This colossal sculpture of a winged-bull was one of a series that guarded the entrance to the throne room of Sargon II, king of Assyria (721-705 BC), in his palace at Khorsabad, the capital city of the Neo-Assyrian Empire during his reign. This figure, known as a lamassu from the textual sources, is a composite mythological being with the head of a human, the body and ears of a bull, and the wings of a bird. The winged-bulls of Sargon's palace had five, rather than four, legs; from the side the bull appears to be striding and from the front it appears to be standing.
Oriental Institute archaeologists excavating at Khorsabad in northern Iraq discovered the colossal sculpture in 1929. The bull had broken into more than a dozen pieces in antiquity. The fragments were generously given to the Oriental Institute by the Department of Antiquities of Iraq. With great difficulty, the pieces were transported to Chicago, inserted through the wall of the gallery as it was being built in 1930, and assembled and restored in place. The winged bull stands at 16 feet tall and weighs approximately 40 tons.
Inscriptions in cuneiform, a wedge-shaped writing system of Mesopotamia, were carved on the front and back of the lamassu. Written in Akkadian, the official language of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, both describe Sargon's building of his new capital, giving thanks to several gods. Part of one inscription reads: "I planned day and night how to settle that city and how to raise its great shrines, the dwellings of the great gods, and my royal residential palaces. I spoke and commanded it to be built." Another section reads: "I built palaces of ivory, ebony, boxwood, musukkannu-wood, cedar, cypress, juniper, burashu-juniper, and pistachio-wood for my royal dwelling. At their gates I constructed a portico patterned after a Syrian palace and roofed it with cedar and cypress beams. At their entrances, I erected animals made of white stone resembling beasts of the mountain and sea." The lamassu, is probably one of these "animals of white stone." Lamassus are described by a successor of Sargon as ones who "because of their appearance, turn back an evil person, guard the steps, and secure the path of the king who fashioned them."