The heavens were populated with hundreds of supremely powerful, man-like beings, and each of these gods was assigned to a particular task or a particular sphere of activity. One god for instance might have charge of the sky, another of the air, a third of the sweet waters [abzu], and so forth, down to humbler deities responsible for the plough, the brick, the flint or the pickaxe.George Roux
In addition to a common pantheon shared throughout Mesopotamia, each city had its own patron deity and legends (Lloyd, p 57).
But not all gods were equal: there were primary gods, worshiped throughout; city gods who protected a particular city; and hundreds of other gods overseeing every aspect of human life. A city's political power could translate into supremacy for its patron deity. From Mesopotamia's earlier written history, the three male gods Anu, Enlil and Enki emerge as supreme.
The role of supreme deity changed over time.
Anu, with his temple at Uruk was originally the universe's highest power; but he was replaced by Enlil, patron god of Nippur; and he was replaced by Marduk, patron of Babylon; who was in turn temporarily usurped by Ashur, patron of Assur, during the Neo-Assyrian era. Enki was in his own class as god of wisdom and learning.
Semitic-speaking people had been present in Mesopotamia well before the Fara period, and they brought with them their own gods, such as the various manifestations of weather gods generally associated with the Fertile Crescent and mountainous regions. Some divine personalities, well known from literary sources of the late third millennium, were the result of hybridization, or an amalgam of originally separate deities. This appears to be the case with Inanna, the goddess of Uruk, who merged with the Semitic Eshtar in a novel deity combining martial prowess with the powers of procreation and libido. Enlil is listed in the Fara god-lists, but he came relatively late to Nippur, where he may have replaced Enki.Leick 2001, p 152
The gods had the physical appearance as well as the qualities and defects of human beings.
"In brief, they represented the best and the worst of human nature on a superhuman scale" (Roux).
Mesopotamia's fatalistic, pessimistic and gloomy zeitgeist was nurtured by a terrifyingly unstable environment which eventually led to the downfall of the entire civilization.
The gods were removed from people, who were basically the slaves of the gods: the most humans could hope for was that the gods would ignore them. There was a slave-master relationship between humanity and the Gods. Mesopotamia was hostile and provided only the bare necessities for civilization. It lacked enough rainfall to support even primite dry farming, and temperatures often exceeded 110°F. The soil was arid and unuseable unless heavily irrigated.
Although the Tigris and Euphrates rivers provided water, they also flooded unpredictably and resulted in violent and destructive rampages which wiped out the flat land. After such a rampage, the Tigris river oftentimes settled into a different course, leaving entire cities miles away from their sole water source.
In addition, Mesopotamia was unprotected; lacking no natural boundaries, it was easily accessible for raids due to the Tigris-Euphrates rivers and a nearby mountain range.
This mountain range, inhabited by pre-civilized Gutians, would for 60 years plunge Mesopotamia into a murderous and draining chaos. The soil itself worked against the Mesopotamians: it lacked nutrients and easily became overcultivated and just a few hundred feet below were tremendous salt beds which would eventually leech and cause famine.
However, there were several positive aspects of Mesopotamia.
The soil was laden with tremendous amounts of clay, and this allowed architecture, tools and art to fluourish. Also, the rivers provided fish and the plains provided gazelle and horses.
Religious Art and Architecture
The characteristic Mesopotamian temple was a ziggurat, a stepped platform made out of mud-bricks, with a temple at the summit.
Some have suggested that the ziggurat was contructed as a means to reconstruct the mountain "peak sanctuaries" that had been used when people lived in the mountains and hills around the valleys -- notice that this is the creation of an artificial urban landscape. The ziggurat was not only a religious center but also an economic redistribution center--the temple base was a huge warehouse where grain and other valuable substances were stored.
Very early votive statues were very crude and depicted with huge, staring and harrowed eyes.
Indeed, this is an extension of the morose outlook that is distinctively Mesopotamian. It also represents awe and respect, though, as these votive statues were placed in temples as part of religious rituals. Even the entity meant to word off evil, Pazuzu, was a daemon from the underworld. Mesopotamia's polytheistic belief system, an elemental religion involving the belief that the natural forces such as storms and winds have spirit forces animating them (a vitalistic interpretation of the universe and experience.
The (non-Semitic) Sumerians changed the elemental deities into astral deities) meant that if anything bad happened it was either because the population either displeased the Gods or did not worship them enough.
Primordial godsh6>According to Enuma Elish, Mesopotamia's creation story, the world began as a void. From this void came Apsu (fresh water) and Tiamat (salt water). Apsu and Tiamat are a primordial chaos from which arises the great gods.
Some earlier sources relay that Apsu and Tiamat in fact gave birth to Muumu, an all-female fertile matrix that conceives Lahma and Lahamu, who in turn give rise to the great gods. In time, the younger, great gods cause a ruckus that disrupts Apsu from his sleep, who in turn sets out to destroy them. A generational conflict ensues, with Enki as the representative of the young great gods and Apsu, Tiamat and Mummu representing the old primordial gods.
Enki casts a spell on Apsu that keeps him asleep, inert and forever underground: henceforth, Apsu is a mere place. Enki resides in its depth, taking on Apsu's characteristics and functions, enhanced by Enki's superior intellect. During the late bronze age, Enki's roles were assumed by Marduk, who rose to the fore.
Tiamat is not as easily subdued as Apsu, and unleashes a horde of monsters to devour the younger gods. With the aid of the four winds and a magic net, Enki's son Marduk fights and defeats Tiamat. Marduk creates the world from Tiamat's body
Enki cleaved Tiamit in half like an oyster to form heaven and earth, with the Tigris and Euphrates flowing from her eye sockets. Tiamat's second consort, Kingu, is killed and from his blood, riddled with the contempt and blame of the Gods, come humans. In another story, later generations of gods are dealt tasks. When they grow tired, they call upon Enki and he calls upon Nammu to fashion mankind out of Apsu clay.
In both narratives, humans are lower, innate slaves in the universe. The excessive toil that came from flooding, over-cultivation and attack was simply as a feature of the cosmos. After such a gloomy lifetime, it was believed that souls simply entered purgatory where they faded into nonexistence.
There is another, older tradition in which the primeval and creative matter was conceived of as female and personified as the Sumerian goddess called Nammu. In divine genealogies and some myths she is the mother of Enki and the mother-goddess who was said to have 'given birth to the great gods'. Nammu and the primeval waters are self-generative, bringing forth life by themselves, without a male partner. ... The female principle as a watery creative force, with equally strong connections to the underworld, may well predate that of Ea-Enki. With Enki is an interesting change in gender symbolism ... in a Sumerian hymn Enki stands at the empty river beds and fills them with his 'water' [the Sumerian a, water, also refers to semen] (Leick 2001, p 20-21)
Apsu (fresh water; male) and Tiamat (salty water; female) beget three offspring.
Apsu and Tiamat mingle together as the primordial chaos. Apsu mates with Tiamat to give rise to Muumu.
|Lahmu||First-born of Apsu and Tiamat. In some accounts, mates with its sibling Earth to give rise to the great gods.|
|Muumu||A sort of fertile, all-female substance that in some accounts begets the great gods.|
During the first half of the third millennium, in the so-called Early Dynastic period, local deities became organized in a hierarchically structured pantheon of separate divine lineages. ... Relationships between the various Mesopotamian gods and goddesses were a matter of political as well as theological importance. Lists of deities, arranged along kinship lines, were already established in the later fourth millennium, and the religious literature, hymns and cult songs further elaborate such interrelations. (Leick 2001, p 21)
Enki aka Ea or Nudimmud
Domains: abzu water, Eridu. God of sweet abzu waters, and city god of Eridu. Known as Enki in Sumerian and Ea in Akkadian (and aka Nudimmud). He was also the god of wisdom, magic and the arts. Ea is represented with streams of water emerging from his shoulders or from a vase held in his hands. He is often associated with creatures having characteristics of both goats and fish.
With Enki the fertilizing agent is water, Sumerian a, which also means 'semen'. In one evocative passage in a Sumerian hymn Enki stands at the empty river beds and fills them with his 'water'. In other narratives he impregnates and irrigates at the same time. Leick 2001, p 21
Domains: sky, Uruk.
Anu was the patron god of Uruk, where his ziggurat towered over the city. While he represented patriarchal authority, Inanna was the patron goddess of Uruk and came to embody the carefree delight of libido.
Domains: Assyria, Ashur.
Assyrian national god.
Marduk aka Asarluhhi
Babylonian national God.
Enlil aka Illil
Domains: Sumerian, Nippur, justice, weather. Head of Sumerian Pantheon. It is widely believed that Enlil's cult expanded at the expense of Enki's.
Sin aka Nanna-Su'en or Nanna
Domains: moon, Ur, Sumerian. God of the moon, known as Nanna-Su'en in Sumerian and as Sin in Akkadian. Represented symbolically by a crescent moon. He was associated with bulls and with lion-dragons, and was the city-god of Ur. His son was the sun-god Shamash/Utu, and the fertility and war goddess Inanna (associated with Venus). Interestingly, this is distinctly not heliocentric: the moon is senior, and sires the sun and other deities. This reflects the lunar-centrism of Mesopotamia, which used a lunar calendar. Sin was the head and all knowledge came through him, reflecting that much Mesopotamian science came from studying the moon phases and the stars. He had a lapis lazuli beard and rode a winged bull across the sky. His numerology association was the number 30, the average days in a lunar month. His worship continued in some Mesopotamian in the 5th - 6th centuries CE, and Byzantine and Islamic sources attest that his stronghold in Harran celebrated one of his festivals up until the 9th century CE (likely from cultural legacy, not religious fervor).
Domains: love, Sumerian, Uruk. Astrologically was Venus, the morning and evening star. Represented with her two reed posts. The Sumerian fertility goddess Inanna became equated with the Akkadian goddess Ishtar, who had warlike traits. Wife of Dumuzi/Tammuz. Inanna is the Great Mother, worshipped throughout Sumer, to whom the Eanna precinct at Uruk was dedicated; she was a female principle of creative, expressing godhead through fecundity (Lloyd, p 57).
Domains: fertility, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Uruk, Nippur. Cognate of the Sumerian deity Inanna. The goddess of fertility, as well as of sexuality and violence, Ishtar was assimilated with the Sumerian goddess Inanna. Ishtar encompassed a number of local goddesses possibly represented by some nude female figures. She was symbolized in different periods by reed bundles, rosettes and stars but was also depicted as a warrior goddess standing or riding on a lion or lion-griffin. Alternatively spelled Issar.
Domains: storms, Halab. Adad was the storm god and the city god of Halab (Aleppo). Weather gods were worshipped in most Near Eastern cultures: Ba'al in Canaan, Dagan in Syria and Teshub in Hurrian areas of northern Mesopotamia. Associated with lightning, they were often represented in a smiting posture either mounted on or in a chariot pulled by a lion-dragon or bull.
Shamash aka Utu
Domains: sun, Sippar, Lagash. Sumerian. The sun god and the city god of Sippar and Lagash, Shamash is often depicted with flames emanating from his shoulders. He is frequently attended by human-headed bulls. In his role as dispenser of justice Shamash may hold a saw to "cut" just decisions. Shamash, more than any other Mesopotamian deity, oversaw social justice, protecting the weak and vulnerable and guarding fairness in business and law.
Lesser and foreign gods
|Bel||Babylonian||"Lord," an appelative of Marduk|
|Belet Kidmuri||Babylonian||Lady of Kidmuri: Istar of Calah|
|Daguna||Philistine||Dagon, Philistine god.|
|Husband of Inanna, associated in the Sumerian mind with productivity in the vegetable and animal world, such that his union with Inanna must symbolize fertility.|
|Ekur||Temple of Illil in Nippur|
|Emdugud||Sumer||Represented as a lion head on an eagle body.|
|The first-born of Enlil, though Nanna may have been his first child. Ninurta began as an agrarian and a rain god, very contradictory roles, then later became Assyrian war god.|
|Nabu||Babylonian||God of Writing. Originally a Babylonian God. Extraordinarily revered by Assyrians.|
|Ninhursag||Sumer||Mother and wife of Enlil.|
There were also vampires.
There are three basic vampyres that I have found in Sumerian myths - the Ekimmu, the Uruku (Utukku), and the Seven Demons.
The Ekimmu: This creature was said to be created when death happened violently or the burial was not handled properly. Author Konstantinos believes that these creatures were intentional psychic vampyres. These creature were astral in nature, they hunted for a victim they could “seize and torment.” The person could only be released by an exorcism performed by a priest or priestess.
The Uruku (Utukku): This creature is referred to as a “vampyre which attacks man” in a cuneiform inscription. I am attempting to locate more information on this reference which also came from Konstantinos.
The Seven Demons: These demons are mentioned in many texts and incantations of the Mesopotamian cultures. One Sumerian banishing rite describes them as immortal blood drinkers.
Fascinating information on the lunar god Sin.
Starr, Ivan. 1990. Queries to the Sungod: Divination and Politics in Sargonid Assyria. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press. pp 366-367.
Lloyd. Archaeology of Mesopotamia.