Top 10 Most Influential Goddesses of Mesopotamia

The goddesses in ancient Mesopotamia were highly anthropomorphic and reacted to the reasons and emotions.

People of Mesopotamia had massive respect towards the deities be it a father god or a mother goddess. The Mesopotamians honoured every single deity as they had one or more than one associated powers.

Along with many associations, the goddesses also had different names and identities depending on the city-state they were honored in. For instance, Inanna- the goddess of procreation was famously known and worshipped as Ishtar amongst Akkadians and Babylonians.

Besides the associations with powers like the power of dream interpretation, procreation, fertility, wisdom, and dominion over animals, these goddesses were also associated with a few constellations like Inanna with Venus and Ninurta with Saturn.

A few of the goddesses were reconciled with other deities when Semitic Akkadians moved to ancient Mesopotamia. Some of them are goddess Aya, Nanna, and Inanna.

Here is the list of 10 most influential goddesses of Mesopotamia civilization with their details.

10. Geshtinanna

     Goddess of dream interpretation, agriculture, and fertility 

Goddess Geshtinanna

Geshtinanna, the goddess of dream interpretation and agriculture, was originally the Sumerian goddess. The Akkadians later worshipped her, but her cult disappeared during the Old Babylonian period.

She was the daughter of Enki and Ninhursag and the wife of Ningisida. Her name meant ‘the Vine of Heaven’ and was mainly worshipped in the areas of Nippur, Isin, and Uruk.

Numerous myths are mentioning her, and the most famous one says that she was responsible for the fertility of the Earth for about six months, from Spring to Fall. The responsibility was then taken over for the next six months by Dumuzid, her brother.

Besides this, she was also mentioned in the famous poem named ‘The Dream of Dumuzid’. This poem is basically about Dumuzid telling her sister about his dream, which was frightening.

9.  Inanna ( Ishtar )

      Goddess of love and procreation

The goddess of love and procreation, Inanna.

Inanna, the goddess of love and procreation, was also known as Ishtar. She was the prominent goddess from 3500 BC until the 5th Century BC.

She was originally worshipped in Sumer and later followed by other cities including Assur, Akkad, and Babylon. She was famously known as Ishtar in these cities.

Besides love and procreation, she was associated with warm political power and justice. Also, people knew her by the name Queen of heaven.

The Akkadians worshipped and honoured her considering her as the highest deity in their pantheon. She was the queen of gods and heaven for the Akkadians.

Although she was honored and worshipped by all the city-states of ancient Mesopotamia, she is portrayed as a short-tempered and spoiled femme fatale in myths. 

However, some myths also mention her as a fighter for justice and overpowering rights from deities. The powers which were taken over from other goddesses include mes from Enki and Enanna temple from An.

In addition to this, she is said to have destroyed Mount Ebih and was raped by Shukaletuda, the gardener.

8. Nisaba ( Nanibgal )

     Goddess of grain and agriculture

Depiction of goddess Nisaba

Later as the goddess of writing, accounting, and scribal knowledge

Nisaba, the goddess of grain and agriculture was also known as Nanibgal, Nidaba, and sometimes as the goddess Nunbarsegunu.

She was primarily worshipped in shrines and sanctuaries at Eres and Umma. And, was famous as the scribe of the gods who praised her for the inclination towards writing and learning. 

However, she was originally the goddess of grain and harvest since c.2900 BC but worshipped as the goddess of writing, accounting, and scribal knowledge from c2125 BC.

The earlier depiction of goddess Nisaba showed her with four long curled tresses of hair crowned with a horned headdress supporting ears of wheat and a crescent moon and also holding a bunch of dates.

The later depiction showed her holding a gold stylus and a clay tablet carrying the image of the starry heaven. 

Her importance in the field of writing began since the accounting and documenting of the economic transaction started taking place. 

Although she did not have a temple honouring her, people showed respect towards her through the art of writing. And, also through some clay tablets which had the words ‘Nisada be praised’ written on them.

7. Ninkasi

     Goddess of beer ( alcohol )

Goddess Ninkasi

Ninkasi, the goddess of beer, was the Sumerian goddess who was also the patron of brewers. She was the daughter of Uruk and Inanna. 

People of Sumer city-state honoured her for brewing fresh beer every day, which was made using the fresh ingredients. The role of brewing beer was later given to the women of ancient Mesopotamia.

One of the reasons for her significance was due to their belief which considered drinking beer as an act of a civilized person and also the societal and civilized virtues.

Goddess Ninkasi was mentioned in numerous myths and hymns like other goddesses. One of the most famous hymns was the Hymn to Ninkasi which was from the 19th Century BCE known as Ninkar.

Ninkar mentioned the process and statistics which were involved in the brewing of beer. The whole process was broken down into many verses and presented as the proper hymn.

   6. Aya ( Sherida )

     Goddess of forest and animals

Seal featuring Goddess Aya and Samas

Aya, the goddess of forest and animals, was also known as Sherida by the Sumerians. She is one of the oldest goddesses of Mesopotamia pantheon.

She became famous as Aya between the 21st and 20th Century BCE  around Ur III Sargonic times. 

The name Aya meant dawn for Akkadians and was associated with the rising sun and sexual love.

However, for Babylonians, she was Kallattu which meant the bride and also was the wife of Shamash. In addition to this, she was also worshipped in Shamash E-Babbar but as a separate part.

Almost every goddess was reconciled and connected with Sumerian deities when Semitic Akkadians moved to ancient Mesopotamia. 

Aya was also one of them, and she was syncretized with Sherida. She was a minor Mesopotamian sun goddess before the process of reconciliation.

Other goddesses who were combined include Nanna with Sin, Inanna with Ishtar, and Utu with Shamash.

5. Ashnan ( Ezina or Ezina-Kusu)

     Goddess of grain

Goddess Ashnan

Ashnan, the goddess of grain was the Sumerian goddess, also known as Ezina or Ezina-Kusu. 

She was the daughter of Enlil and sister of Lahar. The brother and sister duo were created to provide food to the group of deities known as Annunaki.

However, the total amount of food and grains created by these two was more than the Annunaki could consume. So, humankind was created to finish the unfinished food and grains.

Apart from the myth, the goddess Ashnan is found depicted in many forms, one as a woman giving away grains and food to the people who are standing in a line to receive them. 

Another depiction goes by showing her sitting down on top of the grain plant and carrying grain on her back in a way people carry arcs and bow.

The last depiction shows her holding grains in one hand and distributing those grains with the other hand.

4. Nanshe

     Goddess of social justice and prophecy

Goddess Nanshe

Nanshe, the Sumerian deity was the goddess of social justice and prophecy and the daughter of Enki and Ninhursag.

She was famously known as the lady of the storeroom and responsible for keeping the correct weights and measures.

Besides these responsibilities, she was associated with fishing, wildlife, fertility, assigning roles to other deities, and ruling over the Gulf.

In addition to these associations, she helped widows, orphans, troubled people, interpreted dreams, and also advised debtors regarding the debt issues.

Numerous temples were honouring her which were located at Siraha in the city of Lagash. These temples had her images and symbols on them.

The two major symbols were the fish and the pelican where the fish represented her role as water and fishing goddess, And, the pelican represented her role as caregiver and protector.

3. Shala

     Goddess of compassion and grain 

Goddess Shala

Shala, the goddess of compassion and grain, was a Sumerian goddess. She was later honoured and worshipped by other cities as well.

She was associated with the constellation Virgo besides being associated with grain and compassion.

There were many symbols of her, and one of them was the grain which showed the importance of agriculture during ancient Mesopotamia.

The other symbol was the compassion which showed the belief in the fact which went as an act of abundance in the harvest. And, it was the result of the kindness which came from the gods.

The goddess of compassion was mostly depicted as a woman carrying double-headed mace or scimitar, which was embellished with lion heads.

There was another depiction as well which included her being borne atop one or sometimes two lionesses.

2. Tiamat

      Mother to the gods

Goddess Tiamat

Tiamat, the mother to the gods, is the Babylonian goddess and a primordial goddess of the salt sea.

She was known as the mother goddess for giving birth to the very first generations of gods by mating with freshwater god, Apsu.

She had two main parts, namely the Tiamat mythos and Chaoskampf Tiamat. The first one showed an image of the holy goddess and the union of marriage between salt and freshwater.

Whereas the other showed her monstrous associations and also symbolized her as the primordial chaos. 

She  along with god Apsu was mentioned in various myths. One of the myths which include her said that Apsu was killed by the sons to take over the throne, so Tiamat took the dragon’s form and fought against them.

However, she was killed by God Marduk but left the Mesopotamia civilization full of monster dragons filled with venom. 

1. Ninhursag

     Goddess of mountains

Goddess Ninhursag

Ninhursag, the goddess of mountains, is the oldest goddess of Mesopotamia pantheon. She is also known as the mother of Gods and other names such as Mama, Makh, Aruru, Ki, Nintu or Ninmakh.

She was known initially as Damgalnun and Damkina in Sumer and was associated with fertility.

Besides this, she was also believed to be the creator of divine entities as well as the mortal ones. Her main role was to take care of women mainly pregnant, children mostly very young ones.

However, she was later replaced by the male gods during the time of King Hammurabi in the Babylonian period.

Goddess Ninhursag was also mentioned in many myths like other deities. According to the famous fable, her son Ninurta defeats a demon, namely Asag.

He then builds a mountain from corpses of his stone army and dedicates it to Ninmah who is later known as Ninhursag.

She is represented by Greek symbol Omega with a knife where Omega represents uterus and knife used to cut the umbilical cord. This whole depiction symbolizes her as the mother.

Conclusion: 

The deities in ancient Mesopotamia had an influential role in almost every individual be it a father god or the mother god.

Everyone respected, honoured and worshipped them since the early time of the evolution of belief in religion.

Some of the other influential goddesses besides the ones mentioned above include Ninlil, Kishar, Ereshkigal, and Nammu.

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Cite this article as: Richard Marrison, "Top 10 Most Influential Goddesses of Mesopotamia," in HistoryTen, September 29, 2020, https://historyten.com/mesopotamia/ancient-mesopotamia-goddesses/.
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