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Ancient Mesopotamia
Ann Marie Dlott & Colleagues, Shrewsbury Public Schools, MA




In Mesopotamia, each town and city was believed to be protected by its own, unique deity or god. The temple, as the center of worship, was also the center of every city.

Around the year 2000 B.C., temple towers began to be built to link heaven and earth. The towers, called ziggurats, were very large, pyramid-shaped structures on top of which the temple was built. The ziggurats were built of mud bricks with 3 to 7 terraced levels.

The Mesopotamians believed that these pyramid temples connected heaven and earth. In fact, the ziggurat at Babylon was known as Etemenankia or "House of the Platform between Heaven & Earth". The ziggurats were often decorated with pillars and other ornamentation.
At first, religious events were held at the temple. Later, as a priesthood developed, the temple became the center of both religion and learning for the entire community.


The people of Mesopotamia had very many gods, called dingir in Sumerian. Their gods and goddesses looked and acted just like people. They had feasts, marriages, children, and wars. They could be jealous, angry, joyful, or kind. The gods and goddesses had supernatural powers.

Every single city had its own patron god or goddess who owned everything and everyone in the city. Everyone was expected to sing hymns, say prayers, make sacrifices and bring offerings to the local temple (ziggurat) for the gods. The people trusted the priests and the priestesses in the temples to tell them what the gods or goddesses wanted, and they dutifully carried out their wishes. They believed that the gods could be annoyed at what you did and punish you, or they could be pleased and reward you.This made the leaders in the temples almost as powerful as the kings.

In Mesopotamia the people looked to religion to answer their questions about life and death, good and evil, and the forces of nature. The dingir followed themes, or divine laws, that governed the universe. The Sumerians believed in divine order, that is, everything that occurs is preplanned by the gods.

There were four all-powerful gods that created and controlled the universe. An was the god of heaven, Enlil was the air-god, Enki was the water-god, and Ninhursag was the mother earth-goddess. Each of these gods created lesser gods who were also important in Mesopotamia. Utu, the sun-god, lit the world with rays shooting from his shoulders. He moved across the sky in a chariot. Nanna was the moon-god who used a boat to travel by night.


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