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sacred prostitution ın sumer
Sacred Marriage and Sacred Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia

Sumer was an ancient civilization founded in the Mesopotamia region of the Fertile Crescent situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Known for their innovations in language, governance, architecture and more, Sumerians are considered the creators of civilization as modern humans understand it. Their control of the region lasted for short of 2,000 years before the Babylonians took charge in 2004 B.C.



The very first ruling body of Sumer that has historical verification is the First Dynasty of Kish, with the earliest ruler mentioned being Etana of Kish, who, it’s stated in a document from the time, “stabilized all the lands.” One thousand years later, Etana would be memorialized in a poem that told of his adventures in heaven.

The most famous of the early Sumerian rulers is Gilgamesh, who took control around 2700 B.C. and is still remembered for his fictional adventures in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the first epic poem in history and inspiration for later Greek and Roman myths and Biblical stories.

A devastating flood in the region was used as a pivotal point in the epic poem and later reused in the Old Testament story of Noah.



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Sacred prostitution, temple prostitution or cult prostitution, and religious prostitution are general terms which describes a sexual ritual consisting of sexual intercourse or other sexual activity performed in the context of religious worship,  Some historians prefer to use the terms "sacred sex" or "sacred sexual rites" to "sacred prostitution" in cases where payment for sexual services and advantage was not involved.

Greek historian Herodotus's account and some other testimony from the Hellenistic Period and Late Antiquity suggest that ancient societies encouraged the practice of sacred sexual rites not only in Babylonia and Cyprus, but throughout the Near East.

Edwin Longsten Long-mesopotamian marriage market

         The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger at least once in her life. Many women who are rich and proud and disdain to mingle with the rest, drive to the temple in covered carriages drawn by teams, and stand there with a great retinue of attendants. But most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads; there is a great multitude of women coming and going; passages marked by line run every way through the crowd, by which the men pass and make their choice. Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple; but while he casts the money, he must say, "I invite you in the name of Mylitta". It does not matter what sum the money is; the woman will never refuse, for that would be a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home; and thereafter there is no bribe however great that will get her. So then the women that are fair and tall are soon free to depart, but the uncomely have long to wait because they cannot fulfil the law; for some of them remain for three years, or four. There is a custom like this in some parts of Cyprus

 HerodotusThe Histories 1.199, tr A.D. Godley (1920)


“…the sacred prostitutes were many in number. According to Strabo, at the temples of Aphrodite in Eryx and Corinth there were above a thousand, while at each of the two Comanas about six thousand were in residence. They were accorded social status and were educated. In some cases, they remained politically and legally equal to men.”

The Great Goddess venüs, was the bringer of all that is alive, responsible for the fruitfulness of the earth. Through her came new life, and sexuality was one of the mysteries of creation. Sexuality was revered and worshipped in a way we find hard to fathom today. In the goddess temples, the sacred prostitutes were her priestesses. Their bodies were available to share the blessings of the goddess with strangers, hungry for love and connection. In this way, sexual love was shown to be divine, of the goddess, not separate from it. Hesiod, an eighth century B.C.E. poet, wrote:

“…the sensual magic of the sacred whores ‘mellowed the behavior of men.’ …She is the bringer of sexual joy and the vessel by which the raw animal instincts are transformed into love and love-making.” 

M. Esther Harding, Woman’s Mysteries: Ancient and Modern, New York, NY: Harper Colophon Books, 1971


The Word ''Prostitude'' in tablets

Above are the tablets in which the word ''Prostitude'' first mentioned. Not only is this the first time in known history that the word “prostitute” is written, but the tablets actually refer to the prostitutes by name. Their names are written down and their profession is listed as “prostitute”. To use the modern vernacular, each woman is a “known prostitute”. These are administration tablets they record the distribution of rations (wages) to various workers. Among other commodities, most of the workers receive a standard issue ration of grain. To these workers prostitutes are included. On the tablets it is also mentioned that some of these prostitutes were also married.

alexander cabanel, the birth of Venus.jpg

The birth of Venüs by Artist. Venüs (Roman), Aphrodite (Greek), İanna-Ishtar (mesopotamian).

Sacred marriage

Scholars generally believe that a form of sacred marriage rite or hieros gamos was staged between the king of a Sumerian city-state and the High Priestess of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare, but no certain evidence has survived to prove that sexual intercourse was included. Along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers there was a temple of Eanna, meaning house of heaven dedicated to Inanna in the Eanna District of Uruk. Inanna, who later transformed into the Akkadian goddess Ishtar, the Phoenician Astarte and later still as the Greek goddess Aphrodite, is the goddess of love, sex, beauty and fertility. Priestesses of this goddess, at least one order of them, performed as sacred prostitutes, lying with males who desired their services in ritual sexuality. This order of priestess was called Nin-Gig in Sumeria.

In Hammurabi's code of laws, the rights and good name of female sacred sexual priestesses were protected. The same legislation that protected married women from slander applied to them and their children. They could inherit property from their fathers, collect income from land worked by their brothers, and dispose of property. These rights have been described as extraordinary, taking into account the role of women at the time

Sexual intercourse between a woman and a
Ishtar vase Louvre museum
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