Search results for ‘enheduanna’

Inanna. Ishtar. She’s every woman.


E-anna, Inanna’s residence at Uruk. (Source)

When the city of Uruk was first excavated in the mid-nineteenth century, it was found to be split in half, with one section walled off. That division of the ancient city now known as Warka in modern-day Iraq, once considered the most important in ancient Mesopotamia, represented a marker between two districts: the Anu and the Eanna.

The Anu District was the older section of the two, and dedicated to the sky-god An (Anu). The Eanna District–the walled off one–was dedicated to Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and eventually, war.


Part of the facade of the temple of Inanna at Uruk. (Source)

No one knows exactly why the Eanna District was walled off, especially when one temple, the E-anna (Sumerian for “House of Heaven”), figuratively housed both Inanna and An.


Map of the Eanna District, which was “composed of several buildings
with spaces for workshops, and was walled off from the city.” (Source)

Some, like Joshua J. Mark in his “Uruk” entry at Ancient History Encyclopedia, look at Inanna herself for a possible answer:

“…since Inanna is regularly depicted as a goddess who very much preferred things her own way, perhaps the walled district was simply to provide her with some privacy.” (Source)

Uruk was the birthplace of writing, stonework in architecture and the cylinder seal. It was also the birthplace of something hardly ever considered or discussed when looking at ancient firsts; “Uruk could also be credited as the city which first recognized the importance of the individual in the collective community,” Mark writes. (Source)

If Mark is correct, and the Eanna district was walled off simply to give Inanna her own space and privacy, then the birth of individualism under her watch is another piece of the puzzle that is this goddess, whose trials and tribulations to assert her dominance and power over everything, from gods to men, and even mountains, were the subject of many a myth and hymn.

Who’s that goddess?


“Akkadian cylinder seal dating to c. 2300 BC depicting the deities Inanna, Utu, and Enki…” (Source)

With the eventual title of “Queen of Heaven and Earth,” (and you’ll see why I say eventual again, eventually) Inanna appears in the earliest god lists; she has been there since the beginning, as far back as 4000 BC, and pretty much set up the game for the Greek Aphrodite and Athena, as well as the Roman Venus.

Born in the Mesopotamian heavens, and, depending on the era in which a myth was told of which she was often a subject, Inanna’s genealogy is confusingly varied. She is sometimes presented as the daughter of An (Anu), the supreme sky god. Other times she is presented as the daughter of the water god Enki. Even the air god Enlil is presented as her father. And we’re not even done yet, because the renowned Assyriologist Samuel Noah Kramer traces Inanna’s parentage to the moon god Nanna and his consort Ningal in his book, Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer.

As for siblings, Inanna has a few. Kramer writes that Inanna is the sister of the sun god Utu (various other sources assert that they are twins, even), and through her myths we know that she is also the sister of the goddess of the underworld Ereshkigal, as well as the sister of the god of storms Adad.

Sex, agriculture and reed…

Inanna started out and remained a goddess of agriculture. Because of this, her symbol and cuneiform ideogram were a knot of reeds, appropriately called Inanna’s Knot.


Inanna’s Knot. It “represents a door-post made from a bundle of reeds, the upper ends, bent into a loop to hold a cross-pole.” (Source)

The knot of reeds was a symbol of Inanna’s role as a fertility goddess, fertility being a stand-alone concept applicable to any area in which abundance is desired, mostly but not limited to the context of agriculture.


It is believed the woman pictured on the top register of the Warka (Uruk) Vase, at the National Iraqi Museum, is Inanna. Aside from the vase being found at her temple at Uruk, the two reed bundles behind her are indicators of the female figure being Inanna. (Photo: Hirmer Verlag, Source)

The flexibility of Inanna’s fertility aspect extends to the Sacred Marriage, an annual event in which a high priestess and the king (or high priest if the king isn’t up to it) would perform a marriage and consummation ceremony between Inanna and Dumuzi. Also known as Dumuzid, Dumuzi was a god of fertility. This symbolic union was enacted to bring fertility to the land each spring, ensuring a new year of abundance in crops and herds, and on a less ostentatious scale, for human offspring as well.


“An ancient Sumerian depiction of the marriage of Inanna and Dumuzid(Source)

As Inanna expanded her domain, so did she acquire more symbols, including the eight-pointed star, aka planet Venus, and the eight-pointed flowery rosette. I like the way Chandra Alexandre describes these two eight-centric symbols in her post titled, “The Eight-Pointed Rosette Star of Inanna,” as “…images that capture both the intensity of a star and the subtle delicacies of a flower,” which “reflect well the Goddess’ paradoxical nature.”


Inanna was known as the Morning and Evening Star. The eight-pointed star of Ishtar (Inanna), aka planet Venus. The eight points represent “the movements of the planet,” aka the morning star, and it is why the city of Babylon had eight gates. (Source)


Lapis lazuli was imported into ancient Mesopotamia from Afghanistan, and was prized more than any other precious stone. (Source)

Lions were also a symbol associated with Inanna in relation to her war aspect. Other associations include lapis lazuli, as Inanna wore a necklace made of the precious stone that identified her as a harlot in one myth. Because Inanna represents both feminine and masculine aspects as a goddess of love and war, it is believed that the colors associated with her, “red and carnelian, and the cooler blue and lapis lazuli,” are meant to highlight those aspects.

Love is a battlefield…


Google “Inanna” or “Ishtar” and this image of the Burney Relief, aka “Queen of the Night,” will pop up. The thing is, it’s in dispute which deity is actually pictured here. The wings, nudity, horned headdress and lions under the figure’s feet make for a strong argument that the “Queen of the Night” is a depiction of Inanna/Ishtar. Further, the bottom of the relief depicts a mountaintop, which is another indicator it might be Inanna, as her home is on a mountaintop “to the east of Mesopotamia.” (Source)

The Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses entry for Inana/Ištar begins with a very fitting introduction to the goddess that emphasizes further Inanna’s paradoxical nature:

“Inana/Ištar is by far the most complex of all Mesopotamian deities, displaying contradictory, even paradoxical traits.” (Source)

With appearances peppered throughout ancient Mesopotamian literature and myth, including in the Epic of Gilgamesh, we really get a feel for the above-mentioned complexity and how it is manifested.

Let’s go back to the Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses entry and zoom in on what those “paradoxical traits” actually are, complete with links:

“In Sumerian poetry, [Inanna] is sometimes portrayed as a coy young girl under patriarchal authority (though at other times as an ambitious goddess seeking to expand her influence, e.g., in the partly fragmentary myth Inana and Enki, and in the myth Inana’s Descent to the Nether World). Her marriage to Dumuzi is arranged without her knowledge, either by her parents or by her brother Utu. Even when given independent agency, she is mindful of boundaries: rather than lying to her mother and sleeping with Dumuzi, she convinces him to propose to her in the proper fashion. These actions are in stark contrast with the portrayal of Inana/Ištar as a femme fatale in the Epic of Gilgameš.” (Source)

I think it helps one work through this paradox to think of Inanna’s love aspect as an umbrella term that covers all the other stuff she is known for, like sex, passion, sensuality, and prostitution, all of which are ultimately tied to fertility as that stand-alone concept I talked about.

Further, this treatment of the concept of fertility helps to explain why Inanna, who would become the Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian Ishtar, was never portrayed as a mother goddess. Dr. Jeremy Black explains this combo best while erasing the mother goddess image that usually comes to mind when we talk about a fertility goddess:

“One aspect of [Inanna’s personality] is that of a goddess of love and sexual behaviour, but especially connected with extra-marital sex and – in a way which has not been fully researched – with prostitution.” (Source)

So, Inanna’s sensuality and sexuality are pretty prominent and very much entwined with her agricultural side–that connection is never broken and is almost always alluded to. Oftentimes, even, Inanna’s sexuality is a vehicle for that ever-present connection to be manifested.


‘Original Sumerian tablet of the Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzid. “Inanna prefers the farmer” terracotta tablet. Here, in this myth, Enkimdu (god of farming) and Dumuzi (god of food and vegetation) tried to win the hand of the Sumerian goddess Inanna. Sumerian language. From Nippur (modern Nuffar, Al-Qadisiyah Governorate, Iraq). 1st half of the 2nd millennium BCE. Ancient Orient Museum, Istanbul’ (Source)

For example, in the myth of The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi, there is a romantic exchange in which Inanna playfully asks Dumuzi: “Who will plow my vulva?” (Dumuzi says he will, in case you’re worried.)

We’re talking about sex and sensuality here, but the agricultural reference couldn’t be any clearer, right?

Now take for another example the myth of Inanna and the God of Wisdom; our subject is about to go on a, uh, non-sexual mission, one that will alter the Mesopotamian way of life altogether forever. After she puts on her crown and heads out, she stands under an apple tree, and, as Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein notes, ‘”she displays and exults in her “wondrous vulva.”‘

Finkelstein explains the reason for the seemingly out-of-the-blue reference to female genitalia here:

“This description, so straightforward in terms of showing her female power, demonstrates immediately that Inanna has moved into a new phase of her development—she is showing herself as ready to be both queen and sexual woman. Also, in ancient cultures, the vulva was seen as the source of all life; the world itself was sometimes pictured as having emerged from the female birthing canal. And the vulva, as vessel, was sometimes viewed as a container, a boat, an ark, etc.” (Source)

And Inanna’s vulva makes appearances all over the place, including in the Epic of Gilgamesh, where Inanna’s sexuality and passion are on full display. In that story, she seduces and propositions the eponymous hero to be her lover, like so: “…stretch out your hand to me, and touch our vulva.”

Quite the far cry from someone whose marriage is arranged without her knowledge, huh? But here’s the thing: though this goddess is, shall we say, generally mercurial, there is a big picture to be seen through her myths, a cycle that explains how in one instance she’s having a marriage arranged without her knowledge and in the next asking a man to touch her vulva.

This idea of a cycle is introduced by Diane Wolkstein in her introduction to Samuel Noah Kramer’s book, Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer:

‘Here, then, is the Cycle of Inanna. In ‘The Huluppu-Tree;’ she [is presented] to us as a young woman in search of her womanhood. In “Inanna and the God of Wisdom,” she achieves her queenship. In “The Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi,” she chooses the shepherd Dumuzi to be her lover, her husband, and the King of Sumer. In “The Descent of Inanna,” Inanna leaves for the under- world and is allowed to return from the Great Below only on the condition that she choose a substitute. In the last section of the cycle, the “Seven Hymns to Inanna,” Inanna is greeted and loved in her many aspects…

…the texts formed one story: the life story of the goddess, from her adolescence to her completed womanhood and “godship.”‘ (Source)

Inanna is a character, a heroine in a series, sometimes even an anti-heroine, fleshed out and having a literary arc.

What’s love got to do with it?


It is believed the Lady of Uruk (or Mask of Warka) might depict Inanna’s face. If so, that’s quite the death stare, and one Gilgamesh and Dumuzi might have gotten before horrible things befell them. (Source)

So, we’ve established Inanna is a hypersexual being, to say the least, but we also need to put it out there that she was quite passionate for better and worse.

When her amorous proposition to Gilgamesh is rejected with not just a simple no but also a list of her past lovers and how she wronged each one, Inanna’s passion comes into play for the worse. I mean, that rejection enrages her to the point where she lashes out so hard, she causes the death of her brother-in-law, the Bull of Heaven, which eventually also leads to the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s companion. Conversely, in her exchange with Dumuzi, we see love and passion with a dousing of sensuality: better (as long as we ignore Dumuzi’s fate at Inanna’s hand in a later myth, anyway).

The Gilgamesh example supports Mark’s description of at least part of Inanna’s persona (and will come full circle in a bit):

“…a brash, independent young woman; impulsive and yet calculating, kind and careless with others’ feelings or property or even their lives.” (Source)

Now just as important as what Inanna is, is what she is not.

We’ve established she’s not a mother goddess, but also, even as the bride in the Sacred Marriage, and even as a wife to Dumuzi, Inanna is never the model of a wife and neither is her marriage exemplary. In fact, Inanna’s description in The Mesopotamian Pantheon entry at Ancient History Encyclopedia states that she is often depicted as unmarried.

Mark quotes Dr. Black further on this subject in his Inanna entry:

“Inanna is not a goddess of marriage… The so-called Sacred Marriage in which she participates carries no overtones of moral implication for human marriages.” (Source)

Dr. Black goes on: 

“Inanna is always depicted as a young woman, never as mother or faithful wife, who is fully aware of her feminine power and confronts life boldly without fear of how she will be perceived by others, especially by men.” (Source)

Through numerous Sumerian texts we see what Dr. Black means when he also describes Inanna as, “violent and lusting after power.” Two myths in particular, Inanna and the God of Wisdom and Inanna’s Descent to the Netherworld, demonstrate Inanna’s hunger for power in every area of her existence, and how far she’s willing to go to obtain it, regardless of what or whom is standing in her way.

In Inanna and the God of Wisdom, our subject sets her sights on the Me, a set of divine decrees that Kramer describes as the “basis of the culture pattern of Sumerian civilization.”

To possess the Me is to possess power, so Inanna sets out from Uruk to Eridu, the home of Enki (the god of wisdom who is sometimes presented as her father, remember), who happens to be the guardian of the Me. After a lavish dinner and some drinking with his guest, a drunk Enki all but hands over the decrees to Inanna who absconds with them back to Uruk. Through this act she has essentially unseated Enki as the god of the most important city in Mesopotamia, thereby raising her status in the Mesopotamian pantheon while simultaneously replacing Eridu with Uruk as the most prominent city in all of Sumer. The myth is symbolic of the shift from one way of life to another in Mesopotamian culture; Mark writes in his Uruk entry at Ancient History Encyclopedia that Uruk was “the embodiment of the new way of life – the city,”; Eridu represented the old, rural way of life.

Alongside this myth explaining Uruk’s rise as the work of the gods, it also showcases Inanna’s hunger for power, this time for the good of the whole. Further, it showcases her manipulative side.

Next, Inanna’s Descent to the Nether World, told in poem form, begins with the following:

“From the great heaven she set her mind on the great below. My mistress abandoned heaven, abandoned earth, and descended to the underworld. Inana [sic] abandoned heaven, abandoned earth, and descended to the underworld.” (Source)

In this myth, the goddess is not satisfied with just heaven and earth as her realms of power, so she sets her sights on her older sister Ereshkigal’s domain. Inanna descends to the underworld under the pretense of a sister attending the funeral of her brother-in-law and is met with a lot less hospitality than she was at Eridu. She is, after all, responsible for her brother-in-law’s death at this point, for it was her rage at Gilgamesh’s rejection that led to her summoning the Bull of Heaven, Ereshkigal’s husband.

Ereshkigal is understandably angry with her sister. She kills Inanna and keeps her in the underworld, from whence no one ever returns. And this is awkward, because it is with the help of Enki, the one from whom Inanna stole the Me, that she is able to go back to the land of the living, but only if someone takes her place in the underworld…them’s the rules, as they say.

Driving further the idea that her marriage is far from exemplary (and really making the title of this section come to life), Inanna chooses Dumuzi, her husband (I told you his accepting Inanna’s invitation to plow her vulva would not end well), to replace her in the underworld after finding he is not too torn up about her death.

This myth is telling of just how little thought Inanna gives to how her actions affect others; she attends her brother-in-law’s funeral for whose death she is responsible in an attempt to extend her domain by taking over her sister’s–a widow in mourning–only to use her husband as her replacement in the underworld.

And here you thought your sister was the worst for stealing your favorite sweater!



Inanna, goddess of sex. (Source)

Prostitution in ancient Mesopotamia is misunderstood by our modern standards. It’s okay, though, because even the ancient Greeks couldn’t wrap their minds around prostitution in ancient Mesopotamia. In the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-425/413 BC) famously visited Babylon and recorded a prostitution practice that pretty much forever tainted the image of the city as a place of excess, and loose morals and women.

Before I go any further, let me say that although there is one other source (Strabo, a Roman whose writings are some 500 years after Herodotus) that backs up this particular Herodotus description, as a general rule it seems scholars either include a disclaimer that he is not a reliable source, or they ignore him altogether. Consider this a disclaimer in which I ask you to take what Herodotus witnessed with the proverbial grain of salt…

Now, it’s important to note that the oldest profession in the world, as we know it to this day, did exist in ancient Mesopotamia – it existed alongside a “sacred version,” known as “Sacred Prostitution.” It is described in this entry at History on the Net as “a religious act of devotion to the goddess rather than as sex per se.”


Herodotus being all misinterpret-y. (Source)

Let’s now look at what Herodotus wrote:

“Every woman born in the country must once in her life go and sit down in the precinct of Venus [Mylitta], and there consort with a stranger…. A woman who has once taken her seat is not allowed to return home till one of the strangers throws a silver coin into her lap, and takes her with him beyond the holy ground…. The silver coin maybe of any size….

The woman goes with the first man who throws her money, and rejects no one. When she has gone with him, and so satisfied the goddess, she returns home, and from that time forth no gift however great will prevail with her.” (Source)

Sounds like a woman’s status is elevated rather than lost by the act Herodotus described here, therefore, it’s Sacred Prostitution he witnessed and not prostitution-prostitution.

The History on the Net article further explains this practice:

“Sacred prostitution involved temple priestesses of Inanna/Ishtar having ritual sex with male visitors to the temple, again releasing the divine fertile energy.” (Source)

Further, in an article from Ancient Origins titled “The Secret Life of an Ancient Concubine,” Joanna Gillan writes that men belonging to the elite ranks of some Mesopotamian societies, including Babylonia, took up concubines and visited them as prostitutes, helping them fulfill a religious duty. “…men would visit these women as prostitutes, which society not only condoned, but considered an honourable fulfilment of religious duty…,” writes Gillan, pointing out that these women were priestesses with high ranks in society of their own.

So, I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like Herodotus maybe should’ve taken a chill pill.


Throughout the land, men served alongside women at Inanna’s temples. They served her as priests, servants and sacred prostitutes. Mark writes in his Inanna entry that the reason both genders were employed at Inanna’s temples may have been “to ensure the fertility of the earth and the continued prosperity of the communities.”


A couple of Gala priests, employees of the temple of Inanna. (Source)

This seems a good point at which to talk about the priests involved in the cult of Inanna/Ishtar, known as gala priests. Gala priests sang lamentations and had homosexual intercourse. In an article titled “Evidence for Trans Lives in Sumer” at NOTCHES, Cheryl Morgan explains that, “A gala is a temple employee whose job it is to sing lamentations…They appear to have spoken a Sumerian dialect called Emesal which was possibly reserved for women.”

But wait, there’s more. In an article at Hornet, titled, “How a Sumerian Goddess Turned Gender on Its Head,” R.S. Benedict writes about the most progressive aspect of Inanna; that based on fragmentary texts, the cult of Inanna performed a ritual involving a gender transformation ceremony. Benedict writes, “…it looks pretty clear that the goddess Inanna oversaw a ceremony referred to as the head-overturning, by which a man was transformed into a woman, and a woman transformed into a man.”

Keep in mind that all of what we’ve discussed so far is the feminine side of Inanna, a goddess often labeled androgynous, though not without controversy, and I recommend you give Cheryl Morgan’s article a read, as she thoroughly puts into perspective how complicated the subject of gender and gender transformation around Inanna and in ancient Mesopotamia truly are, and in how many ways the information we have can be interpreted and misinterpreted.

Nonetheless, let’s now talk about Inanna’s masculine aspect…

She is the warrior…

In his book, Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, Samuel Noah Kramer writes about a movement in the third millennium BC that helped fuse an established Sumerian pantheon with an Akkadian one:

“During the third millennium B.C., there were periodic attempts to unify the various city-states in Sumer and Akkad; and with the increasing political centralization came a concurrent movement to bring together the many local gods and goddesses into one pantheon.” (Source)

With the help of his daughter Enheduanna (2285-2250 BC) (who would become the world’s first-named author and high priestess of the temple of Inanna at Ur and Uruk), Sargon of Akkad (c. 2234-2279) was able to create such a pantheon. Through her poetry, Enheduanna reinforced Inanna’s image as the feminine goddess that she already was, and gave her her masculine side.


Enheduanna, high priestess of Inanna and world’s first-named author. (Source)

Joshua J. Mark writes in his Enheduanna entry that the poetess basically took “a local Sumerian deity associated with fertility and vegetation,” and merged her with the “much more violent, volatile and universal Akkadian goddess Ishtar, the Queen of Heaven.”

So it was through Enheduanna’s writings that Inanna acquired her masculine war aspect, the title, “Queen of Heaven,” and the name Ishtar. As a result of these additions, cults dedicated to Inanna grew in popularity, and she herself grew in importance within the new Sumero-Akkadian pantheon.

And the war thing really stuck; one cited source I found mentions that battle itself came to often be known as the “Dance of Inanna.”‘


“Ancient Akkadian cylinder seal depicting Inanna resting her foot on the back of a lion while Ninshubur stands in front of her paying obeisance, c. 2334-2154 BC.” (Source)

Through Enheduanna’s poem Inanna and Ebih, in which the frustrated goddess destroys a mountain against the advice of An, we get our first description of Inanna as an all-out warrior, complete with a shield and weapon:

“Goddess of the fearsome divine powers, clad in terror, riding on the great divine powers, Inana, made complete by the strength of the holy ankar weapon, drenched in blood, rushing around in great battles, with shield resting on the ground (?), covered in storm and flood, great lady Inana, knowing well how to plan conflicts, you destroy mighty lands with arrow and strength and overpower lands.” (Source)

Though she continued to be depicted naked when representing her feminine persona as an agricultural goddess of love and fertility, Inanna donned a suit of armor to represent her masculine aspect of war (see above). To complete the ensemble, she carried a weapon in one hand, and a bow and quiver of arrows slung across her shoulder that pointed out from behind her like rays (of death!). She rode into battle standing atop lions, sometimes sporting a beard to emphasize this masculine side.

North of the famous Ishtar gate was the processional way, which was decorated with striding lions, and eight-pointed flower rosettes, both symbols of the goddess of love and war, representing both her masculine and feminine aspects, respectively. (Source)

Invoked by kings on the battlefield and off, the new goddess of war became their protector. Writing that Sargon of Akkad claimed Inanna as his “divine protector,” Mark also points to Gwendolyn Leick’s writing on how Inanna helped a king on and off the battlefield: “Sargon of Akkad claimed her support in battle and politics.”

Later, Sargon of Akkad’s grandson Naram-Sin (c. 2254-2218 BC) would also follow suit and invoke her in his inscriptions, referring to her as the “warlike Ištar.” (Source)

I can’t help but credit this important function as protector and advisor to kings as at least half the reason for Inanna’s survival beyond the shift away from goddess worship in Mesopotamian religion.

Girl from Uruk goes to Babylon…


“A hand of the Goddess Ishtar (Inanna). This is a decorative element of architecture which was used in temples and palaces. It is inscribed with cuneiform inscriptions and was found in the palace of Ashurnasirpal II to commemorate the new foundation of God Ninurta‘s temple at Nimrud, the Assyrian capital. Reign of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BCE), Nimrud, Mesopotamia, Sulaimaniya Museum, Iraq.”  Credit: Osama Shukir Mohammed Amin (Source)

I came across an article recently that delved into the evolution of religion throughout human history. In the article, published in York University’s community newspaper, Dylan Stoll acknowledges the role cuneiform played in helping us piece together the workings of ancient religion. “…cuneiform,” he writes, “…inadvertently permitted modern man to view the ancient world of the Sumerian people through a lens less muddied by the conjecture associated with a lack of written proof.”

To continue with that line of thought that Stoll introduced, cuneiform also showed us the shift in ancient Mesopotamian religion away from Sumerian goddess worship in the 2nd millennium BC.

Mark, in his Inanna entry, clarifies for us how truly ahead of their time Sumerians were when it came to women: “In Sumerian culture women were regarded as equals and even a cursory survey of their pantheon shows a number of significant female deities…” But this didn’t last long, unfortunately, as women lost their status in Mesopotamian society, particularly under the reign of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC), as did goddesses in the Mesopotamian pantheon.

But not Inanna/Ishtar.

“The fact that the Sumerians could conceive of such a goddess [as Inanna] speaks to their cultural value and understanding of femininity,” Mark writes. And it is precisely that very representation of femininity that I believe is the other half of what saved Inanna from a fate of obscurity. As Hammurabi minimized and eliminated goddesses to replace them with male deities, there was still a need for a representation of femininity and womanhood. It seems no amount of patriarchy can erase the importance of femininity and its power.

She is every woman…


Just a bunch of Inannas. (Source)

Inanna survived long, far and wide, and went on to become the most recognizable and accessible goddess in the whole of the Mesopotamian pantheon, worshiped and served by both women and men. To this day, women looking to tap into their inner goddess turn to Inanna, marveling at her embodiment of womanhood, and taking cues from her in how to be unapologetically a determined woman, or just simply yourself, regardless of your gender. Never apologize for being yourself, she seems to be telling us women and men alike.

“Inanna made people want to serve her because of who she was,” Mark writes.

And who was Inanna?

Why, every woman, of course.


Inanna. Ishtar. Every woman. (Source)

Sources & further reading:

Uruk, Wikipedia

Uruk, Ancient History Encyclopedia

Anu (An)

Eanna, Wikipedia

Map of Eanna District of Uruk, Sumerian Minor Gods and Goddesses

Cylinder Seals in Ancient Mesopotamia – Their History and Significance—their-hist/

Enki, Ancient History Encyclopedia

Enlil, Wikipedia

Nanna, Ancient History Encyclopedia

Ningal, Gateways to Babylon

Utu, Ancient History Encyclopedia

Utu/Šamaš, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses

Ereshkigal, Ancient History Encyclopedia

Adad, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses

Knot of Inanna, Symbol Dictionary

Warka Vase,

Sacred Marriage and Sacred Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia

The Eight-Pointed Rosette Star of Inanna,

Lapis lazuli, Wikipedia

Dumuzi/Tammuz, New World Encyclopedia

Inana and Enki, ETCSL

Epic of Gilgamesh, Classical Literature

Epic of Gilgamesh,

Inanna and the God of Wisdom, Course Hero

Inana/Ištar (goddess), Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses

Inana’s descent to the Nether World: translation, ETCSL

Eridu, Ancient History Encyclopedia

Inana and Ebih: translation (“Goddess of the Fearsome Powers”), ETCSL

The Secret Life of an Ancient Concubine, Ancient Origins

Herodotus and Strabo on Babylonian Temple Prostitution, The Real Samizdat

How a Sumerian Goddess Turned Gender on Its Head, Hornet

Evidence for Trans Lives in Sumer, NOTCHES

The evolution and development of religion, Excalibur s

Hammurabi, Ancient History Encyclopedia

Naram-Sin, Ancient History Encyclopedia


Posted by on March 26, 2019 in Uncategorized


The Lives of Scribes in Ancient Mesopotamia

Scribes. Scribing with their reed styli. (Source)

Before writing

Around 3500 B.C., just before the birth of writing, Sumerians had already been maintaining a civilization for thousands of years, complete with farming, temples, and all kinds of commerce, all of which required record keeping.

But how do you keep records without writing? Well, not very practically. Before writing, Sumerians had a system to record their business transactions; it involved tokens made out of clay and a clay bubble to hold the tokens, which they baked into the bubble, rendering the tokens, well, completely pointless. The owner of the token-stuffed bulla (Latin for “bubble”) would’ve made impressions of the tokens on the outside before baking them in, of course, but, you know, that made the tokens even more pointless. (Source)

Not practical. A clay bulla and the tokens inside it. (Source)

Luckily, someone in 3500 B.C. decided there was a better way to keep records, one that was quicker, more convenient, and undoubtedly one that was easier to file than a bunch of clay balls!

Pictographs. Cuneiform went through a series of innovations that turned it into cool-looking, abstract symbols. (Source)

And so writing was born, bringing with it the demand for those who could do it.

Who could?

In 2000 B.C., scribes were some of the most educated people in the world. Along with reading and writing cuneiform, scribes eventually evolved to have chops in math or science or business or literature.

If you could read and write in ancient Mesopotamia, you had a good life, and chances were pretty high you were born into that good life. In fact, some 70% of the scribes we know by name were the sons of society’s elite, including royalty. (Source)

This isn’t to say status was the requirement to become a scribe, but rather the usual source of the requirement: money.

The son of a merchant had as much a chance at becoming a scribe as the son of a king. Even more socially progressive, it eventually became that the daughter of a king, had as much chance of becoming a scribe as her male counterpart. (It is only appropriate, since Sumerians credited the goddess Nisaba with the invention of writing!)

How could they?

A day at school. An illustration of boys studying to be scribes, the future elite of society. (Source)

Along with money, becoming a scribe took time and hard work.

It’s important to keep in mind that cuneiform was very difficult, even for those who used it practically.

“The scribe did not so much read a line of text as translate it,” wrote Jerald Starr on his website. A scribe had to learn business, math, science, and literature in order for his/her basic literacy skills to even matter. In other words, scribes had to know the context of what they were reading in order to read it, pretty much on a jargon level. The reason for this is because cuneiform, a script used to record more than one language, was a phonetic one—one syllable could make up any number of words, with any number of definitions, depending on whether you were writing in Sumerian or some other Mesopotamian language. (Source)

Boys were sent to an e-dubba, a tablet house where they would spend years learning to read and write the cuneiform script and the subjects they would write about. When they graduated, they became dubsars, tablet writers.

That schooling was no cakewalk for the student, nor was it for his parents. Aside from what I am going to take the liberty of calling tuition, a future scribe’s father also had to factor in the expense of keeping his son’s schoolmaster happy, who expected to be wined and dined in order to go a little easy on a pupil. The son, in the meantime, had to climb up a hierarchy within an e-dubba. You can read more about what these tablet houses were like here and here.

Of course, writing didn’t include women as soon as it was invented. It took a few years for women to show up in records as scribes. According to Radner and Robson, the earliest record of a woman scribe dates to the Akkad period (ca. 2350 – 2150 B.C.). (Source)

Although Karen Radner and Eleanor Robson wrote in their book, The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture, “The profession of scribe is much better attested for men than for women,” there are things we do know about how women scribes came to be. In her book Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Karen Rhea Nemet-Nejat wrote that women scribes were the daughters of the elite, some the daughters of scribes. Nemet-Nejat also points out that there were women scribes who were slaves: “Slaves with scribal skills were sometimes given to princesses as part of their dowries.” (Source)

As far as how those women scribes got their chops, priestesses were taught at the temples they served, while those not taking the religious path were taught at home.

What did scribes write?

Sumerian King List. A scribe was first and foremost a recorder of history. (Source)

For the first thousand years or so after writing was invented, everything written down was of an administrative nature. “Most people will therefore be disappointed to learn that writing was invented for the simple purpose of conducting business transactions, to record the exchange of merchandise,” wrote Starr.

Even after Sumerians branched out to recording more subjective subjects, 97% of what they recorded were things like receipts, ledgers, inventories, contracts, nothing inherently interesting or telling about the human condition. They were practical people, those Sumerians.

This brings us to what scribes could do with their skills, subjectively or not.

“…It’s unlikely that any scribe ever went hungry for lack of paying work,” wrote Starr.

And it’s easy to see why the sky was the limit for a man who graduated from a tablet house. If he came from a family of merchants, he kept records for the business; if he worked in a temple, he recorded offerings for the gods. Heck, e-dubbas needed teachers, and given that e-dubbas were focused on producing bureaucratic officials, the king, whether literate or not, needed a scribe. The king’s court was like Google, where the best minds wanted to end up.

Code of Hammurabi stele. This was some commission for one special scribe. (Source)

A scribe didn’t even have to be a full-time scribe to reap the benefits of his skills. He could set up shop in the middle of the town square and write letters for his illiterate neighbors and never go hungry like most people did in the ancient world.

In the Old Babylonian City of Sippar women recorded the transactions of members of the cloister, the city’s financial institution. What we might consider HR records from Sippar (and Mari too) show that a good number of those women were slaves. Women scribes are also known to have written songs and lullabies for the royalty, along with laments. According to Nemet-Nejat, royal women of the Ur III Dynasty (2114-2004 B.C.) wrote songs to praise their kings.

Their Bylines

A tablet bearing the world’s oldest love poem that depicts the sacred marriage between Inana and Dumuzi. Could a woman’s hand have written this tablet? (Source)

As I mentioned in the last section, only some scribes got to let themselves be known directly through their work to anyone other than their employer. I also mentioned there were female slave scribes whose social status gave them less pay than their colleagues.

Obviously, there was a hierarchy within the elite. The son of a merchant has as much chance to become a dubsar as the son of a king, sure, but once those two are out in the real world, their social differences surely resurface. Moreover, without a signature, it gets hard to know anything about the scribe, even their gender.

Nemet-Nejat wrote that we see signatures on some tablets as early as 2600 B.C. Now, perhaps due to the verbal storytelling tradition, literary works, like the Epic of Gilgamesh, were set to stone anonymously, but that did not mean the one who set it to stone couldn’t be held accountable for mistakes–a list of scribes who wrote and edited well-known works was found at Nineveh.

For scribes who got to sign their names, as their heads inflated with importance, they took to including their lineage, traveling back as far as their earliest ancestors (helping us determine their social status thousands of years later!). Some took their title up a notch, adding “astrologer” to scribe, for example, or were probably asked to make it clear they were a “junior scribe.” Some just showed up in their own narrative, but they were very special (I will talk more about this in the next section). (Source)

The most profound examples, I feel, which demonstrate just how big a gap there is between a royal/noble scribe versus anyone else, lies in one of the products of scribes: the seal. Loftier scribes made seals, autograph stamps, if you will. Seals were cylinders made of stone, carved with impressions pertaining to their owner, often bearing divine scenes that tell a lot about his/her social status. It is through these scenes we get an idea of just how revered a literate royal or noble was.

The seal of Arad-Nanna, a scribe of very high status. (Source)

On the cylinder seal of Arad-Nanna, a high official and possibly of royal blood, we see him having audience with the king, with a goddess in tow. According to Starr, the difference in body language of Arad-Nanna and the goddess accompanying him is one of great significance. “Arad-Nanna doesn’t hold his hands in the ‘reverence’ position,” Starr points out. “The scene is almost relaxed and familiar, as between two near-equals. This suggests he is a member of the royal family. The goddess who accompanies Arad-Nanna is not a minor goddess … The multiple horns on her helmet indicates that she is a major goddess. Significantly, she has her hands held up in reverence to the king, whereas Arad-Nanna does not.” (Source)

Even goddesses took the backseat to scribes of noble or royal birth, and it is clear that it was those individuals whom the king employed in his courts to be his officials and recorders of his feats.

As for knowing the gender of the writer, often the only thing we have to go on to tell us a woman is the author of something is the presence of a feminine touch in the writing. Starr sensed that in a tablet he translated recently. Radner and Robson also wrote about how the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods were seasoned with Sumerian writings about the goddess Inana and the god Dumuzi being in love, leading scholar Jerrold Cooper to believe that the authors of some of those compositions were women, simply because of “feminine sensibility and a female approach to sexuality.” (Source)

And this brings us to an important distinction, a case of semantics.

When a scribe is an author

Tablet #36. A mystery, far from administrative. (Source)

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “Author” as “a person who starts or creates something (such as a plan or idea).” Nemet-Nejat wrote that when a work is by a single author, it shows “uniqueness in language, subject matter, and artistic development.” Ultimately, the two sources agree that an author is more than just a recorder. (Source)

On his blog, Starr has written about Tablet #36. It is a tablet that embodies all of what Nemet-Nejat (indirectly) says makes it the work of a unique author. Tablet #36 was a mystery until Starr translated it and found it was an encoded political satire, a work written by one, no ordinary scribe: “…the language of [Tablet #36] is too sophisticated to have been written by someone who was only casually acquainted with the complexities of narrative cuneiform writing,” Starr wrote. “There can be little doubt that the story of [Tablet #36] was written by a full-time ‘wordsmith.'” You can read about this tablet, the content of which Starr titled “The Great Fatted Bull,” along with Starr’s musings about its enigmatic author here.

Starr points out that the author of Tablet #36 was most probably not a full-time scribe, just someone who could write and had the luxury of thinking for himself, along with the time to create a code for his dangerous thoughts. This guy was a completely different animal from, say, Arad-Nanna, who was too drunk on rubbing elbows with the king to criticize him.

Enheduanna. An author. (Source)

Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Akkad and the Shakespeare of Sumerian literature, was also a different animal. She wrote poems and laments that included a personal dimension, something I mentioned earlier was reserved for a special few allowed to include themselves in the human experience, and a rare occurrence in much of the ancient world’s writings. Enheduanna was no run-of-the-mill scribe who only wrote generic praise-filled songs to the king, no. She wrote about her expulsion during her brother’s reign, a criticism that wouldn’t have let her writing career span some forty years, as she wouldn’t have been left to live it.

Radner and Robson wrote that being an author in a world of scribes was a feat for a king, and certainly one for a woman of high birth:

“The essential point is that in antiquity unusual men, such as rulers, or a woman such as Enheduana, exceptional because of her high birth and religious duties, could equally be regarded as authors.” (Source)

Contemporaries of their own legacy

It is safe to say that the first scribes were contemporaries of their own lasting legacy, and the status they enjoyed was appropriate, whether they recorded sheep sales or wrote in code…

“Without scribes, letters would not have been written or read, royal monuments would not have been carved with cuneiform, and stories would have been told and then forgotten.” (Source)

Imagine what a world this would’ve been without scribes.

Sources and further reading:

The Sumerian invention of writing


Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia (Women scribes)

Priests and priestesses in Ancient Mesopotamia

Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia (Scribe signatures)

Scribal social ranking in Sumerian Society

Family life in Ancient Sumeria

Women As Scribes Throughout History

An introduction to the princess wife

The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture

Tablet #36

Tablet #36 (Sumerian Shakespeare)

The Scribe

Writing Page


Posted by on June 26, 2015 in Uncategorized


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How to be Mesopotamian this Halloween

This post has been updated as some links originally provided no longer exist.

We’re barely halfway through with September, but Halloween is just around the corner, especially if you want it to be a special one crowned with an unforgettably original costume.

So, for the Ancient Mesopotamian at heart, we’ve gathered the best costume ideas to help make this Halloween as Mesopotamian as can be!

The Assyrian Crocheter

Let’s begin with this crocheted Assyrian Helmet and Beard. This can be a part of a whole costume, or just a standalone piece that will surely turn heads this Halloween. You can either download the free crochet pattern, or just buy the ready piece from Etsy.

Cool, no?

The Luxurious Babylonian

If you’re not that creative a type, and find the above pictures intimidating, but still want to wear that Babylonian heart on your sleeve, it’s okay. You can order a custom-made, traditional and historically accurate Assyrian-Babylonian dress from this site! Here is a photo of one such custom creation:

Historically accurate traditional Assyrian-Babylonian dress.

Here is how awesome you’ll look from head to toe:

Be the Ashurbanipal of the party! (Don’t hurt any cats, though. That’s not cool.)

The Dancing Queen

Take Back Halloween is a great website that offers tips on dressing like some of the most important historical figures, including Queen Puabi. It provides suggestions and instructions to help you recreate Puabi’s look using everyday clothes and accessories. Be the dancing queen at this year’s Halloween party!

Who wouldn’t want to make an entrance as this blinged out lady of high society?

The Literary High Priestess

Another fantastic and elegant lady you can channel this Halloween, courtesy of the wonderful Take Back Halloween website, is Enheduanna, the world’s first-known author, and a high priestess.

The Perfectionist

Still haven’t found what you’re looking for? Here are some vintage posters with drawings of traditional Mesopotamian wear and accessories. Sometimes if you want something done right, you just gotta do it yourself!

Feminine costume ideas.

Assyrian costumes for women.

More Assyrian costumes for women.

Assyrian costumes for men.

Assyrian hats and accessories. (Go to link for more)

So, we hope we’ve provided you with good info to get you started on your Mesopotamian Halloween costume. We’d love to see what you end up doing, so let us know in the comments, or tweet us at @allmesopotamia. Happy Halloween!


Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Art, Holidays


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The Mesopotamian Shakespeare

World’s first author, Enheduanna.

There are very few women in ancient history who made their mark on the world with the full moral support of their fathers. Sargon the Great (of Akkad) was considered great for many reasons, but an unofficial reason I’m going to talk about in this blog post (which echoes Fathers Day, albeit belatedly) is that he might have even been a great dad to his daughter, Enheduanna.

Dubbed by scholars “Shakespeare of Sumerian Literature,” (just in time for Shakespeare outdoor events!) Enheduanna began her journey as an Akkadian princess and wound up being the world’s first named author. Some even consider her the world’s first feminist.

In her essay “Enheduanna, Daughter of King Sargon. Princess, Poet, Priestess,” Janet Roberts summarizes what Enheduanna represents perfectly:

“Enheduanna represented a strong and creative personality, an educated woman, and one who fulfilled diverse roles in a complex society, not unlike women’s aspirations today.”

An ornament

Although the 100+ clay tablets that were found bearing Enheduanna’s writings date back to the Old Babylonian period, she lived about 500 years prior to that, around 2285-2250 BC. Though some scholars question whether Enheduanna is really Sargon the Great’s biological daughter, she must’ve possessed something extra special, charisma, because Sargon ordained her as high priestess of the most important temple in Sumer at Ur. It was a political strategy to help him stabilize the empire he’d just acquired by way of a high priestess of royal blood meld Sumerian gods with those of Akkad.

It is through her ordainment that Enheduanna got her name. It translates into “High Priestess of An,” An being the sky god, or “En-Priestess,” wife of the moon god, Nannar. She was the first known holder of the title of En-Priestess, a role of great political importance held by royal daughters, a tradition which began with Enheduanna. Other translations of her name I came across all boil down to “High Priestess of the Ornament of the Sky/Heaven,” but her birth name is not known.

The Shakespeare of Sumerian Literature

The title that would strike us the most today when we talk about Enheduanna is the one given to her by William Wolfgang Hallo, a Yale scholar and professor of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature. After reading her works, Hallo dubbed Enheduanna “Shakespeare of Sumerian Literature.”

But unlike the elusive identity of the man we call Shakespeare, we know how and why Enheduanna was  literate, and enough so to write all she wrote. You see, it was not rare for high priestesses and royal women in Ancient Mesopotamia to be literate. (Wikipedia) What separates Enheduanna from other women of her status, however, is that she was more than just a scribe. She was an author whose status and father’s support allowed her to write in first person and include herself in her hymns and poems.

One source I found describes her writings: “Her hymns function as multi-layered incantations, interweaving political, personal, ritual, theological, historical and legal dimensions.” (Enheduanna Research Pages)

Copies of her work were made and kept in Nippur, Ur and possibly Lagash. Having been kept alongside royal inscriptions drives home the idea that Enheduanna’s writings were highly valued, even centuries after her death.

A tablet with a poem of Enheduanna’s. (Source)

Being that religious appointments in the ancient Near East were pretty much political appointments, Enheduanna’s political influence was so strong, that after her father’s death, and during her brother Rimush’s reign, a coup was attempted against her by a Sumerian rebel, Lugal-ane. This forced her into exile, and her most famous work, Nin-me-sara or “The Exaltation of Inanna,” was a hymn in which she detailed her expulsion and eventual reinstatement as High Priestess during that time. It is especially through this hymn that we have a record of some details of her life.

Perhaps Hallo dubbed Enheduanna the Shakespeare of Sumerian Literature for her writings on things that continue to be timeless subjects continually discussed in even the most modern literature-like the horrors of war she describes in “Lament to the Spirit of War.

Ahead of Her Time

Enheduanna also had a hand in systematizing theology with the Sumerian Temple Hymns, which comprised of 42 hymns addressed to temples across Sumer and Akkad. This collection is considered by scholars to be the first attempt at a systematic theology. In them, Enheduanna herself states that they are the first of their kind:

Tablets of the Sumerian Temple Hymns. (Source)

“My King, something has been created that no one has created before.” (Wikipedia)

Enheduanna remained active in her influential role as En-Priestess for over 40 years, stopping only at her death, during her nephew Narim-Sin’s reign. She continued to be an important figure posthumously, and might have even attained semi-divine status. (Wikipedia)

The Enheduanna Disk, found either in 1927 by Sir Leonard Wooley during an excavation at Ur of the temple where Enheduanna lived. It was the first artifact found that introduced Enheduanna to the modern world. The Penn Museum’s description of the disk states that it is a “Disk of white calcite; on one side is a panel wherein is carved in relief a scene of sacrifice, on the other an inscription of Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Akkad ” (Source)

Enheduanna’s tomb may never be found, and scholars might continue to debate whether she really is the one who wrote all those hymns and poems like they do Shakespeare, but her legacy is sealed by her writings.  They echo her personal feelings about the world she lived in.

“Me who once sat triumphant, he has driven out of the sanctuary.
Like a swallow he made me fly from the window,
My life is consumed.
He stripped me of the crown appropriate for the high priesthood.
He gave me dagger and sword—‘it becomes you,’ he said to me.

It was in your service that I first entered the holy temple,
I, Enheduanna, the highest priestess. I carried the ritual basket,
I chanted your praise.
Now I have been cast out to the place of lepers.
Day comes and the brightness is hidden around me.
Shadows cover the light, drape it in sandstorms.
My beautiful mouth knows only confusion.
Even my sex is dust.” (Source)

At the next Shakespeare festival, silently call the Bard “Enheduanna of English Literature.”

Sources and further reading: (Janet Roberts Essay) (Video of excerpt from Exaltation of Inanna) (Voices in wartime video) (Sumerian Temple Hymns)

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Posted by on June 25, 2012 in Akkadian, Women, Writing


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