5.3.3 Secular power
In the harsher conditions of that other early civilization which for convenience we may call Mesopotamian such sentiments could not exist. The two great achievements of Mesopotamia, from Ur onwards, were the creation of cities and the invention of a written language. The cities accumulated wealth, traded and fought with one another, but, in so far as animals entered the Mesopotamian mind, they were symbols of strength and ferocity. This is how they appear in the earliest cylinder seals, and they continue to confront one.
The generalizing historian must always be prepared for surprises, none more peculiar than the discovery of a harp from Ur, now in the University Museum at Philadelphia, which shows a strip comic of animals enacting human roles, somewhere between Goya and Disne another in a manner that we have come to call 'heraldic'. In later Mesopotamian art lions are the chief subject of sculptured friezes, and appear as guardians outside the doors of palaces and temples. The sense of kinship with animals has been superseded by an overawed recognition of their strength, which can be used to symbolize the terrible power of the king. Love has changed into an exploitation of fear.
There is no need to explain why lions and bulls were the semi-sacred animals of the Middle East. Their strength and potency made them the obvious symbols for a succession of warlike kingdoms. In Persia they might have had wings which would have made them supernatural, but hardly more awe-inspiring. But it is worth recording two curious episodes in the history of the bull as a symbol of power, the first quite early in the history of the ancient world, the other very late. The first is the introduction of the bull as a spectacle in Knossos, in about the year 1500 bc. Of this, of course, we have no information except what is provided by scanty, and often suspect, visual images. But there is no doubt that a bull was let loose in an arena, where athletes, both male and female, teased it with extraordinary agility. Anthropologists would no doubt wish to interpret this as some kind of religious ceremony; but the Cretans of the second millennium seem to have been less religiously minded than their contemporaries on the mainland, and, in spite of the legend of the Minotaur.  The bull-ring at Knossos was something unique in the ancient world, and the forerunner of the Roman amphitheatre and the Spanish bull-ring, with the difference that we have no representation of the bull being killed, or, for that matter, one of the athletes being gored, although it is almost unthinkable that all of them survived. Perhaps the Cretan bulls were more formidable than the fragmentary representations of them in the frescoes from Knossos would indicate, for almost the most magnificent bulls in art are on a work of Cretan inspiration, although actually made in Greece: the superb gold cups (known as the Vaphio Cups) found near Sparta.