I’m fascinated by how myths change over time as different cults and religious factions gain or lose political power.
One such myth is that of the Babylonian war god Marduk, and his usurpation of the Sumerian goddess Tiamat.
The ancient Sumerians, who referred to themselves as "Black-Headed People," started settling ancient Mesopotamia around 6500 BCE (over 8,500 years ago).
Sumer lasted until the downfall of the Third Dynasty of Ur around 1950 BCE.
However, Sumerian religion and culture influenced later Mesopotamian dynasties for millenia.
Through her marriage with the freshwater god Abzu (the personification of groundwater), Tiamat peacefully created the cosmos: filling the cosmic abyss with primeval waters and giving birth to the first generation of deities.
Tiamat’s fecundity echoes our modern understanding of the ocean as the source of life on this planet.
Around 1800 BCE, as Babylon rose in political power, the storm god Marduk (or Marutuk, "bull calf of the sun god Utu") also gained prominence. By 1100 BCE, Marduk was the patron god of Babylon and head of the Babylonian pantheon. Scholars note that Marduk’s promotion paralleled the rise of Babylon from city-state to empire, and was used to justify Bablylonian political influence over Mesopotamia.
Although Tiamat was “defeated” in this new myth, her connection to water persisted (becoming the source of the two greatest rivers in Mesopotamia). Water was vitally important to the people of this arid land. Tiamat and her husband Abzu had personified water for possibly 5,000 years before the military aristocracy of Babylon promoted Marduk to advance their political agenda (empire building).
In a parallel myth from northern Mesopotamia, Illuyanka, a serpent-dragon was slain by the storm god Tarhunz (or Teshub). Their battle occurred during Puruli, the New Year festival that occurred around Spring Equinox.
In ancient Mesopotamia, winter was the rainy season. By spring, the rivers would have swollen into fat silver serpents.
Marduk’s Babylonian empire fell to the Achaemenid dynasty (forerunners of Persia) in 539 BCE. The festival of Puruli was adapted by the Assyrian Empire to the north, where it was called Akita.
Today, the New Year festival is still celebrated as Kha b-Nisan by indigenous Assyrians on April 1, and as Nowruz on the equinox by modern Persians.
In this sense, Tiamat, the water-serpent of spring, has been celebrated in the arid lands of Mesopotamia for over 8,000 years--and Marduk has been largely forgotten.