Erich Lessing

Balancing on a lion’s back, the goddess Ishtar appears on this eighth-century B.C.E. stela from Tel Barsib, northeast of ‘Ain Dara, Syria.

The goddess of love and war, Ishtar was the principal female deity of Mesopotamia. An early-first-millennium poem exalts Ishtar as “goddess of goddesses,” “queen of all peoples” and as both a “lion” and “lioness.” “Where are your likenesses not fashioned?” asks the poem. “Where are your shrines not founded?”

The abundance of lion statuary at ‘Ain Dara has led excavator Ali Abu Assaf to identify the temple as a monument to Ishtar.