The Moon God Nanna was also known as Sin. In Ancient Mesopotamian theology, he was believed to be the father of the sun god, Shamash. This movement signalled a marked departure from a majority of world mythologies which generally viewed the Moon as ‘a lesser light’ or as a subsidiary of the Sun.

The cult of Sin was intimately connected with the cattle herds and the domestication of large flocks of animals. Animal husbandry had become the preferred livelihood of the people in the marshes of the lower Euphrates River; where the cult of Sin developed. The city of Ur was the chief centre of the worship of Nanna.

Nanna was believed to bestow fertility and prosperity on the cowherds. He governed the rise of the waters, the increase of the herd, the production of milk and therefore the quantity and quality of dairy products produced. He was not viewed as a god of the ‘wild’, but a god of domestication.

Sin was represented as an old man with a flowing beard—a wise and unfathomable god. He wore a headdress of four horns that was surmounted by a crescent moon. The last king of Babylon, Nabonidus, who reigned from 556–539 BC, attempted to elevate Sin to a supreme position within the pantheon.

King of the Moon

Nabonidus could be described as a hermit ruler. He had religious views that made him appear as a heretic when compared to his contemporaries as well as his predecessors. He withdrew from Babylonian city life and spent a decade in the oasis of Arabia. The facts about his sojourn in Arabia are unclear. But one aspect is certain: he ascribed to the Moon deity supreme power in the Universe.

This was a marked departure from the time of Hammurabi, when the patron deity of the city was Shamash, the Sun God. Nabonidus was seeking to ‘depose’ Shamash of his position of supremacy among the Gods. While Nabonidus is believed by historians to have moved to Arabia primarily for religious purposes, it would not be the sole factor for his decision.

Beyond the religious doctrine of the time, internal economic factors may have contributed to the Nabonidus’ general disenchantment with Babylonia. The city had already grown impoverished during the beginning of his reign. The introduction of Aramaic into North Arabia as an official written language was a policy he enacted during his rule. In 553 BCE, he conquered three cities and three other oases on the frankincense route.

In addition to economic concerns, there also existed frictions between the king and his mother; as well as other members of the court. His ‘rule’ would end up being an abdication; and he would go on to receive the epithet of Last King of Babylon.

Nabonidus. Image Credit: Klaus-Peter Simon

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