Winged Genie of Assyria

I was fascinated with the representations of winged genii carved on the walls of the palaces of Assyrian Kings. I saw them at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad during my last visit along with Lamassu. The genie is a powerfully built man, with wings sprouting from his back. These are not the same as the magical genies of Arabian Nights, but rather supernatural beings that symbolized protection and fertility for the Assyrian empire.

Winged genii are usually depicted as bearded men with bird-like wings, wearing horned helmets or diadems, and holding various objects such as pails, cones, quadrupeds, or trees. They are often shown performing rituals or tasks related to the well-being of the king and his people, such as sprinkling holy water, fertilizing the tree of life, or warding off evil spirits.

Winged genii are displayed most prominently in palaces of royalty. The genie had an essential protective role: it defended the city. However, it was also a blessing genie holding holy water and sprinkled it on visitors with a pinecone to purify them.

The winged genie that I saw at the Iraq Museum was part of a huge stone relief that decorated the palace of King Sargon II, who ruled Assyria from 721 to 705 BCE. The relief showed the king and his attendants in a procession, accompanied by winged genies holding pails and cones. The pails and cones were symbols of purification and fertility, and the genies were sprinkling them on the king and the land to ensure prosperity and peace.

The relief was so impressive and detailed that I felt like I was transported back to ancient times. I could almost hear the music and chants of the procession, smell the incense and flowers, and feel the awe and reverence of the people. The winged genie was especially captivating, with its serene expression and graceful posture. It looked like it was ready to fly away at any moment, carrying its blessings to another realm.


I was so fascinated by the winged genie that I decided to do some more research on it when I got home. I learned that there are many different types of winged genies in Assyrian art, each with its own meaning and function. Some were guardians of sacred places, some were messengers of the gods, some were healers or teachers, and some were warriors or hunters. They all had one thing in common: they represented the power and wisdom of the divine.

The origin of these winged genii can be traced back to the ancient Sumerian concept of apkallu, or antediluvian sages. These were wise and powerful beings that were created by the god Enki before the great flood, and taught humanity various arts and sciences. Some of them survived the flood and became invisible guardians of human civilization.

The winged genii were a prominent feature of Assyrian art, especially during the reigns of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BCE) and Sargon II (722-705 BCE), who built magnificent palaces decorated with reliefs of winged genii. The winged genii conveyed a sense of divine authority and benevolence for the Assyrian kings, who claimed to be chosen by the gods to rule over a vast and prosperous empire.

As a sign of their supernatural essence, the human-headed genies wear horned helmets. This association between horns and divine (or semi-divine) presence had a long history in the Mesopotamia. Beginning in the Akkadian Period (circa third millennia BCE) artists used bovine horns as symbols of divinity. Below the horned headdress, the long wavy hair reaches to the shoulders and ends in several rows of tight curls. The armlets over elbow and bracelets with rosette are notable ornaments. The rosette may have been associated with the worship of the goddess Ishtar since numerous rosettes have been found in her temple in the Assyrian city of Ashur.

Due to the ornate nature of the kings and genii, there are many times in which the distinction between the king and a genie are impossible. They are dressed in identical clothes and if the genie has no wings there is nothing separating it from a human. Both genii and the king would wear earrings made of a single conical-tipped pendant suspended from a crescent. Also, if a genie was bearded there would be nothing different from a beard on that of a human. The standard beard of a human consisted of three layers, and the genie would have the same as well.

If you ever get a chance to visit a museum that has Assyrian art, I highly recommend you check out the winged genies. They are truly amazing and inspiring creatures that will make you wonder about the mysteries of the ancient world. Until next time, stay curious and keep exploring!

11 thoughts on “Winged Genie of Assyria

  1. Cindy Rogers

    Thank you for this information. I have a piece of American pottery that depicts the image of a winged god with the head of a human. The piece was made around 1910. People refer to the image as a winged Norse god. The Norse god had the head of an eagle, not a human. I’m glad I was able to clear this up. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

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