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God of wind, air, earth, and storms
Iranian - Cylinder Seal - Walters 42775 - Side E.jpg
Ancient Persian cylinder seal dating to between 550 and 330 BC, depicting an unidentified king wearing the horned crown, Enlil's primary symbol
Abode Nippur
Symbol Horned crown
Personal Information
Consort Ninlil
Children Ninurta, Nanna/Suen, Nergal, Ninazu, and Enbilulu
Parents An and Ki
Babylonian equivalent Elil
Hurrian equivalent Kumarbi

Enlil (Sumerian: 𒀭𒂗𒆤 dEN.LÍL, "Lord Storm")[1][2] was the ancient Mesopotamian god of wind, air, earth, and storms.[3] He is first attested as the chief deity of the Sumerian pantheon,[4] but he was later worshipped by the Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Hurrians. Enlil's primary center of worship was the Ekur temple in the city of Nippur, which was believed to have been built by Enlil himself and was regarded as the "mooring-rope" of heaven and earth. He himself was believed to be so holy that not even the other gods could look upon him. Enlil rose to prominence during the twenty-fourth century BC with the rise of Nippur. His cult fell into decline after Nippur was sacked by the Elamites in 1230 BC and he was eventually supplanted as the chief god of the Mesopotamian pantheon by the Babylonian national god Marduk.

Enlil plays a vital role in the Sumerian creation myth; he separates An (heaven) from Ki (earth), thus making the world habitable for humans. In the Sumerian Flood myth, Enlil rewards Ziusudra with immortality for having survived the flood and, in the Babylonian flood myth, Enlil is the cause of the flood himself, having sent the flood to exterminate the human race, who made too much noise and prevented him from sleeping. The myth of Enlil and Ninlil is about Enlil's serial seduction of the goddess Ninlil in various guises, resulting in the conception of the moon-god Nanna and the underworld deities Nergal, Ninazu, and Enbilulu. Enlil was regarded as the inventor of the mattock and the patron of agriculture. Enlil also features prominently in several myths involving his son Ninurta, including Anzû and the Tablet of Destinies and Lugale.


Enlil's name comes from ancient Sumerian EN, meaning "lord" and LÍL meaning "storm" or "wind". His name therefore literally translates as "Lord Storm".[1][2] Enlil's name is not a genitive construction,[5] indicating that Enlil was seen as the personification of the storm itself rather than merely the cause of storms.[5]


Modern photograph of the ruins of the Ekur temple at Nippur

Enlil was the patron god of the Sumerian city-state of Nippur[6] and his main center of worship was the Ekur temple located there.[7] The name of the temple literally means "Mountain House" in ancient Sumerian.[8] The Ekur was believed to have been built and established by Enlil himself.[8] It was believed to be the "mooring-rope" of heaven and earth,[8] meaning that it was seen as "a channel of communication between earth and heaven".[9] A hymn written during the reign of Ur-Nammu, the founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur, describes the E-kur in great detail, enumerating that its gates were carved with scenes of Imdugud slaying a lion and an eagle snatching up a sinner.[8]

Enlil himself was regarded as so glorious that even the other gods could not look upon him.[10] Enlil's epithets include titles such as "the Great Mountain" and "King of the Foreign Lands".[10] Enlil is also sometimes described as a "raging storm", a "wild bull", and a "merchant"[10] The Mesopotamians envisioned him as a creator, a father, a king, and the supreme lord of the universe.[10][11] He was also known as "Nunamnir"[10] and is referred to in at least one text as the "East Wind and North Wind".[10] Enlil was associated with the number fifty, which was considered sacred to him.[12]

Kings regarded Enlil as a model ruler and sought to emulate his example.[13] Rulers from all over Sumer would travel to Enlil's temple in Nippur to be legitimized.[14] They would return Enlil's favor by devoting lands and precious objects to his temple as offerings.[15] Even during the Babylonian Period, when Marduk had superseded Enlil as the supreme god, Babylonian kings still traveled to the holy city of Nippur to seek recognition of their right to rule.[15]

Enlil first rose to prominence during the twenty-fourth century BC, when the importance of the god An began to wane.[16][17] During this time period, Enlil and An are frequently invoked together in inscriptions.[16] Enlil remained the supreme god in Mesopotamia throughout the Amorite Period,[18] with Amorite monarch proclaiming Enlil as the source of their legitimacy.[18] Enlil's importance began to wane after the Babylonian king Hammurabi conquered Sumer.[19] The Babylonians worshipped Enlil under the name "Elil"[3] and the Hurrians syncretized him with their own god Kumarbi.[3] In one Hurrian ritual, Enlil and Apantu are invoked as "the father and mother of Išḫara".[20] Enlil is also invoked alongside Ninlil as a member of "the mighty and firmly established gods".[20]

During the Kassite Period, Nippur briefly managed to regain influence in the region and Enlil rose to prominence once again.[19] From around 1300 BC onwards, Enlil was syncretized with the Assyrian national god Aššur,[21] who was the most important deity in the Assyrian pantheon.[22] Then, in 1230 BC, the Elamites attacked Nippur and the city fell into decline, taking the cult of Enlil along with it.[19] Approximately one hundred years later, Enlil's role as the head of the pantheon was given to Marduk, the national god of the Babylonians.[19]


Enlil was not represented anthropomorphically in Mesopotamian iconography.[23] Instead, he was represented by a horned cap,[23] which consisted of up to seven superimposed pairs of ox-horns.[24] Such crowns were an important symbol of divinity;[25][26] gods had been shown wearing them ever since the third millennium BC.[25] The horned cap remained consistent in form and meaning from the earliest days of Sumerian prehistory up until the time of the Persian conquest and beyond.[25][27]

Unlike other major Mesopotamian deities,[28] Enlil was never identified with any particular planet[29] because he, An, and Enki were believed to be the embodiments of the sky itself.[29] Enlil was particularly associated with the constellation Boötes.[10]


Sumerian creation myth[edit]

The main source of information about the Sumerian creation myth is the prologue to the epic poem Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld,[30] which briefly describes the process of creation: originally, there was only Nammu, the primeval sea.[31] Then, Nammu gave birth to An, the sky, and Ki, the earth.[31] An and Ki mated with each other, causing Ki to give birth to Enlil.[31] Enlil separated An from Ki and carried off the earth as his domain, while An carried off the sky.[32]

Enlil and Ninlil[edit]

Ancient Parthian relief carving of Enlil's son Nergal from Hatra in Iraq, dating to the first or second century AD[33]

Enlil and Ninlil is a nearly complete 152-line Sumerian poem describing the affair between Enlil and the goddess Ninlil.[34] First, Nunbarshegunu instructs Ninlil to go bathe in the river.[35] Ninlil goes to the river, where Enlil seduces her and impregnates her with their son, the moon-god Nanna.[34] Because of this, Enlil is banished to Kur, the Sumerian underworld.[34] Ninlil follows Enlil to the underworld, where he impersonates the "man of the gate".[36] Ninlil demands to know where Enlil has gone, but Enlil, still impersonating the gatekeeper, refuses to answer.[36] He then seduces Ninlil and impregnates her with Nergal, the god of death.[37] The same scenario repeats, only this time Enlil instead impersonates the "man of the river of the nether world, the man-devouring river"; once again, he seduces Ninlil and impregnates her with the god Ninazu.[38] Finally, Enlil impersonates the "man of the boat"; once again, he seduces Ninlil and impregnates her with Enbilulu, the "inspector of the canals".[39]

Flood myth[edit]

Sumerian version[edit]

In the Sumerian version of the flood story, the causes of the flood are unclear due to the fact that portion of the tablet recording the beginning of the story has been destroyed.[40] Somehow, a mortal known as Ziusudra manages to survive the flood, likely through the help of the god Enki.[41] The tablet begins in the middle of the description of the flood.[41] The flood lasts for seven days and seven nights before it subsides.[42] Then, Utu, the god of the Sun, emerges.[42] Ziusudra opens a window in the side of the boat and falls down prostrate before the god. Next, he sacrifices an ox and a sheep in honor of Utu.[42] At this point, the text breaks off again.[42] When it picks back up, Enlil and An are in the midst of declaring Ziusudra immortal as an honor for having managed to survive the flood. The remaining portion of the tablet after this point is destroyed.[42]

Epic of Gilgamesh[edit]

In the later Akkadian version of the flood story, recorded in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enlil actually causes the flood,[43] seeking to annihilate every living thing on earth because the humans, who are vastly overpopulated, make too much noise and prevent him from sleeping.[44] In this version of the story, the hero is Utnapishtim,[45] who is warned ahead of time by Ea, the Babylonian equivalent of Enki, that the flood is coming.[46] The flood lasts for seven days; when it ends, Ishtar, who had mourned the destruction of humanity,[47] promises Utnapishtim that Enlil will never cause a flood again.[48] When Enlil sees that Utnapishtim and his family have survived, he is outraged,[49] but his son Ninurta speaks up in favor of humanity, arguing that, instead of causing floods, Enlil should simply ensure that humans never become overpopulated by reducing their numbers using wild animals and famines.[50] Enlil goes into the boat; Utnapishtim and his wife bow before him.[50] Enlil, now appeased, grants Utnapishtim immortality as a reward for his loyalty to the gods.[51]

Enlil Chooses the Farmer-God[edit]

This Sumerian poem describes how Enlil, hoping "to establish abundance and prosperity", creates two gods Emesh and Enten, a farmer and a shepherd respectively.[52] The two gods argue and Emesh lays claim to Enten's position.[53] They take the dispute before Enlil, who rules in favor of Enten;[54] the two gods rejoice and reconcile.[54]

Invention of the Mattock[edit]

A nearly complete 108-line poem from the Early Dynastic Period describes Enlil's invention of the mattock,[55][56] a key agricultural pick, hoe, ax, or digging tool of the Sumerians.[57][56] In the poem, Enlil conjures the mattock into existence and decrees its fate.[58] The mattock is described as gloriously beautiful; it is made of pure gold and has a head carved from lapis lazuli.[58] Enlil gives the tool over to the humans, who use it to build cities,[59] subjugate their people,[59] and pull up weeds.[59] Enlil was believed to aid in the growth of plants.[57]

Anzû and the Tablet of Destinies[edit]

Ninurta with his thunderbolts pursues Anzû, who has stolen the Tablet of Destinies from Enlil's sanctuary (Austen Henry Layard Monuments of Nineveh, 2nd Series, 1853)

In the Old, Middle, and Late Babylonian myth of Anzû and the Tablet of Destinies, the Anzû, a giant, monstrous bird,[60] betrays Enlil and steals the Tablet of Destinies,[61] a sacred clay tablet belonging to Enlil that grants him his authority,[62] while Enlil is preparing for a bath.[63] The rivers dry up and the gods are stripped of their powers.[63] The gods send Adad, Gerra, and Shara to defeat the Anzû,[63] but all of them fail.[63] Finally, Ea proposes that the gods should send Ninurta, Enlil's son.[63] Ninurta successfully defeats the Anzû and returns the Tablet of Destinies to his father.[63] As a reward, Ninurta is a granted a prominent seat on the council of the gods.[63]


In the Sumerian poem Lugale, Enlil gives advice to his son, the god Ninurta, advising him on a strategy to slay the demon Asag.[64] This advice is relayed to Ninurta by way of Sharur, his enchanted talking mace, which had been sent by Ninurta to the realm of the gods to seek counsel from Enlil directly.[64]

Family tree[edit]

born to Namma
born to Namma
born to Uraš
maybe daughter of Enlil
Nanna Nergal
maybe son of Enki
maybe born to Ninḫursaĝ
born to Uraš
Uttu Inanna
possibly also the daughter of Enki or the daughter of An
maybe son of Enki
Utu Ninkigal
married Nergal
Meškiaĝĝašer Lugalbanda
Enmerkar Gilgāmeš

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Halloran 2006.
  2. ^ a b Nemet-Nejat 1998, p. 182.
  3. ^ a b c Coleman & Davidson 2015, p. 108.
  4. ^ Kramer 1983, pp. 115-121.
  5. ^ a b van der Toorn, Becking & Willem 1999, p. 356.
  6. ^ Hallo 1996, pp. 231-234.
  7. ^ Black & Green 1992, pp. 74 and 76.
  8. ^ a b c d Black & Green 1992, p. 74.
  9. ^ Black & Green 1992, p. 53.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Black & Green 1992, p. 76.
  11. ^ Kramer 1963, pp. 119-121.
  12. ^ Röllig 1971, pp. 499-500.
  13. ^ Grottanelli & Mander 2005, p. 5,162a.
  14. ^ Littleton 2005, pp. 480-482.
  15. ^ a b Littleton 2005, p. 482.
  16. ^ a b Schneider 2011, p. 58.
  17. ^ Kramer 1963, p. 118.
  18. ^ a b Schneider 2011, pp. 58-59.
  19. ^ a b c d Schneider 2011, p. 59.
  20. ^ a b Archi 1990, p. 114.
  21. ^ Black & Green 1992, p. 38.
  22. ^ Black & Green 1992, p. 37.
  23. ^ a b Moore 1977, p. 76.
  24. ^ Black & Green 1992, p. 102.
  25. ^ a b c Black & Green 1992, p. 98.
  26. ^ Nemet-Nejat 1998, p. 185.
  27. ^ Nemet-Nejat 1998, p. 186.
  28. ^ Nemet-Nejat 1998, pp. 201-203.
  29. ^ a b Nemet-Nejat 1998, p. 203.
  30. ^ Kramer 1961, pp. 30-33.
  31. ^ a b c Kramer 1961, pp. 37-40.
  32. ^ Kramer 1961, pp. 37-41.
  33. ^ Drijvers 1980, p. 105.
  34. ^ a b c Jacobsen 1946, pp. 128-152.
  35. ^ Kramer 1961, p. 44.
  36. ^ a b Kramer 1961, pp. 44-45.
  37. ^ Kramer 1961, p. 45.
  38. ^ Kramer 1961, p. 46.
  39. ^ Black, Cunningham & Robson 2006, p. 106.
  40. ^ Kramer 1961, p. 97.
  41. ^ a b Kramer 1961, pp. 97-98.
  42. ^ a b c d e Kramer 1961, p. 98.
  43. ^ Dalley 1989, p. 109.
  44. ^ Dalley 1989, pp. 109-111.
  45. ^ Dalley 1989, pp. 109-110.
  46. ^ Dalley 1989, pp. 110-111.
  47. ^ Dalley 1989, p. 113.
  48. ^ Dalley 1989, pp. 114-115.
  49. ^ Dalley 1989, p. 115.
  50. ^ a b Dalley 1989, pp. 115-116.
  51. ^ Dalley 1989, p. 116.
  52. ^ Kramer 1961, p. 49-50.
  53. ^ Kramer 1961, p. 50.
  54. ^ a b Kramer 1961, p. 51.
  55. ^ Kramer 1961, p. 51-53.
  56. ^ a b Green 2003, p. 37.
  57. ^ a b Hooke 2004.
  58. ^ a b Kramer 1961, p. 52.
  59. ^ a b c Kramer 1961, p. 53.
  60. ^ Leick 1991, p. 9.
  61. ^ Leick 1991, pp. 9-10.
  62. ^ Black & Green 1992, p. 173.
  63. ^ a b c d e f g Leick 1991, p. 10.
  64. ^ a b Penglase 1994, p. 68.


External links[edit]