Sumer: Religion

Religion was the center of the Sumerian’s lives. While most Sumerian streets were narrow and winding, the boulevards around the ziggurat were wide and often filled with parades for religious festivals and holidays. 

The Sumerians believed everything in nature was alive. The sun, moon, wind, rain, trees, river, and everything else were gods. Sumerians told stories about how these gods created the Earth and everything on it. People were created to be the slaves of the gods. If the gods were not happy, they would punish the people with floods and droughts. 

On Sumerian myth tells of a time the gods decided to flood the entire Earth as a punishment to humans. The god of water, Ea, warned a man named Utnapishtim about the flood. He told Utnapishtim to build an ark to save his family and the seeds of all living things. After the flood, Ishtar, the goddess of love, sent a rainbow as a symbol that the gods would never flood the Earth again.

To keep the gods happy, priests presented offerings to them in their temples. Sumerian temples looked like pyramids and were called ziggurats. Each city had many temples, but the most important temple was for the city’s patron god. It was a huge terraced pyramid. Each level of the ziggurat was painted a different bright color. It was the biggest and most important building in a city.

Only priests were allowed inside a ziggurat to make offerings to the gods. Kings, nobles, and even merchants would give the gods food, clothing, jewels, and statues to show their appreciation for the god’s protection and help.

Sumerians believed in an afterlife. Rituals had to be performed after a death so that the individual could go to the Netherworld. The Netherworld was similar to Earth but gloomier. It was not a punishment. Everyone went to the Netherworld. People were often buried with things they would want after death. Queen Puabi’s tomb was not only filled with treasures but included many of her servants and guards who had sacrificed themselves to serve her in the afterlife.