Religion of Ancient Mesopotamia

Religion was an important part of daily life of ancient cultures going all the way back to the earliest hunter-gatherers. Why are we here? Why do the rivers flow? Where do the animals come from? What is that bright thing in the sky that warms us? Questions such as these led to the beginnings of organized religion. The Ancient Mesopotamians had one of the first organized religions ever, and it dominated daily life for them too.

The Ancient Mesopotamians were polytheistic. They believed in more than one god. In fact, they believed in a great many gods (over 500 of them). A few of these gods were Anu, lord of the sky, Enki, god of water and intelligence, Enlil, god of wind and storms, Inanna, goddess of love and war, and Shamash, the sun god. Mesopotamian people prayed and left offerings to these and other gods and goddesses to show devotion and hopefully win their favor. The Mesopotamians believed that they were put on earth to serve the gods.

Reconstruction of the Ziggurat of Ur in modern-day Iraq. (From Wikipedia - CC BY 3.0)

Mesopotamian cities had temples called ziggurats where the gods were believed to live. Some people think the Tower of Babel from the bible was a ziggurat in Babylon. These step-shaped mud temples had a shrine at the top and even had bedrooms and dining rooms for the gods. Priests were stationed at the ziggurats to serve the gods and offer sacrifices. Priests were the only people allowed on or in the ziggurats. As you can imagine, priests were very important people in Mesopotamian society. In some Ancient Mesopotamian periods, the period of Sumerian civilization for example, the kings actually served as head priest too. We call them priest-kings.

The Mesopotamians believed in an afterlife, but it was not much like the modern concept of heaven that many people today have. The Mesopotamians thought that they descended to an underworld where they basically continued their job as servants to the gods.