Nidaba (goddess)

Sumerian goddess of grain and writing, patron deity of the city Ereš. Nidaba's glory attracted her fall: her scribal functions were usurped by the god Nabu as he rose to power in the Old Babylonian period.


Nidaba reflects fundamental developments in the creation of Mesopotamian culture, those which take us from agriculture to accounting, to a very fine literary tradition. Nidaba was originally an agricultural deity, more specifically a goddess of grain. The intricate connection between agriculture and accounting/writing implied that it was not long before Nidaba became the goddess of writing. From then on her main role was to be the patron of scribes. She was eventually replaced in that function by the god Nabu.

Divine Genealogy and Syncretisms

Traditions vary regarding the genealogy of Nidaba. She appears on separate occasions as the daughter of Enlil, of Uraš, of Ea, and of Anu. Nidaba's spouse is Haya and together they have a daughter, Sud/Ninlil. Two myths (ETCSL 1.2.1 and ETCSL 1.2.2) describe the marriage of Sud/Ninlil with Enlil. This implies that Nidaba could be at once the daughter and the mother-in-law of Enlil. Nidaba is also the sister of Ninsumun, the mother of Gilgameš. Nidaba is frequently mentioned together with the goddess Nanibgal who also appears as an epithet of Nidaba, although most god lists treat her as a distinct goddess (McEwan 1998-2001: 151).

In a debate between Nidaba and Grain (Lambert 1996: 168-75), Nidaba is syncretised with Ereškigal as "Mistress of the Underworld". Nidaba is also identified with the goddess of grain Ašnan, and with Nanibgal/Nidaba-ursag/Geme-Dukuga, the throne bearer of Ninlil and wife of Ennugi, throne bearer of Enlil (Michalowski 1998-2001: 577).

The Sumerian tale of the Curse of Agade lists Nidaba as belonging to the elite of the great gods (ETCSL 2.1.5, 222).

Cult Place(s)

Nidaba was the patron deity of the city of Ereš, which has not yet been identified geographically although it is known to have been in southern Mesopotamia. Two locations have been proposed as possible contenders, namely the mound of Jarin (Jacobsen 1960: 176) and Tell Abu Salabikh [~/images/Abu-Salabikh.jpg] (Postgate and Moorey 1976: 161). Not a single temple dedicated to the exclusive worship of Nidaba has yet been recovered archaeologically. Texts provide evidence, however, that sanctuaries dedicated to Nidaba existed across Mesopotamia (George 1993). Nidaba's cult appears to have been carried out most actively at the temple of her daughter Ninlil in Nippur [~/images/Nippur.jpg] (Michalowski 1998-2001: 578).

Time Periods Attested

Nidaba's importance as goddess of writing and patron of scribes is well documented from the Early Dynastic to the early Old Babylonian periods. Sumerian literary compositions often end with the doxology "Praise be to Nidaba!" (dnidaba zà-mí). After she is replaced by Nabu in the Old Babylonian period, her appearances become more sporadic. She is occasionally mentioned as patron of scribes together with Nabu, but her most common role is as minor agricultural deity. Yet worship of Nidaba did not die out for many more centuries. A prayer to Nidaba from the Neo-Assyrian temple of Nabu in Nimrud (CTN 4, 168) suggests faith in the deity was still strong. Nidaba still enjoyed a cult in the Seleucid period as evidenced notably by mention of her blessing (TCL 6, 38: obv. 46-47) and a list attaching her to a temple (SpTU 2, 29: rev. ii 22).


Surprisingly we are still missing iconographic evidence for Nidaba, be it as agricultural deity or goddess of writing (see Braun-Holzinger 1998-2001: 579). Various agricultural deities, female and male, are depicted on Old Akkadian cylinder seals and Nidaba could be one of them, but the similarity between figures makes them difficult to identify. No known figural representations approach Nidaba as goddess of writing. A paradox is that Nidaba's physical appearance and attributes as goddess of writing are described in great detail and with consistency in many Mesopotamian literary productions (see, for example, the Sumerian Hymn to Nidaba ETCSL 4.16.1).

Van Buren 1952 argues that certain Early Dynastic cylinders seals could be depicting Nidaba as she attends to the construction of a monument, which is one of her scribal duties according to Gudea's Cylinder A (see ETCSL 2.1.7, 134-140). This thesis, although attractive, would require further evidence to be confirmed.

Name and Spellings

The goddess' name is first attested in the Ur archaic texts as dNAGA (in later times dŠE.NAGA). The Akkadian reading of this name is uncertain. The readings Nis(s)aba (traditional) and Nidaba (proposed by Civil 1983: 43) are primarily based on Akkadian pronunciation columns in lexical texts where writings such as ni-is-sà-ba/ni-da-ba are encountered. The reading Nidaba is preferred here.

Nanibgal and Nun-baršegunu ("Lady whose body is the flecked barley") are alternative names of the same goddess. The former appears mainly as a praising epithet (McEwan 1998-2001: 151), whilst the latter is used essentially in agricultural contexts (Cavigneaux and Krebernik 1998-2001b: 615).

Written forms:
Nis/daba: dnis/daba(ŠE.NAGA), dnís/daba(NAGA)
Nanibgal: dnanibgal(AN.NAGA), dnánibgal(AN.ŠE.NAGA)
Nubaršegunu: dnun-bar-še-gu-nu, dnun-bar-še-gùn-nu
Normalized forms:
Nisaba, Nissaba, Nidaba, Nanibgal, Nunbaršegunu.

Nidaba in Online Corpora

Further Reading

Johanna Tudeau

Johanna Tudeau, 'Nidaba (goddess)', Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, Oracc and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2016 []

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