Ninurta is a famous ancient god of the Mesopotamian people who was most widely worshipped in the Sumer era. Ninurta has various attributes that change with time and need, and the Sumerians worshipped this deity wholeheartedly.
In this article, we bring you an in-depth look at the Mesopotamian god Ninurta.
Who is Ninurta?
Ninurta was the god of agriculture and farming. In addition to that, he also cured people of ailments and illnesses and later became the god of war as well.
The ancient Mesopotamian culture and mythology contain many deities that possessed powers to help their people. Ninurta Mesopotamian god is one such deity. To understand the tale of the legend of Ninurta, let us start from the very beginning.
The Mesopotamians were fairly religious people. They believed in many main and minor gods. As the Mesopotamian religion was based on polytheism, they believed in three main gods: Ea, Anu and Enlil. All gods and goddesses possessed unique abilities and powers, and the people prayed to and worshipped these gods for their own benefit and religious purposes.
The three main gods gave further rise to many other gods. In Mesopotamian culture, religion was a big part of everyday life. As the Mesopotamians were a fairly large civilization, their gods and goddesses changed over time. Each household might have had its own gods and goddesses to worship, so even after so many years of research, all the gods and goddesses of the ancient Mesopotamian culture still cannot be enumerated.
Overall, the Mesopotamian culture, religion and mythology are a combination of three major civilizations within Mesopotamia: Sumer, Akkad and Babylon. These three civilizations were very rich in culture and art, which is the reason why Mesopotamia is a hub of many great legends, tales and anecdotes.
Ninurta is most widely seen in the Sumerian era. According to the legend, Ninurta was the son of Enlil and Ninhursag, but some texts also suggest that he was the result of mating between Enlil and a she-goat.
The name Ninurta appears in the texts of the 3rd Millennium B.C.E. Ninurta originated as “Ningirsu” and later evolved into the name that the Mesopotamians most frequently used, Ninurta.
The transition of Ningirsu to Ninurta is a not-so-subtle tale. Where most Mesopotamians called him Ninurta, the Sumerians called him Ningirsu. Either Ninurta or Ningirsu, he was an important deity in Mesopotamian culture and religion. Due to his versatile attributes, his word was very famous and thought of as the highest order of truth and guidance.
Ninurta: Name and Symbolism
The name Ninurta literally means a mighty hunter. As the god Ninurta was also called Ningirsu, the earlier texts show that the two names are interchangeable with each other depending upon the culture of writing.
Ninurta is the name of the Sumerian god of agriculture that later evolved into the god of war. This transition from agriculture to war symbolizes the importance of required evolution with time.
Ninurta evolved into what the people needed and this shows how much he cared for his people and their valuable lives. He was a fierce warrior and a helpful mentor. He is also very famously related to the Greek hero, Hercules, and the Babylonian god, Marduk. They are known to share many characteristics.
In the Bible, Ninurta is known as Nimrud, which also means a mighty hunter.
Ninurta: Characteristics and Significance
Ninurta is an ancient deity with many roles and attributes, but he is most famously known as the god of agriculture and farming. He taught the common man how to farm, how to prepare the earth, how to plant the seed, how to scare away birds, and how to properly grow his crops for best yield.
According to the legend, Ninurta compiled a book of ways and tricks for farmers, known as the farmer’s almanac, that was passed on to each son in the family. No such book has been physically found as of yet, but many ancient texts provide bits and pieces from the said book.
With time, the Sumerian cities progressed. They became rich from farming and moved on to a more civilized culture, but with the rise of civilization, wars also came. The Mesopotamians were at constant war with each other due to different matters. As the needs of the people changed, so did their deity, Ninurta.
From the God of Agriculture to the God of War
Ninurta, the god of agriculture and farming, now evolved into the god of war, hunting and the south wind. As the god of war, Ninurta was characterized by his aggressive and impulsive nature.
He became a warrior for his people and helped them in wars and battles as he possessed extraordinary fighting and warrior-like abilities. Due to his war-related abilities, the later kings of Mesopotamia gave Ninurta the utmost respect and was also regarded as an inspiration for them.
After the Mesopotamians became more civilized and learned about the destruction caused by wars, they stopped going to frequent wars with each other. Right about this time, Ninurta also changed. He now became the god of healing and helped the people through any and all illnesses and sicknesses.
People still remembered him as the god of agriculture and farming, so Ninurta accepted all of these roles and became one of the most important gods of ancient Mesopotamian mythology.
Ninurta was the son of Enlil and Ninmah, which he later named Ninhursag. His siblings include Nanna, Nergal, Ninazu and Enbilulu. While he was Ninurta, his wife was Gula, who was the goddess of healing and medicine. Ninurta has two sons and many daughters.
Ninurta and the Turtle
Ninurta was also taught to be humble after he became boastful of his victories. This legend is known as Ninurta and the turtle, which started when he was put inside a hole in the ground with a turtle.
The turtle was eating his clothes because he was hungry, which made the god annoyed. He picked up the turtle and gave him the leaf that was hanging nearby. This was a great teaching lesson for Ninurta.
In texts found inside tombs and at excavation sites, Ninurta appears in the most narrated myths and legends. He is the second most famous god to be in these many mythologies after Inanna, the goddess associated with love, sex and justice.
In this section, we’ll be discussing the three most famous myths relating to Ninurta and his attributes:
The Sumerian poem, Lugal-e which literally means “O King,” describes an event when Ninurta acted as both the god of war and the god of agriculture.
According to the poem, the antagonist, Asag, was spreading disease, sickness and chaos among the people. Asag has an army of stone warriors protecting him, which was why he could not be touched by ordinary people.
Seeing his people in utter despair, Ninurta rose for their help. He fought Asag in an open battle and defeated him and his army then proceeded to form mountains with the stones left behind from the stone army. The mountains were formed in this way so that the water would travel to the Tigris and the Euphrates river and the people may use the water for agriculture.
This was a great win for Ninurta, which made him quite famous in the human and god world. Ninmah, Ninurta’s mother, also descended to the Earth to congratulate her son on this victory. Ninurta names his mother Ninhursag, meaning the lady of the mountains. To commemorate this victory, the god of scribes, Nisaba, came down and wrote the victory of Ninurta against Asag.
– Anzu Myth
In Sumerian mythology, Enlil, one of the main gods, gets his powers and authority from the Tablet of Destinies, which holds the ultimate power. Enlil appointed Anzu, a giant, monstrous bird, to guard the tablet whenever Enlil was absent.
One time, Enlil had an important engagement so he left Anzu in charge of the tablet. Little did he know that Anzu was waiting for a precise moment to steal the tablet for himself, and so he did.
Anzu stole the tablet and flew away with it, leaving Enlil devoid of his powers. Mankind was in chaos, the rivers dried up, their crops died, fodder became weak and the whole way of living was affected. The main gods appointed many minor gods and warriors to go and fight Anzu and bring the tablet back, but unfortunately, all of them failed as the tablet had immense power and whoever owned it became untouchable.
Ninurta vs Anzu
One of the gods suggested Ninurta, son of Enlil, as the warrior against Anzu. Anzu by that time had fully experienced the power and could control it very well. The tablet had time-turning abilities, so whatever step the gods took to get the tablet, he simply reversed them. Ninurta thought instead of going straight in for the tablet, he should first try to take down Anzu himself.
Ninurta could control the south wind, so he ordered it in a way that the wind blew through Anzu and took his wings with him. Anzu was standing there still contemplating about what has just happened when Ninurta attacked and took the tablet.
He slit Anzu’s throat and returned the tablet to his father, Enlil. This event got him a permanent seat in the council and much praise and love.
– Myth of Slain Heroes
In the myth of the Slain Heroes, Ninurta must fight a variety of bizarre monsters and beasts. These included the six-headed Wild Ram, the seven-headed serpent, and the Palm Tree King.
Some of these deities are inanimate objects, like the Strong Copper, which represents a metal that was conceived as the most precious metal in the world, and the Magilum Boat, which is known to carry the souls of the dead to the Underworld.
This story of back-to-back trials and victories is probably the source for the Greek legend of the Twelve Labors of Heracles.
Worship and Temples
As Ninurta was much loved by his people in all of ancient Mesopotamia, the people of that time constructed many temples for worshipping and praying to their god. The temples were decorated with many different gems and stones, and the walls were carved with incantations and praises. The government and the reigning monarchy had the job of maintaining the temples and their contents.
People from far-off lands came to visit the temples of Ninurta and sacrificed in them. For sacrifices, mostly animals were used. Goats, sheep and camels were the most commonly sacrificed animals.
Ninurta was also the god of war and victory, so before any big war or battle, the head of the army and its general came to the temple of Ninurta to pray for their own victory.
The Eshumesha temple in the ancient Sumerian city-state of Nippur was the cult center of worshipping and praising Ninurta. After Ninurta became the warrior god, an exclusive temple in the name of Ninurta was opened in Lagash. This temple is one of the most famous temples of Ninurta, and later kings paid much attention to the careful restoration of this magnificent temple.
Ninurta and The Assyrian Kingship
The various characteristics of Ninurta left a mark on history. Every new king that came to rule the Assyrian Empire paid an extravagant homage to the ancient Mesopotamian deity, Ninurta.
Some kings were even so inspired that they changed their names to anything related to Ninurta. For example, Tukulti-Ninurta (“the trusted one of Ninurta”), Ninurta-apil-Ekur (“Ninurta is the heir of Ekur”), Ninurta-tukulti-Aššur (“Ninurta is the god Aššur’s”).
Each new king willed to do more in the name of Ninurta, and so they did. Among all the kings that paid homage to Ninurta, king Assurnasirpal II topped the list. When king Assurnasirpal II came to the Assyrian capital city of Kalhu, the very first temple he built was in the name of Ninurta.
He spared no expense in making sure that the temple was one of a kind. The main rooms were lined with stone slabs covered in magnificent carvings, including images of Ninurta. After Assurnasirpal, a decline in the followers of Ninurta was seen as people were now moving towards modernity.
Ninurta in Modernity
As people began to move towards modernism, the idea of worshipping and praising became archaic. All of the deities that were once worshipped several times a day were long forgotten about. In some instances, the names and the attributes of the gods were changed. Newer gods took the place of old gods.
This modernism affected the following of Ninurta greatly. After Assurnasirpal and his great homage to Ninurta, no one did anything else in the name of this powerful deity. Assurnasirpal built the temple of Ninurta in Kalhu, which is now reduced to a bare building with some statues.
In modern times, the great ancient Mesopotamian deity Ninurta is present in books and scriptures and on the walls of ancient buildings and statues. Ninurta has also been famously used in movies, tv-series and fictional and non-fictional books as the god of agriculture and war. Some video games have also adapted the character of Ninurta to attract gamers.
Legacy of Ninurta
The ancient Mesopotamian god Ninurta was once the most widely worshipped god of the era. He is so well known because of his evolution of powers according to the need of the people of the empire. Not many gods did what Ninurta was able to do for his people. This is the reason he was so loved and worshipped by the people of Mesopotamia.
Ninurta’s Many Roles
Ninurta was the god of agriculture and farming. He taught the people everything related to it, and his words were written into an almanac which was passed on from father to son. For a long time, the Mesopotamians called Ninurta the father of agriculture, which would not have been wrong as he changed the course of Mesopotamia through teaching its people agriculture.
In addition to agriculture, Ninurta was also the god of healing. He and his wife, Gula, who was the god of health and healing, helped his people get rid of any and all ailments. This is particularly a special attribute to have as this brought Ninurta closer to his people because when no one else could save their loved ones, Ninurta could.
Lastly, Ninurta was the god of war. He brought the people ultimate victory against their enemies. He was a great warrior who taught his people the art of war and winning. Seeing all of Ninurta’s great attributes, we can understand how he was surely a god that had a great legacy that continued long after he was gone.
Ninurta was indeed a very special and well-loved deity in ancient Mesopotamia.
Here are some of the main points we discovered about this god in the article above:
- Ninurta was the ancient Mesopotamian god of agriculture, farming, healing and war.
- He was the son of gods Enlil and Ninmah.
- Ninurta was married to Gula, the god of healing.
- Ninurta is known as Ningirsu in Sumer.
- Assurnasirpal II built the temple of Ninurta in Kalhu, the capital of the Assyrian empire. This is the last great homage to Ninurta.
Because of his power and great deeds, Ninurta’s legacy will continue to live on, inspiring everyone that hears it up to this day.