Last Update: 21 November 2003
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Tiamat / Tiahamtu / Baau (beneficient) / Bis-Bis / Hubar / Mammu-Tiamat / Omorca / Omoroka / Tamtu / Tauthe / Tehom / Thalass / Thalassa / Thalatth / Thamte / Thlavatth / Tiawath / Tisalat / Ummukhubar

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Region: Babylon
Time Period: Dated at around 1700 BCE, but aspects of the story could go back to about 2000 BCE. See Below for notes on time period.
References in Literature: From Enuma Elish, the Babylonian story of creation.
Sources: Just About Everyone, Book of Fabulous Beasts, Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs, Vol. 1.

Notes:
  • 300 miles long, circumference of 100 ft, and a mouth that opens 10 ft.
  • Undulates 6 miles high. Huge scaled body, legs, forked tongue, head and forelegs of a lion, feathered wings and eagle's hind quarters. Her skin was immune to all weapons.
  • Tiamat was the female water spirit of chaos
  • Primordial mother of all that is living and not and was
  • Occasionally referred to as a monster of Air.
  • In some sources she is given the ability to shapeshift.
  • Symbolic of salt water, in which she lived
  • Marduk himself is occasionally represented with a horned dragon at his feet. Particularly on a Babylonian cylinder seal.
  • Alexander Heidel in Babylonian Genesis questions the popular view of Tiamat as a dragon.
  • Enuma Elish was found in cuneiform on 7 clay tables. Possibly derived from Sumerian stories from 3,000 BC.
  • Enuma Elish can be translated as "War of the Gods"
  • Other dates for the work: 2225-1926 BC

This is a classic example of a male deity slaying a female dragon or serpent-like monster in an attempt to replace a cooperative, "chaotic" natural order with a hierarchical, paternal, and often monotheistic system.

Some histories have Ea as the precursor to Marduk, and Ea was supplanted in later tellings by Marduk who took over some of his histories and attributes. Ea was originally one of the chief gods of Babylon, the original Tiamat-slayer and the conqueror of the watery abyss, and became a composite dragon himself - called "the goat fish" or the "antelope of the deep". Ea is also called Dagon.

"'The horned dragon', says Jastrow 'from being the symbol of Enlil...becomes the animal of Marduk and subsequently of Ashur as the head of the Assyrian pantheon'". (Source: Dragons and Dragon Lore pg 24.)

A small dragon often appears running alongside Tiamat and Marduk - like a dog. No explanation of this has been found. (Source: Dragons and Dragon Lore).

Tale:

In the beginning, there was nothing but two elements - Apsu, the male spirit of the fresh water and the abyss, and Tiamat, the female dragon spirit of salt water and chaos. The two had an uncountable number of children (including Lachmu and Lachamu), which became gods and goddesses, and upon looking at their numbers and boisterous ways, Apsu decided to kill them all. Tiamat was against this and refused to harm them so Apsu turned to his Vizier and others for help.

The Gods, however inadvertently, learned of the plot, and Ea (Enki), one of the gods, put a spell on them both, then killed Apsu (one source says while he was sleeping) and took the other plotters hostage. Tiamat was very upset at the death of her husband, and laid low while plotting revenge against her children. With the help of an army of twelve monsters (the viper, the shark, the scorpion man, the storm demon, the great lion, 11 dragons, the mad dog and four nameless ones), she stood up against her children.

But Marduk (or Merodach), a younger god the sun-god armed with bows and arrows, mace and lightning, fought her on the condition that he be recognized as supreme. He wove a net of the four winds, caught her, and as she opened her mouth to eat him, he drove an evil wind down her throat so she could not close her mouth. Marduk then drove arrows down her throat until she bled to death.

Marduk used her body to create the heavens and the earth, and the blood of her husband and Kingu (Quingu), Tiamat's son and consort after Apsu and the leader of the army, to make mankind and enslave them to the gods.

Variations:

In this story it is said that before the time of the gods and the world there was nothing but a waste of chaotic waters ruled by Apsu and Tiamat. As time passed gods were created in hopes of bringing order to this chaos. One of the gods, Ea, slayed Apsu, thus making Tiamat and her brood of monsters mad at the gods. Tiamat waged war against Ea and the other gods and was successful in stifling their efforts until Marduk was born. Marduk was the strongest and the wisest of the gods and was elected to deal with Tiamat once and for all. Upon summoning the powers of all of the other gods, Marduk went to war with Tiamat. Tiamat was no match for Marduk and all of his powers. Marduk caught her in his net (some sources say that only her helpers were gathered in the net after she was slain) and when she opened her mouth to breath fire at him, he let loose the four winds which filled her up rendering her defenseless. Marduk then speared her with a lightning bolt, split her in two and raised half of her body to create the sky and with the other half created the earth. Her waters came forth to form the clouds and the Tigris and Euphratus was made from her tears. Kingu's blood created the first humans.

More Variations:
  • Another source has Tiamat performing the split into heaven and earth on her own, without Marduk. This version is not popular.
  • One source has Kinga (Qinga) with the Tablets of Destinies which he uses in his attacks and the battle will goes forever.
  • Tiamat may have swallowed Marduk.
  • Tiamat tricks Kingu by transforming into a beauty and luring him to his death
Further Reading:
  • Illiana has the whole text of a version of this creation myth on her site.

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