Babylonian New Year’s Festival



Nabu, Tiamat, and Marduk


Akitu, the New Year’s Festival is one of the most complex and important ceremonies of Babylonians. Starting at the Spring Equinox (Nisan, the first month of the year), this festival continues for twelve days. It involves purification, the re-establishment of creation, and the re-affirmation of life, death, and the family. The rituals re-enforce the bonds of the community between the people, their Gods, and leaders. (In Ancient Babylon, elaborate and lengthy rituals for the Akitu were conducted. Modern followers of the Babylonian Gods usually have much simpler and fewer ceremonies.)

The New Year’s Festival encompasses nearly all of the tenets of Babylonian religion. First, everyone prepare for the coming year by purifying themselves and their temples. Then, the Babylonian Story of Creation (Enuma Elish) is read, beginning with the formation of the world by Apsu, the Deep and Tiamat, the Primordial Mother, to the recreation of it by Marduk. During this part of the Festival, the statues of the Babylonian Gods are brought from their temples to Marduk’s shrine.

In Ancient Babylon, the King left Babylon to travel to Borsippa (“Second Babylon”) to the temple of Nabu, Marduk’s Son and First Minister. After the King returned with that shrine’s statue, he humbled himself in the temple of Marduk. In an elaborate ritual, the King confessed what he has not done to harm his people. Finally, the King received a divination from Nabu for the coming year, which was recorded by the scribes.

Meanwhile, Marduk (the God) goes missing. While the people go into mourning believing that He is dead, Marduk’s son, Nabu leads the other Gods into the Underworld to rescue His Father. Demonstrating his love, Nabu brings Marduk home to be installed as the Head of the Gods.

The Akitu of Ancient Babylon featured the Sacred Marriage with the King acting as the God occurs with the priestess as the Goddess. The couple could represent Marduk and his wife Sarpanitu, Goddess of Childbirth or Nabu with his wife, Nanaya, Goddess of Fertility. The Marriage was to insure the fertility of the land and to raise the king as a representative of the Gods.

After the final procession of the statues of the Gods returning to their respective temples, the priests dispense the decisions made by the Gods for the coming year. During a lengthy ritual, everyone hear their destinies and reaffirm their love for the Gods. Following feasting, the people return to their ordinary lives. Harmony between humans, nature, and the Gods has been restored.


2 thoughts on “Babylonian New Year’s Festival

  1. Pingback: Babylonian Gods of the Month: March | Neptune's Dolphins

  2. Pingback: Gods of Babylon of the Month: March/April | Neptune's Dolphins

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