Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Sumerian goddesses and gods

Posted by Fredsvenn on June 12, 2015

In ancient Mesopotamia, many of the divine goddesses were equal in strength, power and wit to their masculine counterparts. These primordial beings ruled with an equal status for many centuries, but towards the end of the Bronze Age, their positions were slowly eclipsed by new and emerging religions such as Judaism and Zoroastrianism.

These Iron Age faiths elevated the sky god to a monotheistic status, branding all other deities as false idols, unworthy of worship. Sadly, during this patriarchal revolution, the great goddesses were expelled from this male-defined ideology. Many were vilified as monsters and demons as a part of a propaganda campaign to smear the Gods of the old world.

Thankfully their original roles as oracles, soothsayers and politicians can still be ascertained from their depictions on stone tablets and pottery art (all gleaned from the archaeological research). These feminine idols include:

Nammu (Goddess of the Sea) an alpha female who gave birth to the first generation of gods. She was a self-procreating entity who created all matter in the universe. She represented the creative force of feminine energy and was responsible for producing the human race.

Aya (Goddess of Light) associated with the dawn, youth and sexual love. She was often called the ‘bride of the sun’. Many of the Mesopotamian people believed that Aya’s mystical union with the sun god Utu caused all vegetation to grow and flourish.

Ningal (Goddess of the Reeds) was a marsh goddess connected with imagination and divination. Through her mystical interpretations she could unlock the secret language of dreams, omens and ancient mythology.

Ereshkigal (Goddess of the Underworld) ruled over the afterlife, passing judgment on the dead. Along with her sister Ishtar, these two deities represented the changing seasons. Where as Ishtar represented birth and life, Ereshkigal represented the dying of Autumn and the scarcity of winter.

Ishtar (Goddess of love) was patron of sexual devotion and warfare. This paradox could be witnessed by her tempestuous relationships, where she could honour her lovers one day, and devour them the next. Her cult involved sacred prostitution, whereby her courtesans would tend to the desires of human sexuality.

Ninkarrak (Goddess of Healing) was associated with herbalism and regeneration. She was known to possess a volatile side, hailed by some as the “queen of tempests who rages like a storm, making the earth tremble”. It was said that after the great flood deluge, she helped breath life back into mankind.

Ninhursag (Fertility Goddess) was known to many as “lady of the sacred mountain”. It was she who created the wildlife of the earth. She was associated with birth making her a mother-goddess figure. Her powers allowed her to unlock the secrets of reality, create life and transform sacred materials.

Ninlil (Goddess of the Wind), was associated with fate and destiny. After being seduced by her lover Enlil, she travelled with him to the underworld as part of his punishment for corrupting the sacred goddess.

Nanshe (Goddess of Justice) was patron of social order and protection. She nurtured orphans, provided for widows, gave advice to those in debt, and took in refugees from war torn areas. People came from all over the land to seek her wisdom and aid. She often settled disputes and handled court cases amongst mortals.

Nidaba (Goddess of writing) was said to have developed the cultural identity of Mesopotamia. Inspired by her literary skills and teaching abilities, her father (Enki) built her a school so that she could better serve those in need. She kept records, chronicled important events and marked cultural borders.

Ninsun (Goddess of the Herd) was known to many as “lady wild cow”. She was originally represented in bovine form, embodying the qualities of health, vigor and strength. Later she was expressed in human form, giving birth to one of the greatest heroes in Mesopotamia, the legendary Gilgamesh.

Ninkasi (Goddess of alcohol) was made to satiate desire and warm the heart. She knew the secrets brewing alcohol which in the early bronze age was typically managed by women. This was an important role in cultural festivities and ritualistic traditions.

Human Odyssey

Sumer, known as the “land of the kings”, was founded in southern Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) between 4500 and 4000 BCE. It became one of the first civilisations ever established in history, where its people drained the marshes for agriculture, developed trade, and established industries such as weaving, metallurgy and pottery.

Each city was protected by a particular god or goddess, with large temples built in the city centre for them to reside in. The Gods of Mesopotamia still possessed the vestigial remnants of their earlier, elemental roles, such as air, fire and thunder.

• Anu (God of heaven) was the original ruler of the Mesopotamian pantheon. He was a ethereal-god, known as the lord of constellations and master of spirits, who dwelt in the highest region of heaven and had the power to judge those who committed crimes.

• Enlil (God of the air) was patron to the city of Nippur, associated with the wind and open spaces. He was the only god who could reach out to Anu in heaven, because he ruled over the sky. It was Enlil who helped create humans, but he soon grew irritated of their commotion and tried to kill them by engulfing them in a great flood.

• Enki (God of freshwater) was the patron of the city of Eridu. He was known as the lord of knowledge, crafts and creation, who resided over all who dwelt on the earth plane. He was the keeper of a divine power known as ‘Me’ which were inscribed on stone tablets (said to hold the secrets of civilization). He is often depicted with a horned crown, dressed in the skin of a carp.

• Enbilulu (God of Rivers) was in charge of the river Tigris and Euphrates, both of which were considered to be very sacred. He ruled over the domain of agriculture, teaching men the craft of irrigation and farming. It is said he knew the secrets of water above and below the earth, granting him the power to make all things flourish.

• Nergal (God of Death) was a chthonic deity whose seat of power resided in Cuthah. He is often presented as half man half lion, known by all as the “raging king,” or “furious one.” He represented the sun of noon-time that brings darkness and chaos, thereby associating him with war, famine and pestilence. He also presided over the netherworld, where he governed the dead souls of the afterlife.

• Nanna (God of the Moon) was commonly known as the “lord of wisdom” who presided over the city of Ur. He personified the sacred knowledge of science, astronomy and astrology. Nanna was often presented as a great, winged bull flying across the crescent moon. In the astral system he is represented by the number 30 (which refers to the average number of days in a lunar month).

• Ninurta (God of War) was lord of Lagash, often depicted with a magical mace called Sharur. Not only a master of war, he was also associated with healing and surgery, helping to release humans from injury, illness and demonic possession. It was Enki, the fresh-water God, who mentored Ninurta’s in the ways of warfare and arcane knowledge (probably based upon the sacred teachings of the Me).

• Utu (God of the Sun) was in charge of truth, justice and law. He is usually portrayed as a man wearing a helmet, holding a sun disk and carrying a serrated sword. Every day Utu emerges from a mountain in the east, travelling across the Earth in a chariot, before returning to a cave in a west (creating dawn, midday and sunset respectively). Every night he descends into the underworld to decide the fate of the dead.

• Gerra (God of Fire) was said to possess a wisdom and skill so vast “that all the gods could not fathom it”. He was known to his followers as “lord of the fire and the forge”, capable of refining potent metals, purifying people of evil spirits and mastering any weapon known to man. It was claimed that he was undefeatable in battle.

• Tammuz (God of Vegetation) was a patrol deity associated with food and sustenance. He represented abundance in the spring, and the waning of life in the Autumn. The passing of summer came to represent death to Mesopotamian’s, and many rituals were practiced in Tammuz’s name, grieving for his passing and calling for his return in the coming year.

• Marduk (God of Storms) was the patron deity of Babylon, who slowly rose to power as the head of the Babylonian pantheon. He is a complex God associated with prophecy, resurrection and thunder. He rose to power during a civil war between the gods and their prodigy (known as the Igigi). It was Marduk who conquered Tiamat (a primeval goddess), elevating him to the status of God-king, ruling over the Heaven and the Earth. All nature, including man, owed its existence to him.

• Nabu (God of Scribes) was master of wisdom and writing. He was the son of Marduk, acting as his scribe and minister, and eventually became the keeper of the Tablets of Destiny, in which the fate of humankind was recorded. Nabu wears a horned cap, and stands with hands clasped, in the ancient gesture of priesthood. He rides on a winged dragon that is initially belonged to his father Marduk.

Human Odyssey

Sagburru was a witch from ancient Sumeria who saved her kingdom from ruin, yet very little is known about this mythical figure. She was the first witch ever to be mentioned in recorded history, possessing a magical talent that could easily match her with the likes of Circe, Morgana and Hecate.

Her tale took place nearly six thousand years ago, in the fertile lands of Mesopotamia. It was in this newly emerging world that two warlords quarrelled with one another, trying to gain favour with the goddess Inana.

En-suhgir-ana (lord of Aratta) boasted that he alone was the rightful king, for he had the pleasure of sleeping with the divine Goddess. Yet Emmerkar (ruler of Uruk) declared he was the best match for Inana, for they shared an intimacy in their dreams, unrivalled by any other man.

In order to protect their reputations, each warlord appointed a sorcerer to champion their kingdom, facing one another in magical combat. Whomever could outmatch their opponent would win the favour of the love goddess and secure the legitimacy of their realm.

En-suhgir-ana commissioned Urgirnuna, a powerful wizard who was feared throughout Sumeria. He had single-handedly destroyed the city of Hamazu, raising it to the ground with his dark sorcery. The citizens of Uruk shuddered, for it was said none could match his mastery of the arcane.

However, Emmerkar did not appoint a man to represent his kingdom. Instead he chose a woman whose history was less than obscure. The two spellbinders met on the banks of the Euphrates, Urgirnuna full of mock and contempt for the woman who he feared was less than worthy of his skill and prowess.

Yet when the battle commenced, Urgirnuna disdain soon turned to horror. For every round the mages fought, Sagburru’s magic proved to be mightier. Her mind was sharp, outwitting his deceptions at every turn. Her illusions were so real that he began to confuse her fantasy with reality. Her energy was so profound that the air around her literally crackled with electricity.

In the end, Urgirnuna, dazed and confused, collapsed with exhaustion and begged for mercy. But none was shown by the witch of Hamazu, just as the wizard had shown none to her people. In an incredible display of light the witch blasted the wizard into the Euphrates. It was undeniable, Sagburru was the supreme champion, and her lord and master the rightful hand of Inana.

En-suhgir-ana, lord of Aratta fell to his knees and immediately hailed Emmerkar as the king of Sumeria.

Enmerkar and Aratta

Enmerkar, according to the Sumerian king list, was a Sumerian hero and king of Erech, a city-state in southern Mesopotamia, who is thought to have lived at the end of the 4th or beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. He was the builder of Uruk in Sumer, and was said to have reigned for “420 years” (some copies read “900 years”).

The king list adds that Enmerkar became king after his father Mesh-ki-ang-gasher, son of Utu, had “entered the sea and disappeared.” Along with Lugalbanda and Gilgamesh, Enmerkar is one of the three most significant figures in the surviving Sumerian epics.

Although scholars once assumed that there was only one epic relating Enmerkar’s subjugation of a rival city, Aratta, it is now believed that two separate epics tell this tale. Enmerkar is also known from a few other Sumerian legends, most notably Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, a collection of preserved, early post-Sumerian copies, composed in the Neo-Sumerian period (ca. 21st century BC). It is the longest Sumerian epic yet discovered, it is the source of important information about the history and culture of the Sumero-Iranian border area.

In Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave, Enmerkar is seen leading a campaign against Aratta. It is one of a series of accounts describing the conflicts between Enmerkar, king of Unug-Kulaba (Uruk), and the unnamed king of Aratta, a land that appears in Sumerian myths surrounding Enmerkar and Lugalbanda, two early and possibly mythical kings of Uruk also mentioned on the Sumerian king list.

According to this legend, Enmerkar, son of the sun god Utu, was envious of Aratta’s wealth of metal and stones, which he needed in order to build various shrines, especially a temple for the god Enki in Eridu. Enmerkar therefore requested his sister, the goddess Inanna, to aid him in acquiring material and manpower from Aratta; she agreed and advised him to send a threatening message to the lord of Aratta.

The lord of Aratta, however, demanded that Enmerkar first deliver large amounts of grain to him. Though Enmerkar complied, the lord of Aratta refused to complete his part of the agreement; threatening messages were again sent out by both men, each claiming the aid and sanction of the goddess Inanna. The text becomes fragmented at that point in the narrative, but in the end Enmerkar was apparently victorious.

In Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta a previous confusion of the languages of mankind is mentioned. Enmerkar furthermore seeks to restore the disrupted linguistic unity of the inhabited regions around Uruk, listed as Shubur, Hamazi, Sumer, Uri-ki (the region around Akkad), and the Martu land.

Aratta is described as follows in Sumerian literature. It is a fabulously wealthy place full of gold, silver, lapis lazuli and other precious materials, as well as the artisans to craft them. It is remote and difficult to reach. It is home to the goddess Inanna, who transfers her allegiance from Aratta to Uruk. It is conquered by Enmerkar of Uruk.

Inanna is the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and warfare, and goddess of the E-Anna temple at the city of Uruk, her main centre. Inanna was the most prominent female deity in ancient Mesopotamia. As early as the Uruk period (ca. 4000–3100 BC), Inanna was associated with the city of Uruk.

Inanna’s name derives from Lady of Heaven (Sumerian: nin-an-ak). The cuneiform sign of Inanna; however, is not a ligature of the signs lady (Sumerian: nin; Cuneiform: SAL.TUG) and sky (Sumerian: an; Cuneiform: AN).

These difficulties have led some early Assyriologists to suggest that originally Inanna may have been a Proto-Euphratean goddess, possibly related to the Hurrian mother goddess Hannahannah, accepted only latterly into the Sumerian pantheon, an idea supported by her youthfulness, and that, unlike the other Sumerian divinities, at first she had no sphere of responsibilities. The view that there was a Proto-Euphratean substrate language in Southern Iraq before Sumerian is not widely accepted by modern Assyriologists.

Inara, in Hittite–Hurrian mythology, was the goddess of the wild animals of the steppe and daughter of the Storm-god Teshub/Tarhunt. She corresponds to the “potnia theron” of Greek mythology, better known as Artemis. Inara’s mother is probably Hebat and her brother is Sarruma.

The mother goddess Hannahannah promises Inara land and a man during a consultation by Inara. Inara then disappears. Her father looks for her, joined by Hannahannah with a bee. The story resembles that of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, in Greek myth.

Hannahannah (from Hittite hanna- “grandmother”) is a Hurrian Mother Goddess related to or influenced by the pre-Sumerian goddess Inanna. Hannahannah was also identified with the Hurrian goddess Hebat. Christopher Siren reports that Hannahannah is associated with the Gulses.

In this account, it is Enmerkar himself who is called ‘the son of Utu’ (the Sumerian sun god). Aside from founding Uruk, Enmerkar is said here to have had a temple built at Eridu, and is even credited with the invention of writing on clay tablets, for the purpose of threatening Aratta into submission.

The land of Subartu (Akkadian Šubartum/Subartum/ina Šú-ba-ri, Assyrian mât Šubarri) or Subar (Sumerian Su-bir/Subar/Šubur) is mentioned in Bronze Age literature. The name also appears as Subari in the Amarna letters, and, in the form Šbr, in Ugarit. Subartu may have been in the general sphere of influence of the Hurrians (Armenians).

The Sumerian mythological epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta lists the countries where the “languages are confused” as Subartu, Hamazi, Sumer, Uri-ki (Akkad), and the Martu land (the Amorites). Similarly, the earliest references to the “four quarters” by the kings of Akkad name Subartu as one of these quarters around Akkad, along with Martu, Elam, and Sumer.

Subartu was apparently a polity in Northern Mesopotamia, at the upper Tigris. Some scholars suggest that Subartu is an early name for Assyria proper on the Tigris and westward, although there are various other theories placing it sometimes a little farther to the east and/or north. Its precise location has not been identified.

Eannatum of Lagash was said to have smitten Subartu or Shubur, and it was listed as a province of the empire of Lugal-Anne-Mundu; in a later era Sargon of Akkad campaigned against Subar, and his grandson Naram-Sin listed Subar along with Armani among the lands under his control. Ishbi-Erra of Isin and Hammurabi also claimed victories over Subar.

Shupria (Shubria) or Arme-Shupria was a Proto-Armenian Hurrian-speaking kingdom, known from Assyrian sources beginning in the 13th century BC, located in the Armenian Highland, to the southwest of Lake Van, bordering on Ararat proper. The capital was called Ubbumu. Scholars have linked the district in the area called Arme or Armani, to the name Armenia.

Weidner interpreted textual evidence to indicate that after the Hurrian king Shattuara of Mitanni was defeated by Adad-nirari I of the Middle Assyrian Empire in the early 13th century BC, he then became ruler of a reduced vassal state known as Shubria or Subartu. The name Subartu (Sumerian: Shubur) for the region is attested much earlier, from the time of the earliest Mesopotamian records (mid 3rd millennium BC).

Together with Armani-Subartu (Hurri-Mitanni), Hayasa-Azzi and other populations of the region such as the Nairi fell under Urartian (Kingdom of Ararat) rule in the 9th century BC, and their descendants, according to most scholars, later contributed to the ethnogenesis of the Armenians.

The name Syria is a derivation from Subartu (a term which most modern scholars in fact accept is itself an early name for Assyria, and which was located in northern Mesopotamia), the Hurrian toponym Śu-ri, or Ṣūr (the Phoenician name of Tyre). Syria is known as Ḫrw (Ḫuru, referring to the Hurrian occupants prior to the Aramaean invasion) in the Amarna Period Egypt, and as Aram in Biblical Hebrew.

The other epic relating the defeat of Aratta is known as Enmerkar and Ensuhkeshdanna. In this tale the ruler of Aratta, Ensuhkeshdanna (or Ensukushsiranna), demanded that Enmerkar become his vassal. Enmerkar refused and, declaring himself the favourite of the gods, commanded Ensuhkeshdanna to submit to him.

Three other texts in the same series describe Enmerkar’s reign. In Enmerkar and En-suhgir-ana, while describing Enmerkar’s continued diplomatic rivalries with Aratta, there are an allusion to Hamazi having been vanquished.

The text mentions that the sorcerer of Hamazi, Urgirinuna, went to Aratta after Hamazi “had been destroyed”; he is later sent by the Lord of Aratta on a failed mission attempting to bring Enmerkar into submission. According to the Sumerian king list, king Hadanish of Hamazi held hegemony over Sumer after defeating Kish, but was in turn defeated by Enshakushanna of Uruk.

A clay tablet found in the archives at Ebla in Syria bears a copy of a diplomatic message sent from king Irkab-Damu of Ebla to king Zizi of Hamazi, along with a large quantity of wood, hailing him as a brother, and requesting him to send mercenaries in exchange.

Hamazi was one of the provinces of Ur under the reign of Amar-Sin during the “Sumerian renaissance”; two governors or ensis during this reign were named Lu-nanna son of Namhani, and Ur-Ishkur. In ca. 2010 BC, the province was occupied and plundered by Ishbi-Erra of Isin as the Ur-III empire was collapsing.

Although the members of Ensuhkeshdanna’s council advised him to comply with Enmerkar, he listened instead to a local priest, who promised to make Erech subject to Aratta. When the priest arrived in Erech, however, he was outwitted and killed by a wise old woman, Sagburru, and the two sons of the goddess Nidaba. After he learned the fate of his priest, Ensuhkeshdanna’s will was broken and he yielded to Enmerkar’s demands.

A third epic, Lugalbanda and Enmerkar, tells of the heroic journey to Aratta made by Lugalbanda in the service of Enmerkar. According to the epic, Erech was under attack by Semitic nomads. In order to save his domain, Enmerkar required the aid of Inanna, who was in Aratta.

Enmerkar requested volunteers to go to Inanna, but only Lugalbanda would agree to undertake the dangerous mission. The epic concerns the events of Lugalbanda’s journey and the message given him from Inanna for Enmerkar. Although obscure, Inanna’s reply seems to indicate that Enmerkar was to make special water vessels and was also to catch strange fish from a certain river.

The fourth and last tablet, Lugalbanda and the Anzu Bird, describes Enmerkar’s year-long siege of Aratta. It also mentions that fifty years into Enmerkar’s reign, the Martu people had arisen in all of Sumer and Akkad, necessitating the building of a wall in the desert to protect Uruk.

In the earliest Sumerian texts, all western lands beyond the Euphrates, including modern Syria and Canaan, were known as “the land of the MAR.TU (Amorites)”. This term appears in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, which describes it in the time of Enmerkar as one of the regions inhabited by speakers of a different language.

Another text known as Lugalbanda and the Anzud bird describes how, fifty years into Enmerkar’s reign, the Martu people arose in Sumer and Akkad, (southern Mesopotamia) necessitating the building of a wall to protect Uruk.

The Amorites (Sumerian MAR.TU; Akkadian Tidnum or Amurrūm; Egyptian Amar; Hebrew Emori) were an ancient Semitic-speaking people from ancient Syria who also occupied large parts of southern Mesopotamia from the 21st century BC to the end of the 17th century BC, where they established several prominent city states in existing locations, notably Babylon which was raised from a small administrative town to an independent state and major city. The term Amurru in Akkadian and Sumerian texts refers to them, as well as to their principal deity.

In the earliest Sumerian sources concerning the Amorites, beginning about 2400 BC, the land of the Amorites (“the Mar.tu land”) is associated not with Mesopotamia but with the lands to the west of the Euphrates, including Canaan and what was to become Syria.

They appear as an uncivilized and nomadic people in early Mesopotamian writings from Sumer, Akkad and Assyria, especially connected with the mountainous region of Jebel Bishri in northern Syria called the “mountain of the Amorites”. The ethnic terms Amurru and Amar were used for them in Sumerian, Akkadian and Ancient Egyptian respectively.

From the 21st century BC, possibly triggered by a long major drought starting about 2200 BC, a large-scale migration of Amorite tribes infiltrated southern Mesopotamia. They were one of the instruments of the downfall of the Sumerian Third Dynasty of Ur, and Amorite dynasties both usurped native Sumero-Akkadian rulers of long extant south Mesopotamian city states (such as Isin, Larsa, Eshnunna and Kish), and also established new city-states, the most famous of which was to become Babylon, although it was initially a minor and insignificant state.

Known Amorites wrote in a dialect of Akkadian found on tablets at Mari dating from 1800–1750 BC. Since the language shows northwest Semitic forms, words and constructions, the Amorite language is believed to be a northwest branch of the Canaanite languages, whose other members were; Hebrew, Phoenician, Edomite, Moabite, Ammonite, Sutean, Punic/Carthaginian and Amalekite.

The main sources for the extremely limited knowledge about Amorite are the proper names, not Akkadian in style, that are preserved in such texts. The Akkadian language of the native Semites of Mesopotamia (Akkad, Assyria, Isin, Larsa, Ur etc.), was from the east Semitic, as was Eblaite.

In these last two tablets, the character of Lugalbanda is introduced as one of Enmerkar’s war chiefs. According to the Sumerian king list, it was this Lugalbanda “the shepherd” who eventually succeeded Enmerkar to the throne of Uruk. Lugalbanda is also named as the father of Gilgamesh, a later king of Uruk, in both Sumerian and Akkadian versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh.

David Rohl has claimed parallels between Enmerkar, builder of Uruk, and Nimrod, ruler of biblical Erech (Uruk) and architect of the Tower of Babel in extra-biblical legends. One parallel Rohl noted is the description “Nimrod the Hunter”, and the -kar in Enmerkar also meaning “hunter”. Rohl has also suggested that Eridu near Ur is the original site of Babel, and that the incomplete ziggurat found there – by far the oldest and largest of its kind – is none other than the remnants of the Biblical tower.

In a legend related by Aelian (ca. AD 200), the king of Babylon, Euechoros or Seuechoros (also appearing in many variants as Sevekhoros, earlier Sacchoras, etc.), is said to be the grandfather of Gilgamos, who later becomes king of Babylon (i.e., Gilgamesh of Uruk).

Several recent scholars have suggested that this “Seuechoros” or “Euechoros” is moreover to be identified with Enmerkar of Uruk, as well as the Euechous named by Berossus as being the first king of Chaldea and Assyria. This last name Euechous (also appearing as Evechius and in many other variants) has long been identified with Nimrod.

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