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AbodeThe third (highest) heaven, the equatorial regions of the zodiac (e.g. Virgo, Libra, Orion, and Aries)
PlanetSun,[1] Uranus
ArmyStars and deities
Symbol𒀭 Dingir
Personal information
ConsortUraš (early Sumerian),
Ki (later Sumerian),
Antu (East Semitic),
Nammu (Neo-Sumerian)
ChildrenEnlil, Enki, Nikikurga, Nidaba, Baba, in some versions: Inanna, Kumarbi (Hurrians), Anammelech (possibly)
ParentsApsu and Nammu (Sumerian religion)
Anshar and Kishar (East Semitic)
Alalu (Hittite religion)
Greek equivalentUranus
Roman equivalentCaelus
Part of a Roman-era mosaic from Sentinum (modern-day Sassoferato, Italy) depicting Aion-Uranus, who is analogous to the Sumerian An

Anu[lower-alpha 1] or An[lower-alpha 2] (Greek: Ἀνὸς Anos)[4] is the divine personification of the sky, supreme god, and ancestor of all the deities in ancient Mesopotamian religion. Anu was believed to be the supreme source of all authority, for the other gods and for all mortal rulers, and he is described in one text as the one "who contains the entire universe". He, with his sons Enlil and Enki, constitute the highest divine triad personifying the three bands of constellations of the vault of the sky. By the time of the earliest written records, Anu was rarely worshipped, and veneration was instead devoted to his son Enlil, but, throughout Mesopotamian history, the highest deity in the pantheon was always said to possess the anûtu, meaning "Heavenly power". Anu's primary role in myths is as the ancestor of the Anunnaki, the major deities of Sumerian religion. His primary cult center was the Eanna temple in the city of Uruk, but, by the Akkadian Period (c. 2334–2154 BCE), his authority in Uruk had largely been ceded to the goddess Inanna, the Queen of Heaven.

Anu's consort in the earliest Sumerian texts is the goddess Uraš, but she is later the goddess Ki and, in Akkadian texts, the goddess Antu, whose name is a feminine form of Anu. 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. In another legend, Anu summons the mortal hero Adapa before him for breaking the wing of the south wind. Anu orders for Adapa to be given the food and water of immortality, which Adapa refuses, having been warned beforehand by Enki that Anu will offer him the food and water of death.


Part of the front of a Babylonian temple to Ishtar in Uruk, built c. 1415 BCE, during the Kassite Period (c. 1600—1155 BCE).[5] The original Eanna temple in Uruk was first dedicated to Anu, but later dedicated to Inanna.[6]

In Mesopotamian religion, Anu was the personification of the sky, the utmost power,[7] the supreme god,[8] the one "who contains the entire universe".[9] He was identified with the equatorial sky, such as the constellation Virgo. His name meant the "One on High",[7] and together with his sons Enlil and Enki (Ellil[10] and Ea[11] in Akkadian), he formed a triune conception of the divine, in which Anu represented a "transcendental" obscurity,[7] Enlil the "transcendent" and Enki the "immanent" aspect of the divine.[12]. The three great gods and the three divisions of the heavens were Anu (the ancient god of the heavens), Enlil (son of Anu, god of the air and the forces of nature, and lord of the gods), and Ea (the beneficent god of earth and life, who dwelt in the abyssal waters). The Babylonians divided the sky into three parts named after them: The equator and most of the zodiac occupied the Way of Anu, the northern sky was the Way of Enlil, and the southern sky was the Way of Ea[13]. The boundaries of each Way were at 17°N and 17°S. [14]

Though Anu was the supreme god,[3][15] he was rarely worshipped, and, by the time that written records began, the most important cult was devoted to his son Enlil.[16][17] Anu'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 Anu and his consort Ki.[15][18][19] These deities were known as the Anunnaki,[20] which means "offspring of Anu".[20] Although it is sometimes unclear which deities were considered members of the Anunnaki,[21] the group probably included the "seven gods who decree":[21] Anu, Enlil, Enki, Ninhursag, Nanna, Utu, and Inanna.[22]

Anu's main cult center was the Eanna temple, whose name means "House of Heaven" (Sumerian: e2-anna; Cuneiform: 𒂍𒀭 E2.AN),[lower-alpha 3] in Uruk.[lower-alpha 4] Although the temple was originally dedicated to Anu,[6] it was later transformed into the primary cult center of Inanna.[6] After its dedication to Inanna, the temple seems to have housed priestesses of the goddess.[6]

Anu was believed to be source of all legitimate power; he was the one who bestowed the right to rule upon gods and kings alike.[15][24][3] According to scholar Stephen Bertman, Anu "... 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."[24] In inscriptions commemorating his conquest of Sumer, Sargon of Akkad, the founder of the Akkadian Empire, proclaims Anu and Inanna as the sources of his authority.[24] A hymn from the early second millennium BCE professes that "his utterance ruleth over the obedient company of the gods".[24]

Anu's original name in Sumerian is An, of which Anu is a Semiticized form.[25][26] Anu was also identified with the Semitic god Ilu or El from early on.[25] 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.[16][17] In later times, Anu was fully superseded by Enlil.[3] Eventually, Enlil was, in turn, superseded by Marduk, the national god of ancient Babylon.[3] Nonetheless, references to Anu's power were preserved through archaic phrases used in reference to the ruler of the gods.[3] The highest god in the pantheon was always said to possess the anûtu, which literally means "Heavenly power".[3] In the Babylonian Enûma Eliš, the gods praise Marduk, shouting "Your word is Anu!"[3]

Although Anu was a very important deity, his nature was often ambiguous and ill-defined;[15] he almost never appears in Mesopotamian artwork[15] and has no known anthropomorphic iconography.[15] During the Kassite Period (c. 1600—1155 BCE) and Neo-Assyrian Period (911 609 BCE), Anu was represented by a horned cap.[15][24] The Amorite god Amurru was sometimes equated with Anu.[3] Later, during the Seleucid Empire (213—63 BCE), Anu was identified with Enmešara and Dumuzid.[3]


The earliest Sumerian texts make no mention of where Anu came from or how he came to be the ruler of the gods;[3] instead, his preeminence is simply assumed.[3] In early Sumerian texts from the third millennium BC, Anu's consort is the goddess Uraš;[15][3] the Sumerians later attributed this role to Ki, the personification of the earth.[15][3] The Sumerians believed that rain was Anu's seed[27] and that, when it fell, it impregnated Ki, causing her to give birth to all the vegetation of the land.[27] During the Akkadian Period, Ki was supplanted by Antu, a goddess whose name is probably a feminine form of Anu.[15][3] The Akkadians believed that rain was milk from the clouds,[27] which they believed were Antu's breasts.[27]

Anu is commonly described as the "father of the gods",[3] and a vast array of deities were thought to have been his offspring over the course of Mesopotamian history.[3] Inscriptions from Lagash dated to the late third millennium BC identify Anu as the father of Gatumdug, Baba, and Ninurta.[3] Later literary texts proclaim Adad, Enki, Enlil, Girra, Nanna-Suen, Nergal and Šara as his sons and Inanna-Ishtar, Nanaya, Nidaba, Ninisinna, Ninkarrak, Ninmug, Ninnibru, Ninsumun, Nungal, and Nusku as his daughters.[3] The demons Lamaštu, Asag, and the Sebettu were thought to have been Anu's creations.[3] In Hittite mythology, Anu is the son of the god Alalu.[28][29]



Sumerian creation myth[edit]

The main source of information about the Sumerian creation myth is the prologue to the epic poem Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld,[30][31] which briefly describes the process of creation: at first, there is only Nammu, the primeval sea.[32] Then, Nammu gives birth to An (the Sumerian name for Anu), the sky, and Ki, the earth.[32] An and Ki mate with each other, causing Ki to give birth to Enlil, the god of the wind.[32] Enlil separates An from Ki and carries off the earth as his domain, while An carries off the sky.[33]

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.[34][35] In Sumerian cosmogony, heaven was envisioned as a series of three domes covering the flat earth;[36][3] Each of these domes of heaven was believed to be made of a different precious stone.[36] An was believed to be the highest and outermost of these domes, which was thought to be made of reddish stone.[3] Outside of this dome was the primordial body of water known as Nammu.[32] An's sukkal, or attendant, was the god Ilabrat.[3]

Inanna myths[edit]

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,[37] otherwise known as Goddess of the Fearsome Divine Powers, is a 184-line poem written in Sumerian by the Akkadian poetess Enheduanna.[38] It describes An's granddaughter Inanna's confrontation with Mount Ebih, a mountain in the Zagros mountain range.[38] An briefly appears in a scene from the poem in which Inanna petitions him to allow her to destroy Mount Ebih.[38] An warns Inanna not to attack the mountain,[38] but she ignores his warning and proceeds to attack and destroy Mount Ebih regardless.[38]

The poem Inanna Takes Command of Heaven is an extremely fragmentary, but important, account of Inanna's conquest of the Eanna temple in Uruk.[6] 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.[6] The text becomes increasingly fragmentary at this point in the narrative,[6] 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.[6] 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.[6] The text ends with a hymn expounding Inanna's greatness.[6] 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.[6]


Ancient Mesopotamian terracotta relief showing Gilgamesh slaying the Bull of Heaven, which Anu gives to his daughter Ishtar in Tablet IV of the Epic of Gilgamesh after Gilgamesh spurns her amorous advances.[39]

Epic of Gilgamesh[edit]

In a scene from the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh, written in the late second millennium BC, Anu's daughter Ishtar, the East Semitic equivalent to Inanna, attempts to seduce the hero Gilgamesh.[40] When Gilgamesh spurns her advances,[40] Ishtar angrily goes to heaven and tells Anu that Gilgamesh has insulted her.[40] Anu asks her why she is complaining to him instead of confronting Gilgamesh herself.[40] Ishtar demands that Anu give her the Bull of Heaven[40] and swears that if he does not give it to her, she will break down the gates of the Underworld and raise the dead to eat the living.[40] Anu gives Ishtar the Bull of Heaven, and Ishtar sends it to attack Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu.[41]

Adapa myth[edit]

In the myth of Adapa, which is first attested during the Kassite Period, Anu notices that the south wind does not blow towards the land for seven days.[42] He asks his sukkal Ilabrat the reason.[42] 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.[42] Anu demands that Adapa be summoned before him,[42] 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.[43] 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.[44] Anu's doorkeepers Dumuzid and Ningishzida speak out in favor of Adapa.[44] 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.[44] Adapa, however, follows Ea's advice and refuses the meal.[44] The story of Adapa was beloved by scribes, who saw him as the founder of their trade[45] and a vast plethora of copies and variations of the myth have been found across Mesopotamia, spanning the entire course of Mesopotamian history.[46] The story of Adapa's appearance before Anu has been compared to the later Jewish story of Adam and Eve, recorded in the Book of Genesis.[47] In the same way that Anu forces Adapa to return to earth after he refuses to eat the food of immortality, Yahweh in the biblical story drives Adam out of the Garden of Eden to prevent him from eating the fruit from the tree of life.[48] Similarly, Adapa was seen as the prototype for all priests;[48] whereas Adam in the Book of Genesis is presented as the prototype of all mankind.[48]

Erra and Išum[edit]

In the epic poem Erra and Išum, which was written in Akkadian in the eighth century BC, Anu gives Erra, the god of destruction, the Sebettu, which are described as personified weapons.[3] Anu instructs Erra to use them to massacre humans when they become overpopulated and start making too much noise (Tablet I, 38ff).[3]

Later influence[edit]

An is analogous to the Greek god Uranus; they were both treated as personifications of the metallic sky dome and both of their names are also the local linguistic terms for "sky" or "heaven". They are also the primordial fathers of all the deities in the Sumerian and Greek pantheons respectively.

The most direct equivalent to Anu in the Canaanite pantheon is Shamem, the personification of the sky,[49] but Shamem almost never appears in myths[49] and it is unclear whether the Canaanites ever regarded him as a previous ruler of the gods at all.[49] Instead, the Canaanites seem to have ascribed Anu's attributes to El, the current ruler of the gods.[49] In later times, the Canaanites equated El with Kronos rather than with Ouranos, and El's son Baal with Zeus.[49] A narrative from Canaanite mythology describes the warrior-goddess Anat coming before El after being insulted, in a way that directly parallels Ishtar coming before Anu in the Epic of Gilgamesh.[49]

El is characterized as the malk olam ("the eternal king") and, like Anu, he is "consistently depicted as old, just, compassionate, and patriarchal".[49] In the same way that Anu was thought to wield the Tablet of Destinies, Canaanite texts mentions decrees issued by El that he alone may alter.[49] In late antiquity, writers such as Philo of Byblos attempted to impose the dynastic succession framework of the Hittite and Hesiodic stories onto Canaanite mythology,[50] but these efforts are forced and contradict what most Canaanites seem to have actually believed.[50] Most Canaanites seem to have regarded El and Baal as ruling concurrently:[51]

"El is king, Baal becomes king. Both are kings over other gods, but El's kingship is timeless and unchanging. Baal must acquire his kingship, affirm it through the building of his temple, and defend it against adversaries; even so he loses it, and must be enthroned anew. El's kingship is static, Baal's is dynamic."[49]

See also[edit]

Other articles of the topic Mythology : Villu (deity)
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  • Dingir
  • Khumban


  1. Akkadian: 𒀭𒀭 DAN, Anu‹m› or Ilu[2]
  2. Sumerian: 𒀭 AN, from 𒀭 an "Sky, Heaven"[3]
  3. é-an-na means "sanctuary" ("house" + "Heaven" ["An"] + genitive)[23]
  4. Modern-day Warka, Biblical Erech


  1. Mackenzie, D.A. (1915). Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria. Accessed 12 June 2021.
  2. Clay 2006, p. 101.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 Stephens 2013.
  4. From Eudemi Fragmentum 1 (presumably by Damascius): "ἐξ ὧν γενέσθαι τρεῖς, Ἀνὸν [An] καὶ Ἴλλινον [Enlil] καὶ Ἀόν [Ea]"
  5. Piveteau 1981, pp. 16–17.
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 Harris 1991, pp. 261–278.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 James 1963, p. 140.
  8. James 1963, pp. 23 ff.
  9. Parpola 1993, p. 180, note 77.
  10. Stone 2016.
  11. Horry 2016.
  12. Saggs 1987, p. 191.
  13. Rogers 1998, p. 12.
  14. Rogers 1998, p. 16.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 15.6 15.7 15.8 15.9 Black & Green 1992, p. 30.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Schneider 2011, p. 58.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Kramer 1963, p. 118.
  18. Katz 2003, p. 403.
  19. Leick 1998, p. 8.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Black & Green 1992, p. 34.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Kramer 1963, p. 123.
  22. Kramer 1963, pp. 122–123.
  23. Halloran 2006.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 Mark 2017.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Pope 1955, p. 2.
  26. Clay 2006, pp. 100–101.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 Nemet-Nejat 1998, p. 182.
  28. Puhvel 1987, p. 25.
  29. Coleman & Davidson 2015, p. 19.
  30. Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld. ETCSL. Oxford, UK: Oriental Institute, Oxford University. Search this book on Logo.png
  31. Kramer 1961, pp. 30–33.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 Kramer 1961, pp. 37–40.
  33. Kramer 1961, pp. 37–41.
  34. Levine 2000, p. 4.
  35. Leeming & Page 1996, p. 109.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Nemet-Nejat 1998, p. 180.
  37. Enheduanna. Inanna and Ebih (alt: Goddess of the Fearsome Divine Powers). ETCSL. Oxford, UK: Oriental Institute, Oxford University. 1.3.2. Search this book on Logo.png
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 38.4 Karahashi 2004, p. 111.
  39. Dalley 1989, pp. 80–82.
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 40.3 40.4 40.5 Dalley 1989, p. 80.
  41. Dalley 1989, pp. 81–82.
  42. 42.0 42.1 42.2 42.3 McCall 1990, p. 65.
  43. McCall 1990, pp. 65–66.
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 44.3 McCall 1990, p. 66.
  45. Sanders 2017, pp. 38–39.
  46. Sanders 2017, pp. 38–65.
  47. Liverani 2004, pp. 21–23.
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 Liverani 2004, p. 22.
  49. 49.0 49.1 49.2 49.3 49.4 49.5 49.6 49.7 49.8 Mondi 1990, p. 170.
  50. 50.0 50.1 Mondi 1990, pp. 170–171.
  51. Mondi 1990, p. 171.