Heraldic Folklore, Mythological Creature Archive, Sumerian Folklore

Mythological Creature; Anzu, a Sumerian (first civilization) lion, eagle hybrid who breathes fire and water- Son of BEER demon Siris

According to History.com, Sumer was an ancient civilization founded in the Mesopotamian region of the Fertile Crescent situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Known for their innovations in language, governance, architecture and more, Sumerians are considered the creators of civilization as modern humans understand it. Their control of the region lasted for a short 2,000 years. The Babylonians took over in 2004 B.C.

The Anzû, (see long list of Heraldic Griffin) is also known as dZû and Im-dugud.

According to Wikipedia, he is described as a lesser divine creature or monster in several Mesopotamian religions. He was conceived by the pure waters of the Apsu (which was the name of the fresh water, which came from underground aquifers and was believed to have given a religious fertilizing quality in Sumerian and Akkadian mythology.) Anzu is also described as being conceived of the wide Earth, and also as being the son of Siris

The Anzu’s Appearance

Photo Credit: Griffin -https://tinyurl.com/yxf9sejg

Anzû is depicted as a massive bird who can breathe fire and water, although Anzû is alternately depicted as a lion-headed eagle. This creature predates all of the other griffin like creatures in modern mythology. See the list below for similar creatures and for hybrid creatures. This list is taken from Wikipedia.

Connection to Beer Culture?

An interesting tidbit; Anzu, as was mentioned, was said to be the son of Siris. The Mesopotamian goddess according to Wikipedia, was the patron of beer who was conceived of as a demon. She is said to be the daughter of the goddess Ninkasi.

Beer as we know it had its origins in Mesopotamia, and fermented beverages spread throughout the world from the region as the drink was shared with mighty kings and rulers.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

According to History.com, the very first ruling body of Sumer having historical verification is the First Dynasty of Kish. The earliest ruler mentioned is Etana of Kish, who, in a document from that time, is credited as having “stabilized all the lands.” One thousand years later, Etana would be memorialized in a poem that told of his adventures in heaven. The most famous of the early Sumerian rulers is Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, who took control around 2700 B.C. and is still remembered for his fictional adventures in the Epic of Gilgamesh. This was the first epic poem in history and inspiration for later Roman and Greek myths and Biblical stories. A devastating flood in the region was used as a pivotal point in the epic poem and later reused in the Old Testament story of Noah? Read The Epic of Gilgamesh here on ancienttexts.org

Read on if you would like to know more about the Sumerians..

The Great Flood

According to Wikipedia, the Sumerian creation myth contains a great flood story and an ark.

The earliest record of a Sumerian creation myth, called The Eridu Genesis by historian Thorkild Jacobsen, is found on a single fragmentary tablet and was excavated in Nippur.

It is written in the Sumerian language and dated to around 1600 BC. Other Sumerian creation myths from around this date are called the Barton Cylinder, the Debate between sheep and grain and the Debate between Winter and Summer, also found at Nippur. The beginning of the tablet is lost, but at the point of the story where the surviving portion begins, it describes how the gods An, Enlil, Enki and Ninhursanga created the Sumerians and the comfortable conditions for the animals to live and procreate. Kingship then descended from heaven, and the first cities were founded: Eridu, Bad-tibira, Larak, Sippar, and Shuruppak.

After a missing section in the tablet, we learn that the gods have decided not to save mankind from an impending flood. Zi-ud-sura, the king and gudug priest, learns of this. In the later Akkadian version recorded in the Atra-Hasis Epic, Ea, or Enki in Sumerian, the god of the waters, warns the hero (Atrahasis in this case) and gives him instructions for building an ark. This is missing in the Sumerian fragment, but a mention of Enki taking counsel with himself suggests that this is Enki’s role in the Sumerian version as well.

Sumerian Civilization

The following is according to History.com. Sumer was first settled by humans from 4500 to 4000 B.C., though it is probable that some settlers arrived much earlier.

This early population—known as the Ubaid people—was notable for strides in the development of civilization such as farming and raising cattle, weaving textiles, working with carpentry and pottery and even enjoying beer. Villages and towns were built around Ubaid farming communities.

The people known as Sumerians were in control of the area by 3000 B.C. Their culture was comprised of a group of city-states, including Eridu, Nippur, Lagash, Kish, Ur and the very first true city, Uruk. At its peak around 2800 BC, the city had a population between 40,000 and 80,000 people living between its six miles of defensive walls, making it a contender for the largest city in the world.

Each city-state of Sumer was surrounded by a wall, with villages settled just outside and distinguished by the worship of local deities.

Sumerian Language And Literature

The Sumerian language is the oldest linguistic record. It first appeared in archaeological records around 3100 B.C. and dominated Mesopotamia for the next thousand years. It was mostly replaced by Akkadian around 2000 B.C. but held on as a written language in cuneiform for another 2,000 years.

Cuneiform, which is used in pictographic tablets, appeared as far back as 4000 B.C., but was later adapted into Akkadian, and expanded even further outside of Mesopotamia beginning in 3000 B.C.

Writing remains one of the most important cultural achievements of the Sumerians, allowing for meticulous record keeping from rulers down to farmers and ranchers. The oldest written laws date back to 2400 B.C. in the city of Ebla, where the Code of Er-Nammu was written on tablets.

The Sumerians were considered to have a rich body of literary works, though only fragments of these documents exist.

Sumerian Art and Architecture

Photo Credit: Ziggurat https://tinyurl.com/y6thn4ca

Architecture on a grand scale is generally credited to have begun under the Sumerians, with religious structures dating back to 3400 B.C., although it appears that the basics of the structures began in the Ubaid period as far back as 5200 B.C. and were improved upon through the centuries. Homes were made from mud bricks or bundled marsh reeds. The buildings are noted for their arched doorways and flat roofs.

Elaborate construction, such as terra cotta ornamentation with bronze accents, complicated mosaics, imposing brick columns and sophisticated mural paintings all reveal the society’s technical sophistication.

Sculpture was used mainly to adorn temples and offer some of the earliest examples of human artists seeking to achieve some form of naturalism in their figures. Facing a scarcity of stone, Sumerians made leaps in metal-casting for their sculpture work, though relief carving in stone was a popular art form.

Under the Akkadian dynasty, sculpture reached new heights, as evidenced by intricate and stylized work in diorite dated to 2100 B.C.

Ziggurats began to appear around 2200 B.C. These impressive pyramid-like, stepped temples, which were either square or rectangular, featured no inner chambers and stood about 170 feet high. Ziggurats often featured sloping sides and terraces with gardens. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon was one of these.

Palaces also reach a new level of grandiosity. In Mari around 1779 B.C., an ambitious 200-room palace was constructed.

Sumerian Science

Sumerians had a system of medicine that was based in magic and herbalism, but they were also familiar with processes of removing chemical parts from natural substances. They are considered to have had an advanced knowledge of anatomy, and surgical instruments have been found in archeological sites.

One of the Sumerians greatest advances was in the area of hydraulic engineering. Early in their history they created a system of ditches to control flooding, and were also the inventors of irrigation, harnessing the power of the Tigris and Euphrates for farming. Canals were consistently maintained from dynasty to dynasty.

Their skill at engineering and architecture both point to the sophistication of their understanding of math. The structure of modern time keeping, with sixty seconds in a minute and sixty minutes in an hour, is attributed to the Sumerians.

Sumerian Culture

Schools were common in Sumerian culture, marking the world’s first mass effort to pass along knowledge in order to keep a society running and building on itself.

Sumerians left behind scores of written records, but they are more renowned for their epic poetry, which influenced later works in Greece and Rome and sections of the Bible, most notably the story of the Great Flood, the Garden of Eden, and the Tower of Babel. The Sumerians were musically inclined and a Sumerian hymn, “Hurrian Hymn No. 6,” is considered the world’s oldest musically notated song.

If you find this article fun and interesting and you decide to expand on this story, using the Anzu in your work- let me know about it in the comment section below, and as usual…happy writing!

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