Ancient Sumerian Religion


The Sumerian religion was polytheistic; they worshiped more than one god/goddess. The Sumerians believed that they were put on earth to serve and take care of the gods. If the gods weren’t happy, they became cranky and took it out on the people – or so they believed.

The Sumerians believed that if the gods were happy, everything would be great. Food would be plentiful, the flooding of the rivers would be regular and predictable, there would be no earthquakes, bad sand storms or other disasters, and life would be just great. We all know that there are periods when life is great. It always eventually takes a turn, however, and in Sumer, when life took a turn, the gods were blamed. More correctly, the people blamed themselves for doing something to upset the gods.


The Sumerians believed that to keep the gods happy, they must sacrifice or give gifts to the gods. These sacrifices ranged from all kinds of food (grains, vegetables, etc) to live animals and other goods. The gifts were taken to the temple (called a ziggurat) and given to the priests. It was believed that the priests could speak to the gods and offer them the gifts from the people.


In 1925, British archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered a tomb in the ruins of the ancient Sumerian city-state of Ur. A queen of Ur was buried in the tomb, and with her were buried servants, soldiers, and even a musician with her fingers still on a lyre. The site is often referred to, quite appropriately, as the Death Pit of Ur.

The contents of the Death Pit of Ur seem to tell us that the Sumerians definitely believed in life after death. The servants may very well have taken their own life to join and serve the queen in the afterlife.

Even everyday people were probably buried with some of their belongings to use in the afterlife. For instance, a metal smith might be buried with some of his tools, or a soldier with his weapons and armor.