Category Archives: Abyss
Etymology: Mother of Life
Alternate Spellings & Other Names: Tiahamtu, Baau, Bis-Bis, Hubar, Mammu-Tiamat, Omorca, Omoroka, Tamtu, Tauthe, Tehom, Thalass, Thalassa, Thalatth, Thamte, Thlavatth, Tiawath, Tisalat, Ummukhubar, Θαλάττη Thaláttē (Greek)
Epithets: Mummu Hubur (Mother of Monsters) or “Ummu-Hubur, Who Formed All Things”
Tiamat is an ancient, primordial mother goddess often represented as a draconic personification of the oceans and saltwater from whom all life springs forth from.
Animal: All aquatic animals, Dragons, Sharks
Sphere of Influence: Chaos, Creation
Classically, the image of Tiamat is that of a large, primordial dragon who symbolizes the saltwater ocean, the element of Chaos from which all life originates.
Surprisingly, when looking at the Enûma Elish, Tiamat is described as having a tail, thighs, a lower half of the body, belly, udder, ribs, neck, and head. It’s not a clear enough description aside from the tail is that of a dragon. The udder though, makes me think of a cow?
I came across one description, that in her role as creatrix, Tiamat is described as a glistening woman. When connected later to her chaotic element, Tiamat is then shown as a dragon.
More modern authors and sources go with describing Tiamat as a sea serpent or dragon. This connection holds up with Tiamat giving birth to dragons and serpents.
For those familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, Tiamat is a multi-headed dragon, with each head representing a different chromatic dragon race in the game.
Hellenistic Iconography – There’s a relief found in the temple of Bel in Palmyra that shows Marduk and Nabu slaying Tiamat who is represented with a woman’s body and snake legs.
Older Than Time
The oldest reference to Tiamat is an Akkadian incantation dating to the first millennium B.C.E. Once the Enuma Elish was composed, Tiamat begins to be found in several religious texts. However, it must be noted those works refer back to the Enuma Elish. An almost obscure historian, Berossus also writes about Tiamat in the 3rd century B.C.E.
When You Stare Into The Abyss…
This turned out to be a fascinating bit to find. Looking at the Sumerian word, “ti” means “life” and “ama” means “mother.” So Mother of Life or Mother of All could be good translations for Tiamat’s name.
Going by the Akkadian word for the sea, it is tâmtu or ti’amtum. It has also been noted that the long vowel â in tamtu is a contraction of the vowels i and a. This word is a proper form for addressing a person or deity. So… Tiamat, tâmtu is: “O’sea!”
Taking this further for how ancient languages likely influenced each other, there are some scholars who see a connection to the Hebraic word Tehom that means ‘the Deep” or “Abyss,” especially as used in the Torah or Old Testament in the book of Genesis. It makes sense, tehom is a cognate to the Akkadian tamtu and the Ugaritic t-h-m and all share similar meanings. It’s not hard to see how these words would also be found as a root word and meaning to the Babylonian Tiamat.
As a side note, the Greek Septuagint uses the word “abyssos” or Abyss when translating tehom.
Speaking of Greek, Tiamat was called Thalatte in the Hellenistic Babylonian Berossus’ first volume of Universal History. The name Thalatte is a variation to the Greek’s word for the sea of Thalassa. Later, in other translations, Tiamat’s name is altogether replaced for Thalassa as the Akkadian sources for Enuma Elish used the more common word for sea as both names of Thalassa and Tiamat had become synonymous.
Parentage and Family
Apsu – Or Abzu, Primordial God of Freshwater
Kingu – Or Qingu, her consort after Apsu’s death, also her son and general of her army.
Lachmu and Lachamu – The first pair of gods born. From them, all of the other gods within the Mesopotamian pantheon come.
Monstrous Children & Demon – After the death of Apsu, Tiamat creates a host of monstrous children, among whom dragons and serpents are but a few.
Anšar and Kišar – Through Lachmu and Lachamu.
Igigi – Ultimately the second and third generation of gods.
In this mythology, Tiamat is a primordial, monstrous sea goddess depicted as a dragon. She represents the formless chaos from which life began. It is with her consort, Apsu, the primordial god of freshwater that the first generation of gods are born.
This an ancient epic creation poem written in the 18th century B.C.E. (1700 to 2000 B.C.E. are other estimated guesses) when the city of Babylon becomes the political capital of Mesopotamia. It’s largely written to show Marduk’s birth, many of his heroic deeds and how Ea (Enki) steps down to allow Marduk, in a relatively peaceful transfer of power to become the king and head of the pantheon.
The Enuma Elish begins at the start of time, when the universe is nothing more than chaos with freshwater represented by Apsu and saltwater (or the abyss) represented by Tiamat, a dragoness. The male and female principles, not unlike the concept seen in the Japanese Yin & Yang. The joining of these two primordial deities would see the creation of all the other gods and other beings. Their most notable children are Lachmu and Lachamu along with others who become the other gods and goddesses, known as the Anunnaki. The other children of Apsu and Tiamat are giant sea serpents, dragons, snakes, storm demons, fish-men, scorpion-men
While Tiamat loved all her children, Apsu on the other hand didn’t care for them, saying they were too noisy, keeping him up all night and unable to get any work done during the day. Apsu’s response to this problem was to kill his children, specifically the younger, Igigi deities.
A horrified Tiamat told her eldest son, Enki (later version its Ea) of what Apsu has planned. Enki decided that the best plan for dealing with this was to capture and put Apsu into a deep sleep and then kill him. From Apsu’s corpse, Enki then creates his home, the earth and the marshy region of Eridu.
Kingu, one of Tiamat and Apsu’s sons, soon to be consort to Tiamat is upset and goes to report what happened. This further horrifies Tiamat who wasn’t expecting for Enki to just up and kill Apsu. As a result, she decided to wage war on her own children. The mighty Tiamat raised up an army of chaos consisting of twelve monsters: Bašmu, “Venomous Snake,” Ušumgallu, “Great Dragon,” Mušmahhu, “Exalted Serpent,” Mušhuššu, “Furious Snake,” Lahmu, the “Hairy One,” Ugallu, the “Big Weather-Beast,” Uridimmu, “Mad Lion,” Girtablullû, “Scorpion-Man,” Umu dabrutu, “Violent Storms,” Kulullû, “Fish-Man,” and Kusarikku, “Bull-Man” who are all led by Kingu (Quingu) as the general of this army.
This has Enki and the other gods worried about what to do. That is, until Marduk steps forward, saying he will lead everyone in this war. Marduk has one condition, that is that he be named as the new king of the pantheon. Enki agrees and Marduk leads the Anunnaki to battle.
Marduk prepares his weapons consisting of bow and arrows, a mace, lightning as he is a storm god, flames and a net. Gathering up the four winds, Marduk encircles and nets the mighty Tiamat to prevent her from escaping him. New winds are created by Marduk such as whirlwinds and tornadoes. As he is a storm god, Marduk brings down a fierce flood of rain. It’s a battle between a storm god and a primordial goddess of chaos and the sea, it’s epic as Marduk rides in his storm-chariot pulled by four horses who have poison in their mouths. Spellcasting and an herbal antidote as Marduk faces off against one of the mightiest dragons known in mythology.
After Marduk finally slays Tiamat with an arrow to her stomach, he then goes after Tiamat’s son, Kingu who oversaw the army and wears the Tablets of Destiny over his chest. Marduk makes short work of Kingu in single combat, claiming the tablets and establishing himself as the new head of the pantheon.
This is a lot of power that Marduk has now accumulated and he sets about to create the universe. But didn’t that already exist? He’s at least making a new one as Marduk takes the two halves of Tiamat’s corpse to create the heavens and the earth, completing the work started by Enki. From Tiamat’s eyes, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow.
With Kingu’s blood, Marduk mixes it with the earth to create the first humans who would be the servants of the Igigi (the younger Mesopotamian gods). The creation of humans would allow the gods the leisure time and the time to focus on higher purposes, taking care of human needs as humanity basically did the grunt work. All humans would need to do is respect and give heed to the will of the gods living in Eridu with Marduk ruling overall as a benevolent god.
That doesn’t sound like it will end well and I’m sure there’s another story concerning that.
Side Note: Early versions of this story have Anu, later replaced by Enlil and then in the last version, it is Marduk who gets the promise from the other gods about becoming head of the pantheon.
Marduk’s version dates from the first dynasty of the Babylonians, whereas the other versions are much older. Even then, depending on the version of the creation myth, it is solely Marduk involved in all of it and there’s no mention of Enki at all. Scholars who look at when the Enuma Elish was written generally believe that it represents political and religious propaganda meant justify and install Marduk as the head of the Babylonian pantheon as the city-state rose to political power in the region.
As for Apsu, the Enuma Elish is the first time he’s treated as a deity. Before, he’s just a concept, what they called the freshwater found beneath the earth in the aquifers.
Mother Of Gods & Monsters
If this were Greek mythology, I would say that sounds like Echidna who is infamous for giving birth to several monsters or Gaia with the numerous monstrous children that she gave birth to that were later imprisoned in Tartarus.
The first children that Tiamat gives birth to are those gods who will become part of the collective Mesopotamian pantheon. It is after the death of her consort Apsu, that Tiamat gives birth to a host of monstrous creatures, some of whom are dragons and serpents to go after her first group of children, the gods. Some of Tiamat’s monstrous children also become the signs of the zodiac.
As the mother of all creation, Tiamat’s mating with Apsu is seen as a Sacred Marriage. It more a poetical explaining the creation of life and in the ancient Mesopotamian mythology, where the saltwater sea met and mixed with the freshwater sea in the Persian Gulf. One notable region in the area is Bahrain, which means “two seas” in Arabic. It’s thought by some scholars that Bahrain might be the site Dilmun and corresponding with the original Sumerian creation story.
Anunnaki – These are the first generation of gods that Apsu and Tiamat gave birth to at the beginning of the creation. Now, depending on which of the Mesopotamian mythologies you follow, Akkadian, Babylonian, Sumer, their number can vary and it’s inconsistent. Lahmu and Lahamu, meaning “hairy” are the firstborn, from there, the other gods are born.
Igigi – These are the second and third generations of gods born. Who were meant to be servants to the Anunnaki. When Apsu decides to kill their children for being too noisy, some retellings will explain it to mean, it’s the Igigi he plans to kill. And it’s the Igigi for whom Tiamat gets angry and decides to retaliate against. The Igigi in their victory, will then create humans to be their servants.
The struggle against Chaos; this is a familiar motif found throughout the world in many different regions and mythologies of a culture hero or god going up against a creature of chaos. This creature is often shown as and takes the form of a great serpent or dragon. This is the familiar Knight slaying the Dragon seen in many European mythologies. Parallels to this concept are even found in other cultures.
It is no different for the myth of Tiamat with her connection as a primordial goddess of Goddess. With her death, either Anu, Enlil or Marduk establishes order and with her corpse, creates the heavens and the earth.
Tiamat’s story is very likely the origin of the hero slaying the dragon motif where she becomes a symbol of not just chaos, but evil. There’s a commentary that suggests that the female deities of Mesopotamian mythology are older than the male deities. This would then strongly suggest that the hero slaying the dragon is the establishment of monotheistic patriarchal religions over matriarchal religions.
The only other goddess who is likely older than Tiamat is the Sumerian goddess Nammu, who is also a primordial goddess of the sea.
Scholars tend to agree that Tiamat originates with later Babylonian mythology. Looking at Tiamat’s connection with the sea, scholars do note a similarity in Levantine mythology between the sea god Yamm and Baal.
As the story goes, from the Ras Shamra and other Ugarit texts that have been translated, Baal and Yamm weren’t the best of buddies and their conflicts are symbolic of the short Syrian winters with the conflicting weather of rain, hail and tides. Baal and Yamm were fighting over who would take over as head of the pantheon after El is stepping down. El had told Yamm he would get to take charge and Baal wasn’t happy with the news.
Yamm keeps on sending messengers to Baal about this edict and Baal is having none of it. With the aid of Kothar creating some magical clubs, Baal eventually defeats Yamm.
Baal’s conquering of Tannin and defeating Yam has been seen as being similar to the myths of Zeus defeating the Titans to become King of the Gods or when Zeus usurps Poseidon as King of the Gods from Mycenean Greece to the more well-known Ancient Greece.
Jumping back to the Judaic mythology, scholars have noted that a passage in the book of Isaiah parallels the Baal Cycle. In the Ugaritic passage for the Baal Cycle, Tannin is described as “the encircler.” The other description given is “the mighty one with seven heads.” It gets debated between the Ugaritic and Hebraic texts if this is three separate figures being described or if these are epitaphs of Lotan or Leviathan.
Me, being a lover of mythology, “the encircler” makes me think of Norse mythology and the Midgard serpent Jormungand. And the seven heads, D&D anyone and the evil dragon goddess of chaos, Tiamat?
That seems very likely. Given the close proximity of the cultures in the Mesopotamian and Canaanite regions, it stands to reason that elements of each culture might cross over.
Some scholars take note of the similarity with the Book of Genesis chapter 1:2 “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” And the comparison to the story of Tiamat’s and Apsu’s procreation with the mixing of saltwater and freshwater to give birth to the first gods and life in a universe where nothing else existed.
Tannin – the giant sea monster of Canaanite mythology and the Judiac Torah is sometimes through to be a connection to Tiamat. It has been noted the similarities between Tannin in the Baal Cycle with Marduk defeating Tiamat.
It’s not hard to see a similarity and a possible connection between the two. And, for the longest time, Biblical scholars did think that the Old Testament or Torah referenced the Babylonian myths. That would change with the discovery of texts found in Ras Shamra or Ugarit as it was anciently known. Once the Ugarit texts were translated, it became apparent that the Old Testament references the ancient Canaanite mythology more.
Anzu – Fire Bird?
There is another Mesopotamian monster, born from the waters of Apsu and the Earth. Think of either a Griffin or a lion-headed eagle that can breathe both fire and water. There have been similarities pointed out between the story of Tiamat being slain by Marduk the Sumerian-Akkadian myths where one text has Marduk slaying this monstrous bird and another text where the god Ninurta slays it with arrows.
Akitu Festival – Happy New Years!
This was the ancient New Year’s festival that the Sumerians and Mesopotamian cultures celebrated. This festival occurred sometime during March and April, marking the planting of barley. This festival was presided over by Nabu and Marduk to such a degree, that a text known as the Akitu Chronicle documents a time when the festival couldn’t be observed as Marduk (his physical statue, thus him) wasn’t present in the city of Babylon.
Every year at the Akitu House located outside the city, the Enuma Elish would be recited for the New Year’s festival. There was also involved a ritual slapping of the king. Gotta’ stay humble, I guess. With the Enuma Elish being recited on the fourth day, the battle between Marduk and Tiamat would be a symbolic reenactment of this mythical battle.
Otherwise, as far as any cults or worship of Tiamat go, there really isn’t any.
Tethys – Greek Titaness
In Greek myth, Tethys is a Titaness and primordial goddess of the ocean.
Tethys as Tiamat. She is the wife of Oceanus, the Titan god of the seas. There isn’t much known about their myths and some scholars go so far as to suggest that Tethys is a syno-deity or similar to Tiamat given their age and functions.
Nammu – Sumerian
A primordial goddess of the sea who is often equated with Tiamat. There is not much in the way of surviving texts that attest of her. Her myth is similar in that, with Apsu, the freshwater oceans beneath the earth, she gives birth to the first gods, An (Heaven) and Ki (Earth).
Omoroca – Stargate-SG1
This source claims to be from Chaldean mythology, which works when you remember that that’s the whole of Mesopotamian mythology between 10th to 6th-century B.C.E.
I had a hard time pinning this one down. During the Hellenistic-Greek era, there is a Babylonian scholar by the name of Berossus who wrote a history of Babylonia. He lived during the time of Alexander, the son of Philip. There’s a lot of Babylonian history that he writes, much of which, modern scholars would see as mythology. He’s not very well known beyond that, making his obscurity excellent fodder for a show to draw from.
A quick search of Omoroca brought up a lot of Stargate-SG1 references, which would imply that the writers are drawing on a historical/mythological source. At the very least, a T.V. show is linking Tiamat with Chaldean mythology to make a show’s mythos more in-depth.
With that grain of salt in mind, Omoroca’s myth starts off much like that of Tiamat’s, wherein the beginning, there is nothing, just darkness and the abyss of water wherein numerous hideous beings and creatures dwell. This is an infinite variety of different beings of every description. All of which are recorded in the temple of Belus in Babylon.
The Stargate wiki in question says that a woman by the name of Omoroca ruled over all of them. That Omoroca’s name in Greek is Thalassa, the sea or the Moon. Belus comes and kills her, creating heaven and earth much like Tiamat’s myth.
Once again, a Stargate-SG1 television source and it does work when linking Belus to Bel-Marduk and thus to Tiamat.
According to Zecharia Sitchin, the claim is made that the great battle between Tiamat and Marduk is symbolic for the creation of our solar system’s asteroid belt. Sitchin writes that this asteroid belt was once a planet that the Sumerians called Tiamat. Due to an impact, the planet was destroyed, creating the “Great Band” or asteroid belt. The planetary impact responsible is that of the planet Nibiru, associated with the god Marduk.
I will call bunk on Sitchin’s ideas.
When you look at the word Nibiru in the Akkadian language, it refers to a crossing or transition point like with rivers. In Babylonian astronomy, Nibiru came to refer to the Equinox, notably, the Autumn Equinox. In their star lore, the term nibiru can refer to any crossing. Tracking the movement of the stars and planets in the heavens as they appear from Earth. The star or planet associated with Marduk is the one we know modernly as Jupiter.
For the Babylonians, the Autumn Equinox occurred in the month of Tisritum, roughly coinciding with between September and October. If we’re following the Greek Zodiac, then the constellation of Libra is prominent. A further fun fact, depending on the time of the year and the location, the planet Mercury could sometimes be called Nibiru.
Some of it is confusing. Mainly it’s understanding how to read and interpret what the Babylonians meant when tracking the night sky.
Cetus – Greek Mythology & Constellation
While many are familiar with the constellation’s connection to the Grecian story of Andromeda and Perseus in its role as the giant sea monster sent by Poseidon to destroy the coast of Aethiopia.
The constellation of Cetus has been identified with Tiamat, the dragon goddess of Chaos. Marking Tiamat’s story one of many that the Greeks likely inherited from the Mesopotamians and retold for their own legends.