Facts about Sumerian Sky God: An

1.  Introducing the Sumerian Sky God – An

Sumerian Sky God Anu
Sumerian Sky God Anu
Source: Wikimedia Common

The sky god An was the primary god of the Sumerian who was known by numerous names including the sky god, supreme god, god of the king, god of the yearly calendar, ancestor of all deities, and head of the Anunnaki or the pantheon of gods.

Besides being the father, ancestor, and head of the pantheon of gods he was also the father to spirits, demons and demoness.

Amongst all the deities of Ancient Mesopotamia, An was the high God as he took himself higher in a literal meaning. With his growing powers, he took himself higher into the heavens. 

After his retirement and shift to heaven, he was replaced as the king of gods by Marduk – a Babylonian god.

While in heaven, he did all his workings of the universe but kept himself distant from humanity and other deities. However, he was in touch with Enlil, his son who was able to access the supreme god. Also, the powers and characteristics were later transferred to him.

Apart from his work in heaven and higher places, An was also identified with the north ecliptic pole centred in a constellation Draco

Here he worked alongside his sons Enki and Enlil and constituted the highest divine and personified the major three brands of constellations of the vault of the sky.

Even though he was considered having a major role in every aspect of heavenly works and powers he has relatively less role in the daily based religion of Ancient Mesopotamia.

2. An, the oldest deities of the ancient Mesopotamia pantheon

The oldest deity of Sumerians
The oldest deity of Sumerians
Source: Wikimedia Common

An was the oldest deity of the Sumerian city-state. His existence was dated back between 2000 and 3000 BC. He was worshipped and honoured by the Sumerians as their primary deity. 

Numerous deities came into existence after him, however, he was worshipped by the people of Sumer with massive respect. Sumerians worshipped him for being the oldest and father of all deities.

Though he was the primary deity of Sumerians, he was later adopted by the Akkadians, people of Akkad around c.2375 BC. Since then he was worshipped both in Sumer city-state and the city of Akkad.

Sumerians built temples to honour his cult and he was worshipped from the starting period, around 2000 BC until 150 BC. People worshipped him in temples even after he moved to heaven living behind humanity and deity.

3. Family members of the oldest deity

Ancient Mesopotamian terracotta given by An to his daughter, Ishtar.
Ancient Mesopotamian terracotta, given by An to his daughter, Ishtar.
Source: Wikimedia Common

An, one of the oldest deities of Ancient Mesopotamia pantheon was the son of Anshar and Kishar, heaven and earth respectively according to East Semitic.

However, the name of his parents differed depending on the religion. For instance, in Sumerian religion, he was considered the son of Apsu and Nammu. Whereas, he was the son of Alalu according to Hittite religion.

Similarly, his consorts also differed depending on the era or a certain time period. For instance, his consort was goddess Uras during the early Sumerian period, Ki during the later Sumerian period, and Antu in East Semitic.

Goddess Urus was the consort of An around the third millennium and the role of consort was transferred to Ki by the Sumerians who is considered the personification of the earth.

Likewise, when the rain fell it impregnated Ki as the rain was the seed of An. This is how the Ki gave birth to the vegetation of the land. Lastly, Ki was supplanted by Antu who is named as the feminine form of the god An.

From these consorts, he had a few children namely Enlil, Enki, Nidaba, Baba, Nikikurga, Inanna, Kumarbi, Anammelech. 

In addition to them, he was considered the father of almost all deities, demons, demoness, and spirits and was believed to be the father of 50 great gods.

4. Association and Power of the supreme god

The Mutilation of Uranus by Saturn
The Mutilation of Uranus by Saturn
Source: Wikimedia Common

An the supreme god was the source of authority and was responsible for giving powers, jurisdictions, and rankings to the people and even to the deities.

There was a certain title given to the deities who would promote to the higher level which was known as the Anutu, the power of An or the heavenly power.

He was given various names and titles for being associated with numerous powers. The names included sky god, supreme god, king of gods, father of 50 great gods, and ancestor of all deities.

After ruling the earth for over a decade, he decided to move higher to heaven leaving back his position of king of gods, humanity, and deities. Since the time he moved high no one was able to access him except his son Enlil to whom his powers were transformed later.

He started ruling heaven and became the lord of heaven who ordered and maintained all aspects of existence from high above. He worked alongside his sons Enlil and Enki and governed all aspects of heaven, earth, and the underworld.

With such impactful powers, he became the significant god and was responsible for decision making, creating and controlling heaven.

The famous king, Sargon of Akkad had massive respect for him and believed him to have helped him during his conquests. Apart from him, other gods, including Enlil, Marduk, and Assur, also believed to have been blessed by him.

Despite his associations and powers, An was not mentioned highly in myths and played only a small role in the daily based religion of ancient Mesopotamia.

5. Depiction and symbols:

Cuneiform for An
Cuneiform for An
Source: Wikimedia Common

Being the supreme god and king of all gods, An was depicted in a headdress with horns attached to it. The depiction showed the sign of strength he had which were based on the powers and responsibilities he was associated with.

Besides his depicted, there also exists a special symbol to identify and to honour the sky god. The symbol is known as Dingir, a Sumerian word meaning god or goddess and it looks like.

6. Worshipped cities:

The city of Ur
The city of Ur
Source: Wikimedia Common

Though An was the primary deity of Sumerian he was later adopted by other cities including Akkad and Babylon.

However, he was the oldest and the most honoured deity for the city of Sumer since the period 3000 BC. There were numerous temples built to honour his cult in various places including Uruk, Der, and Lagas.

These were the cities who had the most important temples honouring his cult. The most renowned temple was the Enanna temple meaning House of Heaven built in the city of Uruk. But, it was later transferred to goddess Inanna and was made home for the priestesses of the goddess.

Around c.2375 BC the supreme god was adopted by another city named Akkad. They renamed the primary of Sumeria as Anu. He then became the most significant deities in the city of Akkad as well.

However, once An decided to move high up into heaven, his regular popularity started fading away but his cult was never erased from these famous cities of Ancient Mesopotamia.

People still honoured and worshipped him by visiting the temples which were built for honouring his cult. It went on even after his title the king of God was taken over by another deity named Marduk.

7. Myths:

An, once known as a Great Bull
An, once known as a Great Bull
Source: Wikimedia Common

An was a powerful deity and was respected by everyone including demons and other major deities. Despite his popularity, he was not mentioned as the main part in myth instead was kept as background.

Some of the major myths which include him are Enuma Elish, Myth of Adapa, Hittite, and the Akkadian myth of Gilgamesh. 

The myth, Enuma Elish, written during c.1100 BC tells the story of the birth of gods, human beings, and the formation of the world.

It says that there was water which was divided into freshwater and saltwater, Apsu and Tiamat. And, these two gods gave birth to other deities.

In this myth, Anu is shown as the mediator who speaks with Tiamat and tries to resolve the ongoing problem in a diplomatic manner.

The problem was about the sons of Apsu trying to kill Apsu to get the throne. But though other deities thought An was a confident and able god, he failed to convince Tiamat. 

The failure created huge change as god Marduk came to rule over as the greatest god by killing Tiamat. He replaced the supreme god and created human beings alongwith his father Enki.

Likewise, Myth of Adapa written during 14h Century is the story about the first man created by Enki. The first creation is named as Adapa and is endowed with the god’s wisdom.

In this myth, Enki sends his created son to An but warns him not to eat any food or drink any water offered to him but to obey other things. As the water and the food offered would be poisoned to kill him.

Adapa does as told by his father with full honesty and wisdom which manages to impress An. So, An offers food and drink but Adapa refuses and tells him the reason behind.

Unfortunately the food and water was the sole reason to make Adapa immortal which was refused by Adapa and once declined could not be offered again.

In another myth named Hittite, An overthrows his father Alalu and proclaims himself as the ruler of the universe. An is later overthrown by his son Kumarbi who bit off his genitals from which gives birth to storm god Teshub and Teshub overthrows Kumarbi.

In the other myth named the Akkadian Myth of Gilgamesh, An’s daughter, Ishtar asks him to give bull to kill Gilgamesh.

Though he is mentioned in these myths, he never gets a major role despite his powerful associations but rather is given a relatively small part.

Conclusion:

An, also known as Anu by the Akkadians is one of the oldest and highly honoured deities. He is worshipped by people from the beginning until 150 BC.

Though many deities came into existence, he was never forgotten by the people of Ancient Mesopotamia. He was the creator of the universe and the ancestor of all deities.

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Cite this article as: Richard Marrison, "Facts about Sumerian Sky God: An," in HistoryTen, November 8, 2020, https://historyten.com/mesopotamia/an-sky-god-sumer-facts/.
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