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3000 BC cylinder seal of Uruk displaying a lioness motif sometimes described as a "serpopard" - Louvre
Narmer Palette with central depression for mixing cosmetics

The serpopard is a term applied by some modern researchers to what is described as a mythical animal known from Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian depictions. This term is not used in any original texts, and is an interpretation made only recently. The image is featured specifically on decorated cosmetic palettes from the Pre-Dynastic Period of Egypt, and more extensively, as design motifs on cylinder seals in the Protoliterate Period of Mesopotamia (circa 3500-3000 BC). Examples include the Narmer Palette and the Small Palette of Nekhen (Hierakonopolis). The cylinder seal displayed to the right displays the motif very clearly.

The "serpopard" has been defined as a cross between a serpent and leopard and is supposed to feature the body of the latter, and a long neck and head representing the former.

The image generally is classified as a feline, and with close inspection resembles an unusually long-necked lioness. It bears the characteristic tuft of the species at the end of the tail, there are no spots, the round-eared head most closely resembles the lioness rather than a serpent, because serpents do not have ears, and there are no typical serpent features such as scales, tongue, or head shape.[1]

Similarly to other ancient peoples, the Egyptians are known for their very accurate depictions of the creatures they observed. Their composite creatures, assembled for deities who had become merged in religious concepts, have very recognizable features of the animals originally representing those deities merged.

Lionesses played an important role in the religious concepts of both Upper and Lower Egypt, and are likely to have been designated as animals associated with protection and royalty. The long necks may be a simple exaggeration, used as a framing feature in an artistic motif, either forming the cosmetic mixing area as in the Narmer Palette, or surrounding it as in the Small Palette.

In Mesopotamia, the use of these "serpent-necked lions" and other animals and animal hybrids are thought to be "manifestations of the chthonic aspect of the god of natural vitality, who is manifest in all life breaking forth from the earth".[2]

Depictions of fantastic animals also are known from Elam and Mesopotamia,[3] as well as many other cultures.


  • O’Connor, David 2002. Context, function and program: understanding ceremonial slate palettes. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 39: 5–25.
  1. ^ "The Narmer Palette. Corpus of Egyptian Late Predynastic Palettes". Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  2. ^ Henri Frankfort, The Art And Architecture Of The Ancient Orient, Yale University Press 1996, p.37
  3. ^ Michael Rice, Egypt's Making: The Origins of Ancient Egypt, 5000-2000 BC, Routledge 2003, p.68

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