Ancient Mesopotamians like the Akkadians, Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians believed in worshiping various gods and goddesses. Before Syriac Christianity took over Mesopotamia, these people had unique sets of Mesopotamian religious beliefs that included worship of main gods and deities like Ishtar, Marduk, Anu, and Tiamat among a host of others. It was between 3500 BC to 400 BC that Mesopotamia came to be heavily influenced by these deities that represented many a things and beliefs. Mesopotamians believed in living life in accordance with the will of gods. And, it was a common presumption that the aim of humans was to help out gods and deities in warding off evils from the society, keep it well balanced, and without chaos. Let’s take a look at the top 15 Mesopotamian gods and goddesses that were revered in ancient Mesopotamia.
According to all Mesopotamian religion facts written ever, the goddess Ishtar or Inanna was one of the most prominent deities worshiped by Babylonians as well as Sumerians. Ishtar was regarded as the supreme goddess of beauty and desire. She was also a representation of the crafts of war and combat. The prostitutes of ancient Mesopotamia worshiped the goddess as she was regarded as their patron deity.
In the epic tale of Gilgamesh, Ishtar is represented as a woman who gets rejected at the hands of Gilgamesh, the hero and turns vengeful. In the later part of 2050 BC, Ishtar came to be worshiped as the patron goddess of war and combat, and was therefore, respected by all Assyrian kings. Her temple at the Zagros mountains was always visited by kings before they went away on their many military and war campaigns.
In the religion of Mesopotamian people, there were innumerable gods and goddesses, each of whom personified a specific aspect or element. One such main goddess was Tiamat who symbolized the primordial ocean that gave birth to Mesopotamia’s first set of gods. The goddess is regarded as one of the oldest worshiped deities in Babylon.
There were two very opposing aspects to her personality or how she was projected at various points in time. As per one aspect, Tiamat was a personification of feminine beauty and grace. On the other hand, she symbolized chaos. In the epic myth of Enuma Elis, Tiamat is the antagonist and fights Marduk. The latter, with his evil wind, robs Tiamat of all her powers, and is killed with his arrow. From her split body emerges the earth, heaven, while, from her eyes, the rivers Tigris and Euphrates flow away. The mountains get created from her breasts, while, her spit gives birth to mist.
Personifying the natural elements of rain and storm, the god Hadad or Adad was worshiped by people who believed in Semitic religion. He was typically worshiped along with his famous animal – the bull. Hadad was depicted with a bearded look, with thunderbolt and a club clenched in his fists. He is goddess Atargatis’s consort and was the main god of the western Semites. Most people worshiped him in an avatar that wore a horned head dress.
Known also as Iskur, Hadad’s power was not merely meant for the good of human kind. It also meant destruction in the form of floods. There is a mention of Iskur in a Sumerian hymn in which the god is depicted as an entity that destroys a warring land. The god destroys the land with a strong wind and makes it barren. There are other mentions of him in various Akkadian texts where he is depicted as a destroyer. He was also worshiped by many as the divine god of prayers and justice. Hadad was one of the chief gods to have had many temples and sanctuaries in Babylon, Uruk, Ur and Nippur.
Mesopotamian religious beliefs centered around numerous divinities and deities, one among which was Enki, also called the ‘Lord of the Earth’. The god was the divine personification of magic, intelligence as well as crafts and creations. There are mentions of Enki in numerous Sumerian texts that speak about the power of his virility. Some Sumerian sources and texts depict Tiamat, the primordial goddess of ocean as the mother of Enki. The mythological god, as per many sources, was believed to have lived in Abzu and was the protector of Eridu, a southern city of Mesopotamia. Out of clay, Enki created the first set of humans to serve the gods.
Ninurta was a god, depicted in Mesopotamian texts as a winged lion, and was worshiped as the patron lord of law and scribes. He was also regarded as the hunting and farming god. He was the son of Enlil and Ninlil, gods that were considered very important in Nippur. But, there are other sources that claim that he was the son of Ninhursag, the goddess of harvest.
Ninurta was often depicted as a god who held a bow and an arrow along with a mace or a sword. There is a legend according to which the god engaged in a epic battle against a monstrous bird called Imdugud after the Tablet of Destinies was stolen by the creature. In the battle, Ninurta killed other monsters like the dragon, bison beast, the snake with seven heads, mermaid, wild ram with six heads, Palm tree king and Lord Saman-ana. Once the killings were over, the god gave back the tablet to Enlil.
Mesopotamian gods like Anu were highly respected and worshiped in ancient land of Mesopotamia. Anu was also known as An, or the ‘King of the gods’. Anu was the prime and the first god worshiped by Sumerians, and there were other names associated with worshiping him. These included – Supreme Ruler of the Kingdom of Heaven, and Lord of the Constellations.
The Sumerians believed that Anu was the god that ruled over heaven, and was the supreme powerful entity that commanded all other gods and goddesses. However, there are a few paradoxes as Anu’s supremity is often argued upon by historians. Some texts claim he was the supreme ruler of heaven. But, if the god was so supreme, then how come his name or portrait never appeared in any ancient Sumerian art? Think…think…!!
7. Shulmanu – God of the Underworld, Fertility and War
The Mesopotamian religious beliefs of the natives of east Semitic Babylonia, Assyria and Akkadia largely focused on the worship of Shulmanu, the divine lord of the underworld and fertility. He was also known as Shulman and his worship started out in Assyria. The Assyrian kings who came to power after 14th century BC associated their names with this god.
The three supreme gods considered to be the most powerful in ancient Mesopotamian religion were Anu, Enki and Enlil. Enlil was regarded as the divine lord of the sky and atmosphere. However, there are quite a few paradoxes regarding his name and what element he personified. Some claim that he was worshiped as the Lord ghost, while, others regarded him to be the Lord of air.
Enlil was a supreme entity worshiped primarily in Nippur, the city that he patronized. There are numerous ancient tablets and other sources where Enlil is mentioned as the ‘King of all lands’. There is, however, a source that claims that Enlil had a negative side to his personality. The source is an 18th century BC epic that was found at Akkadia and is called Atra-Hasis. It spoke about how Enlil brought about destruction on humans by bringing a devastating flood. And, he did this all simply because he was irritated at humans for making loud noises that interrupted his sleep.
Representing a bull, Sin or Nanna was the protector and patron deity of Ur. Sin was depicted as a bull with ‘waxing moon’ symbol lodged in his horns. He was worshiped as the god of fertility as well as the moon god. As per several ancient texts, Sin was the first child of Enlil, and was a hugely revered god of ancient Mesopotamia. He was the husband of Goddess Ningal, and father of Inanna and Utu. Apart from being called Su’en or Sin, he was also called Dilimbabbar. The moon god as Sin was most popularly called, had three brothers, namely – Ninazu, Nergal-Meslamtaea, and Enbililu. All these brothers were also gods of underworld and irrigation. Sin’s temples or sanctuaries were located in Ur, Urum, Nippur and Babylon.
Called ‘King of Gods’, Marduk was the chief god or deity of Babylon and was sometimes addressed as the Storm god. Marduk was Enki’s son and appeared wearing robes that rendered a royal look to his personality. He was also worshiped by Mesopotamians as the deity of justice, magic and agriculture. It was Marduk that slayed goddess Tiamat and split her body into earth and heaven. He also brought the rivers of Tigris and Euphrates to flow out from her eyes, and basically helped in creating the world. He was the supreme god of Babylonians and had his main temple called Esagila. The complex of the temple was finished in 6th century BC by Nebuchadnezzar II.
The religion of Mesopotamian people was dominated by the presence of several prime gods and goddesses. One god or deity to have been revered as the god of fertility was Dagon, or Dagan. He was worshiped by natives of Assyria, Ebla and Ugarit. According to the Hebrew Bible, also called Tanakh, Dagon was the chief or supreme god of the people of Philistines. His temples were located at Gaza. Most Assyrian artworks depict him as a fish god.
The Mesopotamian religious beliefs of the Akkadians put tremendous importance on worshiping various gods and goddesses, each representing a natural element. One such god was Shamash or Utu. Shamash was considered the patron deity of justice. Most early records or writings of Sumerians hint towards the existence of the cult that followed Shamash. That means Shamash was worshiped 5000 years ago as one of the chief lords. He held such power that his name is mentioned in the famous 18th century BC law code of Hammurabi. In the codes were written land laws directed from Shamash himself. In most records and artworks, Shamash is depicted as a bearded old man sitting on a throne. In the law codes, Shamash is shown as the ruler and controller of the universe. Other depictions show him with wings and solar disc. His main temples were located in Larsa, Eridu and Sippar.
The god Ashur was a highly respected deity worshiped mainly in north east Syria and old Assyria. He was an east Semitic god who was also known as Assur. The Assyrian Ashur was equivalent to Enlil who was the supreme god of Nippur. It was in 14th century BC that Ashur came to be known as the husband of Ninlil and father of Zababa and Ninirta. The Assyrian empires like Middle Assyrian Empire, the Empire of Shamshi-Adad I, and Neo-Assyrian Empire made Ashur the chief god of Mesopotamia and he reigned supreme. His name was inscribed on tablets in cuneiform when Babylon was captured by Assyrians.
14. Nisaba – Goddess of Writing, Learning & Harvest
The Sumerians were well known scientists and inventors of ancient world. They loved writing and it was during their time that various forms of texts and tablets came to be written and spoken about. The goddess Nisaba was their chief deity who personified knowledge. She was the deity of writing and scribes. Though, in 2700 BC, Nisaba was worshiped as a grain goddess, however, later, she came to be associated with the city of Eresh in Mesopotamia as the leading deity of scribes and keeper of mortal accounts. She was mentioned in a well known hymn called Kesh Temple Hymn or Liturgy to Nintud, comprised in 2600 BC in which there was a collection of eight set of songs, all dedicated to Nisaba.
The patron goddess of beer, Ninkasi was one among the chief deities worshiped massively in ancient Mesopotamia. Women, in those ancient times, took charge of brewing and making beverages. The goddess was a symbolical representation of the craft of making alcohol which was considered a very important aspect in Mesopotamian society. It was a good virtue to drink beer and other beverages in ancient Mesopotamian lands. Historically speaking, it was Mesopotamia that gave birth to the earliest recipe of brewed beer. There is a poem that is dedicated to Ninkasi, called Hymn to Ninkasi that honors the goddess and showers praises on her and her craft at brewing beer.
All the above listed gods and goddesses were an integral part of ancient Mesopotamian lands, and were heavily influenced by various empires that reigned Mesopotamia from time to time. Please feel free to comment on our post on ancient Mesopotamian religious beliefs in the 15 gods and goddesses, and do share extra facts with us if you wish!