Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Utu – the sun god

Posted by Fredsvenn on May 31, 2016


Utu (Akkadian rendition of Sumerian dUD “Sun”, Assyro-Babylonian Shamash “Sun”) is the Sun god in Sumerian mythology, the son of the moon god Nanna and the goddess Ningal. His brother and sisters are Ishkur, Ereshkigal, and his twin sister Inanna. His center cult was located in the city of Larsa.

Utu is the god of the sun, justice, application of law, and the lord of truth. He is usually depicted as wearing a horned helmet and carrying a saw-edged weapon not unlike a pruning saw. It is thought that every day, Utu emerges from a mountain in the east, symbolizing dawn, and travels either via chariot or boat across the Earth, returning to a hole in a mountain in the west, symbolizing sunset.

Every night, Utu descends into the underworld to decide the fate of the dead. He is also depicted as carrying a mace, and standing with one foot on a mountain. Its symbol is “sun rays from the shoulders, and or sun disk or a saw”.

The sun god is only modestly mentioned in Sumerian mythology with one of the notable exceptions being the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the myth, Gilgamesh seeks to establish his name with the assistance of Utu, because of his connection with the cedar mountain.

Gilgamesh and his father, Lugalbanda were kings of the first dynasty of Uruk, a lineage that Jeffrey H. Tigay suggested could be traced back to Utu himself. He further suggested that Lugalbanda’s association with the sun-god in the Old Babylonian version of the epic strengthened “the impression that at one point in the history of the tradition the sun-god was also invoked as an ancestor”.


Marduk (Sumerian spelling in Akkadian: dAMAR.UTU, literally, “the calf of Utu” or “the young bull of the Sun”) was a late-generation god from ancient Mesopotamia and patron deity of the city of Babylon. In the perfected system of astrology, Jupiter was associated with Marduk by the Hammurabi period.

When Babylon became the political center of the Euphrates valley in the time of Hammurabi (18th century BC), he slowly started to rise to the position of the head of the Babylonian pantheon, a position he fully acquired by the second half of the second millennium BC. In the city of Babylon, he resided in the temple Esagila. “Marduk” is the Babylonian form of his name.

According to The Encyclopedia of Religion, the name Marduk was probably pronounced Marutuk. The etymology of the name Marduk is conjectured as derived from amar-Utu (“bull calf of the sun god Utu”).


The origin of Marduk’s name may reflect an earlier genealogy, or have had cultural ties to the ancient city of Sippar (Sumerian: Zimbir), an ancient Near Eastern city on the east bank of the Euphrates River, located at the site of modern Tell Abu Habbah in Iraq’s Babil Governorate, some 60 km north of Babylon and 30 km southwest of Baghdad, dating back to the third millennium BC.

Sippar was the cult site of the sun god (Sumerian Utu, Akkadian Shamash) and the home of his temple E-babbara. The Code of Hammurabi stele was probably erected at Sippar. Shamash was the god of justice, and he is depicted handing authority to the king in the image at the top of the stele.

Sippar has been suggested as the location of the Biblical Sepharvaim in the Old Testament, which alludes to the two parts of the city in its dual form. Sepharvaim was the center of the worship of the god Adramelech. They also worshipped the god Anamelech. After the deportation of the Israelite tribes, at least some of the residents of this city were brought to Samaria to repopulate it with other Gentile settlers.

Xisuthros, the “Chaldean Noah” in Sumerian mythology, is said by Berossus to have buried the records of the antediluvian world here—possibly because the name of Sippar was supposed to be connected with sipru (“writing”). And according to Abydenus, Nebuchadnezzar II excavated a great reservoir in the neighbourhood.


Arinna was the major cult center of the Hittite sun goddess, (thought to be Arinniti) known as dUTU URUArinna “sun goddess of Arinna”. Arinna was located near Hattusa, the Hittite capital. The name was also used as a substitute name for Arinniti.

The sun goddess of Arinna is the most important one of three important solar deities of the Hittite pantheon, besides UTUnepisas – “the sun of the sky” and UTU taknas – “the sun of the earth”.

She was considered to be the chief deity in some source, in place of her husband. Her consort was the weather god,Teshub; they and their children were all derived from the former Hattic pantheon.

Arinnitti, Hattian Wurusemu, Hittite sun goddess, the principal deity and patron of the Hittite empire and monarchy. Her consort, the weather god Taru, was second to Arinnitti in importance, indicating that she probably originated in matriarchal times.

Arinnitti’s precursor seems to have been a mother-goddess of Anatolia, symbolic of earth and fertility. Arinnitti’s attributes were righteous judgment, mercy, and royal authority.

The goddess was also perceived to be a paramount chthonic or earth goddess. She becomes largely syncretised with the Hurrian goddess Hebat. In the 13th century some explicit gestures toward syncretism appear in inscriptions.

The powerful Hittite queen Puduhepa adopted Arinnitti as her protectress; the queen’s seal showed her in the goddess’ embrace. Puduhepa, queen and a priestess, worked on organizing and rationalizing her people’s religion. In an inscription she invokes:

Sun-Goddes of Arinna, my lady, you are the queen of all lands! In the land of Hatti you have assumed the name of Sun-Goddess of Arinna, but in respect to the land which you made of cedars, you have assumed the name Hebat.

The liminal figure mediating between the intimately connected worlds of gods and mankind was the king and priest; in a ritual dating from the Hittite Old Kingdom period: The gods, the Sun-God and the Storm-God, have entrusted to me, the king, the land and my household, so that I, the king, should protect my land and my household, for myself.

The city of Arinna, a day’s march from Hattusa, was perhaps the major cult center of the Hittites, and certainly of their major sun goddess, known as dUTU URU Arinna “sun goddess of Arinna”.

Tarhun, the storm god, responsible for assigning rain to the city’s croplands, was the son of the sun goddess. Tarhun has a son, Telipinu and a daughter, Inara, who is a protective deity (dLAMMA) involved with the Puruli spring festival.  Ishara is a goddess of the oath; lists of divine witnesses to treaties seem to represent the Hittite pantheon most clearly, though some well-attested gods are inexplicably missing.

Kumarbi is the chief god of the Hurrians. He is the son of Anu (the sky), and father of the storm-god Teshub, equal to Hittite Tarhun. He was identified by the Hurrians with Sumerian Enlil, and by the Ugaritians with El.

Kumarbi is the father of his role in the Song of Kumarbi is reminiscent of that of Cronus in the Theogony of Hesiod. Ullikummi is a stone monster fathered by Kumarbi, reminiscent of Hesiod’s Typhon.

In the Telipinu myth, the disappearance of Telipinu, god of agriculture and fertility causes all fertility to fail, both plant and animal. The result is devastation and despair among gods and humans alike. In order to stop the havoc and devastation, the gods seek Telipinu but fail to find him. Only a bee sent by the goddess Hannahannah finds Telipinu, and stings him in order to wake him up. However this infuriates Telipinu further and he “diverts the flow of rivers and shatters the houses”.

In the end, the goddess Kamrusepa, a Hittite goddess of healing, medicine, and magic, uses healing and magic to calm Telipinu after which he returns home and restores the vegetation and fertility. In other references it is a mortal priest who prays for all of Telipinu’s anger to be sent to bronze containers in the underworld, of which nothing escapes.


The mother goddess is likely to have had a later counterpart in the Phrygian goddess Cybele (Phrygian: Matar Kubileya/Kubeleya “Kubeleyan Mother”, perhaps “Mountain Mother”), an Anatolian mother goddess; she has a possible precursor in the earliest neolithic at Çatalhöyük, where the statue of a pregnant, seated goddess was found in a granary , dated to the 6th millennium BCE. This corpulent, fertile Mother Goddess  appears to be giving birth on her throne, which has two feline-headed hand rests.

She is Phrygia’s only known goddess, and was probably its state deity. In Greece, as in Phrygia, she was a “Mistress of animals” (Potnia Therōn), with her mastery of the natural world expressed by the lions that flank her, sit in her lap or draw her chariot.

In Greece, Cybele met with a mixed reception. She was partially assimilated to aspects of the Earth-goddess Gaia, and her Minoan equivalent earth-mother Rhea, “Mother of the gods”. As an exemplar of devoted motherhood, she was partly assimilated to the grain-goddess Demeter, whose torchlight procession recalled her search for her lost daughter, Persephone.

The proto-Hattic sun goddess of Asia Minor. Wurusemu also appears as an earth goddess and is then the wife of the weather god Taru and mother of Telipinu, a vegetation god. Wurusemu shows many similarities with the Hittite goddess Arinna.

Kumarbi is the father of Tarhun, his role in the Song of Kumarbi is reminiscent of that of Cronus in the Theogony of Hesiod. Ullikummi is a stone monster fathered by Kumarbi, reminiscent of Hesiod’s Typhon.


Istanu (Ištanu; from Hattic Estan, “Sun-god”) was the Hittite and Hattic god of the sun. In Luwian he was known as Tiwaz or Tijaz. He was a god of judgement, and was depicted bearing a winged sun on his crown or head-dress, and a crooked staff.

In Anatolian and Mesopotamian traditions the word for ‘sun’ is syncretized with names of the Sun deity. In the case of Hittite it is the Hattian loan istanu- / astanu- ‘sun; Sun-god(dess); majesty’ < Hatt. estan / astan ‘sun; Sun-goddess’.

In other Anatolian languages we observe stems that correspond to Hitt. siwatt- ‘day’: Palaic tiyatt- (or tiyad-) ‘Sun deity’, Luwian tiwad- (C), tiwad(i)- (H) ‘Sun deity’, derived from the IE root *dyew- ‘day-lit sky, sky-god’.

The initial element here, which I have rendered as “My Majesty,” is a heterogram, dUTUŠI, pronounceable in Akkadian as /Shamshī/, but probably spoken by the Great King’s scribes as Hittite /Istanus〃mis/, literally “My Sun- god.”

The Hittite sun god who rode the sun across the heavens. Technically Istanu was considered the god who ruled “the sun of the sky” with the death goddess Lelwani being considered “the sun of the Earth”, since her domain included the fires burning inside the Earth. This deity had a huge flock of sheep and rams. Istanu was also the patron deity of judges and wore a winged sun on his head-dress. He also wielded a crooked staff.

A surviving myth about Istanu involves him granting an old but childless couple a pair of sons, one of whom turns out to be “good” and one of whom  turns out to be “evil”. There is also a surviving myth in which Istanu gets the hots for a particular cow and even has a child with it. The sun god was an ally of the storm god Tarhun and warned him about the stone giant Ullikummi.

In Mesopotamian mythology, the Hittite sun goddess, Estan, evolved into Istanu, a male sun god. In pre-Islamic Arabia, the sun goddess was known as Torch of the Gods, Atthar or Al-llat. She was honored daily by pouring libations at roof top altars. Her name was subsequently masculinized to Allah.

Her other name, Shams, along with her attributes became associated with a male sun god, Shams-On. The Babylonian sun god was Shamash, clearly related. The Hebrew word for sun, as well as the appellation of the biblical character Samson, were also derived from her name.


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