Sakea: the unicorn of Assyria

The obelisk of Shalmaneser III is the only image of a unicorn from Assyria where the beast is described by associated text. Erected in 825 BCE in the city of Nimrud, this shows the tribute of four ancient kings to Shalmaneser III. One of those Kings was King Jehu of Israel. The obelisk has the only Assyrian portrait of an Israeli king, and this somewhat provides independent verification of some of Israel’s history as recorded in the books we know of as Kings I and II.

In the tribute from the Kingdom of Musri (Egypt), we have a sakea. While some translate this as a rhinoceros, the image carved into the stone has the horn on the head, not the nose. Sakea may be the Assyrian word for unicorn, but that is presuming that unicorns (elasmotherium) didn’t entirely die out before this obelisk was made. Egyptians have different hieroglyphs for rhinoceros and unicorn. I’ll dedicate a future blog post to this.

In the end we have two choices: to believe the sculptor who accurately portrayed other tribute sent to Shalmaneser put the horn for the sakea in the wrong place, or to believe that the sculptor carved a unicorn.

From other evidence I present in my book, “On the Reality, Mythology, and Fantasies of Unicorns”, I believe the sculptor carved a unicorn, and sakea is the assyrian word for unicorn.

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