Nanna/Suen/Sin (god)

Mesopotamian moon god. He was called Nanna in Sumerian, and Su'en or Sin in Akkadian. The earliest writings of both are roughly contemporary, and occur interchangeably. An additional name, which is only attested in literary texts, is Dilimbabbar. The true etymologies of both Nanna and Su'en remain unclear (Krebernik 1993-98b: 360-64).


Possible depiction of the god Nanna, seated on a temple-like throne, on a fragment of the Stele of Ur-Namma at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (object number B16676.14) (ca. 2100 BCE). The stele was excavated at Ur. © Penn Museum.

The ziggurat TT , or temple tower, of Nanna at Ur. It was built by king Ur-Namma of Ur (r. about 2112-2095 BCE), the founder of the Ur III dynasty. The monumental temple tower is built of solid bricks. © Penn Museum.

The moon god was the tutelary deity of the city of Ur. His reach and importance, however, was far greater than just a city god, the moon god is clearly one of the most important deities in the wider pantheon of Mesopotamia. In the Early Dynastic god lists, such as Fara SF 1, the moon god appears immediately after the four leading gods An, Enlil, Inana and Enki (Klein 2001: 290, and this important, albeit slightly junior position, is confirmed in the text Nanna-Suen's Journey to Nippur (ETCSL 1.5.1: 18), when Nanna brings the "first fruit offerings" to Enlil, the head of the early Mesopotamian pantheon (Black et al. 2004: 147).

The primary symbol of the moon god was as a bull, the result of the horizontal crescent of the waxing moon appearing similar to the horns of that animal. This symbolism led to a consideration of the moon god as a cowherd, which is celebrated most clearly in the composition The Herds of Nanna (ETCSL 4.13.06), the longest section of which enumerates the cattle in Nanna's herd.

An association with fertility may come from the moon god's connection to cattle, and also, perhaps, from the clear link to the menstrual cycle, roughly similar to the timing of the moon's transformations. The connection with fertility is demonstrated in the Old Babylonian (early second-millennium) birth incantations (Krebernik 1993-98b: 367; Veldhuis 1991). The magical-medical text A Cow of Sin relates the story of the moon god's beautiful and pregnant cow, Geme-Sin. The birthing-pains of Geme-Sin are eased by Sin, and the incantation ends with a 'supplication: "may this woman give birth as easily as Geme-Sin" suggesting this text's role in human child-birth (Veldhuis 1991: 1).

Other literature makes much of the moon as an astronomical feature. The deity is referred to in terms characteristic of the celestial body, e.g., radiant, shining, and much is made of the moon's path and cycle, which were also keenly observed for omens of the future, for example in the first-millennium series šumma Sin ina tāmartišu, "If the moon at its appearance" (Hunger and Pingree 1999: 21 ff.).

The Akkadian literature evokes some of the other functions of the moon god. A prayer to Su'en details his role in divination (Foster 2005: 758-9). No doubt this divinatory role was also connected to the moon god's ability to illuminate darkness (Foster 2005: 760-1). Both the moon god and the sun god are praised together in a further text in which they are associated with issuing laws and verdicts, the determination of destinies, and the announcements of omens (Foster 2005: 762). This judicial role was already obvious in the text of the Early Dynastic 'Stele of the Vultures', where oaths are taken in the presence of Su'en, and in his epithet "diviner of fates", which is used across the Near East (Krebernik 1993-98b: 367).

Divine Genealogy and Syncretisms

In the Sumerian myth Enlil and Ninlil (ETCSL 1.2.1), the moon god is described as the first-born son of Enlil and Ninlil, and the moon god's three brothers are listed: Nergal-Meslamtaea, Ninazu (both underworld deities) and Enbililu (who was responsible for irrigation). There has been some suggestion that this position as the 'first born son of Enlil' might reflect the importance of Ur during the Ur III period. There are also occasional references to a paternal/fillial relationship between An and the moon god (Klein 2001: 295-7), but such are probably general references to An in his role as father of all the gods (Krebernik 1993-98b: 364-5).

The moon god's wife is the goddess Ningal (Akk. Nikkal) and their children are Inana and Utu (Edzard 1965: 102). The god list AN = Anum also names Ningublaga as the son of the moon god, and Amarra-azu and Amarra-he'ea as his daughters. Another child of the moon god known from Old Babylonian sources is Numušda (Hall 1985: 742). Nanna's vizier was Alammuš. In the first millenium Nuska, a vizier of Enlil, was thought of as a son of Su'en (specifically the Su'en of Harran) - a relationship which is possibly a result of contact/conflation with Aramaic religious beliefs (Krebernik 1993-98b: 365-8).

Cult Places

From the earliest periods, Nanna/Su'en was the patron deity of the city of Ur [~/images/Ur.jpg]. The name of his main sanctuary in Ur was é-kiš-nu-gál, the name also used for the moon god's sanctuaries in Babylon [~/images/Babylon.jpg] and Nippur [~/images/Nippur.jpg] (George 1993: 114). From the Akkadian period until the middle of the Old Babylonian period, the daughter of the reigning king was appointed to be the high-priestess of the moon god at Ur (Krebernik 1993-98b: 367-9). The most famous of these is Enheduanna, who is the purported author of several Sumerian literary works (e.g. the Temple Hymns, ETCSL 4.80.1 and Inana B, ETCSL 4.07.2). However, Enheduanna's authorship has been seriously questioned (Civil 1980; Black 2002; Rubio 2009; Lion 2011). Other Mesopotamian cult places for the moon god include Ga'eš, a place in the neighbourhood of Ur [~/images/Ur.jpg], and at Urum [~/images/Urum.jpg], modern Tell `Uqair located east of Babylon, where the moon god was honoured as Dilimbabbar. Beyond the alluvial plains of Mesopotamia, a cult centre of Nanna/Su'en is attested at Harran [~/images/Harran.jpg], south-east of modern Urfa [~/images/Urfa.jpg], from the Old Babylonian period onwards, where the temple name was é-húl-húl "House of Rejoicing" (Krebernik 1993-98b: 368). At Harran a long inscription was found on a stele, which commemorates Adda-guppi, the mother of Nabonidus, and which celebrates her reverence of the moon god. Another stele inscription from Harran describes Nabonidus' accession to the throne, which is here described as being at the will of Su'en, and that he rebuilt the é-húl-húl temple (Gadd 1958).

Time Periods Attested

The earliest attestation of this name dates back to the very beginning of written documentations. In personal names the moon god is attested from the Late Uruk period until the very end of the cuneiform tradition. Not only is he frequently attested in personal names, a testimony to personal piety, he is also frequently invoked in royal names from the earlier to the late periods, for example: Naram-Sin (Old Akkadian); Amar-Su'en, Šu-Sin, Ibbi-Sin (all Ur III) Sin-iddinam (Old Babylonian), Sennacherib (Akkadian: Sin-ahhe-eruba – from the Neo Assyrian period) (Cohen 1996: 9; Krebernik 1993-98b: 360; Hall 1985: 56-91).

Not surprisingly it is from the Third Dynasty of Ur that come the greatest number of attestations and clearest indications of worship. Many dedicatory inscriptions of canals, buildings and objects record the worship and patronage of Su'en, most during Ur-Namma's reign. The perhaps most obvious of these is the temple tower (ziggurat TT ) at Ur, built under Ur-Namma. The year names continue to record events related to the moon god, most commonly the installation of the high-priestesses of the moon god at Ur, and for Nanna-Karzida at Gaeš (Hall 1985: 130-2), while offerings are very commonly attested (Hall 1985). The royal hymns, particularly those to Šulgi often include subscripts to Nanna, for example Šulgi D (ETCSL; Klein 2001: 285). Among this literature are the 15 hymns to Nanna, which include A Balbale to Suen (ECTSL 4.13.01) and A tigi to Su'en (ECTSL 4.13.09).

Worship of the moon god continued throughout the Old Babylonian period, as attested in both personal names and royal names as well as numerous building inscriptions, year dates and offerings (Hall 1985; Collon 1992: 20).

The moon god seems to have fallen out of favour somewhat in the period of 1500-1000 BCE (Foster 2005: 758-62), but experienced a revival during the first millennium, in particular in personal names of the Neo-Assyrian period (Radner and Baker 1998-2011). Su'en often appears second, after the pre-eminent deity Aššur, among the gods invoked to bless the king (SAA 1, 133 line 1). Some scholars have argued that the Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus promoted the moon god within the pantheon of Babylonia, but more recently it has been suggested that this is an over-interpretation of the evidence available (Kuhrt_1995: 600). Nevertheless, Nabonidus also reconstructed the temple of Sin at Ur and reinstated the position of the high-priestess priestess of the moon god at Ur.


While the moon god is commonly attested in the literature and texts of Mesopotamia, he is not as commonly reflected in the visual iconography. Anthropomorphic representations are known from the Ur III period royal iconography, but second millennium BCE images are rare, which is surprising given that Nanna/Su'en formed the most popular theophoric element in Old Babylonian names. A painting of the moon god is attested at Mari (Room 132), and these relatively rare figurative images continue down to the Neo-Assyrian period, for example Sennacherib's rock relief at Maltai. By far the most common images of this deity appear on cylinder seals, known from across Mesopotamian history (Collon 1992: 22, 27).

The moon god is most frequently represented by his symbol, the crescent moon (Sumerian u4-sakar, Akkadian u/ašqāru). This iconography is already known form Early Dynastic seals, and continues throughout Mesopotamian history and across the Ancient Near East. The crescent shape had an impact on other symbols which came to be associated with Nanna/Suen, primarily the moon god's association with the bull (Krebernik 1993-98b: 360). Additionally, Nanna/Su'en is often attested in connection with a boat. Other iconographic symbols include a rather enigmatic tripod, and it is now thought that many of the motifs once thought to be solely associated with the sun god - such as rays, gates and a god-figure rising between mountains, might now also be considered iconographic characteristics of the moon god. Such similarities should not be surprising given that the moon provided the light of the night-time, as the sun did for the day (Krebernik 1993-98b: 374-7).

Name and Spellings

Nanna: In the Early Dynastic period: dŠEŠ.NA (with the sign NA acting as a phonetic complement); later dŠEŠ.KI or dŠEŠ+KI, syllabically: na-an-na (Cohen 1996: 9; Krebernik 1993-98b: 360).

Su'en/Sin: first attested at Ebla from ca. 2400 BCE; spelled dEN.ZU, but read Su'en in Sumerian names, and Sin in Akkadian names. For discussions of this rebus-writing, see Krebernik 1993-98b: 360-2. From the Old Babylonian period onward: (d)30, clearly related to the close connection between the moon and the month (Krebernik 1993-98b: 360-1).

Dilimbabbar (previously read Ašimbabbar): An alternative name or epithet. The logographic writing DIL-im2-babbar suggests two possible, and perhaps not mutually exclusive interpretations. The Sumerian word pronounced 'dilim' (written DILIM2) can refer to a bowl, a possibly valid metaphor for the quarter-moon, and the use of DI, might have been a play upon the meaning of this term as 'unique', while babbar is the Sumerian for "white" (Cohen 1996: 11 n.20).

Written forms:
Nanna: dŠEŠ.NA, dŠEŠ.KI, dŠEŠ+KI, na-an-na
Su'en/Sin: dEN.ZU, (d)30
Dilimbabbar: DIL-im2-babbar
Normalized forms:
Nanna, Su'en, Sin, Suen, Dilimbabbar, Ashimbabbar (obsolete)

Nanna in Online Corpora

Su'en in Online Corpora

Sin in Online Corpora

Dilimbabbar in Online Corpora


Adam Stone

Adam Stone, 'Nanna/Suen/Sin (god)', Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, Oracc and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2019 []

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