Enki/Ea (god)

Mischievous god of wisdom, magic and incantations who resides in the ocean under the earth.


Greenstone cylinder seal TT  of the scribe Adda, showing Enki depicted with a flowing stream full of fish; c.2300-2200 BCE. Enki's two-faced minister Isimu stands to his right. (BM 89115). © The Trustees of the British Museum. View large image on the British Museum's website.

Cylinder seal TT showing Enki seated on a throne, wearing a horned headdress with a flowing stream full of fish; 2250 BCE (BM 103317). © The Trustees of the British Museum. View large image on the British Museum's website.

Limestone wall relief featuring a fish-cloaked apkallu sage TT , from the temple of Ninurta in Kalhu, Assyria; 9th century BCE. (BM 124573). © The Trustees of the British Museum. View large image on the British Museum's website.

Babylonian limestone kudurru TT  depicting a turtle, which was a symbol of Enki; 1125BC-1100 BCE (BM 102485). © The Trustees of the British Museum. View large image on the British Museum's website.

Lord of the abzu
The god Ea (whose Sumerian equivalent was Enki) is one of the three most powerful gods in the Mesopotamian pantheon, along with Anu and Enlil. He resides in the ocean underneath the earth called the abzu (Akkadian apsû), which was an important place in Mesopotamian cosmic geography. For example, the city of Babylon was said to have been built on top of the abzu.

Sumerian texts about Enki often include overtly sexual portrayals of his virile masculinity. In particular, there is a metaphorical link between the life-giving properties of the god's semen and the animating nature of fresh water from the abzu. Until recently, however, many of the more explicit details have been suppressed in modern translations (see Cooper 1989; Dickson 2007).

Incantations, wisdom and cleaners
Ea has associations with wisdom, magic and incantations. He was a favourite god amongst diviners TT  (bārû) and exorcist priests TT  (ašipū) as he is the ultimate source of all ritual knowledge used by exorcists to avert and expel evil. Ea was patron of the arts and crafts, and all other achievements of civilization. His connection with water meant that Ea was also the patron deity of cleaners (Foster 2005: 151-152).

Creator and protector of humanity
Ea is the creator and protector of humanity in the Babylonian flood myth Atra-hasīs and the Epic of Gilgameš. He hatched a plan to create humans out of clay so that they could perform work for the gods. But the supreme god Enlil attempted to destroy Ea's newly created humans with a devastating flood, because their never-ending noise prevented him from sleeping. But clever Ea foresaw Enlil's plan; he instructed a sage TT  named Atrahasis to build an ark so that humanity could escape the destruction.

In the myth Adapa and the South Wind, Ea helps humanity keep the gift of magic and incantations by preventing Adapa from becoming immortal (Foster 2005: 525-530; Izre'el 2001; Michalowski 1980).

Ea's creatures
Ea was served by his minister, the two-faced god Isimu/Akkadian Usmû (pictured to Enki's right in Image 1). Other mythical creatures also dwelt in the abzu with Ea, including the seven mythical sages TT  (apkallū) who were created for the purpose of teaching wisdom to humanity.

Divine Genealogy and Syncretisms

Enki was the son of the god An, or of the goddess Nammu (Kramer 1979: 28-29, 43) and a twin brother of Adad. It is unclear when he was merged with the god Ea, whose name first appears in the 24th century BCE (Edzard 1965: 56). His wife was Damgalnunna/ Damkina and their offspring were the gods Marduk, Asarluhi and Enbilulu, the goddess Nanše and the sage Adapa (Bottéro 2002: 234; Black and Green 1998: 75).

Enki also had sexual encounters with other goddesses, particularly in the Sumerian myth Enki and Ninhursanga (ETCSL 1.1.1). Ninhursanga gives birth to the goddess Ninmu after sexual relations with Enki. Later in the myth Enki becomes gravely ill and Ninhursanga then gives birth to eight healing deities in order to cure him. Enki then fathered the goddess Ninkurra with his daughter Ninmu, and the goddess Uttu with his granddaughter Ninkurra (Kramer and Maier 1989: 22-30).

Cult Place(s)

Enki is associated with the city of Eridu [~/images/Eridu.jpg] on the southern Mesopotamia. Enki's temple was E-abzu (house of the abzu), which was also known as E-engur-ra (house of the subterranean water) or E-unir (Foster 2005: 643-644).

Time Periods Attested

The first attestations of the god Enki date to the Early Dynastic IIIa period, where he is mentioned in the texts from Fara. As late as the third century BCE he appears as the god Kronos in a Greek text attributed to the Babylonian priest Berossus (Bēl-rēʾûšunu) (Kramer and Maier 1989: 10).

Enki's role in making Mesopotamian lands fertile and in civilizing its cities is recounted in important Sumerian literary texts from the second millennium BCE. Enki and Ninhursanga (ETCSL 1.1.1) describes Enki's role in transformed the land around the salty marshes land of Tilmun (near to Southern Mesopotamia) into fertile, economically productive ground using sweet water from the abzu (Bottéro 2002: 235-6). Enki and Inana (ETCSL 1.3.1) tells of a fight for power between Enki and Inana, the goddess of sex and war. Inana gets Enki drunk in order to steal the powers of civilization from him (Black and Green 1998: 76; Kramer and Maier 1989: 15-16; 57-68). Enki's role as a creator of the world is described in Enki and the World Order (ETCSL 1.1.3), and his creator aspect becomes an increasingly prominent in later literature, a phenomenon that Frymer-Kensky (1992: 70-90) has called the "marginalization of goddesses".

Later in the second millennium, rituals and prayers to prevent and remove evil frequently invoked Ea, Šamaš and Marduk as a group. Ea generally provided the spell, Marduk oversaw its implementation and Šamaš provided purification (Foster 2005: 645). Ea also features centrally in a series of royal "bath house: rituals that aimed to restore the king's purity after ominous celestial events. An exorcist recited incantations to the gods on the king's behalf, whilst the king himself bathed to wash away evil. (Robson 2010a; Foster 2005: 643-644).

In the Mesopotamian worldview, illnesses and strife were caused by evil demons and divine displeasure. As Ea was master of the exorcists' ritual knowledge, he often featured in first-millennium incantations performed by exorcists to remove evil or to prevent it from visiting in the first place (examples in Foster 2005: 954-992). In one Neo-Assyrian prayer against evil from the city of Huzirina, a man named Banitu-tereš asks Ea to remove the "evil of ominous conditions (and) bad, unfavourable signs" that are present in his house because he is "constantly terrified" of what will happen (STT 1, 67). Prayers for success in divination and protection of kings also invoked Ea.


Ea is depicted in Mesopotamian art as a bearded god who wears a horned cap and long robes. Cylinder seals TT  often picture him surrounded by a flowing stream with fish swimming inside it representing the subterranean waters of the abzu [Images 1 & 2]. Others depict him inside his underwater home in the abzu, or his E-abzu shrine. (Black and Green 1998: 76; Kramer and Maier 1989: 121-123).

Wall reliefs from Ninurta's temple in the Neo-Assyrian city of Kalhu showing figures cloaked in the skin of a fish were (incorrectly) assumed to be representations of Ea during the early twentieth century. These images actually represent the apkallu sages that dwelt in the abzu with Ea, who sometimes took a form that was half-man and half-fish [Image 3].

Ea's symbols include a curved sceptre with a ram's head, a goat-fish TT  and a turtle [image 4] (Black and Green 1998: 179). The Sumerian poem Ninurta and the Turtle (ETCSL 1.6.3) describes how Enki created a turtle from the clay of the abzu to help him recover the stolen tablet of destinies, which controls humanity's future. The tablet was stolen by an evil bird-like demon named Anzu, but the hero Ninurta won it back. Ninurta, however, decided to keep it for himself rather than return it to Enki. Yet the ever-cunning Enki thwarted Ninurta's ambitions by creating a turtle that grabbed Ninurta by the heel, dug a pit with its claws and dragged the overambitious hero into it. Though the story is incomplete, presumably the tablet was returned to Enki, and Ninurta was taught a valuable lesson regarding the corrupting nature of power.

Name and Spellings

Enki is spelled in Sumerian as den-ki or dam-an-ki. In Akkadian, Ea's name is commonly spelled dE2.A but it is unclear to which language this name belonged originally (Edzard 1965: 56). In literary texts, Enki/Ea was sometimes known by the alternative names Nudimmud or Niššiku, the latter originally being a Semitic epithet TT  (nas(s)iku "prince") that was then reinterpreted as a pseudo-logogram TT  dnin-ši-kù (Cavigneaux and Krebernik 1998-2001a: 590). He had a number of epithets TT , including 'stag of the abzu' (Black and Green 1998: 75) and 'little Enlil' (Foster 2005: 643-644).

Written forms:

Enki: EN.KI-GA.KAM2; d40; d60; dEN.KI; dIDIM, dnu-dím-mud, dnin-ši-kù

Ea: dé-a

Normalized forms:
Enki, Enkig, Nudimmud, Niššiku, Ea

Enki/Ea in Online Corpora



References and further reading

Ruth Horry

Ruth Horry, 'Enki/Ea (god)', Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, Oracc and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2019 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/enki/]

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