Also Called: An (Sumerian), Anum, Ilu
Epitaphs: “The Father,” “Father of the Gods,” “King of the Gods”
Etymology: “Heaven” Sumerian “One on High”
In Mesopotamian mythology, Anu is a god of the sky and heavens, he was lord of the constellations and the king of the gods, spirits and demons. Anu was worshiped primarily by the Sumerians, but also among the Akkadians and Babylonians. In Sumer, Anu is known as An and his worship dates back to at least 3,000 B.C.E. and is one of the oldest gods in the Mesopotamian myths.
Patron of: Kings, Aristocrats
Planet: Saturn, Uranus
Sphere of Influence: Law, Order, Justice, Weather, Rain, Sky
Symbols: Horned Cap
In art, Anu is often shown wearing a horned headdress or helmet that symbolized his strength. Anu is sometimes shown as being seated in his throne. Early art shows him as a bull and later on that a bull is his companion animal.
What’s In A Name
Being a primordial god and one of the earliest, it can be difficult to pinpoint when exactly Anu or An appears as a deity. Part of what makes it difficult is that the sign for “An” can be read in several different ways. As a title and for the sky itself. In the third millennium B.C.E., the first attestations of An as a deity appear on the Fara god-list with his name appearing more frequently later on.
In Sumerian, An’s name is never written down denote the usage of his name as a divine being or god. In Akkadian, as Anu, his name is read as dAN, leading to being read as da-nu, da-num, and an-nu.
There are a couple of temples dedicated to Anu found in Uruk and Assur. The Eanna in Uruk was dedicated to Anu and his consort Antu or Anatum. Sometimes this consort is given as Inana or Ishtar who was worshiped with Anu.
During the Achaemenid and Seleucid eras, Anu was worshipped at the Res temple with Antu.
Both the Mesopotamian cities of Der and Uruk held the title as “the City of Anu.” In the city of Lagas, there was a temple dedicated to Anu or An by Gudea. Later, Ur-Namma would build a garde and shrine for Anu in Ur. That was also a “seat” for Anu in the main temple in Babylon, Esagil. Offerings to Anu were given in Nippur, Sippar and Kish. In Assur, there was a doubled temple dedicated for both Anu and Adad.
This is the abode and the level of heaven that Anu resides in as mentioned in the Akkadian-Babylonian epic called the Atrahasis that recounts the Great Flood myth.
This third heaven is also the highest of the three heavens and is made of a reddish luludānitu stone. Other scholars have put forward that the floor or ground of this heaven is made of that color stone.
The Third Heaven that Anu resides in is thought to be located towards the northern pole found within the Draco constellation.
The earliest of the Mesopotamian texts make no mention of Anu’s origins. He just is and it isn’t until the third millennium B.C.E. that we find Sumerian texts that there is mention of Anu or An and his consort Uraš who give birth to the other gods.
Over the next few millennia of Mesopotamian culture, different cultures and eras would assign a different consort to Anu along with his stepping back to allow another deity to take over rulership of the gods.
In later texts such as the Enuma Elis, Anu is given as the son of Anšar, the Sky and Kišar, the Earth. If we go by the lineage with Tiamat, Anu would properly be one of the Igigi, the third and fourth generation of gods.
Parentage & Family
Apsu – Primordial god of Fresh Water
Tiamat – Primordial Goddess of the Oceans and Abyssal Deeps
Alalu – Anu’s father in Hurrian and Hittite religion and mythology.
In Sumerian religion, the sea goddess Nammu is given as Anu’s mother.
Anšar (the Sky) and Kišar (the Earth) in East Semitic religions and mythos.
Aside note has that though there are different goddesses mentioned as Anu’s wife, the name she goes by varies from one Mesopotamian culture to another and which era of history the story was written down.
Antu – An East Semitic goddess, she is also called Antum, Anatum, Uras (early Sumerian), she is a creation goddess and wife of Anu. In Akkadian, the name Antu is merely the feminine form of Anu.
Ishtar – Also called Innina, later myths would place Ishtar as being Anu’s wife.
Ki – Earth goddess, sister and consort to An in later Sumerian myths.
Nammu – A water goddess and consort to Anu in Neo-Sumerian myths. In Sumerian religion, Nammu is instead Anu’s mother.
As an all-father figure, Anu is the father of many gods, spirits, and demons. Depending on the text, depends on which gods are stated to be Anu’ children directly.
With Ki, the goddess of the earth, they give birth to the Anunnaki (“the offspring of Anu”), a group of 50 gods who are the most powerful pantheon of gods in Mesopotamian myths.
With Nammu, Anu is the father of Enki/Ea and Ningikuga.
With Uras, Anu is the father of Ninsuna, the mother of the legendary Gilgamesh.
Inscriptions found at Lagas give Baba, Gatumdug and Ningirsu as Anu’s children.
Adad, Enlil, Girra, Nanna/Sin, Nergal and Šara are some who are listed as sons.
Inana/Ištar, Nanaya, Nidaba, Ninisinna, Ninkarrak, Ninmug, Ninnibru, Ninsumun, Nungal and Nusku are some who are listed as daughters.
Anammelech – Going by the Hebrew Bible, she is a lunar goddess worshiped in Assyria and Mesopotamian religion. Her name means “Daughter of Anu” and is thought to be his daughter.
Kumarbi – Anu’s son in Hurrian and Hittite mythology and religion.
Asag – A demon so monstrous, his presence would cause fish to boil in the rivers.
Lamashtu – A Demoness who preyed on infants
Utukki – Seven evil demons
Enki – Is one of Anu’s notable children, a god of wisdom, intelligence, magic, trickery, fertility and creation to name a few of Enki’s attributes.
Sebitti – In Akkadian and Babylonian traditions, the Sebitti are a group of seven minor war gods who follow Erra into battle. Depending on which tradition and myth is being retold, is if the Sebitti are seen as good or evil. I would say evil, given that in one version of the myths, Erra is a plague god, while in others texts he is a war god. The Sebitti are given various powers and fates that allow them to help Erra in killing over populous people and animals.
Attendants Of Ani
Ilabrat – He is an attendant and minister of state to Anu.
The Bull Of Heaven
As An, he dates back to 3,000 B.C.E. in Sumerian history. During this time, An was depicted as a great bull. Later, An would become separated into two distinct beings, the god An and the Bull of Heaven. The sound of thunder was thought to be caused by An in his bull form as he moved across the heavens or sky.
An’s holy city was Uruk or Erech along the southern region of Mesopotamia known for herding and grazing lands. There are several bovine images found in the area that appear to suggest An being part of a pastoral pantheon.
Dingir – In Sumerian, this cuneiform represented by an eight-pointed star meant “god” or “goddess” when used in punctuation. By itself, it is the Sumerian word for “sky.”
As a god of the sky, the Sumerians saw rain that fell as being Anu’s seed coming down to impregnate his consort Uraš or Ki, the Earth, depending on which era of text we are referring to and who’s given as his current wife. The Akkadians have Antu, a feminine form of Anu as his consort. They believed that the clouds were Antu’s breasts and that rain felling was her milk.
King Of The Gods!
Seen as the King of the Gods, King of the Igigi, Anu ruled over the other gods.
This status also associated Anu as the god of Kings whom he favored and not the common people. So, unless you were legit royalty, don’t expect any divine favors.
At the same time, Anu is considered to be very benevolent and his compassion for all creation caused him to retreat further and higher up into the heavens where he was distant from all creation, humankind and the other gods. Over time, Anu would be worshiped less and less with his name becoming synonymous with the sky.
Only Anu’s son, Enlil could gain access to him, relaying messages. Eventually he would be prayed to less and less, Anu was still seen as the power behind the throne so to speak. Even as Enlil in turn became ruler of the gods, he too would take on more and more of Anu’s qualities of compassion and benevolence. The same with Marduk, when he takes over the role of King of the Gods and assuming Anu’s position and thus power, gains these qualities over time.
With the passage of time, Anu would fade further to the background, retreating to the Heavens and leaving the matters of governing and ruling to Marduk and the younger generations of gods, the Igigi.
Clearly one of the few times where power isn’t going to corrupt.
Tablet of Destinies
This clay tablet is a legal document written in cuniform with cylinder seals that Anu carried with him as a sign of his divine authority. This tablet would be passed on in turn to Enlil and Marduk in turn as they each assumed rulership.
Tiamat is to have bestowed this tablet on Kingu when she made him the head of her army. A couple of other Mesopotamian poems have where the tablet is stolen by Anzu, but the tablet is always returned to Enlil.
Truth, Justice And The Sumerian Way!
One of Anu’s roles as head of the pantheon is that of Judge. Anu would judge those who had committed various crimes.
Anu’s word was law. In terms of a comic book, he would be considered a Reality Warper, that whatever he spoke or decreed, to become real. He delegated the functions, roles and status of the other gods.
Anûtu – The elevating of status among the gods to leadership was even called anûtu or the “Anu Power” or “Heavenly Power.” An example of this is seen in the Enuma Elis when Marduk becomes the ruler of the gods after Enlil by their saying “Your word is Anu!”
A Partial List Of Anu’s Decrees
As King of the Gods, Anu hits a point where he often has a cameo role in a greater myth where he dispenses with divine wisdom, judgement and punishments.
- The divine Bull of Heaven is sent on Ishtar’s behalf to go after Gilgamesh.
- Anu decrees that either Gilgamesh or Enkidu are to die for killing Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven.
- Kakka is sent to Kurnugi to inform Ereshkigal to send a messenger to return with a gift.
- It is Anu who creates a whirlwind and flood to rile up Tiamat.
- When the griffin-like monster Anzu steals the Tablet of Destinies from Enlil to hide on a mountaintop, it is Anu who orders the other gods to bring back the tablet.
Lord Of The Constellations
Ruling the heavens has its perks, one of which is there being an army of stars that Anu could command to destroy his foes and evil doers.
Calendar – Closely related, Anu is also the lord of the Calendar. A fact that makes sense when many early cultures and civilizations used the movement of the heavens to track the seasons.
Draco – Anu has been identified with the Draco constellation. I’d think with the Bull of Heaven epitaph, he would be identified with Taurus.
Kishru – These shooting stars are reputed to have great strength.
In Sumerian beliefs, Anu formed a triad or holy trinity with Enlil (God of the Air and the Earth) and Enki (God of Water). This division of power could easily reflect the importance each of these deities held in their patron city and showing the pantheons of different city states merging into a more unified whole. Anu represented the “transcendental” and obscure, Enlil represented the “transcendent” and Enkil represented the “immanent” aspects of this divine triad.
Mesopotamian theology also divided the sky into three regions that the sun passed through. A northern, middle and southern region. In Babylonian cosmology, the Way of Anu covered the equator and much of the classical zodiacs. The Way of Enlil covered the northern sky and the Way of Ea covered the southern sky. In Akkadian cosmology, Anu, Enlil and Ea (Enki) are credited with creating the universe.
This an ancient epic creation poem written in the 18th century B.C.E. 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 Anu stepped down from being King of the Gods to Ea (Enki) who in turn steps down to allow Marduk, in a relatively peaceful succession for the 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 fresh water 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, protective deities and Anshar and Kishar who go on to sire 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 raises 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. At first, Anu says he will try to speak with Tiamat to resolve the problem. When Anu fails diplomatically to resolve the problem, that is when 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 horse who have poison in their mouths. Spell casting 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 Tablet 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 the creation of the heavens, Anu, Enlil and Ea each take their roles and stations.
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 over all 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 fresh water found beneath the earth in the aquifers.
Adapa And The Food Of Life
This story dates from the Kassite Period between 1595 to 1155 B.C.E., after the fall of Babylon.
In this myth, Enki (Ea) creates the first man Adapa, endowing him with great wisdom and intelligence but not immortality. Adapa is aware of his own pending mortality yet resolves to serve his king in Eridu.
One day, Adapa heads out to sea in his boat for some fishing only to have the South Wind blow him back ashore. An enraged Adapa breaks the wings of the South Wind and returns home. After some seven days have passed, Anu begins to wonder why the South Wind isn’t blowing and asks his right hand man, Ilabrat what the cause is. Ilabrat replies that it is because Adapa, the priest of Enki (Ea) has broken the South Wind’s wings.
Anu demands that Adapa be summoned before him to explain himself. Enki, fearing Anu’s wrath on his son, instructs Adapa on how to behave when he arrives in the heavens. How he should greet the gatekeepers Tammuz and Gishida. That when he arrives, Adapa should refuse to eat or drink anything, warning his son how Anu is angry and that anything offered likely to be the food of death or poisoned.
The time comes and Adapa arrives at the gates of heaven and is received in by Anu. Following the advice of his father, Adapa does as instructed and when Anu listens to Adapa’s story of what happened, he has the Food and Water of Life brought in, expecting he will be able to give Adapa the gift of immortality when Enki has refused to do so.
When Adapa refuses the gift of immortality, Anu becomes confused and inquires of Adapa why he is refusing this gift.
Unfortunately, the second and third tablets that this story are written on have been broken and we don’t have the full account.
What we can surmise of what we do have, is that Adapa does tell Anu of the advice that Enki gave him. For this, Anu becomes angry and seeks to punish Enki.
It is clear that knew Enki knew Adapa was going to be offered immortality and had purposefully prevented this from happening. That this gift was something that could only be offered once, because when Adapa refuses, there is no second chance given.
Scholars have noted similarities between the story of Adapa and the Food of Life and that of the Fall of Man in Genesis. Notably between Enki’s reasoning and that of God or Yahweh that Adam and Eve would be cast out from the Garden of Eden for eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil before they can eat of the Tree of Life.
It appears clear that Enki didn’t want humans to become like the gods as that would upset the natural order and that he would need to keep Adapa mortal in order to keep him in his place.
The Akkadian epic does seem to fill in the gap here. It tells how humans were created with mortality by the will of the gods. Enki sees Anu as upsetting what’s supposed to be the natural order. But Anu makes the offer to Adapa out of compassion, feeling that it was wrong for Enki to have created Adapa wise and intelligent enough to be aware of his own mortality while unable to do anything about it to escape death.
These aspects of Anu trying to bring compassion and understanding were to also be seen in the Enuma Elish in the versions where Anu is trying diplomacy to end the war with Tiamat.
Erra And Išum
An eighth century B.C.E. Akkadian epic poem; Anu gives the Sebettu to the plague god Erra to help him massacre the humans when they become too numerous and noisy.
Epic Of Gilgamesh
This is a Sumerian myth and the second oldest known religious text. There are numerous Akkadian copies of this epic from the late 2,000 B.C.E. that have been found. The prologue of this epic is the source of what’s known about the Sumerian creation story. How in the beginning, there was only Nammu, a primeval sea goddess. Nammu gives birth to An, the sky and Ki, the earth. An and Ki give birth to the god Enlil. It is Enlil who separate the heaven from the earth, An and Ki. Enlil goes on to rule over the earth as his domain with An ruling over the sky.
It is in the Epic of Gilgamesh that Anu and the Bull of Heaven are seen as separate beings when Ishtar petitions him to release the Bull to punish Gilgamesh for refusing to marry her. Of course when the Bull is sent after Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu, the Bull is slain.
Inanna And Ebih
This is a 184-line poem written by the Akkadian poetess Enheduanna.
The poem tells of Inanna, An’s granddaughter who petitions An to allow her to destroy Mount Ebih. An tries to warn Inanna not to attack the mountain, but she does so and destroys it in the process.
Inanna Takes Command Of Heaven
This is another poem that only survives in fragments. What has been translated tells of Inanna’s conquering the Eanna temple in Uruk. Inanna is lamenting to her brother Utu how the Eanna temple isn’t under their influence and that she wants to claim it. Fragments of the poem detail Inanna’s difficulties with traveling through a marshland and some fishermen telling her the best route to take. Eventually Inanna reaches the temple where An is surprised by her arrogance. An however does concede control of the temple to Inanna saying she has won it.
The poem ends extoling on Inanna’s greatness. It is thought the poem represents a transfer of power between the priests of An to those of Inanna.
In the story, “The Kingship of Heaven,” begins with how Alalu, the King of Heaven ruled for seven years and then is overthrown by Anu, who in turn rules for seven years before being overthrown by Kumarbi. This time, Kumarbi when he attacks his father Anu, he bites off his genitals and when he spits it out, there were three new gods. Kumarbi is deposed of by his own son Teshub in time.
When Anu is overthrown, Kumarbi banishes Anu to the underworld, along with his allies, the old gods. The Hittites would equate these gods with the Anunnaki.
Grecian scholars have noted a similarity of this story of Kumarbi overthrowing Anu with Cronus overthrowing Uranous and eventually their own sons Teshub and Zeus overthrowing them.
Amurru – Amorite God
Depending on your source, Amurru is a patron god of the Mesopotamian city Ninab. He was a god of the steppes, the mountain and a storm god. Some sources will equate Amurru with Anu while other sources will place him as Anu’s son.
Caelus – Roman God
A primordial Roman god of the sky who has been equated with Anu.
El – Canaanite God
The supreme god in Canaanite beliefs who symbol is also a bull. The ancient Canaanites clearly equated El with Anu as the two share many of the same attributes such as being a ruler of the gods and the ability to make decrees that only he could make.
Jupiter – Roman God
The ruler of the Roman pantheon, he too has been equated with Anu.
Shamem – Canaanite God
Like Anu, Shamem is the personification of the sky. Shamem however does not appear in any Canaanite myths.
Uranus – Greek God
Anu is equated with Uranus, a primordial Greek God of the Heavens who with Gaia would father and originate all creation. Also known as Ouranos.
Zeus – Greek God
Similarities between Anu and Zeus have been noted in some of their myths. Namely where in the Epic of Gilgamesh, where Ishtar goes before Anu after being rejected by Gilgamesh and complains to her mother Antu. The scene seems to echo what’s found in the Iliad where Aphrodite flees to Mount Olympus after being wounded by Diomedes while trying to save her son Aeneas. Here, Aphrodite cries to her mother Dione, is mocked by Athena and is rebuked by Zeus for her actions, how she is the goddess of love, not war. The chapter in the Iliad that Dione appears in is the only time, the rest of the time, Zeus’ consort is named as Hera. Where Antu is a feminine form of Anu, Dione is the feminine of Zeus.
It’s an interesting connection and observation.