The Sumerian Seven: The Top-Ranking Gods in the Sumerian Pantheon

by Wu Mingren; Ancient Origins

The Sumerian religion was polytheistic in nature, and the Sumerians worshipped a great number of deities. These deities were anthropomorphic beings, and were meant to represent the natural forces of the world. Some of these deities also had their counterparts in the religion of other Mesopotamian peoples.

It has been estimated that the deities in Sumerian pantheon numbered in the hundreds or even in the thousands. Nevertheless, some gods and goddesses feature more significantly in the religion of Sumer, and thus may be considered to be the main deities of the Sumerian pantheon.

Detail of The Adda Seal. The figures can be identified as gods by their pointed hats with multiple horns. The figure with streams of water and fish flowing from his shoulders is Ea (Sumerian Enki), god of subterranean waters and of wisdom. Behind him stands Usimu, his two-faced vizier (chief minister). At the centre of the scene is the sun-god, Shamash (Sumerian Utu), with rays rising from his shoulders. He is cutting his way through the mountains in order to rise at dawn. To his left is a winged goddess, Ishtar (Sumerian Inanna). The weapons rising from her shoulders symbolise her warlike characteristics. (Public Domain)

The Sumerian Pantheon. (Fredsvenn)

An: First Sumerian Lord of the Heavens

The most important god in the Sumerian pantheon is An (known also as Anu to the Akkadians). An was believed to be a sky god, and was initially regarded to be the Lord of the Heavens, or the supreme deity of the Sumerian pantheon. Later on, An’s leadership role was either shared or taken over by other gods. Nevertheless, he retained his importance, and continued to be revered. For example, when other deities rose to prominence, they are said to have received the anûtu (which may be translated as the ‘An power’), thus showing that An’s exalted status was maintained even though he had been replaced by another god as supreme deity.

Sumerian male worshipper, 2750-2600 BC (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Enlil: Second Sumerian King of the Gods

Another main deity of the Sumerian pantheon was Enlil, an air god / god of wind and storms, who was the son of An and Ki. Enlil took over his father’s role as the king of the gods. In some Sumerian myths, Enlil has been depicted as a kind of creator god. In the only Sumerian creation story known to have survived, Enlil is said to have separated his father and mother, thus marking the beginning of creation.

Enki: Sumerian creator of man

Enki was another important deity in the Sumerian pantheon. To the Akkadians and Babylonians, he was known as Ea. The Sumerians associated Enki with wisdom, magic and incantations, and was one of the three most powerful gods in the Sumerian pantheon, the other two being Ana and Enlil. Enki is credited with the creation of mankind, and was also, according to Sumerian mythology, its protector. It was Enki, for example, who warned Ziusudra about the flood that the gods intended to send to wipe out the human race. It may be due to his role as a protector god that Enki was quite a popular and beloved god amongst the Sumerians.

Image of the Sumerian god Enki. Modern reproduction of a detail of the Adda seal (c. 2300 BC) (Public Domain)

Inanna: A Sumerian national treasure

Based on the literary texts left behind by the Sumerians, it may be said that the most popular deity of the Sumerian pantheon was Inanna (known to the Assyrians and Babylonians as Ishtar). In many of the most famous and most often copied Sumerian stories, myths and hymns, one would find Inanna playing a prominent role. These include The Descent of Inanna, The Huluppu Tree, and Inanna and the God of Wisdom. It is from these texts that the nature of this goddess is known to us today. Inanna was worshipped as the goddess of sexuality, passion, love and war.

“Queen of the Night” relief. The depicted figure could be an aspect of the goddess Ishtar (Sumerian: Inanna) Mesopotamian goddess of sexual love and war. (Public Domain)

The Sumerian Seven

Apart from An, Enlil, Enki and Inanna, there were three other deities that make up the seven most important gods and goddesses of the Sumerian pantheon. One of them is Utu, a sun god and god of justice. At an early period of Sumerian history, Utu was regarded to be the twin brother of Inanna. Another important deity was Ninhursag, who was worshipped as a Mother Goddess. Therefore, she was associated with fertility, nature and life on earth. In addition, Ninhursag was the protectress of women and children, especially pregnant women and young children. The last of these seven important Sumerian deities is Nanna, the god of the moon and of wisdom. This god is sometimes considered to be the father of Inanna. His importance lies in the role he played during the act of creation.Sumerian Chaos Monster and Sun God (Public Domain)
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