Ancient Mesopotamian Deities Apsu and Tiamat: History, Myths & Facts

Apsu and Tiamat are primordial deities in the mythologies of ancient Mesopotamia, particularly in the Babylonian creation myth known as the “Enuma Elish.” This epic is one of the earliest known stories in human history, predating even some parts of the Bible. The tale illustrates the Babylonians’ view of the creation of the universe and the divine order.

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Who are Apsu and Tiamat?

Apsu (or Abzu) and Tiamat are primordial beings associated with the creation of the world

Apsu represented fresh water, especially the sweet underground waters.

On the other hand, Tiamat represented salt water or the sea and was often depicted as a serpentine or draconic creature. She embodies the chaotic nature of the primordial sea.

These two entities existed in a formless, undifferentiated state before the creation of the known world.

Apsu and Tiamat brings forth the first deities

According to the myths, Apsu and Tiamat mingled their waters together, producing a generation of younger gods.

From the union of Apsu and Tiamat, the first-generation deities were born. These deities, in turn, bore other gods, resulting in a younger generation of gods. Some of their notable offspring are Kingu (Babylonian religion), Lahmu, Lahamu, Anu (Sumerian religion)

Over time, the gods grew, multiplied, and became boisterous, disturbing Tiamat and Apsu.

Conflict with the younger deities

As these younger gods became noisy and disruptive, Apsu planned to destroy them to restore peace. However, before he could carry out his plan, he was killed by one of these younger gods, Ea (or Enki in Sumerian mythology).

Tiamat plots her revenge

After Apsu’s death, Tiamat became enraged and plotted revenge against the younger gods. She birthed an army of monsters and chose one of her offspring, Kingu, as her champion. This resulted in a great cosmic battle.

Marduk comes to the rescue of the younger gods

Marduk god

Marduk – 9th century BC depiction of the Statue of Marduk, with his servant dragon Mušḫuššu. This was Marduk’s main cult image in Babylon

Marduk, a god from the younger generation, volunteered to confront Tiamat on the condition that he’d be given supremacy over the gods. During their epic confrontation, Marduk used the winds to inflate Tiamat, rendering her vulnerable. He then shot an arrow that split her in two.

Creation of the world from Tiamat’s body

After defeating Tiamat, Marduk split her body into two parts. From one half, he formed the heavens, and from the other, the Earth. This act effectively initiated the creation of the ordered world from the primordial chaos represented by Tiamat.

From Tiamat’s divided body, Marduk fashioned the heavens and the earth. Image: 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

Post Apsu-Tiamat Era

After defeating Tiamat, Marduk split her body into two parts. From one half, he formed the heavens, and from the other, the Earth. This act effectively initiated the creation of the ordered world from the primordial chaos represented by Tiamat.


The “Enuma Elish” reflects themes that resonate with other creation myths from around the world: the idea of order emerging from chaos, generational conflict among gods, and the establishment of cosmic and societal order.

It’s important to note that while the “Enuma Elish” is primarily a Babylonian text, its roots and many of its deities can be traced back to earlier Sumerian myths.

Over time, as city-states and their patron gods vied for dominance, the narrative evolved to place certain gods in more central roles, reflecting not just cosmic order but also the geopolitical landscape of ancient Mesopotamia.

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Abzu as a residence

In Sumerian mythology, Enki (known as Ea in Akkadian) was a deity who resided in the abzu, a primordial freshwater sea, even before the creation of humanity. He was not alone in this domain. He was accompanied by Damgalnuna, his wife; Nammu, his mother; and his counselor, Isimud. Additionally, various other beings served Enki in the abzu, one notable figure being the gatekeeper Lahmu. These entities collectively represented a cosmological realm and played various roles in different myths and stories.

Questions & Answers

The ancient Babylonians believed that in the beginning two primordial gods – Aspu and Tiamet – existed. Prior to that, the universe was a vast void of nothingness, land and sky had yet formed.

Here’s what you need to know:

What brought about the conflict between Apsu and the younger gods?

According to the myths, Apsu was seriously disturbed by the noise and chaos of the younger gods. As a result, he planned to destroy them. However, one of the younger deities, Ea (or Enki), learned of this plot and preemptively acted against Apsu, casting a spell on him and subsequently killing him.

How did Tiamat come to be known as the mother of monsters?

Outraged by the death of Apsu, Tiamat sought revenge and created an army of monstrous beings led by her champion, Kingu. This set the stage for a great cosmic battle.

How was Tiamat killed?

Led by Marduk, the younger gods, threw a strong, powerful net over Tiamat. Once trapped in the net, the gods beat Tiamat to pulp and cracked her skull.

Where did the Enūma Eliš come from?

The “Enuma Elish” is the Babylonian creation myth, written in the form of an epic poem. Its most complete version was discovered in the ruins of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, specifically in the library of the Assyrian king Assurbanipal, around c. 630 BC.

However, the origins of the “Enuma Elish” are much older, dating back to approximately the 18th century BC. This suggests that the story itself was passed down for generations before being inscribed in the version found in Assurbanipal’s library.

The narrative of the “Enuma Elish” describes the creation of the world, the rise of the god Marduk, and his battle with the primordial sea goddess Tiamat.

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