This lion's head of white limestone comes from the Temple of Shamash. Known as the Ebabbar ('Shining Temple'), it was one of the most important traditional and prestigious religious centres in Mesopotamia. Rulers sent offerings to Shamash and there are records of numerous kings restoring and rebuilding the temple.
This head, which was originally inlaid, bears a worn inscription naming the Assyrian king Esarhaddon (680-669 BC) and his father Sennacherib. It is not clear, therefore, whether this is a Babylonian or an Assyrian piece. Esarhaddon was responsible for restoring the capital city of Babylon following its destruction by Sennacherib in 689 BC.
Lions were regularly represented in Mesopotamian art on wall reliefs and as elements of furniture. The lion represented the power of nature and is often associated with the king, as it was his duty to defeat the forces of nature that the lion represented.