An/Anu (god)

Mesopotamian sky-god, one of the supreme deities; known as An in Sumerian and Anu in Akkadian.

A stele of the Assyrian king Šamši-Adad V (c.815 BCE), making obeisance to the symbols of five deities, including (top) the horned crown of Anu (BM 118892, photo (c) The British Museum).


An/Anu belongs to the oldest generation of Mesopotamian gods and was originally the supreme deity of the Babylonian pantheon. Consequently, his major roles are as an authority figure, decision-maker and progenitor. In heaven he allots functions to other gods, and can increase their status at will; in the Sumerian poem Inana and Ebih (ETCSL 1.3.2), Inana claims that "An has made me terrifying throughout heaven" (l.66). On earth he confers kingship, and his decisions are regarded as unalterable.

Later An/Anu came to share or cede these functions, as Enlil and subsequently Marduk rose to prominence, but retained his essential character and high status throughout Mesopotamian history. Indeed, when other gods are elevated to a position of leadership, they are said to receive the anûtu, the "Anu-power". For example, in Enūma eliš TT  the gods express Marduk's authority over them by declaring: "Your word is Anu!" (Tablet IV, lines 4-6).

An/Anu is sometimes credited with the creation of the universe itself, either alone or with Enlil and Ea. Of the three levels of heaven, he inhabited the highest, said to be made of the reddish luludānitu stone (Horowitz 2001: 8-11).

Divine Genealogy and Syncretisms

The earliest texts make no reference to An's origins. Later he is regarded as the son of Anšar and Kišar, as in the first millennium creation epic Enūma eliš (Tablet I, 11-14). In Sumerian texts of the third millennium the goddess Uraš is his consort; later this position was taken by Ki, the personification of earth, and in Akkadian texts by Antu, whose name is probably derived from his own.

An/Anu frequently receives the epithet "father of the gods," and many deities are described as his children in one context or another. Inscriptions from third-millennium Lagaš name An as the father of Gatumdug, Baba and Ningirsu. In later literary texts, Adad, Enki/Ea, Enlil, Girra, Nanna/Sin, Nergal and Šara also appear as his sons, while goddesses referred to as his daughters include Inana/Ištar, Nanaya, Nidaba, Ninisinna, Ninkarrak, Ninmug, Ninnibru, Ninsumun, Nungal and Nusku. An/Anu is also the head of the Annunaki, and created the demons Lamaštu, Asag and the Sebettu. In the epic Erra and Išum, Anu gives the Sebettu to Erra as weapons with which to massacre humans when their noise becomes irritating to him (Tablet I, 38ff).

When Enlil rose to equal or surpass An in authority, the functions of the two deities came to some extent to overlap. An was also sometimes equated with Amurru, and, in Seleucid Uruk, with Enmešara and Dumuzi.

Cult Places

Temples and shrines to An/Anu existed in various cities throughout Mesopotamian history. From the third millennium onwards he was worshipped, with some interruptions, together with Inana/Ištar at the é-an-na temple in Uruk [~/images/Uruk.jpg], and in the Achaemenid and Seleucid periods at the new Reš temple with Antu.

Another important centre for his cult was Der [~/images/Der.jpg], which, like Uruk, held the title "city of Anu". In Lagaš [~/images/Lagash.jpg] a temple to An was established by Gudea (ca. 2144-2124 BCE), while Ur-Namma (ca. 2112-2095 BCE) built a garden and shrine for him at Ur [~/images/Ur.jpg]. An also had a "seat" in the main temple of Babylon [~/images/Babylon.jpg], Esagil, and received offerings at Nippur [~/images/Nippur.jpg], Sippar [~/images/Sippar.jpg] and Kish [~/images/Kish.jpg]. At Assur [~/images/Assur.jpg] a double temple for Anu and Adad, é-me-lám-an-na, was built during the Middle Assyrian period (ca. 1350-1050 BCE) and restored by subsequent rulers including Tiglath-Pileser I.

Time Periods Attested

The earliest appearances of An as a specific deity are difficult to identify precisely, due to the multiple readings possible for the sign AN. However, by the mid-third millennium he is definitely attested in the Fara god-list, and in the name of the 27th-century king of Ur, Mesanepada ("Young man, chosen by An"), who also dedicated a bead "to the god An, his lord" (Frayne 2008: E1.13.5.1). In the following centuries cultic activity for An/Anu is attested at Uruk and Nippur, and he begins to occur in royal titles: Lugalzagesi (ca. 2375-50 BCE) and Sargon I (ca. 2334-2279 BCE) both call themselves his priests.

From the second millennium onwards An/Anu is mentioned regularly in literary texts, inscriptions and personal names, although rarely as the central figure - he seems to have always been regarded as rather remote from human affairs. From the Old Babylonian period (ca. 2000-1595 BCE) a Sumerian prayer to An asks him to protect the kingship of Rim-Sin, king of Ur (ETCSL and several royal hymns to An survive (ETCSL, an unfortunately fragmentary adab to An for Šu-Suen; ETCSL, an adab to An for Lipit-Ištar; ETCSL, an adab to An for Ur-Ninurta).

At around the same time, Anu features for the first time in Assyrian royal inscriptions; Šamši-Adad I (ca. 1813-1781 BCE) boasts that Anu and Enlil called him to greatness (Grayson 1987: A.0.39.1. The god Aššur always retained his pre-eminent position in the Assyrian pantheon, but later kings also sometimes invoked Anu as a source of support or legitimacy.

Sumerian and Akkadian mythological texts portray An/Anu as king and father of the gods. The Old Babylonian composition Gilgameš, Enkidu and the Netherworld (ETCSL refers to the primeval division of the universe in which An received the heavens (lines 11-12), and we see him ruling from here in the flood poem Atrahasis. Inana/Ištar, set upon killing Gilgameš, forcefully persuades her father to hand over the bull of heaven in the Old Babylonian poem Gilgameš and the Bull of Heaven (ETCSL, as well as in the first-millennium Epic of Gilgameš (Tablet VI, lines 92ff). In Enūma eliš Anu turns back in fear from Tiamat (Tablet II, lines 105-6), paving the way for Marduk's triumph and elevation above him which characterises Babylonian literature and religious practice in the late second and early first millennium. However, during the fifth century BCE Anu's cult enjoyed a revival at Uruk, and ritual texts describing the involvement of his statue in the local akitu festival survive from the Seleucid period (e.g., TCL 6, 39; TCL 6, 40; BRM 4, 07).


There are no certain anthropomorphic representations of An/Anu. His symbol is a horned crown, sometimes shown resting on a throne (see below). His animal is the bull.

Name and Spellings

Sumerian an means "heaven, sky", and An can therefore be seen as the personified heavens. The cuneiform sign AN also has the value DINGIR, 'god' (Akkadian ilu(m)), and is used as the determinative for deities, yet in Sumerian An's name is never written with the divine determinative. In Akkadian he is Anu, written logographically as dAN, or spelled syllabically, e.g. da-nu(m). The logogram d60 is also a learned writing for Anu.

Written forms:
Sumerian: an; Akkadian: da-nu, da-num, an-nu, d60
Normalised forms:
An, Anu(m)

An/Anu in Online Corpora



References and further reading

Kathryn Stevens

Kathryn Stevens, 'An/Anu (god)', Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, Oracc and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2013 []

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