By Lishtar

Lishtar´s Note: The following article is based on the first part of the excellent chapter on the Akitu Festival by Mark Cohen´s The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East, CDL Press, Bethesda, Maryland, 1993, which focuses on the first extant records of the New Year´s Festival in Mesopotamia, whose origin seems to be traced back to the city of Ur from Sumerian times. I added my views on the Equinoxes and their possible significance for our Soul Ancestors of Mesopotamia, based on the agricultural year and its connections with religious and mythological themes. Mistakes are my own, but as usual, a genuine effort was made to interpret factual information in the light of Mesopotamian myth, religion and modern and ancient primary sources.


One of the most important factors in the establishment of the cultic calendar throughout Ancient Mesopotamia was marked by the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, the periods of time when the Moon and the Sun are in perfect balance with each other and mark respectively the beginning and completion of the agricultural year. In other words, the Spring Equinox is announced by the first New Moon of Spring, around the end of March or beginning of April according to the annual Moon cycle, whereas the Autumn Equinox marks the first New Moon of Autumn. Mesopotamians, we must not forget, were farmers who built cities, or, as stated stated clearly in the Myth of the Creation of the Pickax "the pickax and the basket build cities". Basically, the scale and scope of the agricultural activities conducted in Mesopotamia provided the foundation for the success of this civilization in Antiquity. We must not forget a composition called "Enten (Winter) and Summer (Emesh), or Enlil chooses the Farmer God", a debate between two brothers, or the seasons of Winter and Summer as known by the Sumerians, where we learn that Enlil chooses Winter as more important than Summer, because it allows for the flowering of the land after the scorching Summer season, the watering of the fields by means of canals, etc.(see Enten and Emesh). It is therefore logical to suppose that the onset and end of the agricultural year might have been marked by religious observances, and it is within this specific context that in this article we establish the relationship between the stages of field preparation, sowing, ploughing and harvesting with the Spring and Autumn Equinox celebrations which in time turned out to be some of the most important religious festivals in the Mesopotamian liturgical calendar. Because the deity who ruled both the passage of time and the fertility of the land was Nanna, the Sumerian Moon God, first born of Enlil and Ninlil, Lord and Lady Air, later known by the Babylonians and Assyrians as Sin, the earliest records of the New Year´s Festival in Mesopotamia or the Akitu Festival come from Ur, Nanna´s city. Thus, Ur fixed the celebration of the vernal (Spring) and autumnal (Autumn) to the months in which they occurred, the first and seventh months of the year, called respectively Nissanu and Tashritu.

The religious/mythological themes for the first Akitu festivals at Ur might have been intrinsically linked to the relationship between the Moon (Nanna), the passage of time(Nanna is the patron of time in Mesopotamia) and in a minor scale, not so much stressed in texts, the Sun (Nanna´s and His consort Ningal's son Utu/Shamash), essential for the marking of the agricultural year, and the reenactment of Nanna´s depart and triumphant return to Ur, His city. Sources indicate that the appeal of the Ur Equinox festivals was so great that they were spreaded out to all Mesopotamia, each city adopting the festivals according to the rites of its chief deity.


The Akitu festival is one of the oldest recorded Mesopotamian festivals, the earliest reference being from the Fara period (middle of the Third Millennium Before Common Era) probably referring to an Akitu building or celebration at Nippur. In the pre-Sargonic period, the Akitu festival is attested at Ur, providing the name for its months. Economic documents indicate that in the Sargonic and Ur III periods (2350-2100 BCE), the Akitu was a semi-annual festival, being observed at Ur, Nippur, Adab, Uruk and probably Babtibira. The timing for the festival varied in each of these cities, perhaps to synchronize the festival rites with the ones due to the patron deity of each city. It is important to emphasize that although the Akitu festival is attested at both pre-Sargonic Ur and Nippur, Ur was probably the original site of the festival. Texts from Girsu show that the scribes used the expression "the Akitu of Ur in Nippur" (Lafont Tello 29 and ITT 6756). This means that although the Nippur Akitu festival was held in a different month than the one in Ur, the festival was believed to have originated from the festivities of Ur (Cohen, 1993:401)


One of the legacies of the Sumerians, the people who came to Mesopotamia around the second half of the Fourth Millennium Before Common Era (3400-3100, when writing first appears) (Kramer, 1963) is a long text called The Farmer´s Instructions. This is a 111-line text consisting of a series of instructions addressed by a farmer to his son for the purpose of guiding him throughout the annual agricultural activities. The work is not exactly an agricultural handbook, but a poetical account of the essential points to be aware of when cultivating a field.

D. T. Potts (1997) states that there are many points of similarity between traditional, pre-mechanized agriculture in Iraq and the agricultural cycle as reflected in economic texts and the recommendations found in "The Farmer´s Instructions". Generally, the treatment of the fallow land followed the pattern flooding-leaching (Spring-Summer), ploughing-sowing (autumn-winter), while cultivated fields followed the pattern harvesting-threshing (Spring-Summer), following (fall-winter). It is therefore clear that for fallow lands the Spring Equinox marked the important phases of washing the land to remove impurities such as excess of salinity, as well as to ensure the appropriate softening up the soul after a year´s fallow, whereas the Autumn Equinox marked the beginning of harvest. For cultivated fields, on the other hand, the Spring Equinox marked the beginning of harvest, whereas the Autumn Equinox marked the fallowing season. The table below shows the stages in the Mesopotamian agricultural calendar for the city of Girsu:

Table 1 - Stages in the agricultural calendar for the city of Girsu




Last irrigation; harvest may start Flooding (leaching)



Harvest Survey of wet fields



Cutting, drying, stacking  



Transport and storage of grains Inactivity



Harvest ends Inactivity



Beginning of ploughing, sowing  Inactivity



Ploughing, early sowing  Inactivity



 Late sowing; end of ploughing  Inactivity



 Late sowing  Inactivity



 Inactivity;end of late sowing of cereals  Preparation of fields



 First seedlings appear; irrigation  Preparation of fields



 Irrigation  Inactivity


The basic triad of sheep, goat and cattle predominated in Southern Mesopotamia, and mention should be made to them because Nanna the Moon was seen as the protector of the cowherders. In special, cattle were employed consistently as draught animals for ploughing, and thus of fundamental importance for agriculture. Meat or milk products were not consumed as part of the regular diet in Mesopotamia because such animals were too valuable to be slaughtered in a regular basis. Sheep and goats, on the other hand, were kept principally for the fleece and hair they provided for the textile industry. As for meat consumption, at Old Babylonian Ur sheep and goat appear only as an offering to the temple on the occasion of special festivities. Likewise during the Neo-Babylonian period for Uruk and Sippar.



Firstly, Nanna, the Moon God (later known as Sin by the Babylonians and Assyrians), has strong associations with time, fertility and kingship. As the firstborn of Enlil and Ninlil, Lord and Lady Air, Nanna is known as the Prince of the Gods, is next in rank after Enlil, the chief god of Mesopotamia, therefore commanding respect and obedience to all. As the patron of time, we can see His direct connection with the coming and passing of days, nights, seasons and the year in the following hymn:

"Nanna, great Lord, light shining in the clear skies,

Wearing on his head a prince´s headdress,

Right god bringing forth day and night,

Establishing the month, bringing the year to completion..."

(Jacobsen, 1973:122)

And also in another hymn:

"... When you have measured the days of a month,

When you have reached this day,


When you have made manifest to the people,

Your day of lying down of a completed month,

You gradually judge, o Lord, law cases in the underworld, make decisions superbly ..."

(Jacobsen, 1973)

These two hymns state clearly that Nanna´s brightness had enable the passage of time to be counted by humankind, and the expression "your day of lying down", i.e. the Dark of the Moon, indicated the passage of the Moon through the Underworld, where Nanna would serve as a Judge of the dead, ever to return in the soft glow of the New Moon. The Dark of the Moon marked the completion of the months in Ancient Mesopotamia.

Secondly, Nanna´s fertility commands the rise of waters, growth of reeds, increase in the herds, abundance of milk, cream and cheese, as well as the sacred blood of womankind, the blood that is not spilled up but contained for nine months on behalf of new life. We must not forget the importance of the rising waters for flooding the land in preparation for the sowing season, as well as the fact that reeds were the raw material for building (housing, temples, furniture) and crafts (baskets, mats, etc.) in South Mesopotamia. Nanna is also described as the impetuous wooer and beloved of Ningal in one of the favorite Mesopotamian love stories, Nanna and Ningal, when the Moon God meets and falls for the young lady who lived by the marshes of South Mesopotamia, the place of reeds and cowherders

Thirdly, Nanna is the father of Utu/Shamash, the Sun God, and as such the Father of the Day. During the time span from the Spring to the Autumn Equinoxes, i.e. from the first to the seventh month, the Moon was visible less than the Sun in the skies, because days are longer, thus marking the triumph of the Sun bringing light for all strenuous activities involved in the harvest. On the other hand, during the seventh and the first month the Moon was visible longer, and the land could recover after the scorching Summer that dried out the Mesopotamian plains. This was the important time when the land received the seeds for the crops of the new season. In Ur, the Akitu of the first month was therefore called the Akitu of the Harvesting Season, whereas the seventh month festival was named the Akitu of the Seeding Season, as exemplified by the data for Girsu presented in Table 1 introduced above. In Table 2 also presented below, we have in the fifth day of the Nissanu or Spring Equinox a quote saying that at midnight there was a rite for Nanna in the sanctuary at Ekishnugal at Ur while at the same time a rite for Utu, the Sun god, took place in the fields. We can see a clear relationship between father and son, Moon and Sun, and the fields of the land celebrated at the same time in ritual in the fifth day of celebrations for the Spring Equinox in Ur.

Fourthly, because the Akitu festival was also a celebration of the triumph of Nanna, the Moon, particularly the festival of the seventh month was more important. Festivities started in the New Moon extended for for days. The length of the festival, at least in the seventh month, of eleven days may have been to enable the Moon to nearly complete His waxing, or Nanna´s full arrival into Ur.

Also, Gelb and Von Soden suggest that Sumerian á-ki-ti (or Akitu) is a loanword from Akkadian(I. J. Gelb, MAD 3 25, and Von Soden Ahw 29a: the Akkadian plural is written a-ki-a-ti or a-ki-tum.MES). Pre-Sargonic texts from Ur and the post-Sargonic Sumerian economic texts all contain the orthography á-ki-ti, which indicates that the term is not Akkadian, but perhaps then, Sumerian. The fact is that perhaps the Sumerian á in the term a-ki-ti may indicate a moment in time, and that term may mean "the home where the god temporarily dwells on earth". Therefore, á-ki-ti may represent a mythological, ancient residence, removed from the realm of humankind, where the god/dess had once resided before choosing His/Her city. The á-ki-ti procession commemorated the god leaving his temporary residence and entering his new permanent residence in his chosen city for the very first time. The inner meaning of the festival was therefore the celebration of the time the god had chosen that specific place as his city, to guard and protect from that moment until the end of times.

Finally, we must mention the presence of goddesses in specific times at the Equinoxes celebrations at Ur. Referring to Table 2 of the events recorded for the city of Girsu, we will see the presences of Ninhursag, the Sumerian Great Creatrix Goddess, being honoured in the Ekishnugal temple at Ur at the same time that Nanna proceeds in pomp and circumstance by barge towards Ur, and on the fifth day, when by midnight Nanna and Ningal, his beloved consort, sit together in the Place of Throne at Ur. We must not forget that according to the myth of Nanna and Ningal, it was by Ningal´s wish that Nanna should brought her as a wedding gift the rising of the tides and all good things for the fertility of the marshes and cowherds as a precondition for her to accept his proposal and come to live as his consort at Ur. The presence of the Divine Feminine is always a constant in Mesopotamian myth and religion, but rarely acknowledged in full by scholarship. Fortunately, this is a fast changing reality, because modern scholars who work with integrity in the Tradition are retrieving the Goddess images to Light. At least in Mesopotamia, the Divine Masculine was not separated from the Divine Masculine, a major healing Mesopotamian myth and religion is bringing to our high tech times.


The Akitu festival of the first month lasted at least from the first to the fifth of Nissanu, as noted in a series of tablets dated from the reign of Ibbi-Sin of Ur. Basically, activities occurred at three sites:

a) the dug-ür sanctuary in Ur, presumably similar in concept to the Sacred Marriage at Nippur, and representation of that primordial mound from which the gods and civilization sprang;
b) the Ekishnugal temple of Nanna at Ur, and
c) the Ekarzida temple complex at Gaesh, outside Ur.

The high point of the festival was Nanna´s entry by barge into Ur from the á-ki-ti House in Gaesh. This occurred probably in the third day, when a special offering to the Boat of Heaven, Nanna´s transport to Ur, was made. There were no offerings on the third and fourth days, indicating Nanna´s absence from the complex. On the fourth day the Great Offering was conducted at the dug-ür sanctuary and the Ekishnugal, indicating Nanna´s presence in Ur proper. Table 2 below shows the schedule of events that can be reconstructed for the Akitu of Nissanu (Cohen, 1993:409-410)








Evening Nanna at Gaesh       Dug-ür:Nanna at the Ekishnugal (funerary shrines)
Midnight       Nanna at the Ekishnugal: Gate for Haia, Place of the Throne Nanna at the Ekishnugal; Utu in a field
Daybreak Akitu at Gaesh     Great offering at the dug-ür; Great Offering for Nanna at the Ekishnugal At Gaesh
Unspecified     Boat of Heaven: Nanna at the Ekishnugal; dug-ür Ninhursag   Nanna+Ningal: dug-ür;Place of the Throne


Offerings that can be reconstructed for these different times of the day are: reed bundles, bundles of figs, dates, animal offerings (sheep, goat), beer, ghee, oil and various types of meal at the sanctuary of Ur (on the fifth day).

The Akitu festival of the 7th month (Tashritum) lasted for at least the first eleven days of the month, being more important because the Autumn Equinox marks the beginning of the triumph of the Moon over the Sun, with longer nights, when the earth was ready to be seeded and renew itself after the dry season. As with the festival of Nissanu, the three ritual sites were the dug-ür sanctuary, the Ekishnugal and the Akitu building at Gaesh. The king participated in some of the ceremonies, staying at his royal residence, or the Place of the King at Karzida. During the festival the king held a banquet, although the site is unspecified (either Ur or Gaesh).


Two constants can be found for both festivals of Nissanu and Tashritum. Firstly, the Akitu House, the place the god would live for days before his triumphant return, should be placed outside the city walls. The second feature is that nothing unusually significant should occur at the Akitu House. Naturally, the expected offerings and prayers were presented to the deity in the Akitu House, but the festival main events took place not outside, but in the city itself.

The question that comes then to mind is if nothing important should occur in the Akitu House, what was its real importance to the festivities? The answer is simple and most obvious: so that the God could live there before marching back in glory into His city. Thus, the main function of the Akitu House was to serve as a temporary residence for the chief god until the moment for his glorious reentry into the city. Specifically at Ur, the Akitu House was a holding station from which Nanna returned to Ur by barge in pomp and circumstance. It seems logical to conclude that the highlight of the festival was the procession that marked the return of the god to his city, the main event that captured the hearts and minds of our soul ancestors of Mesopotamia and enabled the festival to proliferate, each city observing it for its own chief deity. Mystically, they celebrated the specific moment in time when the god/dess had chosen that city to live in, and the triumphant procession of the deity´s return to His/Her showed this fact clearly.


Two processions were associated with the Akitu House, one going, the other returning. The late Uruk ritual text BRM 4 7 describes the procession going to the Akitu house, showing priests accompanying Anu to the Uruk´s Akitu House, once Anu and Inanna/Ishtar were the patron deities of Uruk. Nebuchadnezzar described the opulence of the procession between the Esagila, the temple of Marduk to the Akitu house, as well as the richness and decoration of the god´s barge. The same luxuriance was applicable to the return journey. The Uruk ritual for the Akitu festival for Nissan indicates that the return procession was the more important of the two. It is clear from the ritual that Anu left for the Akitu House on the first day, remaining there for seven days. For the seventh day, the day of the return procession, there are the following notes: "processions, barges and the Akitu", indicating that the return was the highlight of the festival events. The same was valid for Ashur in Nineveh, and Marduk in Babylon.


In summary, the Akitu festival probably originated at Ur as a celebration of the onset of the Equinox cycle. The major theme of the festival was the coming of the Moon God Nanna, symbolized by the waxing of the Moon in the sky and reenacted by the entry of His statue by barge into Ur from outside the city, where it had temporarily resided in a building called the Akitu House. The festival was adopted at Nippur, the religious capital of Mesopotamia, as part of its function as a religious center representing all Sumer, adapted to Nippur´s own calendar, and thus losing much of the significance of the Ur cult. The festival had great appeal to the other cities of Sumer and eventually the rest of Mesopotamia, for each city saw the occasion as a reenactment o the original entry of His/Her own chief god/dess into the city. It was a spectacular opportunity to welcome the local patron deity and show Him/Her the respect S/He deserved, for which in turn the god/dess would administer His/Her city justly and decree a good fate for it. In some cities this welcoming of the god occurred with other deities such as Ishtar, at other time of the year, when it would not conflict with the Akitu of the chief god.

The basic ritual format of the festival was rather straight-forward. The statue of the god/dess left the city in fitting procession for temporary residence in the Akitu House, where S/He received the standard offerings and prayers during His/Her stay. The statue returned to the city in a grand procession, after which the god/dess set in order the administration of His/Her city, including the determination of the city´s fate.

Finally, the Akitu Festival at Ur stands for a celebration of life and fruition in all levels and spheres, and the myth of Nanna´s Journey to Nippur shows us clearly that the fruits of harvest were shared by all, because every year Nanna, with His Boat of Heaven loaded with animals and the harvest fruits, sailed to Nippur stopping over all cities and being greeted by the place´s authorities on the way to Nippur, the city of Enlil, Nanna´s father and religious capital of Mesopotamia. Nanna´s Journey to Nippur was therefore a celebration of peace and exchange of the land´s wealth which enabled the survival of the peoples of Mesopotamia. Thus, the Equinoxes festivals of Nanna were a time of joy and renewal in all levels and spheres, and how could it not be so, Nanna being the Joyous Lamp of the Night, Wooer of Ningal and father of the two brightest lights that illuminate humankind, Utu the Sun and Inanna/Ishtar, the Great Goddess of Love and War, Love that makes everything Divine and shining with Inner and Outer Light?