What Was the Sumerian Religion?

The Sumerian religion encompassed the beliefs, mythology and rites of the ancient civilization of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia. Practitioners of the religion worshipped a pantheon of gods and devised a creation story that they wrote on cuneiform tablets. The Sumerians might have been the first people to record their beliefs, which influenced later religions and cultures.

The Sumerians believed the universe consisted of a flat earth surrounded by salt water and covered by the closed dome of heaven. Every part of this cosmos was controlled by one of many divine and immortal deities. The original deity of the dome-shaped heaven was named An, while Ki controlled the earth. An and Ki gave birth to Enlil, who became the leader of the Sumerian pantheon and served as god of the air. Besides Enlil, the second generation of gods included: Inanna, goddess of warfare and female fertility; Nanna, god of the moon; and Ninurta, god of war, agriculture and wind. All of the Sumerian gods looked like humans and ate, drank, married and fought among themselves.

In the Sumerian creation myth, the gods created humans as their servants but later freed them when humans became too difficult to control. Even so, Sumerian worshippers devoted themselves to serving the gods and earning their good will.