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Mesopotamian God Ashur: Definition & History

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson defines an ancient Mesopotamian god called Ashur. You're also going to learn about some of what we know about his origins and development in ancient history.

Assyria

In what is now northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey lies the ruins of Assyria, one of the most important empires of ancient times. It was, like the more famous Babylonia, a part of ancient Mesopotamia.

Its people worshiped many different gods, one of which was Ashur. In this lesson, you're going to learn more about this god and the history behind his connection to Assyria.

Early History

Ashur (also spelled Assur) was the god of the Assyrian nation. It is believed that, at first, he was a local deity of a city that bore his name. This city is now called Qal at Sharqat and it was the religious capital of Assyria. It's located in what is now northern Iraq on the western bank of the Tigris River. It's unclear exactly how the god Ashur came to be and exactly how he developed over time.

Some believe this image represents Ashur but it is not entirely certain.
Ashur

What is clear, however, is that the might of the Assyrian nation eventually spread beyond Ashur. As it did, Assur stopped being a local city god and became the most important god of the Assyrian empire.

Association with Enlil

But you know how globalization today blurs the lines between different cultures? Well, the same thing happened in ancient times as well. As the Assyrian empire spread, it came into cultural contact with other Mesopotamian people, including the Sumerians. From around 1300 BCE, Ashur was somewhat associated with being the Sumerian equivalent of Enlil, or 'Lord Wind'.

Enlil was an immensely powerful deity who decided the fates of men and gods. He gave kings their powers and his decisions were final. Enlil's wife was Ninlil, 'Lady Wind'. Thus, Ashur's wife also became Ninlil as the cultures intermixed. However, in Assyria she was called Mullissu instead.

Association with Ansar

When Sargon II came to power in Assyria (721-705 BCE), Ashur was identified with Ansar. Ansar, in the Babylonian Epic of Creation, was a primeval being. He and Kisar (a female primeval being) gave rise to Anu (An). Anu was seen as the supreme god of heaven and the sky. He was at the head of the ancient Mesopotamian pantheon. In this way, Ashur was thus seen as a god who had been around for a very long time, ever since the universe was created.

As a result of his associations with Enlil and Anu, Ashur's symbol is a horned cap, which were both symbols tied to Anu and Enlil.

Association with Marduk

But not long after all of this, things changed again. Sargon II's successor was a ruler known as Sennacherib (704-681 BCE). Under his rule, there was an attempt to tie Ashur to a Babylonian god called Marduk. Marduk was the patron god of the city of Babylon. In the Babylonian Epic of Creation he is elevated to the head of the pantheon of gods and was sometimes worshiped in an almost monotheistic way. A lot of his mythology and rituals were tied in with Ashur.

This was partly done for political reasons. Sennacherib of Assyria laid siege to Babylon and sacked it in 691 BCE. He ascended to the Babylonian throne and thus probably tried to intermix Assyrian and Babylonian beliefs to solidify his power.

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