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Anu (Akkadian: 𒀭𒀭 DAN, Anu‹m) or An (Sumerian: 𒀭 AN, from 𒀭 an "sky, heaven")[1] was the ancient Mesopotamian god of the sky. An appears to have been the original chief deity of the Sumerian pantheon, but, by the time of the earliest written records, he had already been largely supplanted by his son Enlil, the god of wind, air, earth, and storms. An's primary role in myths is as the ancestor of the Anunnaki, the major deities of Sumerian religion. An was believed to be the supreme source of all authority, for the other gods and for all mortal rulers. His primary cult center was the Eanna temple in the city of Uruk, but, by the Akkadian Period, his authority in Uruk had largely been ceded to the goddess Inanna, the Queen of Heaven.

Sky Father, King of the Gods, Lord of the Constellations
Cuneiform sumer dingir.svg
Ur III Sumerian cuneiform for An (and determinative sign for deities see: DINGIR)
Abode Heaven
Army Deities and Stars
Personal Information
Consort Uraš (early Sumerian),
Ki (later Sumerian),
Antu (East Semitic)
Children Enlil, Enki, Nikikurga, Nidaba, Baba, in some versions: Inanna
Parents Apsu and Nammu (Sumerian)
Anshar and Kishar (East Semitic)
Greek equivalent Ouranos

Anu briefly appears in the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh, in which his daughter Ishtar (the East Semitic equivalent to Inanna) persuades him to give her the Bull of Heaven so that she may send it to attack Gilgamesh. The incident results in the death of Enkidu, which becomes the driving force for the remaining portion of the epic. In ancient Hittite religion, Anu is a former ruler of the gods, who was overthrown by his son Kumarbi, who bit off his father's genitals and gave birth to the storm god Teshub. Teshub overthrew Kumarbi, avenged Anu's mutilation, and became the new king of the gods. This story was the later basis for the castration of Ouranos in Hesiod's Theogony.



An appears to have originated as the supreme god of the Sumerian pantheon,[1][2] but, by the time that written records began, his cult was already in decline and his position as the chief god of Sumer had already been largely ceded to his son Enlil.[3][4] An's primary role in the Sumerian pantheon was as an ancestor figure; the most powerful and important deities in the Sumerian pantheon were believed to be the offspring of An and his consort Ki.[2][5][6] These deities were known as the Anunnaki,[7] which means "offspring of An".[8] Although it is sometimes unclear which deities were considered members of the Anunnaki,[9] the group probably included the "seven gods who decree":[9] An, Enlil, Enki, Ninhursag, Nanna, Utu, and Inanna.[10]


Part of the front of the temple from Uruk, which was originally dedicated to An, but was later dedicated to Inanna[11]

An's main cult center was the Eanna temple, whose name means "House of Heaven" (Sumerian: e2-anna; Cuneiform: 𒂍𒀭 E2.AN),[Notes 1] in Uruk.[Notes 2] Although the temple was originally dedicated to An,[11] it was later transformed into the primary cult center of Inanna.[11] After its dedication to Inanna, the temple seems to have housed priestesses of the goddess.[11]

An was believed to be source of all legitimate power; he was the one who bestowed the right to rule upon gods and kings alike.[2][12][1] According to scholar Stephen Bertman, An "...was the supreme source of authority among the gods, and among men, upon whom he conferred kingship. As heaven's grand patriarch, he dispensed justice and controlled the laws known as the meh that governed the universe."[12] In inscriptions commemorating his conquest of Sumer, Sargon of Akkad proclaims An and Inanna as the sources of his authority.[12] A hymn from the early second millennium BCE professes that "his utterance ruleth over the obedient company of the gods".[12]

The functions of Anu and Enlil frequently overlapped, especially during later periods as the cult of Anu continued to wane and the cult of Enlil rose to greater prominence.[3][4] In later times, An was fully superseded by Enlil.[1] Eventually, Enlil was, in turn, superseded by Marduk, the national god of ancient Babylon.[1] Nonetheless, references to An's power were preserved through archaic phrases used in reference to the ruler of the gods.[1] The highest god in the pantheon was always said to possess the anûtu, which literally means "Anu-power".[1] In the Babylonian Enûma Eliš, the gods praise Marduk, shouting "Your word is Anu!"[1]

Although An was a very important deity, his nature was often ambiguous and ill-defined;[2] he almost never appears in Mesopotamian artwork[2] and has no known anthropomorphic iconography.[2] During the Kassite and Neo-Assyrian periods, Anu was represented by a horned cap.[2][12]


The earliest Sumerian texts make no mention of where An came from or how he came to be the ruler of the gods;[1] instead, his preeminence is simply assumed.[1] In early Sumerian texts from the third millennium BC, An's consort is the goddess Uraš;[2][1] the Sumerians later attributed this role to Ki, the personification of the earth.[2][1] The Sumerians believed that rain was An's seed[13] and that, when it fell, it impregnated Ki, causing her to give birth to all the vegetation of the land.[13] During the Akkadian Period, Ki was supplanted by Antu, a goddess whose name is probably derived from Anu's own.[2][1] The Akkadians believed that rain was milk from the clouds,[13] which they believed were Antu's breasts.[13]

An frequently receives the epithet "father of the gods",[1] and many deities are described as his children in one context or another.[1] Inscriptions from Lagash dated to the late third millennium BCE identify An as the father of Gatumdug, Baba, and Ningirsu.[1] Later literary texts proclaim Adad, Enki/Ea, Enlil, Girra, Nanna/Sin, Nergal and Šara as his sons and Inanna-Ishtar, Nanaya, Nidaba, Ninisinna, Ninkarrak, Ninmug, Ninnibru, Ninsumun, Nungal, and Nusku as his daughters.[1] An was thought to have created the demons Lamaštu, Asag, and the Sebettu.[1] In the epic poem Erra and Išum, Anu gives the Sebettu to Erra as weapons[1] and instructs him to use them to massacre humans when they become overpopulated and start making too much noise (Tablet I, 38ff).[1] An was also sometimes equated with Amurru.[1] Later, during the Seleucid Empire, Anu was identified with Enmešara and Dumuzid.[1]



Sumerian creation mythEdit

The main source of information about the Sumerian creation myth is the prologue to the epic poem Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld (ETCSL,[14] which briefly describes the process of creation: originally, there was only Nammu, the primeval sea.[15] Then, Nammu gave birth to An, the sky, and Ki, the earth.[16] An and Ki mated with each other, causing Ki to give birth to Enlil, the god of the wind.[16] Enlil separated An from Ki and carried off the earth as his domain, while An carried off the sky.[17]

In Sumerian, the designation "An" was used interchangeably with "the heavens" so that in some cases it is doubtful whether, under the term, the god An or the heavens is being denoted.[18] In Sumerian cosmogony, heaven was envisioned as a series of three domes covering the flat earth;[19][1] Each of these domes of heaven was believed to be made of a different precious stone.[19] An was believed to be the highest and outermost of these domes, which was thought to be made of reddish stone.[1] Outside of this dome was the primordial body of water known as Nammu.[16] An's sukkal, or attendant, was the god Ilabrat.[1]

Inanna mythsEdit

The original Sumerian clay tablet of Inanna and Ebih, which is currently housed in the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago

Inanna and Ebih (ETCSL 1.3.2), otherwise known as Goddess of the Fearsome Divine Powers, is a 184-line poem written by the Akkadian poetess Enheduanna describing An's granddaughter Inanna's confrontation with Mount Ebih, a mountain in the Zagros mountain range.[20] An briefly appears in a scene from the poem in which Inanna petitions him to allow her to destroy Mount Ebih.[20] An warns Inanna not to attack the mountain,[20] but she ignores his warning and proceeds to attack and destroy Mount Ebih regardless.[20]

The poem Inanna Takes Command of Heaven is an extremely fragmentary, but important, account of Inanna's conquest of the Eanna temple in Uruk.[11] It begins with a conversation between Inanna and her brother Utu in which Inanna laments that the Eanna temple is not within their domain and resolves to claim it as her own.[11] The text becomes increasingly fragmentary at this point in the narrative,[11] but appears to describe her difficult passage through a marshland to reach the temple while a fisherman instructs her on which route is best to take.[11] Ultimately, Inanna reaches An, who is shocked by her arrogance, but nevertheless concedes that she has succeeded and that the temple is now her domain.[11] The text ends with a hymn expounding Inanna's greatness.[11] This myth may represent an eclipse in the authority of the priests of An in Uruk and a transfer of power to the priests of Inanna.[11]


Epic of GilgameshEdit

In a scene from the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh, Anu's daughter Ishtar, the East Semitic equivalent to Inanna, attempts to seduce the hero Gilgamesh.[21] When Gilgamesh spurns her advances,[21] Ishtar angrily goes to heaven and tells Anu that Gilgamesh has insulted her.[21] Anu asks her why she is complaining to him instead of confronting Gilgamesh herself.[21] Ishtar demands that Anu give her the Bull of Heaven[21] and swears that if he does not give it to her, she will break down the gates of Irkalla and raise the dead to eat the living.[21] Anu gives Ishtar the Bull of Heaven, and Ishtar sends it to attack Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu.[22]

Adapa mythEdit

In the myth of Adapa, Anu notices that the south wind does not blow towards the land for seven days.[23][24] He asks his sukkal Ilabrat the reason.[23] Ilabrat replies that is because Adapa, the priest of Ea (the East Semitic equivalent of Enki) in Eridu, has broken the south wind's wing.[23] Anu demands that Adapa be summoned before him,[23][24] but, before Adapa sets out, Ea warns him not to eat any of the food or drink any of the water the gods offer him, because the food and water are poisoned.[25][24] Adapa arrives before Anu and tells him that the reason he broke the south wind's wing was because he had been fishing for Ea and the south wind had caused a storm, which had sunk his boat.[26] Anu's doorkeepers Dumuzid and Ningishzida speak out in favor of Adapa.[26] This placates Anu's fury and he orders that, instead of the food and water of death, Adapa should be given the food and water of immortality as a reward.[26][24] Adapa, however, follows Ea's advice and refuses the meal.[26][24] Anu decrees that, as a reward for his wisdom, Adapa shall be freed from compulsory servitude and permitted to live among the gods,[27] but, because his sin of cursing the south wind must still be punished, the rest of humanity will suffer from disease and hardship.[27] Fragments of later editions of this myth have been found in a library in Egypt dating to the fourteenth century BC and a library in Assyria dating to the seventh century BC,[28] indicating that the story remained popular throughout antiquity.[28] The legend of Adapa would have been well-known to the authors of the primeval history in the Biblical Book of Genesis[28] and it is thought to have significantly influenced the writing of the story of Adam and Eve.[27]


In Hittite mythology, Anu was believed to have overthrown his father Alalu[29][30] and proclaimed himself ruler of the universe.[29][30] He was later overthrown by his own son Kumarbi;[29][30] Anu attempted to flee, but Kumarbi bit off Anu's genitals and swallowed them, and banished him to the underworld,[29] along with his allies, the old gods,[31][32] whom the Hittites syncretized with the Anunnaki.[31] As a consequence of swallowing Anu's genitals, Kumarbi became impregnated with Anu's son Teshub and four other offspring.[29] Teshub overthrew his father Kumarbi, thus avenging his other father Anu's overthrow and mutilation.[29] This series of divine coups later became the basis for the Greek creation story described in Hesiod's Theogony.[33]

Family treeEdit

Mummu Tīama
born to Namma
born to Namma
born to Uraš
maybe daughter of Enlil
Nanna Nergal
maybe son of Enki
maybe born to Ninḫursaĝ
born to Uraš
Uttu Inanna
possibly also the daughter of Enki or the daughter of An
maybe son of Enki
Utu Ninkigal
married Nergal
Meškiaĝĝašer Lugalbanda
Enmerkar Gilgāmeš

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ é-an-na = sanctuary ('house' + 'Heaven'[='An'] + genitive) (Halloran 2009)
  2. ^ modern-day Warka, Biblical Erech


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Stephens 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Black & Green 1992, p. 30.
  3. ^ a b Schneider 2011, p. 58.
  4. ^ a b Kramer 1963, p. 118.
  5. ^ Katz 2003, p. 403.
  6. ^ Leick 1998, p. 8.
  7. ^ Black & Green, p. 34.
  8. ^ Black & Green 1992, p. 34.
  9. ^ a b Kramer 1963, p. 123.
  10. ^ Kramer 1963, pp. 122–123.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Harris 1991, pp. 261–278.
  12. ^ a b c d e Mark 2017.
  13. ^ a b c d Nemet-Nejat 1998, p. 182.
  14. ^ Kramer 1961, pp. 30–33.
  15. ^ Kramer 1961, pp. 37-40.
  16. ^ a b c Kramer 1961, pp. 37–40.
  17. ^ Kramer 1961, pp. 37–41.
  18. ^   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainJastrow, Morris (1911). "Anu". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 156–157. 
  19. ^ a b Nemet-Nejat 1998, p. 180.
  20. ^ a b c d Karahashi 2004, p. 111.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Dalley 1989, p. 80.
  22. ^ Dalley 1989, pp. 81–82.
  23. ^ a b c d McCall 1990, p. 65.
  24. ^ a b c d e Greenberg 2000, p. 56.
  25. ^ McCall 1990, pp. 65–66.
  26. ^ a b c d McCall 1990, p. 66.
  27. ^ a b c Greenberg 2000, pp. 56–57.
  28. ^ a b c Greenberg 2000, p. 57.
  29. ^ a b c d e f Puhvel 1987, p. 25.
  30. ^ a b c Coleman & Davidson 2015, p. 19.
  31. ^ a b Leick 1998, p. 141.
  32. ^ Van Scott 1998, p. 187.
  33. ^ Puhvel 1987, pp. 25–27.


External linksEdit