celebrated at the time of the Spring Equinox. The Iranian specialist Peter Calmeyer, an opponent of the ritualist theory, stated ("Textual Sources for the Interpretation of Achaemenian Palace Decorations." (Iran, Volume 18, 1980, Page 61): "To sum up the results: all parallels to the reliefs drawn from contemporary sources point in the same direction; all reliefs are most easily explained as expressions of royalty; none of then has a special religious connection. In the interpretation of the texts they are neither confined to Persepolis nor to a certain time of the year, they are everyday kingship." (The complete article pages are 53-63.)

The first certain example of an animal representing a celestial (zodiacal) sign is the so-called Lion Horoscope at Nemrud Daği (the tomb of king Antiochus I Theos of Commagene), which is four centuries younger (dated circa 70 BCE-31 BCE) than the establishment of Persepolis (dated late 6th-century BCE). The Lion Horoscope is a stone slab measuring 1.75 x 2.40 metres and a thickness of 0.47 metres. It shows a lion marching to the right. (It is also the earliest known calendrical horoscope to appear.) Within the Roman Empire, this type of picture of a horoscopic animal spread rapidly. However, there is no evidence to conclude it had been invented when Persepolis was built.

Mary Boyce and Frantz Grenet in their book A History of Zoroastrianism (1982, Page 106) write: "More probably the combat is merely a symbolical representation of the conflict ... between the king and various horrid monsters that dispute his royal power. The lion is the emblem of triumphant royal majesty, the bull typifies powerful but vanquished force. It seems probable therefore that the lion-and-bull sculptures ... were intended simply to convey a sense of majesty and formidable power ...."

Persian society developed in close proximity to the ancient empires of Sumer and Elam. Indeed the geographical area of Elam later became part of the Persian Empire. Seals and other objects suggest close contact between Mesopotamia and Iran, at the iconographic/symbolic level, from circa 3500 to 1600 BCE. During this formative period the Sumerians regularly conducted trade with the resource-rich highland area of Iran and south-western Iran was also subject to periods of political domination by Mesopotamia. (See: Early Mesopotamia and Iran: Contact and Conflict 3500-1600 B.C., edited by John Curtis (1993).)

It certainly has not been demonstrated that the earliest astronomical iconography originated in Elam. Hartner did not track the origin of the lion-bull symbol to Elam circa 4000 BCE. We do not know the culture responsible for originating the lion-bull combat/contest symbolism. (Interestingly, the Ibex (postulated by Hartner as also depicting an early cardinal constellation) appears on prehistoric pottery of the Near East dating back to to circa 5500 BCE.) If a precise celestial event is being represented then more attention surely should be given to individual stars rather than the focus on large constellations with undefined boundaries (and separated by one-quarter of the sky). It has been pointed out that with Hartner's method there is a large degree of imprecision with geographical latitude and epoch regarding the concept of early large constellations. This looseness is heightened when the certainty of which culture originated the constellations hypothesized is not satisfactorily established. The criticism made is that substantial changes to latitude appreciably change the hours between settings (i.e., interval relationships) of the constellations.

Some current investigations have provided reasons for believing that at least certain Mesopotamian, Middle Eastern, and Greek animal symplegma comprising combat/contest scenes (or at least combat/contest scenes depicting protagonists) can be reliably interpreted as constellations. This particular interpretation holds that certain dual animal combat/contest figures actually form single constellation figures i.e., in early Mesopotamia the lion-bull motif depicted a single (paired-figure) constellation. It has been persuasively argued that in the early Middle East a panther-bull motif also depicted a single (paired-figure) constellation; and in early Greece feline-and-prey motifs also depicted single (paired-figure) constellations. (See the doctoral dissertations: The Theme of the Feline-and-Prey in Archaic Greek Art, by Sven von Hofsten (Stockholm University, 1997); and, Sun, Moon and Stars of the Southern Levant at Gezer and Megiddo: Cultural Astronomy in Early and Middle Bronze Periods, by Sara Gardner (University of Arizona, 2001); on certain Middle Eastern constellations. However, symplegma constellations are not listed on any known Mesopotamian tablet.

The Mesopotamian combat/contest scenes, generally depicted as a lion attacking a bull, appear to have originated in the late fourth millennium BCE. Human involvement in combat/contest scenes appeared during the the Early Dynastic Period I. "In the final third of the Early Dynastic period, battle scenes between animal and animal and man and animal increase in number" (The Eternal Present: The Beginnings of Architecture, by Sigfried Giedion (1964, Page 64). Seal designs were distinctive to individual owners as seals were the principal aid for identifying (and securing) property. During the Early Dynastic Period, and also during the Assyrian Period, the general theme depicted on cylinder seals was that of conflict and strife. (During the Assyrian Period there were a wider variety of combatants/contestants depicted.)

The introduction of cylinder seals coincided with urbanization. The meaning of combat/contest scenes may be linked to this fact. (During the Ubaid-Neolithic Period there existed only a few large cities (and these were only approximately 10 hectares in size) and conflict was avoided by the fact that most of these larger cities were evenly distributed throughout southern Mesopotamia.)

Recent efforts at interpretation suggest that such scenes represented the chronic inter-city warfare (and/or the conflicts with neighbouring regions) between organized armies, which arose and continued throughout the whole of the Early Dynastic Period (circa 2900-2350 BCE). (Sumeria (i.e., southern Iraq), between the Uruk and Early Dynastic Periods, fragmented into a number of city-states which frequently fought amongst themselves - generally over water rights. (See: Ancient Near Eastern Art, by Dominique Collon (1995, Page 56)).) Even the earlier Uruk Period (circa 3800-3200 BCE) was a period of critical change. Possibly circa 3300 BCE the eastern branch of the Euphrates River permanently lost its flow of water resulting in the available habitable land being diminished. The resulting massive shift of population is believed to have resulted in tremendous conflict. There was a large population of unemployed, starving people and a diverse and unfocused mix of diverse cultures and religious cults (requiring management through centralization of government and religion). (The completion of the development of an effective canal system enabling agricultural cultivation along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers also contributed to a mass population migration.)

The Early Dynastic Period was also a period of political and military rivalries. Particularly so among the city-states of southern Mesopotamia. (These conflicts ultimately culminated in the consolidation of power by Sargon of Akkad.) During the Early Dynastic Period people were attracted from the countryside to the cities, especially if a city was also a centre for the mass production of goods. (Urban-centred state-level societies in Southern Mesopotamia emerged during the Uruk Period. Uruk, founded circa 3500 BCE, was the first major city established in Sumer (and indeed the whole of Mesopotamia). Uruk was the epicentre of the Sumerian world.) The best known inter-city conflict of the third millennium BCE is that between the cities of Umma and Lagash, caused by Umma's infringement of a border agreement. (See: The Ancient Near East, by Amélie Kuhrt (1995, 2 Volumes; Volume 1, Page 36).) An added reason for warfare has been identified as due to maneuvering for resources and trading areas. There was immense economic competition between the independent city-states. (See especially: First Impressions, by Dominique Collon (1987, Page 27); Sumeria and the Sumerians, by Harriot Crawford (1991, Page 158); and, The Legacy of Sumer, edited by Denise Schmandt-Besserat (1976, Pages 55-56). All are archaeologists focusing on Mesopotamia and both Collon and Schmandt-Besserat are specialists in early Mesopotamian art.) The veteran archaeologist and art historian Edith Porada stated: "The meaning of scenes in which a lion or a hybrid monster attacks a horned game animal, which represent the majority of Middle Assyrian seal designs, is unknown. Perhaps they represent battles which were later pictured with human soldiers" (Man and Images in the Ancient Near East, (1996, Page 116)). Michael Rice states: "Elam's princes constantly waged war on their Sumerian neighbours; eventually they were responsible for the destruction of the last Sumerian state, at the very end of the third millennium" (The Power of the Bull (1998, Page 105)). (See also: Elam, by Pierre Amiet (1966).) (By circa 2,500 BCE, however, the primary motivation for warfare between city-states was that of wealth, power, and prestige.)

Seals and their emblems arose at a time of political and social instability. This has also led to their investigation as a means for understanding social organisation and its cohesion. It has been suggested that the period of prolonged political and social instability in early Mesopotamia gave rise to the use of emblems to help create a strong sense of group affiliation. (See especially: "Glyptic Art and Cultural Identity in Third Millennium BC Greater Mesopotamia," by Yelana Rakic (Paper presented at the Graduate Student Symposium, Bryn Mawr College, 1997), and "The Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seal as Social Emblem and Status Symbol," by Leonard Gorelick and A. John Gwinnett (Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Volume 49, Number 1, 1990, Pages 45-56).) From her extensive study of Mesopotamian cylinder seal iconography of the second millennium BCE Jeanne Nijhowne (Politics, Religion, and Cylinder Seals (1999)) has argued that individual figures in seal images were not chosen at random but rather were controlled by the "government," the increased importance of personal religious beliefs, and the personal preferences of persons having the resources to own seals or the need to use seals.

It has been pointed out by the Assyriologist James Christian in his website article (now removed) "Early Dynastic Glyptic, the "Butcher" Deity, and Myth-and-Ritual Theory" that "intercity rivalry" fails to explain the development of cylinder seal iconography from an animal-frieze prototype.

It has been proposed that the lion and the bull emerged from a long tradition of combat/contest themes as the most potent animal symbols of power and fertility (and were readily adopted throughout the ancient world).

It is also possible that the animal combat/contest scenes were based on earlier decorative themes relating to the control of natural forces. This interpretation has been proposed by a number of historians of ancient art. The combat/contest theme may relate to the conquest of the domain of elementary forces. For all creatures (and people) living meant exposure to perils. Animal combat/contest scenes were perhaps based on naturalistic predator and prey themes, such as the struggle between wild and domesticated animals. (A predator (a lion) attacks a domestic animal (a bull).) The management of flocks and herds had its problems. The loss of domesticated animals from lion attacks was a problem during the Mesopotamian Early Dynastic Period (and had been since the development of animal husbandry during the Neolithic Period). (See: First Impressions, by Dominique Collon (1987); and, Early Mesopotamia, by (the archaeologist and historian) (John) Nicholas Postgate (1992).) Cylinder seal iconography involving the inclusion of heroes and bull- or bison-men, the so-called "masters of animals," as one of the pairs of combatants/contestants may simply convey a "theme of restoring the balance of nature rather than any ephemeral act of violence. From this tradition the lion and the bull emerge as the most potent animal symbols of power and fertility and are adopted throughout the ancient world" ("Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus" by Joan Cruz (Exhibition Catalogue "Art of the First Cities", The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (2003)).

In his book Art of the Ancient Near East (1980) Pierre Amiet suggested that the association of lions and bulls may simply be a representation of "elementary powers charged with the stability of the world." In his 2003 paper "Imago Mundi: Cosmological and Ideological Aspects of the Arjan Bowl" (to appear in Iranica Antique 4) Javier Alvarez-Mon pointed out: "The strength and temperament of the two beasts made them favorite symbols of power and protection throughout the ancient Near East."

Henri Frankfort stated: "We do not know what the attack of the lions on the bulls signifies; in later times all kinds of fantastic creatures take part in the struggle. We do know that the Mesopotamians took a grim view of the world, and saw it as a battle-ground of opposing powers. It is unlikely that the ewer [from Uruk circa 3300 BCE] merely depicts the trivial occurrence of the depredations of beasts of prey among the herds .... ... The terrifying nature of the divine was at all times present to the minds of the Mesopotamians, as we know from their literature. It is probable, therefore, that the struggle between lion and bull stands for a conflict between divine forces, and one may surmise that the lion represents the destructive aspects of the Great Mother ..." (The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, 3rd revised impression, 1963, Page 12). Similarly Sigfried Giedion writes: "Sumerian man's tragic attitude toward life is expressed in endless combat between man and man, animal and animal, and man and animal - an ever-recurring theme of early seals and reliefs" (The Eternal Present: The Beginnings of Architecture, by Sigfried Giedion (1964, Page 64)).

It has also been proposed that the annual cycle of vegetation could well be presented in cylinder seal combat/contest scenes. (See: Ancient Art in Seals, edited by Edith Porada (1980, Pages 45-47).) Beatrice Goff held that for the Uruk Period the popular animal combat/contest designs may well have simply represented "life" and "death" motifs; or perhaps present ideas of fertility and aggression. (See: Symbols of Prehistoric Mesopotamia, by Beatrice Goff (1963, Page 66).) One author has recently (2011) offered that the bull is the life-giving principle and the lion is the dynamic force that activates its release. Also worth noting is the particular solar fertility explanation offered by (the artist) Adrian Bailey in his book The Caves of the Sun (1997, Pages 200-213).

I presently have not seen the discussion of the symbolism of the lion and the bull by Margaret Root in her essay "Animals in the Art of Ancient Iran." In: History of the Animal World in the Ancient Near East (2002 (Pages 192-203)) edited by Billie Collins. Margaret Root is currently (2010) Professor of Near Eastern and Classical Art, University of Michigan. Her chapter has been described as sophisticated and sympathetic. Also, I have presently not seen The Poem of Erra translated and edited by Luigi Cagni (1977). The god Nergal features in the poem. In the poem Nergal declares: "In the skies I am the wild bull, on earth I am the lion." Thus the god Nergal is associated with 2 deadly wild animals, the bull and the lion. Mesopotamian iconography depicts the god Nergal as a man-headed bull/bull and also as a man-headed lion/lion. further, I have not seen Essays in Honor of Gordon Williams: Twenty-Five Years at Yale edited by Charles Weiss (2001). I understand that one of the essays included in it contains a critical discussion of Willy Hartner's astronomical interpretation of the lion-bull combat/contest. The author considers the lion and bull at Persepolis to be thematically related to the 'Seal of Gobryas' depicting 2 lions attacking a stag (a hunting scene). The seal is dated to 499 BCE when Gobryas was a satrap (province governor) of Media. (The interpretation of the bull as the power of the earth and the lion as the power of the sun being, depicted as evenly matched, seems to have little to support it.)  

A recent and different interpretation has been offered by the young historian Francisco Prado-Vilar in his article "Circular Visions of Fertility and Punishment: Caliphal Ivory Caskets from al-Andalus." (In: Gülru Necipoglu (Editor). Muqamas [Mugarnas] XIV: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World [An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture] (1997). Pages 19-41 [See page 24].): "The lion-bull combat is common motif used for the glorification of royal power; it has a long tradition in political iconography, with well-known occurrences in artistic enterprises related to strong monarchic territorial structures like the Assyrian and Persian empires." Peter Calmeyer (German archaeologist and Iranologist; life dates 1930-1995) argued that all the reliefs at Persepolis can be readily explained as expressions of royalty and secular power. The lion in these reliefs symbolises the king, and the bull his foes or peoples whom he has subjugated. In this way the motif symbolises one great nation defeating another. Perhaps a correct interpretation has been offered by Elspeth Dusinberre, an art historian and expert on the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire, in her book Aspects of Empire in Achaemenid Sardis (2002). Page 278 has an illustration of a recently recovered seal from Sardis which depicts the lion-bull combat/contest with sun and moon motifs placed above them. The seal supports the conclusion that the Achaemenid lion-bull iconography represented the perpetual day-night revolutions. The lion stood for the sun and the bull stood for the night. Thus the lion-bull combat/contest symbol signified both royal power and the astronomical phenomena of day and night. This was also the explanation suggested by Mary Boyce and Frantz Grenet in their book A History of Zoroastrianism (1982): "An explanation is the lion represents the sun, the bull the moon, hence the combat shows light overcoming darkness." This of course still leaves open the interpretation/meaning of the other combats/contests in which the lion plays a part.

Recent scholarly studies have emphasised the importance of understanding the art and artifacts of Achaemenid kings in their historical, social, and political contexts. Importantly, Achaemenid art had a distinct role in defining royal power/authority within the empire. It represented the power and might of the kings enhanced/reflected their power and might. On the staircases of the Apadāna at Persepolis the scene of the lion-bull fight are rendered in large scale in contrast to other scenes, and reflect a message of control and order. See the excellent article: "Who Has the Biggest Bulls? Royal Power and the Persepolis Apadāna." by Janett Morgan (Iranian Studies, Volume 50, Issue 6, 2017, Pages 1-31). Abstract: "Relationships between power and architecture are a feature of all great civilizations and the Achaemenid world was no exception to this. The architecture of Achaemenid buildings and their relief sculpture was designed to reflect and reinforce the power and status of the Great King. At the heart of this visual program lay the audience hall (apadāna) at Persepolis. In seeking to explain and understand the messages written into this building, we tend to approach the structure as a completed work and view it from the last point in its lifecycle. As a result, we focus on its tribute procession relief and allow ideas of empire to dominate our gaze. This limits our ability to understand how and why the building’s intended audience and message of power might have diverged at different stages in its construction. This article re-examines the art and architecture of the audience hall at Persepolis and redirects the viewer’s gaze to the images of bulls rather than the tribute procession. In focusing on the role of bulls in the scheme of decoration, the article presents a more nuanced reading of the building in its historical, social and architectural context. It shows how Darius I used the Persepolis apadāna to display his authority to rule and to assert the primacy of his status amongst his fellow elites." Janett Morgan Ph.D. is (2017) an interdisciplinary ancient Greek historian at Royal Holloway, University of London, Department of Classics (Egham, Surrey).

The lion-bull fight was a common motif in the art of the ancient Near East. An astronomical/constellation interpretation is not certain. The first reliefs of the lion-bull combat appeared during the construction of Persepolis, during the reign of the Persian king Darius. Repeated scenes of a lion attacking a bull are found on the staircases of the Apadāna. (Persepolis was likely designed for ceremonial and ritual practice. Also, the story of the Nowruz tribute has a late origin.) The lion-bull symplegma at Persepolis should not be interpreted in isolation to the other bull images.

There are a great many things going on in the iconography of cylinder seals. There is also a lot of cultural changes going on at the same time.

Hartner speculated from select and very limited evidentiary sources. He didn't necessarily know the Mesopotamian "evidence" better than Assyriologists. I do not know of any Assyriologist or art historian who supports his views on early Mesopotamian constellations. It is not known what the lion-bull "symplegma" symbolizes.

In summary the perceived problems with Hartner's Mesopotamian Lion-Bull constellation theory are:

(1) It is not established that the lion-bull iconography has a single intended meaning.

(2) The lion-bull combat/contest depictions are not consistent - in some of the earliest depictions both animals are depicted as achieving supremacy over each other.

(3) There is a complete lack of any type of supportive evidence for an astronomical interpretation i.e., from written sources such as mythological themes.

(4) The stylized lion-bull "symplegma" on an Elamite seal from circa 4000 BCE seems hardly convincing - the figures are barely touching and hardly make a convincing combat/contest scene.

(5) Hartner's earliest convincing lion-bull iconographic evidence (on a pitcher from Uruk) originated some 700 years later than the 4000 BCE seasonal marker date he identified.

(6) The earliest depiction of the eight-petalled rosette as a shoulder ornament on lions (circa 2500 BCE on a statue depicting lions supporting the throne of Inanna) does not necessarily have an astral meaning.

(7) The sheer variety of animal combatants/contestants depicted in iconography makes an astronomical interpretation difficult.

(8) Hartner's speculation of an early Ibex constellation remains unsubstantiated.

(9) No one has attempted to show that changes in iconographic animals depicted in combat/contest scenes match constellation changes/additions due to the requirement for new seasonal markers to deal with the effect of precession.

(10) Splitting the lion-bull symplegma to interpret it is controversial and is not a requirement supported by recent interpreters of animal combat/contest scenes.

(11) Hartner did not track the (origin of the) lion-bull symbol to Elam - we do not know the culture responsible for originating the lion-bull symbolism.

(12) It has not been demonstrated that the lion-bull iconography at Persepolis has an astronomical/seasonal significance.

(13) It has not been demonstrated that the lion-bull iconography at Persepolis formed part of the depiction of a New Year's festival and it has not been demonstrated that a New Year's festival was held at Persepolis circa 500 BCE.

(14) A seal from Achaemenid Sardis supports the conclusion that the Achaemenid lion-bull combat/contest represented the perpetual day-night revolutions with the lion representing the sun and the bull representing the night.

(15) The lion-bull pairing ("symplegma" or otherwise) is not attested in later Mesopotamian cuneiform astronomical and astrological texts.

(16) In the wild it is perhaps more usual for a group of female lions to attack a large prey - a single male lion depiction is likely about status and power.

(17) Over the past 50 years no supportive texts have been found for Hartner's views.

Appendix 1: Possible Early Lecture by Willy Hartner

It is indicated by a single source that circa 1949, Willy Hartner presented a lecture on the connection of art and astronomy entitled, "Early Traces of the Zodiac in the Near East," that was published in 1949 by the University of Chicago. The reference is given by Dr Ida Bobula (a controversial linguist) in her paper, "The Great Stag, A Sumerian Divinity and its Affiliation." in Yearbook of Ancient and Medieval History (1953, University of Buenos Aires). Ida Bobula, who resided for most of her life in the USA, was also regarded as a Sumerologist. I have not been able to reasonably establish that the reference is mistaken/erroneous. The list of Hartner's publications compiled by Matthias Schramm and published in 1982 does not mention such a publication. The only Hartner paper published by the University of Chicago Press in 1949 was titled "Goethe and the Natural Sciences." A search of the catalogue of both the University of Chicago library, and the Library of Congress, has also failed to locate any mention of a publication by Hartner in 1949. Perhaps the article "The Earliest History of the Constellations in the Near East and the Motif of the Lion-Bull Combat" (1965) is the written version of a 1949 lecture by Hartner. The only 2 publications by Hartner on the subject that are mention by Schramm in his bibliography are: (1) The Conquering Lion, the Life Cycle of a Symbol" and (2) "The Earliest History of the Constellations in the Near East and the Motif of the Lion-Bull Combat." This latter paper does mention (page 2?/4?) that Hartner once (year not specified) gave a lecture in Boston on the astronomical aspects of the Lion-Bull Combat motif to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Possibly this is the lecture alluded to by Ida Bobula. Somehow she was familiar with the material comprising Hartner's 1949 lecture. (Perhaps she asked for and obtained a copy of the lecture from Hartner. It seems rather odd that the American Academy of Arts and Sciences would leave the lecture unpublished.) Her single reference to Hartner's lecture concerned his reference to disc or bird solar symbolism between the horns of the ibex. On pages 12 to 14 of his 1965 paper, Hartner discusses the solar symbols between the horns of the ibex. In the late 1940s Hartner was associated with the University of Chicago but in late 1949 it would appear he had returned to Germany.

Appendix 2: Possible Alignments at Persepolis

Informal claims for summer solstice sunrise alignment have been made for Persepolis. However, no exact alignment is apparent. In a posting to Hastro-L (22-January-2011), Ed. Krupp notes that the field study tour he led to Iran in 2000 "... the first gleam of the sun [on the summer solstice] over a modest hill to the northeast is at least a degree north of the line given by the balustrade of the north stairway of the Apadana. I selected that well-defined architectural line for the comparison. By the time the sun actually lined up with the northeast/southwest axis, it was at least a degree above the actual horizon. The sunrise would have occurred even a little more to the north 2500 years ago." There is also a claim that that shadows of columns on the Apadana (a hypostyle hall = having multiple rows of columns to hold up the roof - 36 columns in all) line up with other columns, perhaps on the equinox (but I think that solstice is intended). Ed. Krupp notes (Hastro-L, 22-January-2011) that "... such an arrangement is hard to understand architecturally." The discussion has some confusion with clear references for claims not being identified. However, see: Exploring Ancient Skies by David Kelley and Eugene Milone (2011, Page 575), "Plate 2. (Ch. 9)" captioned: "Persepolis, the capital of Darius I: The columns of the royal palace are aligned so that the shadows of each row of columns strikes the next row at the summer solstice. Photo by W. Dutz for D.H. Kelley." This simply repeats the statement on page 299. Kelley/Milone give no reference - either on the page or in the References and Bibliography - but the source must be J. George, 1979. There is a solstice (an equinox?) 'shadow discussion' in "Achaemenid Orientations." by J. George. (Akten des VII. Internationalen Kongresses für Iranische Kunst und Archäologie, Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran Ergänzungsband 6, Munich 1976, Pages 196-206; Published 1979), that involves the Apadana columns. I have seen another reference to 'columns and shadow alignment' at Persepolis but didn't copy it. The long axis of the original Treasury of Persepolis was aligned in a west-east orientation.

Source: The World of Achaemenid Persia edited by John Curtis and St John Simpson (2010, Page 223). Reference note 16: "See George (1979) for the alignment of the Persepolis platform and the buildings on the platform." This is: "Achaemenid Orientations." by J. George. (Akten des VII. Internationalen Kongresses für Iranische Kunst und Archäologie, Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran Ergänzungsband 6, Munich 1976, Pages 196-206; Published 1979). See also: New Perspectives in Safavid Iran edited by Colin Mitchell (2011, Page 152). The western facades of Persepolis were aligned to allow the rays of the setting sun at the summer solstice to fall on the entrances.

Appendix 3: Some References for Persepolis as a Celestial/Cosmic City

"Persepolis - Ein Beitrag zur Functionsbestimmung." by Wolfgang Lentz and Wolfhard Schlosser (Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Supplement I, Part 3: XVII, 1968?/1969?, Pages 957-983). (Included in: XVII. Deutscher Orientalistentag : vom 21. bis 27. Juli 1968 in Würzburg; Vorträge.)

"Persepolis - Weitere Beiträge zur Funktionsbestimmung." by Wolfgang Lentz, Wolfhard Schlosser and Gerd Gropp (Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, Volume 121, Number 2, 1971, Pages 254-268).

"Achaemenid Orientations." by J. George. (Akten des VII. Internationalen Kongresses für Iranische Kunst und Archäologie, Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran Ergänzungsband 6, Munich 1976, Pages 196-206; Published 1979)

"Persépolis, ¿arquitectura celestial o terrenal?" by Manel Sánchez, University of Barcelona, 2006 conference paper. À paraître dans Azara, Pedro; Frontisi-Ducroux, Françoise; Luri, Gregorio (Editors). Arquitecturas celestiales, Actas del congreso internacional celebrado en el Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona, 14-16 de septiembre de 2006 (sous presse, 2007). Also published in: Historiae, Número 5, 2008, Pages 11-25. (Argues against a celestial function.)

The World of Achaemenid Persia edited by John Curtis and St John Simpson (2010, Page 223). Reference note 16: "See George (1979) for the alignment of the Persepolis platform and the buildings on the platform." This is: "Achaemenid Orientations." by J. George. (Akten des VII. Internationalen Kongresses für Iranische Kunst und Archäologie, Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran Ergänzungsband 6, Munich 1976, Pages 196-206; Published 1979).

New Perspectives in Safavid Iran edited by Colin Mitchell (2011, Page 152).

Persepolis : discovery and afterlife of a world wonder by Ali Mousavi (2012). See section "Persepolis as an observatory of celestial bodies" Pages 54-55. Supportive of the ideas of Lentz/Schlosser.

Note: It is thought that the lion-bull symplegma symbolised cosmic order, as well as terrestrial order achieved by the king.


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