Assyrian & Babylonian Gods and Goddesses

Instructor: Emily Teater

Emily currently is a substitute teacher, and has taught a variety of K-12 courses. She has a master's degree in Mythological Studies.

In this lesson, you will read about the major gods and goddesses in ancient Mesopotamian mythology, particularly from the Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations, and explore their roles in the creation epic the Enuma Elish.

Assyrian and Babylonian Mythology at a Glance

Located in what is called the Near East, the empires of Babylon and Assyria sat in the Fertile Crescent, just between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Given their location, it's no surprise that the myths from these civilizations influenced Greek, Egyptian, and Abrahamic religion and traditions. The civilization of Babylon, as we know it, lasted from about 2350 to 1595 BCE, when it was sacked and later ruled by the Hittites. Assyria arrived a little later on the scene, and lasted from 1900 BCE to 650 CE.

A map of Assyria and Babylon when their empires coexisted.
Babylon and Assyria

Much of what we know about Mesopotamian mythology comes from the various tablets, or portions of tablets, found in ancient Assyrian and Babylonian cities. While these tablets have only remained partially intact and large sections are as yet untranslated, they still give us a pretty clear picture of some of the myths of these ancient cultures, which introduce us to the gods and goddesses of the Mesopotamian pantheon. One of the longer and more descriptive myths we have from ancient Mesopotamian tablets is the Enuma Elish, or the creation epic, which tells us how the world and its gods and goddesses came to be.

Gods of Creation

Apsu is not technically a god - think of him more like the Greek idea of a Titan - but he was the embodiment of the sweet freshwater that first emerged out of chaos in the beginning of the world. With his consort, Tiamat, they are the parents, or sometimes grandparents (the family tree isn't always clear) of Anu, Enlil, and Enki.

Tiamat has perhaps the most complicated history of the Mesopotamian gods. On the one hand, she is depicted as a beautiful woman who was mother to the gods and the embodiment of the salty sea. When she turned against the gods in the Enuma Elish, she became depicted as a dragon-like monster. In her anger, she created all the deadly creatures of the world, including serpents and scorpions.

Marduk, as the patron god of Babylon, is considered the primary god of creation, according to the the Enuma Elish. However, this may not be the only version of the story; in fact, it's likely only the case because the text was found in Babylon, which probably had a bias towards their own patron god. Marduk is the son of Enki and is sometimes considered the god of heroes. He killed Tiamat and used one half of her body to create the sky, and the other half to create the land. He used the blood of Tiamat's favored warrior to create humans.

Marduk slaying Tiamat in her monstrous form.
Tiamat and Marduk

Ruling Gods

Anu is the god of the sky and was considered the king of the Sumerian pantheon (Sumer was another city in the region). Often a lofty and unseen or unheard figure, Anu actually is seldom mentioned in many Mesopotamian myths.

Enlil is the god of the air and king of the Assyrian pantheon. Enlil is known for having a volatile temper and was the god responsible for sending the Great Flood to kill humankind because they were too noisy.

Enki, sometimes known as Ea, was god of water and the most clever of the gods. In many myths he is a protector of humankind. He was the one who warned Atrahasis, the Mesopotamian Noah, about the flood and instructed him on how to build a boat and appease the gods.

Other Gods in the Pantheon

While the major gods and goddesses are almost all present in the Enuma Elish, there are several other deities who are large parts of the Mesopotamian pantheon. Note that the familial relations between these gods and goddesses is somewhat confusing since there are multiple variations of the story of the family tree of the gods.

Sin, or Nanna, is the god of the moon. He was the son of Enlil and father of Utu, Ishtar, and Ereshkigal. As symbols of the moon, Sin has a beard made of lapis lazuli and rides a bull across the sky. For one day out of every month, during the new moon, Sin is in the underworld and decides the fate of the dead.

Utu, or Shamash, is the god of the sun. He is the son of Sin and the older brother of Ishtar. Utu also holds a position as head judge among the gods. During the day, when he is in the mortal realm, he presides over all disputes among gods and men. At night, when he descends towards the underworld, he settles disputes there.

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