Tiamat
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Basic Information

In Mesopotamian Mythology, Tiamat is a primordial being of saltwater and chaos. With her mate Abzu she created the cosmos and gave birth to the first generation of the Anunnaki deities. When those gods later made war upon and destroyed Abzu, it caused Tiamat to entire a dire rage. Appearing as a sea monster with udders, she gave birth to brood of 11 monsters, and then went in search of revenge. She was instead slain by Marduk, who later used her carcass to fashion the earth and the milky way. This whole process has shades of the titanomachy from Greek Mythology and would seem to mark Tiamat and Abzu as equivalent to titans.

In Dungeons & Dragons, Tiamat is a Dragon with five heads, but there is little (if anything) in actual Mesopotamian Mythology to suggest that description is correct or accurate. Prior to her revenge-fueled transformation, Tiamat is described as a "glistening" human female, and it's possible that her worship included hieros gamos (holy marriage and/or sacred sexual rituals). There are parts of the original myths where they describe her tail, but there are other passages where she is human and some passages where she's described as if she were an ocean. There's at least one reference to her udder and another to her breasts, which is anatomically confusing. There's one piece of ancient artwork that depicted her as a human woman with snakes for legs, but the difference between that and other descriptions makes scholars wonder if the picture is identified correctly.

There are other creatures that are multi-headed dragons in Mesopotamian myths, so it's likely the authors of D&D conflated those myths together in some way.

The story of the battle between Marduk and Tiamat was part of the New Years celebration in ancient Babylon, possibly including a ritual or theatrical reenactment of the battle.

Sources

Game and Story Use

  • Using Mesopotamian Tiamat in a D&D campaign could have some very clever misdirection. You tell the players that there's a cult of Tiamat attempting a ritual to summon their mistress, and they'll assume you're talking dragons, not glistening goddesses.
  • A game set in the ancient world (or a time travel game) could include a session near the Babylonian new year. This could provide some good "cover" for any plot points about Tiamat cults or rituals. Things that are actually sinister might seem to be just ceremonial or fun. (So kind of the opposite of the previous bullet point.)
    • Or, you could take it in the fun or funny direction. Rather than worrying about getting the details accurate, you could have some fun with anachronism.
      • You could riff on Chinese New Year with an elaborate puppet/costume of Tiamat dancing through the streets.
      • Or you could riff on Shakespeare and use various theatre tropes, but swap in various Mesopotamian gods instead of Shakespearean characters.
  • Tiamat's contradictory descriptions are a good template for mysterious deities and/or the bissociation often found in myth. She is an ocean, and some sort of draconic beast, and a human(oid) goddess. She's also big enough to build a galaxy out of her corpse. All of it is true, and none of it is.
    • Maybe she's a shapeshifter, but probably not since nothing every describes her transformation in process. She's just human in one scene, and a monster somewhere else.
    • So if and when she shows up in your game, the players won't know what to expect.
    • Likely she is a avatar of primal, pre-creation chaos - which has been described as "waters" in more than one source, especially amongst the land-loving nations of the Middle East - who can manifest in various other forms but with a generally female identity. Like many great powers, her "destruction" might end up being little more than a radical change in nature.
    • Interpretatio Cthulhiana might suggest her as an archetype of Shub-Niggurath as an ancient, feminine chaos with fertility aspects.
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