In Ancient Mesopotamia, deities were seen as the source of all life. They were responsible for maintaining the universal order. Politics, power and religion were tightly woven and knitted together. In today’s world, a secular society with a secular government is the preferred norm, but in the ancient world; religion, power and politics were a triad which could not be untied. There was a hierarchy, a structure and a modus operandi within which every deity, human and animal had to function.

In the Ancient Mesopotamian vision of the world, the deities themselves would compete with each other for supremacy. They would also form alliances and ask each other for favours. Even the pantheon of powerful gods did not possess the power to override the hierarchical structure of power that was weaved into the cosmic consciousness of the universe. Mesopotamian deities themselves practised a certain brand of politics amongst and against each other. They battled for supremacy, formed alliances and even chose who would be king.

The role of the reigning monarch was one that was solidified by the masculine principle. It was a position generally held by a king. The relationship between a king and a deity, however, was one that was subject to change. Kings did change and mould the religious life of the nation. This was reflected in the way that temples were built and not built; and which deity received adulation and emphasis during a particular reign and period of rule.

Depending on the time period, different deities received either more or less prominence in political affairs. Change was the way of the world; as was the power that fuelled its rise, ascent, death and resurrection.

The Goddess Inanna

The Goddess Inanna was a master politician. She was goal-oriented and always sought the best partnership to achieve her aims and her goals. This led to her changing partners many times over the course of her career to strengthen her rule and carry out her political ambitions.

Both Inanna and the King were mutually enriched by their marriage and alliance. Numerous benefits are bestowed through the divine union; benefits that are harshly withdrawn or taken away when the Goddess is not respected or treated with the due deference. The vengeance of Inanna was legendary and it was feared.

For the relationship to be a fruitful one; it required the reciprocity of a loving connection between the King and the Goddess as well as the potential for it to be a mutually advantageous union. It was then that the Goddess would treat the king well during his reign by ensuring that he had ‘a good fate’.

It is the King’s relationship with the Goddess that bestowed upon the land the gift of the abundant years. The gift of a good life, a good fate and a good reign–given either directly by Inanna or by other deities on her behalf–is linked to the Goddess’ role in maintaining universal order. Blessings are bestowed upon the land and to its people through the King. The most prominent and prized amongst all of the Goddess’ Gifts were the blessings of a good destiny as well as ‘life’–as opposed to death.

Inanna’s care and protection of the king, her concern for his life and his fate, as well as her ability to ensure his victory during battle; are all dominant themes in what are considered to be the blessings she bestows. Inanna is portrayed as having the jurisdiction to decide the outcome of a war or conflict in favour of her preferred combatant. The Goddess possessed the power to decide who would be victorious. It was she possessed the power to cause destruction on the side that was not blessed by her.

The king’s desire for protection and mercy from the Goddess is significant in light of the consideration of the nature of the reciprocal relationship between the pair. In addition to Inanna’s role as a wife and consort, her association with the King–particularly in combat–had a strong maternal aspect. When the King goes to war, Inanna encourages him not to leave her axe and weapon in a corner unused.

Other benefits conferred upon the king include: assistance during his kingship as well as interceding on the king’s behalf when forging alliances with other deities. While scholars have concluded that it is the Goddess’ love for the king that motivates her generosity; she is not portrayed as bestowing this generosity upon her siblings, even though she has loving relationships with them. For Inanna, marriage was the viable path to consolidating political power.

The main reason why the Goddess and the King must form a reciprocal alliance is due to the interwoven nature of their religious responsibilities and political duties. In assisting the King with his role, Inanna shares half the burden of leadership.

Relief of lion on the Ishtar Gate in Pergamon Museum, Berlin

The Protector of Kings

In Ancient Mesopotamia, divine favour and interest were critical for the survival of humans. The emphasis on consolidating and preserving this necessary alliance was an expression of this state-sanctioned belief. The King’s unique role as it pertains to an alliance with Inanna reinforced the legitimacy and sanctity of the reign of the Monarch. When this relationship is not respected, the order is turned upside down and chaos ensues; as is seen in the story of Inanna and Gilgamesh, the Ancient Mesopotamian Peter Pan.

Inanna is frequently described as the protector of the King. Her deep and maternal love for the King is emphasised; and it is not due to a biological relationship. Unlike all the other Goddesses in the pantheon, Inanna was never worshipped as a mother goddess.

The concept of a sacred marriage, the ritual enactment of the marriage of two deities; or between a human and a deity–has been debated by many scholars, with none reaching a conclusion as to whether it was a symbolic ritual or if it was one that was physically enacted. On a basic level, the concept of a sacred marriage (or union) is one where one accepts and formalises a relationship between the divine and humanity.

In Ancient Mesopotamia, the role of the mother was linked with both intimacy as well as protection. Through the narrative, we see Inanna balancing her role as a mother with that of a lover. This was not a cause of confusion in the ancient world. To the Ancient Mesopotamians, this love was necessary to ensure justice, prosperity and good fortune.

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