The Nations and Peoples of Mesopotamia
The sheer weight of years that have accumulated since mankinds earliest occupation of this region is numbing and, unsurprisingly, there have been a vast concourse of differing peoples who have dwelt beside the Two Rivers. Modern understanding of this area is hampered, however, by the fact that there has been no widespread migration of peoples into or out of Mesopotamia for a very long while now, and hence the names and characteristics of earlier inhabitants have become blurred and obscure. Here then is a brief catalogue of major groups who have occupied or been influential in this region during the times when these divinities were current. The reference is arranged in roughly chronological order of appearance; peoples and cities actually referred to above are in black type, while people and places not specifically mentioned, but important enough anyway, are in grey type.
SUMERIANS (<>A people of unknown ethnic affiliation, not the aboriginal folk of the region (the Ubaid culture is evidently that folk), but migrating into the region from the east at an early date. Their language is the oldest written speech in existence. Important Sumerian city-states were:
- Uruk The city of Gilgamesh.
AKKADIANS (2400-2000 BCE) A Semitic people living in what is now northern Iraq. Also included here are other proto-Semitic peoples dwelling alongside the Fertile Crescent, or within Arabia itself.
- Akkad Or, Agade. The capitol of the Akkadian state, located in the north.
- Dilmun The island of Bahrain, and the adjacent coast.
ASSYRIANS ( <>A Semitic (Amorite) people whose homeland was in northern Iraq and southeastern Anatolia. Originally a tent-dwelling nomadic folk, they succeeded in establishing an extensive empire. As a recognizable ethnic group, they endured the loss of the Empire, and in fact exist today around the world in respectable numbers.
HURRIANS (2100-1250 BCE) A people of unknown ethnic affiliation, whose only known relatives (based on linguistic studies) were the later Urartians of eastern Anatolia. The most significant Hurrian states were:
- Mitanni (1600-1270 BCE)
- Urartu (900-600 BCE) In eastern Anatolia, and called Van by it's inhabitants, "Urartu" was the Assyrian name for them. The Hebrew transliteration of the name was Ararat.
HITTITES (1850-1200 BCE) An Aryan people dwelling in central Anatolia. They established the first Aryan civilization, and were among the first folk to extensively work iron. They never held Mesopotamian territory to any significant degree, but were a major power in the region in their era.
KASSITES (1700-1200 BCE) A people of unknown ethnic affiliation, originating in the highlands of western Iran but extending themselves throughout the region thereafter.
PERSIANS (539 BCE-636 CE) An Aryan (Irani) people whose descendents still live adjacent to Mesopotamia.
KURDS (c.500 BCE-present) An Aryan folk related to the Persians, occupying northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey. They comprise the largest (approx. 17 to 25 million) ethnic group in the world without a state.
HELLENES (400 BCE-636 CE) An Aryan people, under whose aegis several empires were established:
- Macedonian (331-312 BCE)
- Seleucid (312-141 BCE)
- Byzantine (395-636 CE) The Byzantines never ruled in Mesopotamia proper, aside from ephemeral military expeditions, but their influence was significant.
ARABS (380 CE-present) A Semitic people originating within the Arabian Peninsula, and migrating out of the south in successive waves for ages. They have been predominant in Mesopotamia since 636, and have held recognizable states in this particular area for some centuries previous.
A Mesopotamian Pantheon
The people of the two rivers are responsible for the worlds oldest civilization, if writing is taken as the measure of culture: that art first appears here around 3200 BCE or a little earlier. Mesopotamia has been the homeland for a bewildering variety of peoples and nations, and the following archive reflects that. It should be kept in mind that the various divinities mentioned below came not only from different City-States, but even different ethnic groups.
Adad (Akkadian/Babylonian) The later, Babylonian version of the Sumerian Iskur.
Abzu (Sumerian) The Sumerians believed that the oceans on the surface of the world were paralled by hidden, cthonic seas located in vast chambers deep within the earth. Abzu is the primordial Lord of these Inner Waters. His name is the root behind the modern word "abyss". See also, Nammu. See Apsu for the continuation of this tale...
Amurru (Akkadian) The later version of the Sumerian Martu.
An (Sumerian) A primordial sky-god, regarded as the creator of the world and progenitor or ancestor of all the Gods who followed Him. His attributes are obscure and his rulership of the heavens is vague and ill-defined; He seems to have been a distant figure without much immediate impact on the human world.
Antu (Babylonian) In Babylonian versions of the mythos, the wife of Anu.
Anu (Babylonian) The Babylonian version of An.
Apsu (Akkadian/Babylonian)The later, Babylonian version of the Sumerian Abzu. According to the Babylonians, Apsu, a primordial dragon, was slain by Ea, who subsequently set up His home within Apsu's carcase.
Asarlubi (Sumerian) Son of Enki (I), and a master of magick and sorcery.
Assur (Assyrian) Tutelary God of the Assyrian people; Lord of the Assyrian pantheon, guide and defender of the Assyrian nation.During the era of Assyrian ascendency, He replaced Marduk as premier divinity.
Dagan (Akkadian/Babylonian) An agrarian deity, responsible for the invention of the plow, and Lord of the grain harvest. His worship was extensive in the Levant; within Mesopotamia he was relatively minor.
Dazibogu (Sumerian) A solar deity - not much is remembered of Him. But note a strong connective parallel to the much later Slavic Dazhdebog.
Dumuzi (Sumerian) Child of Duttur, Lord of shepherds and the flocks, and eternal adversary to Enkimdu. He is regarded as both divinity and royal ancestor in several Mesopotamian city-states, most notably Uruk, where he is listed as an earlier predescessor to the hero Gilgamesh. He has strong Underworld associations as well; the beloved of Inanna, He is taken by minions of Nergal to the depths when She visits the Final Land and then seeks to leave. Eventually, he returns to the upper land for 6 months of the year, while His place is taken then by His sister Gestinanna. Students of the Old Testament will recognize the Hebrew form of His name: Tammuz, which has become the 10th month of the Jewish calendar; and Tammuz, in a rare survival into modern times, is still used as the Iraqi name for the month of July.
Ea (Akkadian/Babylonian) The later version of Enki (I). His functions and attributes closely parallel the earlier divinity, although the tale of His battle against Apsu and subsequent claim upon the Inner Seas is expanded.
Enki (I) (Sumerian) Lord of the underworld seas which parallel the surface oceans, and hence master of artisanship, secret craft, magick, and inner wisdom. He seems to have been involved in ordering and regulating all the myriad functionings of the human (ie. civilized) world. Central to the mythos in general, He is a son of An (twin of Iskur) and father to Marduk, Asarlubi, Enbilulu, and Nanse, among others.
Enki (II) and Ninki (Sumerian) A separate figure from Enki of the underworld seas, this male and female pair were "Lord and Lady Earth", Patrons of the Upper world and, in at least one tradition, the parents of Enlil.
Enkimdu (Sumerian) Patron and Lord of dikes, canals, and furrows; in effect, irrigation and sedentary farming in general. He is the eternal adversary to Dumuzi.
Enlil (Sumerian) A central figure in the mythos, child by one tradition of An, by another of Enki (II)Iskur, Inanna, Nergal, and Utu among others. His vitality and majesty is of such strength that it is unedurable to all, and He is above all a figure of majesty, regal authority, and masculine energy. and father to many divinities, including
Ereskigal (Sumerian) Queen of the Underworld, a cthonic Goddess whose realm was the uttermost depths, below the Inner Sea of Abzu. She was recognized as Guardian and Patroness of the Dark City.
Gestinanna (Sumerian) An oracular Goddess, one who is associated with the interpretation of dreams, and also has widespread shepherding connections. She is the loyal sister of Dumuzi, and hides him by various strategems when he is sought by demons of the underworld. When He is eventually seized anyway, it is arranged that She take His place for half the year, and He Hers. While in the Underworld, She functions as Ereskigal's scribe.
Gibil (Sumerian) Divine Lord of fire, and personification of fire in all it's aspects, both harmful and beneficial.
Gula (Sumerian) A healer and patroness of medicine; She is also something of a tutelary Goddess of the city-state of Isin. Unsurprisingly for her vocation, She is almost always accompanied by a dog.
Humban (Elamite) A sky God, one who dwells in the heavens, and (probably) personifies masculine energy. He very likely is connected in some way to Humbaba, the giant guarding the cedars of Lebanon from Gilgamesh.
Inanna (Sumerian) "Lady of the Thousand Offices", She is the primary female Deity of Her people, and in some ways the focus of the entire pantheon. Her epithet refers to the fact that She is Patroness and divine Guide to a myriad different functions and powers. One tradition has Her the daughter of An, but a more persistant one makes Her the child of Nanna-Suen. All agree that She is the younger sister to Ereskigal. She has many lovers and consorts, but her strongest attachment seems to be with Dumuzi. She rules the natural world, and the vitalizing effect of the rain, but beyond that Her functions seem to revolve around pairs of contending ideas. Thus, She is both the morning and the evening star. She represents motherhood and the family, but She is also the harlot and temple prostitute. She governs lightning, but also the dousing of fire. Her spirit is one of praise and gladness, and also dismay and sorrow. Her imagery usually portrays Her as a winged female bearing weapons and some armour, wearing an open robe, nude underneath.
Ishhara (I) (Akkadian/Babylonian) A Goddess of love, and consort of Dagan in at least one tradition
Ishhara (II) (Hurrian) A Goddess of the underworld, not much else remains to Her memory.
Iskur (Sumerian) The chief weather deity, Lord of storms and tempests; He-Who-Wields-The-Lightning. He also has a benificent aspect as the bringer of cleansing and fructifying rain. He was patron of flowing water generally, and that could imply either living streams and rivers which irrigate the land, or floods which destroy.
Ishtar (Akkadian/Babylonian) The later equivalent to Inanna, and like Her earlier manifestation one of the most important figures in the pantheon. Like Inanna, She is Lady of many offices and functions, especially love, sexuality, fertility, and healing. Nevertheless, Ishtar has more associations with war and weaponry. Like Inanna, She is regarded in separate traditions as Daughter of Anu or Sin.
Isum (Sumerian) Guardian and protector from night-time terrors, divine messenger, and benign influence within the underworld, He was a God of enduring popularity.
Ki (Sumerian) A primordial being representing Earth in some traditions, wife of An in one version of the tales surrounding the beginnings; thus, the beginning times symbolized by the marriage of Heaven and Earth.
Lilu, Lilitu, and Ardat-Lili (Sumerian) Not divinities as such, this trio of closely related demons inhabited the desert wastes, and functioned largely in terms of sexual and fertility aberation. Lilu and Lilitu were male and female equivalents of each other, and were regarded as dangerous to pregnancies and newborns, while Ardat-Lili ("Maiden Lilitu") may have been their offspring, and was seen as a spirit of sexual disfunction and frustration, malevolent wives, and degeneracy in general. The general idea was imported into Hebrew mythology as Lilith, Demoness of desolation, obsession, and madness.
Mamu (Sumerian) An oracular divinity of dreams and visions, child of Utu, and of ambiguous or shifting gender.
Martu (Sumerian) Child of An by Ninhursaga, He was spoken of as the leveler of cities and destroyer of peoples. He was the personification of the nomad barbarians who swarmed into Mesopotamia from very early times. His name was the same as the epithet used to describe such people, and is reflected in the Old Testament description of Assyrians as "Amorites".
Marduk (Babylonian) Originally the Patron and tutelary deity of the city of Babylon, Marduk's power and influence grew until He was regarded as supreme among all the Gods and Goddesses. His personal attributes were as Lord of magick, wisdom, and regal authority. His influence began to wane somewhat in Assyrian times, as many of His functions were assumed by Assur.
Nabu (Babylonian) Divine Patron of scribes, and holding authority over writing and knowledge. He forms with Ea and Marduk a triplicity of Wisdom deities, and His worship persisted among Mesopotamian communities for a very long time. His cult is still recognizable as late as the 2nd century CE, and He was conflated by Hellenic writers with Apollo.
Nahhunte (Elamite) A solar deity, one concerned with justice and the law as well.
Nanse (Sumerian) Tutelary Goddess of the city-state of Lagash, Shewas an oracular divinity with the power to interpret dreams and omens. She also held a position as protectress of the common-folk, related to which She was invoked as an overseer of fair and accurate weights and measures.
Nergal (Sumerian) Lord of the Underworld, usually regarded as a child of Enlil and Ninlil, and consort to Ereskigal. Master of the Dark City, He has warlike associations, and is also connected to fevers and sudden diseases, especially the plague. His cult continued in one form or another for a long time, and after Alexandrian times came to be seen as an Aspect of Herakles.
Ninhursaga (Sumerian) A Mother-Goddess, one of several in Sumerian mythology. She is regarded as the mother of many divinities by Enlil, who further extends His line by incestuous unions with their daughters. Her name means "Lady of the Mountains.
Ninlil (Sumerian) Wife of Enlil, and mother to many of His children.
Ninurta (Sumerian) A warrior deity, involved with armies, weaponry, and the suppression of revolt. He has another nature as well, though, that of an agrarian deity devoted to tillage of the soil and teaching the arts of the farm.
Pazuzu (Babylonian) A demon of somewhat ambiguous malevolence: He was feared for his greed and strength, but was also recognized as a legitimate protection against pestilence. He has re-emerged in the modern world as the central evil force in the novel and movie "The Exorcist".
Pienenkir (Elamite) A Goddess of fertility, nurturance, and motherhood.
Qingu (Babylonian) A created entity, formed by Tiamat to be the general of Her divine forces in the war between Her and Marduk. Qingu was given the Tablet of Destinies as His primary weapon, but He and His forces were routed by Marduk. Executed by Marduk afterward, His blood was utilised in the creation of mankind.
Sin (Akkadian/Babylonian) The later-era version of Nanna-Suen, the moon God.
Suriash (Kassite) Possible a solar divinity, similar in many respects to Utu.
Tiamat (Sumerian) A primordial entity. At the beginning of creation there were but two entities, AbzuAn and Ki (Heaven and Earth). When Abzu was slain, Tiamat released monstrous creatures in vengeance, and was in turn slain by, as later version have it, Marduk. He used her corpse to form the world (her back the sky, her belly the earth, her breasts the mountains, etc. There are faint echoes in this of other mythoi, see Ymir for a particularly striking resonance and Tiamat, representing respectively the freshwater underworld sea and the saltwater surface ocean. Between them, many of the earliest entities were created, including
Uttu (Sumerian) Divine Patroness of the weaving arts and, completely unsurprisingly, closely associated with spiders.