Ashur God: Origin Story, Worship, Attributes, Powers, & Facts
Myths and Facts: Ashur
God of: war, sun,
Religion: Mesopotamian religion
Association: Marduk, Enlil
Symbols: Winged Sun disc, a bull,
Other names: Ashshur, Aššur, Bêlu Rabû, Ab Ilâni, Šadû Rabû
Major worship place and cults: The city of Ashur (Assur)
Greek equivalent: Zeus
Roman equivalent: Jupiter
Ashur, an ancient Mesopotamian god, was revered as the chief patron god of the Assyrian pantheon. His worship, which was primarily in the northern half of the Mesopotamian region and in some parts of Asia Minor, can be traced all the way to the 3rd millennium BCE.
It’s long been held that the famous Assyrian capital city, Assur, was named in honor of the god Ashur. As a national god of the Assyrian, Ashur held a very significant place in ancient Mesopotamia, particularly during the dominant years of the Assyrians.
In some myths, instead of the Babylonian national god Marduk, Ashur was the deity who vanquished Tiamat, the chaotic and destructive force of evil. Moreover, as the god of war, Ashur was believed to accompany the great Assyrian King Ashurbanipal during his war campaigns in the region.
Below, World History Edu takes a quick look at the origin story, family, symbols, and powers of Ashur, the national god of Assyria.
Patron god of the Assyrian city of Assur
Ashur’s worship has been noted to go all the way back to the 3rd millennium BCE in Assur, the capital city of the Old Assyrian Empire (2025 – 1750 BCE), the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365-1050 BCE), and the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-608 BCE).
Located on the western bank of the Tigris River, Assur was the jewel of the Assyrians for many centuries as it served as the cultural and political hub of the region.
The fact that he was the national god of the Assyrians means that he was worshiped in places that include modern day northern Iraq, north east Syria and south east Turkey.
Origin and evolution of Ashur’s worship
A very important thing to take note about the worship of Ashur is that the Assyrians modeled the god’s worship on Sumerian and Babylonian religious practices. For example, the high priests of Ashur were primarily in charge of tending to the temple.
Furthermore, the worship of Ashur coincided with the peak periods of the Assyrians in Mesopotamia: the Old Assyrian Empire (2025 – 1750 BCE), the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365-1050 BCE), and the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-608 BCE).
Ashur’s worship in Old Assyria
In the Old Assyrian era, Ashur was believed to be a mere local deity in charge of agriculture. Over time, he burgeoned into a national god in the region. He was seen as the deity who helped in the founding of the city and the Assyrian Empire. He thus represented the entire Assyrian nation.
And as the city of Assur rose in fame and might, so did the worship of Ashur, spreading far into other places in the region. This started around the reign of Sargon of Akkad (2332-2279 BCE), and would continue into the reign of Shamashi Adad I (1813-1791 BCE). King Adad I is believed to have been inspired by Ashur and successfully wrestled control of the city from the Amorites.
Reign of Babylonian kings
During the reign of Hammurabi (r. 1792-1750 BCE), the Babylonian king who defeated the Assyrian king Shamashi Adad I, the worship of Ashur declined considerably in the region. His worship was limited to the city of Assur as the Babylonian god Marduk had become the most dominant deity of the era.
Ashur during the Middle Assyrian Empire
With the death of Hammurabi and the ensuing disintegration of the Babylonian Empire, control of the region fell into the hands of different rulers. This lasted until the reign of Adad Nirari I (1307-1275 BCE), who successfully reunited the Assyrian Empire by defeating the Hittites and Mitanni who controlled the city of Assur. Again, this Assyrian king attributed his conquests and victories to the blessings of the Assyrian god Ashur.
Enuma Elish – identified with the god Anshar and replaced Marduk
Similarly Assyrian kings Tiglath Pileser I (1116-1074 BCE) and Adad Nirari II (912-891 BCE)commonly invoked Ashur, praising the god for aiding the Assyrian army in vanquishing its enemies. As result of those conquests and expansion, the Assyrian Empire was able to spread the worship of Ashur.
Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-608 BCE)
Ashur’s worship was perhaps at its highest during the reigns of Neo-Assyrian kings. This included the reigns of Ashurnasirpal II (c. 884-859 BCE), Tiglath Pileser II (745-727 BCE), Sargon II (reign -722-705 BCE), Sennacherib (r. 705–681 BC), Esarhaddon (r. 681–669 BC) and Ashurbanipal (r. 669–631 BC). The three last rulers are famously known as members of the Sargonid dynasty, the greatest Neo-Assyrian kings. The common factor with those kings is that they devoutly worshiped Ashur and attributed their military conquests to the god.
Such was the reverence given to Ashur that at some point he was almost considered the a monotheist god. It was believed that temples and shrines were insufficient to show how great Ashur was. He was seen as an omnipresent and Supreme Deity of the Assyrians. This almost made him the one true god of the empire.
Decline of Ashur’s worship
As its common with many ancient gods, the demise of the inhabitants’ empire usually spells the doom for their worship. That was the case in Ashur in that his worship gradually declined following the decline of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Much of that decline began after the death of the last great Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. By 612 BCE, a coalition of Medes, Babylonians and Persians had landed such a big blow to the city of Assur, the heartland of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Ashur temples and shrines were sacked and destroyed. The Neo-Babylonian rulers also made sure to stifle the growth of Ashur’s worship by re-introducing the worship of Marduk.
Worship of Ashur became limited to small, localized Assyrian communities scattered across Mesopotamia.
Ashur’s association with the other ancient Mesopotamian gods
Following Assyria’s conquest of the region, Assyrian religious practices, including the worship of Ashur, started to spread across the region. The god was so famous and revered that he began to incorporate the properties of other gods from other pantheons, including the Sumerian and Babylonian pantheons. For example, it was not uncommon for Assyrians to identify Ashur with the Sumerian god Enlil. Not only was Enlil the chief god of Nipur, but he was also one of the most revered deities of the southern pantheon.
Read More: 12 Most Famous Ancient Mesopotamian Gods
Borrowing on the religious accounts of gods in the Sumerian and Babylonian pantheons, Assyrians believed that Ashur was the husband of Ninlil, who happened to be the wife of the Sumerian god Enlil. Ashur’s son was Nabu, the Babylonian god of wisdom, prophecy and writing. Originally, Nabu was the son of Babylonian god Marduk. According to the Assyrians, Nabu was the deity who gifted humans the ability to write and read.
What the above shows is that Ashur’s story was basically borrowed from the myths in civilizations that existed before the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
According to some myths, the deities Ninurta and Zababa were seen by the Assyrians as the children of Ashur.
Ashur (Anshar) versus Tiamat
The dominance of the Assyrians in the region allowed them to identify many of their gods with gods from the Babylonian pantheon. During the Sargonid dynasty (8th-7th centuries BCE), a time when Assyria ruled Babylon, Sargon II, the king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire from 722-705 BCE, is believed to have strongly identified Ashur with the god Anshar.
This meant that Ashur came to be seen as the deity who slew Tiamat, the demonic force and agent of chaos.
Subsequent Assyrian kings of the Sargonid dynasty, particularly King Sennacherib (r. 705–681 BC), purposely assigned the mythical stories (mostly from the Babylonian text Enuma Elish), attributes and achievements of the Babylonian patron god Marduk to Ashur. What this meant was that rather than Marduk, Ashur was the one revered as the deity who slew Tiamat, the demonic force and agent of chaos. Following his heroic display, Ashur went ahead to create the world and human beings.
Symbols and Power
The most common symbols associated with Ashur are the crown or a crown on the throne. This obviously symbolizes the eminence of Ashur.
As a warrior deity in Assyria, Ashur was sometimes depicted wearing a horned helmet. In his hands were a bow and a quiver of arrows. On other occasions, he can be seen donning a short skirt of feathers.
The winged sun disk was also another common symbol of Ashur.
The Assyrians revered him as the power behind the Assyrian kings. This explains why a good number of Assyrian kings took to using the name of the god. Examples of those kings include Ashurnasirpal I, Esarhaddon (Ashur-aha-iddina), and Ashurbanipal.
Other facts about Ashur God
- Some scholars and archeologists have stated that at Ashur’s worship peaked to the extent where he could at some point be considered a monotheist deity among the Assyrians.
- He was an east Semitic god and the chief of the Assyrian pantheon of gods.
- His worship primarily began in the northern half of Mesopotamia and parts of present-day east Syria, south-east Asia Minor (Old Assyria).
- During the early Christian era, Assyrians in Mesopotamia were said to be more embracing of the Christian faith as the notion of a supreme deity and one true god seemed similar to their understanding of Ashur.