T is for milk-and-two-sugars – no, T is for Tiamat, Sumerian goddess of primordial chaos.

Austen Henry Layard's 'Monuments of Nineveh, Second Series' plate 19/83, London, J. Murray, 1853

Austen Henry Layard’s ‘Monuments of Nineveh, Second Series’ plate 19/83, London, J. Murray, 1853

The Mesopotamian worldview is obsessed with water.One can understand why – in a part of the world where there is limited fertile land, and therefore control of water supply is the definition of power, the gods are going to be wet. Tiamat then is the personification of the primordial waters of the sea – uncontrollable and frequently angry.

She does have a role as a creator – mating with the sweet waters to create the younger gods, but this is as an adjunct to her primary role. For most gods, I would add something here about their worship, but Tiamat wasn’t worshipped so much as feared. Avoided. A turn- round- three- times- and- touch- wood if you mention her name kind of fear. And yet, the myths have her die at the earliest age of the world, so why should she be feared now? Perhaps because she is such an imminent personification, she can never really be fully banished from the world.  

I’m going to be a bit D&D specific for the next bit… TSR got Tiamat all wrong. The Monster Manual gives her alignment as Lawful Evil, so she can rule over chromatic dragons. She only shows herself as a dragon if she feels like it – she’s more likely a sea serpent or even a waterspout (see, there’s that Sumerian obsession with water again) But you can’t stat such a changeable creature, so I guess she was always going to be D&Different.

As usual, today’s tale is a blend of myth and fiction. The original has many more characters, whose role is to be the different kinds of destruction. I’ve simplified the story – and omitted the dozens of interim stories about how Marduk gets his names – partly because such tales are often an excuse for ‘we conquered you, so your god is our god now’ Most of the gods we recognise benefit from, or are victims of, such syncretization. This would be in part because the characters we know are only those that were recorded – in many cases, long after the tales were formulated.


Tiamat is the serpent and the sea. In the time before men ruled the world, when all was new, she and her children created and destroyed at a whim, and the world cannot stand such chaos,

Of the younger gods, the bravest was her grandson Marduk. And Marduk resolved to gain from her the Tablets of Destiny, which gave her much power to destroy. But he knew that she would not give up the tablets short of death.

And Marduk went from place to place to collect the things he would need to kill the serpent. In each place where he stopped to rest, he performed some feat that won him a name. Fifty places he slept, and this is why he is called Marduk of the Fifty Names. Each settlement gave him a name, and with it a little of their power.

In a place to the North where all is cold, he was given shards of ore to make a sword

In a place to the East, on the edge of the sea, he gathered water from a spring that sprang from the depths of the earth

In a place to the West, in the deep desert, he learned the art of making a sword whistle through the air

In a place to the South where all is hot, he took the shards to a volcano, and made himself the sword, and quenched it in the water, and he named it Shu Hada Ku, the Supreme Bright Weapon.

So Marduk went to the centre of the earth, where Tiamat raged, and there he fought to control her. For three days and nights he fought, until Shuhadaku pierced the monstrous throat of the goddess.

He took the sword and carved her into pieces. He placed her ribcage overhead to support the heavens. Her blood became the thrashing seas, and her eyes he placed nearby, to weep forever down to the sea. The left eye was called Tigris and the right eye was called Euphrates. Her great tail he placed in the sky, and we now call it the Milky Way.

The Tablets of Destiny he took with him, and went we know not where. Some say he walks the world still, using the power of his names and the power of the Tablets to right wrongs, destroy monsters, and banish evil.

In your games and stories

Tiamat does have a historic connection with dragons, but the mythological goddess is ruler over (and probably mother to) all kinds of monsters. Expect a place blessed by her to be very well-guarded by fierce creatures – many of which could be chimeras. From snake-lion-goats to scorpion-centaurs, chimerae (the form of the plural is debatable depending on your adherence to classical language forms) are monsters with a mix of parts.

Chaos is an excuse for cultists! Since Tiamat doesn’t really have priests or paladins, her followers are likely to be insane cultists, looking to bring the end of the world. Not so good for protagonists but great for opposition.

Of course, she’s not a current goddess, but a dead one. My spell checker objected to the word “deicide”, but it’s a perfectly valid way to describe god-murder. Under what circumstances might one be able to kill a god? Does one need to create disbelief in it? Must one use a particular weapon? Does one need to be another god? And why do your protagonists feel it necessary to go to such lengths, upsetting the cosmic balance, and leaving a domain with no god….

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