Ninazu (god)

Underworld deity with connections to agriculture, war and snakes; patron god of the cities of Enegi and Ešnunna.


The trident-brandishing deity standing on the back of a lion with a snake's tail on this Early Dynastic seal may be Ninazu. (British Museum ME 1933,0408.1). © The British Museum. View the British Museum's catalogue information on this object.

Ninazu was city god of Enegi in southern Sumer, and Ešnunna in the north. In the south he is clearly an underworld deity: he receives the epithet 'steward of the underworld'; in the Sumerian lamentation In the Desert in the Early Grass he is mourned together with other chthonic TT  gods (Cohen 1988: II 668-703, as Umun-azu), and his festival in Ur was marked by offerings to deceased kings and priestesses (Cohen 1993: 149-50).

At Ešnunna his warlike aspect is more prominent, which, coupled with the alternate genealogy ascribed to him here (see below) led van Dijk to suggest that there were two different Ninazus (van Dijk 1960: 77-8). However, Wiggermann reconstructs only one, chthonic deity, identifying underworld connections at Ešnunna also and pointing to the fact that in both genealogies Ninazu has the same consort and brother (Wiggermann 1989: 122; Wiggermann 1998-2001: 330).

Like other dying and returning gods, Ninazu is linked to vegetation and agriculture; in How Grain Came to Sumer (ETCSL 1.7.6, 1) he and his brother bring barley and flax to humans, who 'used to eat grass with their mouths like sheep', while in Enlil and Ninlil (ETCSL 1.2.1, l. 116) he is called 'the lord who stretches the measuring line over the fields'.

Another characteristic Ninazu shares with other gods with whom he is often grouped is an association with snakes. In Ur III and Old Babylonian incantations he is named 'king of the snakes' (see van Dijk 1969, esp. 542-3) and the logogram dMUŠ ('divine snake') is given as a spelling of his name in the god list An = Anum (Litke 1998: 191, l. 240). Given this, it is likely that both Tišpak and Ningišzida inherit their connection with the 'lion-dragon' or 'snake-dragon' (mušḫuššu) from Ninazu; the mušḫuššu is linked to his centre Enegi, and the dragon (ušumgal) associated with him in a first millennium incantation may be the same creature (see further Black and Green 1998: 137; Wiggermann 1995: 457).

Despite his name, Ninazu was not a major healing deity; except for third and second-millennium incantations against snake bite he appears rarely in the medical corpus.

Divine Genealogy and Syncretisms

As mentioned above, Ninazu has two different genealogies. At Enegi he is usually the son of Ereškigal and 'the great lord' (probably Ereškigal's husband Gugal'ana), reinforcing his chthonic attributes. Alternatively, Enlil and Ninlil are his parents; the Sumerian Temple Hymns (ETCSL 4.80.1, lines 425-47) associate this genealogy with Ešnunna, but it also appears elsewhere. In both traditions, Ninazu has a brother Ninmada; in Enlil and Ninlil (ETCSL 1.2.1 []), as well as being the child of the eponymous couple, he has three brothers: Meslamtaea, Enbilulu and Sin.

Ninazu's wife was the goddess Ningirida, although rarely Ereškigal or (U)kulla(b), the consort of Tišpak, appear in this role. The chthonic god Ningišzida is well attested as their son. The god list An = Anum also lists three sisters of Ningišzida, and another seven 'children of Ningirida' who are more obscure (Litke 1998: 191-2, ll.255-7; 242-9).

At Ešnunna during the Old Akkadian period Ninazu was partially identified, but not fully syncretized, with Tišpak who eventually replaced him as city god. In the first-millennium Anzu epic he is equated with Ninurta (Saggs 1986: 27, l. 139).

Cult Places

Ninazu's temples at Enegi and Ešnunna were, respectively, é-gíd-da, 'Storehouse', and é-sikil.(la), 'Pure house' (George 1993, nos. 392, 987). He was particularly popular at Ur, where during the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods a major festival was held for him in the 6th month. He also received offerings at Lagaš, Umma, and Nippur.

Time Periods Attested

Ninazu is first attested in the middle of the third millennium, in the Fara [~/images/Fara.jpg] god lists and the zà-mì (praise) hymns from Tell Abu Salabikh [~/images/Abu-Salabikh.jpg] (Biggs 1974: 45). During the Early Dynastic period offerings were made to him at Enegi; the king of Ur [~/images/Ur.jpg], A-Anepada, dedicated a clay tablet to him (Frayne 2008: E1.13.6.6) and his cult was introduced to Lagaš [~/images/Lagash.jpg], where the ruler Gudea later built him a temple in Girsu [~/images/Girsu.jpg] (Edzard 1997: E3/ In the Ur III period his cult is attested at Ešnunna [~/images/Eshnunna.jpg], Enegi, Ur [~/images/Ur.jpg], Lagaš/Girsu, Nippur [~/images/Nippur.jpg] and Umma [~/images/Umma.jpg]; in the first four centres it continued into the Old Babylonian period.

In the Sumerian Temple Hymns (ETCSL 4.80.1), which survive in Ur III and Old Babylonian copies Ninazu appears in very different guises in his two main temples: he is 'playing loudly on a zanaru instrument, sweet as a calf' in the Egidda at Enegi (l.183) and 'snarling like a dragon against the walls of rebel lands' in the hymn to Esikil at Ešnunna (l.434). From the Old Babylonian period we have one Sumerian hymn to Ninazu (ETCSL 4.17.1). He also features in two praise poems for Šulgi (Klein 1981, Šulgi D and X; online at ETCSL and ETCSL

Ninazu's cult lost ground with the rise of the death gods Tišpak and Nergal, and after the Old Babylonian period is attested in southern Mesopotamia only at Ur, where he continued to feature in personal names until the Persian period. During the first millennium he appears sporadically in god lists, incantations, cultic and literary texts.


No certain representations of Ninazu are attested, although he has been identified with the god standing on the back of a lion with a snake's tail on a seal from the Early Dynastic period (Boehmer 1965, Tf. XXV fig. 283; see image), and another standing on a dragon from the Old Akkadian period (Boehmer 1965, Tf. XLVIII fig. 570; Collon 1982, no. 144), as well as with a scaled deity represented on a stone from third millennium Ešnunna (Wiggermann 1993-97: 457).

Name and Spellings

Nin-azu is usually interpreted as 'Lord Healer'; the two elements are in apposition rather than a genitival relationship (Wiggermann 1998-2001: 330). An alternative interpretation of the name was proposed by Jacobsen, who read nin-a-sud, 'Water Pouring Lord' (Jacobsen 1987: 170, see also Wiggermann 1998-2001: 330).

Written forms:
(d)nin-a-zu5; (d)nin-a-zu; (d)nin-a-su; Emesal ù-mu-un-a-zu; (d)umun-a-zu.
For a fuller list and chronological distribution of spellings, see Wiggermann 1998-2001: 329-330.
Normalized forms:
Ninazu, Nin-azu, Nin-asu.

Ninazu in Online Corpora

Further Reading

Kathryn Stevens

Kathryn Stevens, 'Ninazu (god)', Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, Oracc and the UK Higher Education Academy, 2019 []

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