The Anunnaki (also transcribed as Anunaki, Anunna, Ananaki, and other variations) are a group of deities that appear in the mythological traditions of the ancient Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians. Descriptions of how many Anunnaki there were and what role they fulfilled are inconsistent and often contradictory. In the earliest Sumerian writings about them, which come from the Post-Akkadian period, the Anunnaki are the most powerful deities in the pantheon, descendants of An, the god of the heavens, and their primary function is to decree the fates of humanity. In Inanna's Descent into the Netherworld, the Anunnaki are portrayed as seven judges who sit before the throne of Ereshkigal in the Underworld. Later Akkadian texts, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, follow this portrayal. During the Old Babylonian period, the Anunnaki were believed to be the chthonic deities of the Underworld, while the gods of the heavens were known as the Igigi.
The Anunnaki take their name from An, the Sumerian god of the sky. The name is variously written "da-nuna", "da-nuna-ke4-ne", or "da-nun-na", meaning "princely offspring" or "offspring of An".
The Anunnaki were believed to be the offspring of An and his consort, the earth goddess Ki. Samuel Noah Kramer identifies Ki with the Sumerian mother goddess Ninhursag, stating that they were originally the same figure. The oldest of the Anunnaki was Enlil, the god of air and chief god of the Sumerian pantheon. The Sumerians believed that, until Enlil was born, heaven and earth were inseparable. Then, Enlil cleaved heaven and earth in two and carried away the earth while his father An carried away the sky.
Worship and iconography
The Anunnaki are chiefly mentioned in literary texts and very little evidence to support the existence of any cult of them has yet been unearthed. This is likely due to the fact that each member of the Anunnaki had his or her own individual cult, separate from the others.
Similarly, no representations of the Anunnaki as a group have yet been discovered, although a few depictions of its individual members have been identified. Deities in ancient Mesopotamia were almost always depicted wearing horned caps, consisting of up to seven superimposed pairs of ox-horns. They were also sometimes depicted wearing clothes with elaborate decorative gold and silver ornaments sewn into them.
The ancient Mesopotamians believed that a god's statue was the physical embodiment of the god himself. As such, cult statues were given constant care and attention and a set of priests were assigned to tend to them. These priests would clothe the statues and place feasts before them so they could "eat".
The earliest known usages of the term Anunnaki come from inscriptions written during the reign of Gudea and the Third Dynasty of Ur. In the earliest texts, the term is applied to the most powerful and important deities in the Sumerian pantheon: the descendants of the sky-god An. This group of deities probably included the "seven gods who decree": An, Enlil, Enki, Ninhursag, Nanna, Utu, and Inanna.
The Anunnaki are usually only referred to as a cohesive group in literary texts and very little evidence has been uncovered to support the existence of any cult dedicated to them as a group. Although certain deities are described as members of the Anunnaki, no complete list of the names of all the Anunnaki has survived. Furthermore, Sumerian texts describe the Anunnaki inconsistently and do not agree on how many Anunnaki there were, or what their divine function was.
Originally, the Anunnaki appear to have been heavenly deities with immense powers. In Enki and the World Order, the Anunnaki "do homage" to Enki, sing hymns of praise in his honor, and "take up their dwellings" among the people of Sumer. The same composition repeatedly states that the Anunnaki "decree the fates of mankind".
Virtually every major deity in the Sumerian pantheon was regarded as the patron of a specific city and was expected to protect that city's interests. The deity was believed to permanently reside within that city's temple. One text mentions as many as fifty Anunnaki associated with the city of Eridu. In Inanna's Descent into the Netherworld, there are only seven Anunnaki, who reside within the Underworld and serve as judges. Inanna stands trial before them; they deem her guilty of hubris and condemn her to death.
Major deities in Sumerian mythology were associated with specific celestial bodies. Inanna was believed to be the planet Venus. Utu was believed to be the sun. Nanna was the moon. An, Enki, and Enlil were not associated with particular planets because they were believed to be the embodiments of the sky itself.
Later Akkadian texts follow the same portrayal of the Anunnaki from Inanna's Descent into the Netherworld, depicting them as chthonic Underworld deities. In the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim describes the Anunnaki as seven judges of the Underworld, who set the land aflame as the storm approaches. Later, when the flood comes, Ishtar and the Anunnaki mourn over the destruction of humanity. In Ishtar's Descent into the Netherworld, Ereshkigal comments that she "drink[s] water with the Anunnaki". Later in the same poem, Ereshkigal orders her servant Namtar to fetch the Anunnaki from Egalgina, to "decorate the threshold steps with coral", and to "seat them on golden thrones".
During the Old Babylonian Period, a new set of deities known as the Igigi are introduced. The relationship between the Anunnaki and the Igigi is unclear. On some occasions, the names appear to be used synonymously, but in other writings, such as The Poem of Erra, there is a clear distinction between the two. In the late Akkadian Atra-Hasis epic, the Igigi are the sixth generation of the gods who are forced to perform labor for the Anunnaki. After forty days, the Igigi rebel and the god Enki, one of the Anunnaki, creates humans to replace them.
From the Middle Babylonian Period onward, the name Anunnaki was applied generally to the deities of the underworld; whereas the name Igigi was applied to the heavenly deities. During this period, the underworld deities Damkina, Nergal, and Madānu are listed as the most powerful among the Anunnaki, alongside Marduk, the national god of ancient Babylon.
In the Babylonian Enûma Eliš, Marduk assigns the Anunnaki their positions. A late Babylonian version of the epic mentions 600 Anunnaki of the underworld, but only 300 Anunnaki of heaven, indicating the existence of a complex underworld cosmology. In gratitude, the Anunnaki, the "Great Gods", build Esagila, a "splendid" temple dedicated to Marduk, Ea, and Ellil. In the eighth-century BC Poem of Erra, the Anunnaki are described as the brothers of the god Nergal and are depicted as antagonistic towards humanity.
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