Tiamat, Mesopotamian Mother Goddess: From Chaos to Creation
Tiamat is an ambiguous deity who played an important role in the creation myth of ancient Mesopotamia. She was their personification of the primordial sea, from which the first generation of gods were born. Eventually, Tiamat is defeated by Marduk, the patron deity of Babylon. Traditionally, Tiamat is thought to have taken on the form of a dragon, though there is no image dating to Mesopotamian times which has been identified beyond a doubt as depicting this goddess.
The main myth featuring Tiamat is the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation myth. In this myth, Tiamat is a somewhat ambiguous character, as she is first depicted as a positive, mother-like figure, though later on in the myth, she is transformed into the antagonist.
A chaos monster (perhaps Tiamat), and a sun god, perhaps Marduk. (Public Domain)
Creating the Mesopotamian Gods
The Enuma Elish begins by with the creation of the gods, as a result of the union between Apsu and Tiamat:
“When skies above were not named / Nor earth below pronounced by name, / Apsu, the first one, their begetter / And maker Tiamat, who bore them all, / had mixed their waters together, / … Then gods were born within them.”
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According to Mesopotamian belief, Apsu was the personification of the freshwater underground waters, whilst Tiamat was the salty sea water. The first two gods created from the union of Apsu and Tiamat were Lahmu and Lahamu, who in turn gave birth to Anshar and Kishar.
‘Tiamat.’ (Milesian27/Deviant Art)
Two more generations of gods were created, and the younger deities became a nuisance to Apsu and Tiamat:
The gods of that generation would meet together / And disturb Tiamat, and their clamour reverberated. / They stirred up Tiamat’s belly, / They were annoying her by playing inside Anduruna. / Apsu could not quell their voice / And Tiamat became mute before them;
In spite of the trouble caused by the younger gods, Tiamat tolerated them. Apsu, however, could not stand their behavior any longer, and intended to destroy them. When he told his plan to Tiamat, she was not pleased, “She was furious and shouted at her lover; / She shouted dreadfully and was beside herself with rage, / But then suppressed the evil in her belly.” Apsu, however, listened to his vizier, Mummu, and continued with his plot to destroy his children.
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Mesopotamian Goddess Seeking Revenge
The gods, however, learned about Apsu’s plan, and one of them, Ea, put a sleeping spell on Apsu, and killed him. It was also after this that Marduk was born, and was given the four winds to play with. Some of the younger gods were disturbed, and complained to Tiamat. As a consequence of their goading, Tiamat decided to avenge Apsu. She created an army of monsters, and appointed Qingu, her new consort, as their commander. When the gods learnt about Tiamat’s plan to destroy them, they took council, but were incapable of doing anything.
Detail of The Adda Seal. The figures can be identified as gods by their pointed hats with multiple horns. The figure with streams of water and fish flowing from his shoulders is Ea (Sumerian Enki), god of subterranean waters and of wisdom. Behind him stands Usimu, his two-faced vizier (chief minister). (Public Domain)
Eventually, Marduk offered to do battle with Tiamat, on the condition that if he emerged victorious, he would be given rulership over the gods. This was agreed to, and Marduk fought Tiamat. Using the winds, Marduk incapacitated Tiamat, shot an arrow into her belly, and split her down the middle.
Tiamat Becomes the World
Finally, Marduk created the world using the remains of Tiamat,
He divided the monstrous shape and created marvels (from it) / He sliced her in half like a fish for drying: / Half of her he put up to roof the sky / Drew a bolt across and made a guard hold it / Her waters he arranged so that they could not escape. / … He opened the Euphrates and Tigris from her eyes, / … He piled clear-cut mountains from her udder, / Bored waterholes to drain off the catchwater. / He laid her tail across, tied it fast as the cosmic bond,
Neo-Assyrian cylinder seal impression from the eighth century BC identified by several sources as a possible depiction of the slaying of Tiamat from the ‘ Enûma Eliš.’ (Ben Pirard/CC BY SA 3.0)
Top image: Detail of ‘Tiamat.’ Source: Pearlpencil/Deviant Art
Anon., The Epic of Creation
[Dalley, S. (trans.), 2008. The Epic of Creation, in Myths from Mesopotamia, Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford: Oxford University Press.]
Helle, S., 2016. Tiamat (goddess). Available at: http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/tiamat/index.html
New World Encyclopedia, 2015. Tiamat. Available at: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Tiamat
The Mystica, 2018. Tiamat. Available at: https://www.themystica.com/tiamat/
www.gatewaystobabylon.com, 2018. Tiamat. Available at: http://www.gatewaystobabylon.com/gods/ladies/ladytiamat.html