Mesopotamian Mythology: Origins, Gods, Places +16 Legends

Discover all the Mesopotamian Mythology. Discover with us its myths, most fascinating traditions and places of worship.

Mesopotamian Mythology

Mesopotamian Mythology

Mesopotamian mythology is essentially the combination of ancient Babylonian, Assyrian, Akkadian, and Sumerian myths. Each of these peoples developed their own religions, but because of their proximity, their mythology became intertwined and are presented collectively in this section.

Mesopotamian mythology was also influenced by other surrounding cultures, including the Hittites and Phoenicians. Given this diversity of background, some areas of Mesopotamian myth are inconsistent, as some groups and tribes held on to some of their original beliefs while incorporating some of others.

The region once known as Mesopotamia is the area of southwest Asia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, an area that is now Iraq. It is estimated that humans first settled in the region before 5000 BC.

One of the most significant areas of human civilization, Mesopotamia’s importance was reduced when its great irrigation system was destroyed by the Mongols in 1258. This area gave rise to many of the world’s modern religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, all rooted in these ancient religions.

Origin of Mesopotamian Mythology

According to the Mesopotamian creation myth, the life of the Enuma Elish (meaning “When on high”) began after an epic struggle between the older and younger gods. At first there was only water swirling in chaos and undifferentiated between fresh and bitter.

These waters were separated into two distinct principles: the male principle, Apsu, which was fresh water and the female principle, Tiamat, salt water. From the union of these two principles emerged all the other gods.

These younger gods made so much noise in their daily meeting that they came to annoy the elders, especially Apsu and, following the advice of his vizier, he decided to kill them. Tiamat, however, was surprised at Apsu’s plot and warned one of her sons, Ea, the god of wisdom and intelligence.

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With the help of his brothers and sisters, Ea put Apsu to sleep and then killed him. From Apsu’s corpse, Ea created the earth and built his home (although, in later myths, ‘the Apsu’ came to mean the watery home of the gods or the realm of the gods).

Tiamat, now upset by Apsu’s death, raised the forces of chaos to destroy her children herself. Ea and his brothers fought Tiamat and her allies, her champion, Quingu, the forces of chaos and Tiamat’s creatures, to no avail until, from among them, the great storm god Marduk emerged. Marduk vowed that he would defeat Tiamat if the gods would proclaim him their king.

This he accepted, entered into battle with Tiamat, slew her and, from her body, created the sky. He then went on with the act of creation to make human beings from the remains of Quingu as helpers of the gods.

Stages of Mesopotamian Mythology

The history of Mesopotamia spans from the earliest human occupation in the Lower Sumayan period to late antiquity. This history is reconstructed from evidence obtained from archaeological excavations and, after the introduction of writing in the late fourth century B.C., from an increasing amount of historical sources.

Whereas only parts of Upper Mesopotamia were occupied in the Paleolithic and early Neolithic, the southern alluvium was settled in the late Neolithic. Mesopotamia has been home to many of the oldest great civilizations, entering history as early as the Early Bronze Age, so it is often referred to as the cradle of civilization.

The rise of the first cities in southern Mesopotamia dates back to the Uruk period, from 4000 BC onwards; their regional independence ended with the Achaemenid conquest in 539 BC, although some native Neo-Assyrian kingdoms existed at different times.

Gods or deities of Mesopotamian mythology

The ancient Sumerians worshipped many different gods and goddesses. They thought that the gods greatly influenced what happened to them in their lives. Babylonian and Assyrian religion was strongly influenced by the Sumerians.

Each city had its own god. In the center of the city was a large temple or ziggurat built for that god. This is where the priests lived and made sacrifices. Some of the ziggurats were huge and reached great heights. They looked like stepped pyramids with flat tops.

Mesopotamian Anu

Mesopotamian Gods

1.Anu: Sometimes called An, Anu was the god of the heavens and king of the gods. The city associated with Anu was Uruk.

2. Enlil: The god of air, wind and storms, Enlil held the tablets of destiny.

3. Enki: was the shaper of the world, as well as the god of wisdom, intellect and magic. He invented the plow and was in charge of making plants grow.

4. Inanna: was the goddess of love and war.

5. Nanna: she was also called Sin. She was the god of the moon. Babylonian Gods

6. Marduk: he was the main god of the Babylonians and had Babylon as his main city. He was considered the supreme deity over all other gods.

7. Utu: The god of the sun, as well as justice and law

8. Nergal: god of the underworld, Nergal was an evil god who brought war and famine to the people.

8. Tiamat: goddess of the sea.

9. Ninkasi: Sumerian tutelary goddess of beer and alcohol. Symbolizing the role of women in brewing beer and preparing beverages in ancient Mesopotamia.

Mesopotamian Mythology Literature

The literature that has survived from Mesopotamia was written primarily on stone or clay tablets. The production and preservation of written documents were the responsibility of scribes who were associated with the temples and the palace. No distinction can be made between religious and secular writings.

The function of the temple as a food redistribution center meant that even seemingly secular shipping receipts had a religious aspect. Similarly, laws were perceived as given by the gods. Accounts of kings’ victories were often associated with the favor of the gods and were written in praise of the gods.

The gods were also involved in the establishment and enforcement of treaties between the political powers of the time.

A large group of texts related to the interpretation of omens has survived. Because it was felt that the will of the gods could be known through the signs the gods revealed, care was taken to gather ominous signs and the events they foretold.

The largest collection of omens, containing over 100 tablets, is entitled “If a city is situated on a hill . . . “

Several types of prayers have also been preserved. The prayers begin with praise of the deity, then move on to the petition or complaint of the worshiper, and end with anticipatory praise of the deity for the deliverance to be expected.

Other prayers were incantations to deliver the worshiper from various diseases through the intervention of the gods. Some prayers were laments, while others praised a given deity.

Some explicitly ritual texts have survived. Significant at the Babylonian New Year festival was the reading of the epic Creation, entitled Enuma Elish.

These tablets begin with a genealogy of the gods, followed by an account of the creation of heaven and earth from the body of Tiamat who was slain by Marduk. Marduk’s rise to rule over the gods is the underlying theme of this epic.

As part of his organization of the universe, mankind was created from the blood of Kingu, Tiamat’s cohort, and Babylon was established as the city of Marduk.

Another famous text is the Epic of Gilgamesh . The 12 tablets of this epic begin and end on the walls of Uruk, the city founded by Gilgamesh. The story itself tells of the exploits of Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu.

Among these adventures is the defeat of the monster Humbaba, guardian of Cedar Mountain. With the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh directs his efforts towards a quest for immortality that eventually brings him into contact with figures such as Utnapishtim, who, because he had survived the Flood, received the authorization.immortality . Three times Gilgamesh almost achieves his goal only to have it elude him.

Characters of Mesopotamian Mythology

The main characters of Mesopotamian mythology include:

  1. Anu, god of the sky and stars.
  2. Enlil (Ellil) The god of the wind and sky. Often identified with Jupiter.
  3. Enki (Ea) The god of water and wisdom. Enki was much more fond of humanity than most of the other gods and was generally a pretty cool guy, if a bit eccentric. He is often identified with mercury.
  4. Ishkur (Adad), god of storms. He is the brother of Enki or a son of Nanna and Ningal.
  5. Nammu, (Tiamat) goddess of primeval waters.
  6. Ki, goddess of the earth.
  7. Ninhursag (Ninmah, Nintu, Mamma, Aruru, Belet-Ili), goddess of nature and earth, and the wife of Enki. May or may not be the same as Ki.
  8. Ninlil (Sud, Mulittu), the wife of Enlil and usually the mother of Nanna, Nergal, Ninazu, Ninurta and Enbilulu.
  9. Nanna (Suen, Sin), god of the moon. His wife is Ningal, goddess of reeds.
  10. Nergal, god of fire, destruction, war, plagues, and occasionally, the sun. Often identified with Mars.
  11. Ninurta, god of agriculture, healing and destruction. Often identified with Saturn.
  12. Ereshkigal (Allatu, Irkalla), the ruler of the underworld, the elder sister of Inanna and the wife of Nergal. They are the daughters of Anu or Nanna. Often identified with Hecate.
  13. Inanna (Ishtar, Inana), goddess of war, love and fertility. Often identified with Venus.
  14. Utu (Shamash), god of justice and the sun, son of Nanna and Ningal.
  15. Marduk, water, vegetation, judgment and magic; son of Enki and Damkina. As the patron deity Babylon, which was created to justify the rule of the Babylonians.

Myth and legends of Mesopotamian mythology

The ancient Mesopotamians worshipped hundreds of gods. They believed that each god had special powers. This gave rise to many myths.

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It refers both to one of the Mesopotamian myths that focus on the creation of the earth, and to the main character of that myth. The myth possibly has Assyrian roots, as a fragmentary version may have been found in the library of Ashusbanipal, although translations remain uncertain.

The myth begins with the creation of humans by the mother goddess Mami to lighten the workload of the gods. She made them from a mixture of clay, flesh and blood of a slain god. Later in the story, however, the god Enlil attempts to control the overpopulation of humans through various methods, including famine, drought and finally a great flood.

Mankind is saved by Atrahasis, who was warned of the flood by the god Enki and built a boat to escape the waters, eventually appeasing the gods with sacrifices.

Eridu Gensis

Eridu Gensis has a plot similar to that of the Akkadian myth, Atra-Hasis, although it is more difficult to know what exactly happens in Eridu Gensis because the tablet on which it was recorded is badly damaged. However, the two stories share the flood as the most important event, although the surviving hero in Eridu Gensis is named Zi-ud-sura instead of Artahasis.

Eridu Gensis was recorded at about the same time as Atra-Hasis, however, the fragmentary tombstone containing it was found in Nippur, located in present-day eastern Iraq, while the version of Atra-hasis from the same period was found in the library of Ashurbanipal, in present-day northern Iraq.

Enuma Elis

Enuma Elis (also spelled Enuma Elish) is a Babylonian creation myth with an unclear composition, although it possibly dates back to the Bronze Age. This piece was intended to be recited at a ritual celebration of the Babylonian new year.

It chronicles the birth of the gods, the world and man, the purpose of which was to serve the gods and lighten their workload. The focus of the narrative is to praise Marduk, the patron god of Babylon, who creates the world, the calendar and mankind.

Heroic epics

These stories tended to focus on a great hero, following his journey through trials or simply important events in his life.

Stories like these can be found in many different cultures around the world, and often give insight into the values of those societies. For example, in a culture that celebrated a hero who was devoted to the gods or who respected his father, it can be inferred that the society valued those traits.

Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the best-known Mesopotamian myths, and is often considered to be the world’s oldest known literary work. It was initially a series of individual short stories, and was not combined into a cohesive epic until the 18th century.

The story follows the Sumerian king Gilgamesh, typically regarded as a historical figure, and his good friend Enkidu through various adventures and quests that ultimately led to Enkidu’s death. The second half of the epic deals with Gilgamesh, distraught over the death of his friend and his impending mortality, as he seeks immortality.

He ultimately fails, but comes to terms with the fact that he will eventually die and returns to his city of Uruk as a wiser king.

The myth of Adapa

The earliest record of the Adapa myth is from the 14th century. Adapa was a Sumerian citizen who was blessed by the god Enki with immeasurable intelligence. However, one day Adapa was blown into the sea by the south wind, and in anger he broke the south wind’s wings so that it could no longer blow.

Adapa was called to be judged by An, and before leaving Enki warned him not to eat or drink anything offered to him. However, An changed his mind when he realized how intelligent Adapa was and offered him the food of immortality, which Adapa, obedient to Enki, refused.

This story is used as an explanation of the mortality of mankind, it is associated with the fall of man narrative that is also present in Christianity.

Mesopotamian Mythology Traditions

Religion was central to the Mesopotamians as they believed that the divine affected all aspects of human life. The Mesopotamians were polytheistic; they worshipped several major gods and thousands of minor gods.

Each Mesopotamian city, whether Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian or Assyrian, had its own patron god or goddess. Each Mesopotamian era or culture had different expressions and interpretations of the gods. Marduk, the Babylonian god, for example, was known as Enki or Ea in Sumer.

Clay tablets found in archaeological excavations describe the cosmology, mythology and religious practices and observations of the Tibme.

Some Mesopotamian myths were reflected in biblical accounts, such as the Garden of Eden, the Flood, the Creation and the Tower of Babel. As the world’s oldest religion, Mesopotamian beliefs influenced the monotheistic religions that followed, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In early Mesopotamia, the priests were the first rulers, as all authority came from the god. The priests were then both representatives of the god and mediators between the god and the people. Later, secular power was established in a king, although kings also had specific religious duties.

Kings ruled by the favor of the god and thus were imbued with a semi-divine authority. Kings, priests and priestesses were the most important people in Mesopotamian society.

Religious rituals

Ancient Mesopotamian rituals consisted mainly of making offerings and sacrifices in temples to please the gods. Many Mesopotamian texts have described these rituals as “magical”. The rituals may be daily or some annual.

Making offerings and sacrifices in the temples to feed the gods was a daily duty. This was intended to sustain the gods, to please them and keep them happy and comfortable.

Another ritual called Mis pi, was a purification ritual and was performed whenever it was believed that a person or object had come into contact with that of the god. Mis pi was also performed whenever a new temple or statue was created.
Another common ritual was the use of amulets to protect the wearer from the evil wrath of Gods, Spirits and demons.

Ancient Mesopotamian burial customs included placing the body in a ceramic jar. Other burial options were the use of rugs or mats to wrap the body. Along with burials, the ancient Mesopotamians believed in writing on the graves of the deceased.

Many of these rituals have become an essential part of daily life in the ancient Mesopotamian religion.

The ancient Mesopotamians worshipped multiple gods, deities, spirits and demons. This worship took place in temples that were often the most centrally located and considered the most important buildings in Mesopotamia.

These temples were dedicated to individual spirits or deities and could sometimes be quite elaborate depending on the wealth of the city. The largest temples were called Ziggurats.

In Mesopotamian temples there was a central shrine with a statue of a deity placed in front of the altar so that the entire congregation could see it. Worshipping the Gods is a daily activity in conjunction with making sacrifices for the Gods and performing the duties of God.


As the culture and religion of ancient Mesopotamia developed, festivals, ceremonies and traditions became an important part of life for many.

The many rituals and festivals of ancient Mesopotamian culture were based on rites of passage, such as birth or marriage. These celebrations were held as banquets and featured dancing, music and food.

A predominant festival in ancient Mesopotamian culture is the Akitu festival. Akitu is the oldest New Year’s festival in written records dating back to the middle of the third millennium B.C.E.

It takes place in the first month of the year in the Babylonian calendar (March/April), hence it is called the New Year festival. Akin also celebrates the barley planting and cutting season in ancient Mesopotamia.

Sacred sites of Mesopotamian mythology


It was one of the oldest Sumerian cities and one of the most important religious centers of Mesopotamia. Some researchers date the creation of the city around 5000 BC.

Throughout Sumerian history, Nippur – located northeast of the city of Ad-Diwaniyah, now in southeastern Iraq – occupied a special place among the cities.

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According to the earliest extant records, Nippur is known to have been not a capital but a sacred city, a central and unique sanctuary of the region. Its sacred character helped Nippur survive several wars and the fall of dynasties that brought destruction to other cities.

According to the earliest extant records, it is known that Nippur was not a capital but a sacred city, a central and unique sanctuary of the region. Its sacred character helped Nippur survive several wars and the fall of dynasties that brought destruction to other cities.

Not only was it midway between the cities of Ur and Sippar, i.e., between Sumer and northern Babylonia, but it was also the seat of Enlil, the chief god of the Sumerian pantheon, the “Lord Wind,” ruler of the cosmos and one of the triad of gods, including Anu (Sumerian: An) and Ea (Sumerian: Enki). The city also played an important role in politics.

According to the earliest extant records, it is known that Nippur was not a capital but a sacred city, a central and unique sanctuary of the region. Its sacred character helped Nippur survive several wars and the fall of dynasties that brought destruction to other cities.

Ruins of Nippur

Ruins of a temple platform at Nippur – the brick structure on top was built by American archaeologists around 1900. Image via Wikipedia

The kings were involved in the restoration of the city’s temples, the construction of fortification walls, public administrative buildings and canals. Even after 1800 BC, when the Babylonians made Marduk the most important god in southern Mesopotamia, Enlil was still worshipped and had his shrine.

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Nippur remained a holy and prestigious city, with more than a hundred temples, regardless of the dynasty that ruled Mesopotamia.

Probably because of its strategic location and sacred significance, it remained a neutral city.

Nippur’s greatest growth took place under the kings of Ur III (c. 2100 B.C.), was almost equaled in the time of the Kassites (c. 1250 B.C.) and in the period when the Assyrians, from northern Iraq, dominated Babylon (c. 750-612 B.C.).

The ziggurats

They are as emblematic of Mesopotamia as the great pyramids of ancient Egypt. These ancient stepped buildings were created to house the patron god or goddess of the city. As religion was the center of Mesopotamian life, the ziggurat was the heart of a city.

Beginning around 3000 BC, Mesopotamian kings began building ziggurats and continued to build them until the time of Alexander the Great around 300 BC.

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In Mesopotamia, a fine balance of power existed between the secular kings and the high priests of the patron god or goddess. The kings built ziggurats to demonstrate their dedication and religious fervor.

The word ziggurat means elevated area. Wide at the bottom, these pyramid-shaped constructions had two to seven levels, each of which was smaller than the one below the pyramid.

The upper part of the building was flat, and in it was a sanctuary or temple to the god to which only priests could go. The entire building was made of sun-dried bricks in all interior areas, with fire-dried and glazed bricks facing outward.

The facing bricks of each successive course were glazed in a different color. A series of stairs led to the top of the ziggurat for the priests to use.

The ziggurats were part of a temple complex, a collection of buildings dedicated to the care of the gods and all temple business. The temple complex was one of the economic centers of the city.

The great temples employed hundreds or even thousands of people, from priests and priestesses to humble shepherds, carpenters and weavers. The ziggurat, however, was dedicated to the patron god or goddess of the city; it was a sacred place, off limits to any hierarchy of priests.

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