The Anunnaki 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 and Ki, the god of the heavens and the goddess of earth, 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 ancient Hittites identified the Anunnaki as the oldest generation of gods, who had been overthrown and banished to the Underworld by the younger gods.

The Anunnaki have featured prominently in works of modern pseudohistories, such as the books of Zecharia Sitchin, and in conspiracy theories, such as those of David Icke.

Sumerian

The earliest known usages of the term Anunnaki come from inscriptions written during the reign of Gudea (c. 2144 — 2124 BC) 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.

Although certain deities are described as members of the Anunnaki, no complete list of the names of all the Anunnaki has survived and they are usually only referred to as a cohesive group in literary texts.

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 the poem 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 twice 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 for her attempt to take over the Underworld; 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 was identified with all the stars of the equatorial sky, Enlil with those of the northern sky, and Enki with those of the southern sky.

The path of Enlil’s celestial orbit was a continuous, symmetrical circle around the north celestial pole, but those of An and Enki were believed to intersect at various points.

Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian

Akkadian texts of the second millennium BC follow similar portrayals of the Anunnaki from Inanna’s Descent into the Netherworld, depicting them as chthonic Underworld deities.

In an abbreviated Akkadian version of Inanna’s Descent written in the early second millennium, Ereshkigal, the queen of the Underworld, comments that she “drink 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 (c. 1830 BC — c. 1531 BC), 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 categories 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 (c. 1592 — 1155 BC) 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 standard Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 1200 BC) Utnapishtim, the immortal survivor of the Great Flood, describes the Anunnaki as seven judges of the Underworld, who set the land aflame as the storm approaches.

Later, when the flood comes, Ishtar (the East Semitic equivalent to Inanna) and the Anunnaki mourn over the destruction of humanity.

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“, built 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.

A badly damaged text from the Neo-Assyrian Period (911 — 612 BC) describes Marduk leading his army of Anunnaki into the sacred city of Nippur and causing a disturbance.

The disturbance causes a flood, which forces the resident gods of Nippur to take shelter in the Eshumesha temple to Ninurta.

Enlil is enraged at Marduk’s transgression and orders the gods of Eshumesha to take Marduk and the other Anunnaki as prisoners. The Anunnaki are captured, but Marduk appoints his front-runner Mushteshirhablim to lead a revolt against the gods of Eshumesha and sends his messenger Neretagmil to alert Nabu, the god of literacy.

When the Eshumesha gods hear Nabu speak, they come out of their temple to search for him. Marduk defeats the Eshumesha gods and takes 360 of them as prisoners of war, including Enlil himself. Enlil protests that the Eshumesha gods are innocent, so Marduk puts them on trial before the Anunnaki.

The text ends with a warning from Damkianna (another name for Ninhursag) to the gods and to humanity, pleading them not to repeat the war between the Anunnaki and the gods of Eshumesha.

Hurrian and Hittite

In the mythologies of the Hurrians and Hittites (which flourished in the mid to late second millennium BC), the oldest generation of gods was believed to have been banished by the younger gods to the Underworld, where they were ruled by the goddess Lelwani. Hittite scribes identified these deities with the Anunnaki.

In ancient Hurrian, the Anunnaki are referred to as karuileš šiuneš, which means “former ancient gods“, or kattereš šiuneš, which means “gods of the earth“. Hittite and Hurrian treaties were often sworn by the old gods in order to ensure that the oaths would be kept.

In one myth, the gods are threatened by the stone giant Ullikummi,  so Ea (the later name for Enki) commands the Former Gods to find the weapon that was used to separate the heavens from the earth. They find it and use it to cut off Ullikummi’s feet.

Although the names of the Anunnaki in Hurrian and Hittite texts frequently vary, they are always eight in number.

In one Hittite ritual, the names of the old gods are listed as: “Aduntarri the diviner, Zulki the dream interpress, Irpitia Lord of the Earth, Narā, Namšarā, Minki, Amunki, and Āpi.”

The old gods had no identifiable cult in the Hurrio-Hittite religion; instead, the Hurrians and Hittites sought to communicate with the old gods through the ritual sacrifice of a piglet in a pit dug in the ground. The old gods were often invoked to perform ritual purifications.

The Hittite account of the old gods’ banishment to the Underworld ultimately became the source for the Greek poet Hesiod’s narrative of the overthrow of the Titans by the Olympians in his Theogony.

The Greek sky-god Ouranos (whose name means “Heaven”) is the father of the Titans and is derived from the Hittite version of Anu. In Hesiod’s account, Ouranos is castrated by his son Kronos, just as Anu was castrated by his son Kumarbi in the Hittite story.

*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.