Tiamat is one of the earliest known serpent goddesses in world mythology. Little is certain about her mythos today—too much has been lost in the 7,000 years since she was worshipped in ancient Babylon. But in the long-ago days, Tiamat was honored as the primordial goddess of the salt sea, the Waters of Chaos. Mother of all creation, often called the Glistening One, Tiamat represents the untamed feminine—the beauty and chaos of pure creative power. She is also the mother of all dragons.
The Babylonian epic of creation, called the Enūma Eliš, begins with a description of two primeval seas, the salt sea Tiamat and the sweet sea Abzu. When they mingled their waters together, the gods were born. Through this sacred marriage between the salt and fresh water, peace reined in the cosmos.
But Abzu, believing that the gods planned to kill him and usurp his throne, made war upon his children and was killed. Enraged with her children for their violence, Tiamat became a massive sea dragon and turned upon her husband’s murderers.
After much battle, Tiamat was slain by her grandson, the storm-god Marduk, who used his mother’s power to create the world and rule the gods. Marduk split Tiamat in two, creating heaven and earth from her body, the Tigris and Euphrates from her weeping eyes, mist from her spittle, mountains from her breasts and so on—but not before Tiamat brought forth the monsters of the Mesopotamian pantheon, including the first dragons.
Tiamat’s story has been lost in a sea of translation—early Akkadian copyists of religious texts like Enūma Eliš likely substituted an ordinary word for “sea” for Tiamat, since the two had come to mean essentially the same. Thus Tiamat was later known as Thalattē, or Thalassa (a variant of the Greek word for “sea”) in Hellenistic volumes of universal history. She found a hidden home in the Hebrew Bible—at the beginning of Genesis, tehom, meaning “The Deep,” also derives from Tiamat’s name.
Yet despite the passing of centuries, Tiamat’s name and myth inspired Greek and Hebrew serpent legends and beliefs that have come down to us through time. Mother goddess of Mesopotamia in the oldest religion in the world, Tiamat is truly the ‘Mother of Dragons’ in more ways than one.