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Mesopotamian mythology





Mesopotamian mythology is the collective name given to Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian mythologies from parts of the fertile crescent, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the Zagros mountains.

The Sumerians practiced a polytheistic religion, with anthropomorphic gods or goddesses representing forces or presences in the world, in much the same way as later Greek mythology. According to said mythology, the gods originally created humans as servants and freed them when they became too much to handle.

Many stories in Sumerian religion appear similar to stories in other Middle-Eastern religions. Gods and Goddesses:

  • Ninlil or Nillina, goddess of air (possibly the south wind) and wife of Enlil (Sumerian) at the E'kur Temple, Nippur
  • Inanna, the goddess of love and war at the E'anna temple, Uruk
  • Marduk, originally Ea's son and god of light (biblical Merodach, Mordechai was named after him), the main god of Aya, consort of Shamash.
  • Ninurta (Sumerian: Lord plough) (panMesopotamian) at the E'Girsu (hence also called Ningirsu) temple, Lagash
File:Stitched an.jpg

An Assyrian relief showing the common iconography of kings (center) and gods (outside).

As social complexity in these cities increased, each god came to resemble a human monarch (Lugal: lu = man, gal = great), or high priest (Ensi: en = lord, si = country), complete with a family and a court of divine stewards and servants. Wars between cities were seen to reflect wars in heavens between the gods.

Lesser gods were seen as family members of these bigger divinities. Thus Nanna, goddess of the moon came to be seen as the sister of Inanna, and she came to acquire a husband too, originally Gugalanna, the Wild Bull of Heaven, (from gu = bull, gal = great, anu = heaven), and subsequently Nergal, the Lord of Death, son (Aplu) of Enlil and Ninlil. Servants also became minor divinities, as Isimud the two faced androgynous Steward of Enki; or Ninshabur (Lady evening) the chief lady-in-waiting of Inanna.

Divinities then proliferated, with there being specific gods of tooth-ache, or aching limbs, goddesses for "Greenery" and "Pasture". Every aspect of life thus came to be surrounded with its own minor divinity that required gifts or placation, as magic spells multiplied, trying to give people certainty in very uncertain times.

The Sky deities

In Cuneiform script, the names of deities are preceded with the determinative sign {DINGIR}. The same sign can refer to "sky" {AN} or "heaven", or generically to the concept of "god" or "goddess".[1] The principal Mesopotamian Gods were identified with the sky or celestial bodies:

The visible planets were also associated with divinities:

Mesopotamian cosmology

Mesopotamian cosmology seems to have been seen as a genealogical system of binary opposites being considered as male and female, and, through sacred marriage or hieros gamos, giving birth to successive generations of divinities. The universe first appeared when Nammu, a presumably formless abyss, curled in upon herself, giving birth to the primary gods. According to the Babylonian Enuma Elish, the primary union divided into Tiamat, (from Sumerian Ti=Life, Ama=mother, t (Akkadian, a feminine terminal marker)) a salt water divinity, and Apsu (earlier Abzu from Ab=water, Zu=far) a fresh water divinity. These in turn gave birth to Lahamu and Lahmu, called the "muddy" or "the hairy ones", the title given to the gatekeepers of the E'Abzu temple in Eridu, who gave birth to Anshar (Sky Pivot, or Axle) and Kishar (Earth Pivot, or Axle) possibly referring to the celestial poles, and considered the parents of Anu (the Heaven-dome god) and Ki (the Earth god). These Gods gave their name to the Mesopotamian pantheon.

The union of An and Ki produced Enlil, who in the Sumerian period eventually became leader of the pantheon. After the banishment of Enlil from Dilmun (the home of the gods) for raping Ninlil, Ninlil had a child, Sin (god of the moon), also known in Sumerian as Nanna - Suen. Sin and Ningal gave birth to Inanna and to Utu (Sumerian) or Shamash (Akkadian). During Enlil's banishment, he fathered three "substitute" underworld deities with Ninlil, most notably Nergal. [1]

Nammu also gave birth to Enki. Enki also controlled the Me until Inanna took them away from Enki's city of Eridu to her city of Uruk. The "me" were holy decrees that governed such basic things as physics and complex things such as social order and law. Their transfer from Eridu to Uruk may reflect ancient political events in Southern Iraq, in the Jemdet Nasr or Early Dynastic Period of Sumer.

In the much later Enuma Elish, of Babylon, it describes the chaos status in which Tiamat and Apsu, upset by the chaos of the younger gods, attempt to take back creation, until the son of Enki, Marduk, defeated them and re-created the world out of Tiamat's bodies. These myths seem to have in earlier Sumerian versions had Enlil, as god of the Winds and head of the Sumerian pantheon, in the role of Marduk. The purpose of Enuma Elish, composed in the Kassite period was to elevate Marduk, god of the city of Babylon, and make him pre-eminent amongst the old gods, thus demonstrating Babylon's political victory over the old cultures of Sumer and Akkad. In Assyrian myth, Asshur takes the place of Marduk.

Other myths tell of the creation of humankind. The younger Igigi gods go on strike, refusing the work of keeping the creation working and the gods consulted Enki for a solution. He suggested humankind be made from clay, mixed with the blood of the captured God Kingu, son and consort of Tiamat.

The earliest known writings have no author mentioned. One of the first recorded authors was the priestess Enheduanna, the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad. She was the priestess of the moon god, Nanna, but wrote many prayers and personal devotions to the goddess, Inanna, including the famous 'Exhaltation of Inanna'.[2]


  1. Hayes, 2000
  2. William W. Hallo and J.J.A. van Dijk. The Exaltation of Inanna. Yale University Press, 1968

See also


  • Hayes, John L. (2000). A Manual of Sumerian Grammar and Texts. Aids and Research Tools in Ancient Near Eastern Studies (Second revised ed.). Malibu: Undena Publications. ISBN 0-89003-508-1. 
  • van der Toorn, Karel (1995). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. New York: E.J. Brill. ISBN 0-80282-491-9. 
  • Kramer, Samuel Noah (1944). Sumerian mythology : a study of spiritual and literary achievement in the third millenium B.C. Philadelphia :: American Philosophical Society,. ISBN 0-80282-491-9. 

External links