Mesopotamian Mythology
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Basic Information

This page is an index to the mythology of ancient Mesopotamia. This includes:
Akkadian Mythology - from the Akkadian Empire
Assyrian Mythology - from Assyria
Babylonian Mythology - from Babylon (and Babylonia in general)
Sumerian Mythology - from Sumer
At the time of this article's creation, we don't really have enough pages on this topic to justify splitting them up, and there's a lot of overlap and syncretic cross-pollination between the cultures of this region in the ancient era. Those cultures flourished starting in 3000 BC, but none of them survived past 400 AD. They created some of the oldest myths known.

In the midst of that was a 350-year span where the Kassites conquered Babylon and ruled it from 1531 BC to 1155 BC. The Kassites had their own deities, about which relatively little is known, but who were separate from the Mesopotamian deities that proceeded and followed them.

List of Deities

The original gods were the Anunnaki, many of whom were the children of Tiamat and Abzu, whom they later killed. In some versions of the myths there was also a second pantheon of younger gods, the Igigi, who were originally servants to the Anunnaki. Eventually the Igigi rebelled and were punished and destroyed by the Anunnaki, who then created humans to replace them.

The Mesopotamians feared their Gods, and offered them sacrifices, but didn't really like them very much. Most of the gods are underhanded, feuding, untrustworthy, and prone to cowardice.

Because of the several different cultures and hundreds of years, some of these deities were known by multiple names. (Secondary names are listed in italics in parenthesis.)

  • Abzu (Apsu) - primordial being of water, slain by later gods
  • Adad (Hadad, Ishkur) - storm god
  • Anu (An) - the sky father
  • Amurru (Martu) - god of nomads and shepherds
  • Aruru - Goddess of Creation. Made Enkidu to keep Gilgamesh company.
  • Ashur (Anshar, Assur) - god of the sky below the clouds
  • Bel - brother of Marduk or another title for Marduk, god of sages
  • Belit-Tseri - scribe and record-keeper of the underworld
  • Damkina - mother of Marduk
  • Dagan (Dagon) - god of grains and fertility, rather different from the Lovecraftian Father Dagon
  • Enki (Ea) - water god, trickster, beer-brewer, wise problem-solver,
  • Enlil (Ellil) - storm god. So powerful not even the other gods could look upon him.
  • Ereshkigal - Queen of the Underworld, sister of Ishtar
  • Geshtinanna - sister of Tammuz, like him was forced to be dead 6 months of each year so Ishtar could live
  • Gula - goddess of doctors and healing, usually depicted next to a dog and her constellation
  • Ishtar (Inanna, Astarte) - Queen of heaven, goddess of conquest, love and war
  • Ishum (Endursaga)- minor god of fire, herald of the gods
  • Kabta - god of pickaxes and bricks
  • Kaka - secretary to Anshar
  • Kingu (Quingu) - later consort to Tiamat, after his death humans were made from his body
  • Kishar - earth goddess and goddess of fertility
  • Kittu - god of justice
  • Lahmu and Lahamu - the first two children of Absu and Tiamat, before Tiamat hooked up with Kingu
  • Lama - goddess of protection, often took the form of a Lamassu
  • Marduk - King of Babylon and the Gods, Slayer of Tiamat
  • Misharu - god of laws
  • Mummu - son of Tiamat and Apsu, personification of the mist that rises from a body of water
  • Nabu - god of scribes and irrigation
  • Nammu - goddess of water and the abyss
  • Nanna (Sin) - Moon god, father of Shamash (and sometimes also the father of Ishtar)
  • Nergal (Erra, Irra, Meslamtaea, or Kur)- god of the death, plague, and the underworld. raped and kidnapped Ereshkigal
  • Neti - guardian of the gates of Kur, servant of Ereshkigal, psychopomp
  • Ninazu - god of the underworld and healing
  • Ningal - moon goddess
  • Ningikuga - goddess of the reeds
  • Ninhursag (Ki, Ninmah, or Nintu) - Earth goddess, mother of Enlil, protector of pregnant women
  • Ninlil - goddess of the air
  • Ninshubur - Inanna’s messenger and right-hand-woman
  • Ninurta - war god, more brawn than brains, but creator of gemstones
  • Papsukkal - messenger and gatekeeper to the gods
  • Queen Of The Night - mysterious figure in Mesopotamian art (possibly an avatar of Ereshkigal?)
  • Shamash (Utu) - sun god who carries a saw, other father of Ishtar
  • Shulmanu - minor god of the underworld, fertility and war
  • Sirtur - sheep goddess
  • Tammuz (Dumuzi) - shepherd god, one of Ishtar's lovers, doomed to spend half of each year in the Underworld
  • Tiamat - primordial being of saltwater, mother of monsters
  • Tishpak - minor warrior god associated with snakes
  • Usmu (Isimud) - servant to and messenger of Enki, has a second face on the back of his head
  • Uttu - spider goddess, patroness of weavers

List of Mortals:

Gilgamesh is the most important and best-known of these.

Some sources say Geshtinanna and Tammuz were mortals instead of gods.

List of Mesopotamian Creatures

There's a lot of demons on this list, but it should be noted that in the Mesopotamian context, a "demon" is more like a "spirit". Many are evil, but others are good and some are more ambiguous.

Themes and stories in Mesopotamian Mythology

Locations in Mesopotamian Mythology

  • Kur (also known as Arali, Erṣetu, Irkalla, Kigal, or Kukku) - "Kur" is literally the Sumerian word for Mountain, it was used as the name of both the realm of the gods (most of whom lived at the top of the mountain) and underworld (as Nergal and Ereshkigal lived in the roots of the mountain far below the earth).
    • "The Land of No Return" is another name for the gloomy underworld version of Kur.
    • Hubur is the river at the edge of Kur that dead souls had to cross to get to their final resting place
  • Ancient Mesopotamians believed The Earth floated upon a giant body of fresh water, sometimes personified as Abzu

Unlike some mythologies, Mesoptamian myths don't involve a mess of different worlds. Everything happens here on Earth, with the gods living atop mountains or in underground caverns.

Cities of the Gods

The major Mesopotamian cities each had a patron diety. Near the center of the city there would be a large ziggurat which served as the main temple of that particular god. As mentioned above, the surviving myths show the people had a somewhat antagonistic relationship with their deities. Even gods that were deemed mostly evil and destructive, like Nergal, still had a home town with a major temple, and were deemed to be patron of that particular city. The temples would have a major statue of the god or goddess, that was said to be the physical embodiment of that god or goddess on earth. It was said that deity took an extra keen interest in their personal city.

Sources

Bibliography
4. Non-Fiction Book: Mythology for Dummies by Blackwell and Blackwell
5. mesopotamia.co.uk - includes cool illustrations of most of the gods and many of the demons and monsters

Game and Story Use

  • Any game set in the Ancient World is likely to focus a lot on Greece, Egypt or Rome (and Classical Mythology), but Mesopotamia can give you a lot of great myths and monsters that will shake things up and provide some surprising twists and turns.
    • There's a lot of name recognition (Tiamat, Gilgamesh, Ishtar, Lilith, Pazuzu, etc) without necessarily a lot of casual knowledge of the details, so Mesopotamian mythology can hit the sweet spot of "vaguely familiar" while still leaving much open for the GM to customize or modify.
  • The extreme age of these myths makes them useful for secrets that are long lost, or mysteries that stretch back to the dawn of man.
    • There are a lot of mythological creatures from this region and era described as demons, so those ancient mysteries might also be very dark mysteries as well.
    • See Interpretatio Cthulhiana for ideas on perhaps blending the Mesopotamian and Cthulhu Mythos.
  • For a unique take on Mesopotamian Mythology in gaming, see GURPS Horror: The Madness Dossier by Kenneth Hite. It's sort of like the X-files if the metaplot involved reality-warping mesopotamian demons instead of alien greys. Within the setting, the Anunnaki created and enslaved mankind for thousands of years until some cataclysm shattered the consensus reality and reformed into our timeline where humans were largely free willed and the Anunnaki little more than a memory. PCs use neuro-linguistic programming to battle the mythic creatures of Sumer in an effort to prevent our reality from reverting back into their reality.
  • Mesopotamian myths have a pretty simplified cosmology, with just the one world instead of any extravagant hierarchy of planes of existence. Heaven and hell, to the extent they even exist, are just remote parts of the earth. So if you're looking for simple "one world" model for your myths or universe, and don't want to worry too much about alien locales, they could be a good model. The focus is on the cities of mankind, which the gods take an interest in, usually to the detriment of the people who live in those cities.
    • Disaster subplots are a good match as a result. Nergal occasionally wrecks a city for no good reason, just because he can. Mesopotamian gods are jerks like that.
  • The whole "Cities of the Gods" notion is pretty interesting. You could steal that for your campaign setting. Put one city on your map for each major deity. That god gets a big temple there, with the bulk of their clergy present. Each city has it's own special laws and thematic elements, based on which god "rules" there. If the gods are powerful in your setting, the city could manifest a living avatar, or perhaps the entire city is enchanted by a magic aura that is linked to the gods' purview. Miracles happen in each city, but only specific miracles that match the local god's powers and concerns.
    • Notice how it's basically one god per city, with the exception of two cities who break that rule by adding the single most important goddess Ishtar (aka Inanna) to their list? That suggests how to shine a special spotlight on a particular god (by giving them in two cities) or a particular city (by making it have two gods).
      • Are the cities with two gods harmonious, or conflicted? Do they work together for the greater good of the city, or do they compete and scheme to steal worshipers from each other? Does the entire city have a theme or enchantment that represents what those gods have in common? Or is there a hard line along neighborhood boundaries where one god ends and the next begins?
  • The "fear of the Gods" is pretty strong in Ancient Mesopotamia. Nurgal wrecks cities for no reason. There's no post-Flood-promise that the gods won't wipe out the human race again. Human king Gilgamesh tells Ishtar that he won't sleep with her because she always does evil magic to her lovers, and her response is to unleash a monster that kill's his best friend. In mesopotamia, the gods are evil or at the very least alien and inscrutable. That's scary, and could make for a really exciting (and bleak) setting.
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