Ancient Civilizations

Religion in Mesopotamia and Primary Gods

Religion played a very significant part in Mesopotamia during all phases and heavily influenced all facets of life such as state government and organization, art, literature and even science. Religion in Mesopotamia, such as in other early religions has been characterized by:

  • Stays of totemism, a system of faith where an object, plant or animal (totem) includes a religious significance for a specific group of individuals
  • anthropomorphism, a method of attributing human traits to non-human beings
  • polytheism, belief in and worship of numerous deities
  • development of state faith
  • belief in the afterlife
  • worship of national leaders, priests and rulers

Priests had tremendously important positions in most ancient civilizations but their major part was even more highlighted in Mesopotamia. Priests at Sumer were both religious and secular leaders and have been believed agents of patron gods of a specific city-state. Because of this, the Sumerian city-states tend to be called temple-states, while their rulers are generally known as priest-kings. Some spiritual beliefs were common to a number of city-states however there were definite variations and every city-state needed its own patron god. The cult of patron gods has been also embraced by Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians:

  • Sin (Mesopotamian Nanna), god of the moon was patron god of the town of Ur
  • Enlil (“Lord of the Wind”), god of the air and among the triad gods (along with Anu and Ea) had been patron god of the city of Nippur
  • Anu, the sky god was the patron god of the city of Uruk
  • Ninurta, god of thunder and rainstorms was the patron god of the city of Lagash
  • Utu, god of sunlight and justice was that the main god of the city of Larsa
  • Marduk, initially god of a thunderstorm was the main god of the city of Babylon and afterwards national god of Babylonia
  • Ashur was the primary god of the Assyrian capital city of Ashur

Besides the main gods, there were also a collection of different gods and goddesses and small deities. Temples and afterwards ziggurats were constructed for patron gods to get their public worship, spiritual ceremonies and rituals that usually featured a supply of sacrificial meals to accomplish their benevolence. Patron gods were worshiped in most phases of their Mesopotamian background but there were definite regional and local variants in addition to some changes which happened over time. King’s power throughout the Akkadian Period appeared on the stage that Naram-Sin (c. 2254-c. 2218 BC) proclaimed himself motivated. On the other hand, the cult of the divine kingship or imperial cult that’s distinguished by the worship of kings such as gods or demigods more an exception than the rule in Mesopotamia.

Symbol of Goddess Ishtar

Lots of festivals and holidays that were accompanied with several rituals and festivals also played a significant part in Mesopotamian spiritual life. Each town had its own calendar that ascertained the nature of the festivals that were commonly closely correlated with the cycle of agricultural tasks in addition to with the stage of the Moon. Monthly festivals always began in the Moon that was a sign of growth and prosperity, while waning Moon was correlated with death and reduction. Among the main festival in Mesopotamia was that the New Year or Akitu in Babylon which was initially an agricultural spring festival of sowing and harvest however in Babylon it was committed to the success of god Marduk over Tiamat, goddess of the watery deep and primordial chaos. Shared festival in Mesopotamia was likewise the sacred marriage between Dumuzi (Babylonian Tammuz), the Shepherd and Innana (Babylonian Ishtar) goddess of fertility and love. The party of sacred union was occasionally celebrated with a sexual intercourse involving the king and a high priestess who obtained the identity of, respectively, Dumuzi and Innana.

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