Introduction to Babylonian Mythology
Some of the oldest texts in the world history have come from the Babylon mythology. "Enuma Elish -- The Epic of Creation", in the Babylonian Mythology comprises of highly interesting events of creation presented as if one were reading the script of a hit Hollywood movie. The original story was written on the clay tablets, which were found during excavations.
In Enuma Elish we also see the rise of ordinary deity, Marduk to the stature of the supreme god. Having killed great monstrous, demons and serpents, he sets out on the path of creation. In this endeavor he creates the universe, the stars, the moon, and almost everything, including the mankind from the blood of his rival, Kingu.
Another wondrous hero is Gilgamesh. "The Epic of Gilgamesh" is probably the oldest story found on the earth and written by the oldest known author. This epic is also written in a very entertaining style based on which yet another super hit Hollywood movie could be made. Gilgamesh is the central figure in this story. We see his conversion from a flirt hero who abducted the women to a loyal friend of Enkidu. The duo carries out a number of adventures including the killing of the demon, Humbaba. The death of his close friend brings a shock to Gilgamesh, who is shaken from deep inside and sets out on the dangerous journey in search of victory over the death.
On the way he comes to know another mysterious story about the Great Flood from the only mortal man residing on the earth, Utnapishtim. He eventually tells him the secret of immortality. Was Gilgamesh successful in gaining eternal life? For this and many more answers, read, "The Epic of Gilgamesh."
You will come know about the location of Babylon and its historical importance. Short descriptions of the earliest dynasties have also been provided. It is pleasure to read the rise of Babylon to become the capital of Babylonia and the whole of Mesopotamia. But like almost all the other great empires there was a tragic end of Babylon.
Anu, Ea, Enlil, Shamash and Ishtar were some of the prominent gods of Babylonian mythology. These and other gods and goddesses will be described in the "Babylonian Deities" section below. Ishtar was a very colorful goddess having number of affairs and she would go to any extent to get her lover. When Gilgamesh refused her love, she forced god Anu to send the Bull of Heaven to destroy him.
Once Ishtar also forced the gate keeper of lower world to open the gates, but she got into trouble after going inside and gods had to interfere to bring her out. (Click here to read this story). Another famous story is of Adapa, who cut the wings of the south wind, whereby stopping the flow of wind. Read this story to find out how he missed the chance of attaining immortality when god Anu invited him to the heavens.
Hope you will enjoy this exploratory, courageous, and spiritual mythology.
Location of Babylonia
In general Mesopotamia is the region between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers north or northwest of the bottleneck at Baghdad, in modern Iraq. Babylonia is the ancient cultural region occupying southeastern Mesopotamia (South of Baghdad). Babylon was the capital of this region and was located on the Euphrates River about 55miles south of Baghdad, near the modern town of Al-Hillah, Iraq. Due to great influence of Babylon on this region, Babylonia has come to refer to the entire culture that developed in the area from the time it was first settled, about 4000 BC.
History of Babylonia
Babylon rose to the political prominence during 1850 BC before which the area was divided into two regions: Sumer in the southeast and Akkad in the northwest. Their history comprises of the constant warfare however, Sumer and Akkad developed rich cultures. The Sumerians were responsible for the first system of writing, cuneiform; the earliest known codes of law; the development of the city-state and much more.
By 1900 BC whole of Mesopotamia was conquered by the Amorites, a western Semitic tribe who ruled till 1600 BC. During this period Babylon became the political and commercial center of the Tigris-Euphrates area. At the same time Babylonia became a great empire, encompassing all of southern Mesopotamia and part of Assyria to the north.
It was Hammurabi (c. 1792-1750 BC) who was mainly responsible Babylon's rise power. He was the sixth king of the first dynasty of Babylon. He forged coalitions between various cities and states and promoted science and scholarship. The famous code of law was also declared by Hammurabi.
After the death of Hammurabi, Babylonian Empire went on declining. In 1595 BC, from the eastern mountains of Babylonia, under the leadership of Mursil I, Kassites assumed the power and established dynasty that lasted 400 years. During their rule religion and literature flourished in Babylonia. The most important literary work of this period was Enuma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation. Towards the end, king Assyria broke away from the Kassites developing an independent kingdom and threatening Kassite dynasty and at the same time conquering Babylonia for some period. Soon Elam too grew powerful and he overthrew Kassite dynasty taking control of Babylonia in 1157 BC.
A number of wars took place during this period and at the end second dynasty of Isin was established. Their prolific leader Nebuchadrezzar I (reigned c. 1124-1103 BC), defeated Elam and successfully fought off Assyrian advances for some years.
After Nebuchadrezzar I there was three way struggles between Assyrians and Aramean and Chaldean tribesmen for control of Babylonia. For about 700 years Assyrian kings frequently ruled Babylonia. Ashurbanipal, the last ruling Assyrian king fought a civil war with his brother, the sub-king of Babylon, devastating the city and its population. It was from Ashurbanipal's library from where most of the clay tablets containing the history of Babylonia were discovered by the archeologists.
After Ashurbanipal's death Nabopolassar, as Chaldean leader, became the king of Babylonia and he made Babylon as his capital. He instituted the last and the greatest period of Babylonian supremacy. His son Nebuchadrezzar II (reigned 605-562 BC) conquered Syria and Palestine. It was he who had constructed the wondrous Hanging Gardens and rebuilt the Temple of Marduk and its accompanying ziggurat. But he is best remembered for the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem in 587 BC and for the ensuing Babylonian captivity of the Jews.
Nebuchadrezzar's last successor was Nabonidus, but he lost Babylonia to the Persians who attacked under the leadership of Cyrus, the Great, in 539 BC. Thereafter Babylonia could never become independent.
In 331 BC Alexander the Great took over the reins of Babylonia and he ordered the restoration of the temples. He also recognized the commercial importance of Babylon and allowed its satrap to coin money and began constructing a harbor to promote trade. He planned to make Babylon his imperial capital, but he died in Nebuchadrezzar's palace in 323BC.
After Alexander's death there was struggle for power among his generals, finally Babylon was passed to Seleucid dynasty in 312. Seleucids built a new capital and abandoned Babylon, thus bringing an end to the one of the greatest empires of the world history.
In their long period of history Babylonians achieved a high level of civilization that impacted the whole world existing at that time. Their basis was Sumerian culture which they recognized as traditional. Sumerians already had the system of gods with a main temple in all the cities. Some of the prominent gods were: Anu, god of heaven; Enlil, god of the air; and Ea, god of the sea and wisdom. Some other gods included Shamash, the sun god; Sin, the moon-god; and Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. Amorites promoted god Marduk so he became the chief god of the Babylonian religion. The religion of Babylonians centered on the temples and they celebrated many festivals.
Most records of Babylonian myths date from 700 B.C., when they were transcribed in cuneiform on clay tablets and stored in the library of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. However, two major Babylonian epics probably originated around 2000 B.C. The Epic of Creation justifies Marduk's rule over gods and men; and it reflects the political supremacy of Babylon in Mesopotamia, since Marduk was the chief god of that city. Also as per this myth Marduk created heaven and earth from the corpse of the goddess Tiamat. The Gilgamesh Epic, a flood story, shows the failure of man's quest to overcome death. Scientific literature of the Babylonians included treatises on astronomy, mathematics, medicine, chemistry, botany, and nature.
Sources of Babylonian Mythology
A number of archeologists and scholars carried out the excavations at the site of Babylonia from early 1800. Various occupations of the people are revealed in thousands upon thousands of clay documents found in the mounds. These clay documents gave detailed information about the social and the business environment prevalent in Babylonia. The beliefs and practices mentioned in the texts date back from the oldest period to the fall of Babylonia and beyond that into the era of Persian and Greek control.
A considerable amount of literature has come from the baked clay tablets that were found in the ruins of the Palace and Library of the Assyrian King, Ashurbanipal at the Nineveh. They were found by Mr. A. H Layard, Hormuzd Rassam and George Smith, Assistant in the department of Oriental Antiquities in the British Museum between 1848 and 1876. During the course of the work they found various fragments related to various versions of the Babylonian Legend of the Deluge and of the Creation. They also found cuneiform inscriptions, statues, stele (pillars), terra-cotta reliefs, cylinder seals, pottery, glassware, and jewelry.
The language used on these clays is Akkadian with cuneiform script.
The Story of Creation
During the excavations carried out by Mr. A. H Layard, Hormuzd Rassam and George Smith, a number of tablets were found in the ruins of the library of Assyrian King Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. In 1873 and 1874, during the excavations they found several fragments of the Genesis Legends. Of these there were seven tablets containing the story of creation that was known as Enuma Elish, meaning "When on High." Each tablet of Enuma Elish is 115 to 170 lines long.
As per the historians these seven tablets were written no later than the reign of Nebuchadrezzar in the 12th century B.C. In fact they are thought to have been written much earlier during the time of the Sumerians, which is much earlier than the book of Genesis. Also after a close study of the texts Layard found that the texts bore resemblance with the Genesis creation in the Bible. George Smith first published these texts in 1876 under the title The Chaldean Genesis. These tablets were written in Akkadian language in cuneiform script.
As per the myths the Babylonian God finished his work within the span of six tablets of stone, while the seventh one contains various names of the creator god, Marduk. This can be compared to seven days of creation found in the Bible.
The main object of the Legend seems to be the glorification of the god Marduk as the conqueror of the dragon Tiamat and not the narration of the story of the creation of the heavens, and man and earth. The prominence of Marduk in the Legend was due to the political importance of Babylon. In the neighboring northern country of Assyria, national god Ashur occupied the same position in their Legend as Marduk. As per the historians the original hero of the Legend was Enlil, the great god of Nippur however, by 2300 BC when Babylon rose to power during the reign of the First Dynasty, the god was surpassed by Marduk.
Story from the Seven Tablets of Creation
As per the texts, in the beginning there was nothing but only ocean of sweet and salty water. The sweet water was named Apsu (male) while the salty water was named Tiamat (female). Apsu was described as the boundless, confused, and disordered mass of watery matter. From them was born the sea god Mummu, also called the god of the waves. During the initial periods waters of the ocean and sea were all combined together and there were neither plains nor the marshes. At that time no other gods existed, not even their names. Nothing was decided regarding the future of the world order.
Apsu and Tiamat gave birth to a pair of large serpents, Lahmu and Lahamu. Then a number of void eons passed until the two serpents produced Anshar, the god of the heavens, and Kishar, the goddess of the earthly world. Again a long period passed at the end of which Anshar and Kishar gave birth to son Anu, the god of the heavens or the sky. Soon the other major gods like Enlil, the god of air, and Ea, the god of underworld, were also born. Each new born god was more powerful and perfect than the predecessors. Ea (also called Nudummud by some sources) was the god with great wisdom.
Due to the growing number of the gods the peace of the oceans water was destroyed. The gods became unruly and insubordinate, while Tiamat, the mother of them all, sat idly by and did nothing despite the pains their rambunctious behavior caused. They refused to heed their father's pleas to calm themselves.
Apsu was very disturbed with the developments and he was not at peace. The confused Apsu called his minister, Mummu and fixed a meeting with Tiamat. In the meeting he was very sad and desperately in search of the peace. Apsu proposed to wage a war against the younger gods, but Tiamat got angry, and she was against it. However, out of the confusion and desperation Apsu decided to end whatever they had created. Mummu (sea) was to destroy all the gods and their sons so he became very afraid and his knees started trembling.
Somehow, Ea came to know about Apsu's plan so he wove a spell of sleep upon Apsu and slew him while he slept. Mummu was also captured. Ea built a great temple on Apsu's body and dwelled in luxury and comfort with his lover, Damkina.