Ninurta is the Sumerian and Akkadian Lord of the Earth (Ringgren 1973). His father is Enlil, the storm god and the ruling god. Ninurta is a young god and has to prove his worth to the pantheon of gods (Burkert 1986). Ninurta is also responsible for the fertility of the fields by aiding in the irrigation of Sumer by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (Penglase 1994; Ringgren 1973).

Ninurta is the great warrior of the Sumerian gods. He defends them against the monsters Anzu and Asag who live in the mountains. Anzu is depicted “having the head, the body, and forepaws of a lion and the feathers, wings, tail feathers and hind talons of an eagle” (Penglase 1994).

Ninurta, much like Herakles, spends his life performing labors to prove himself to the pantheon of gods (Penglase 1994). According to Akkadian texts dating from 2140 BC, Ninurta performs 12 labors to rid the world of 12 monsters. These monsters include a wild bull/bison, a stag, the Anzu-bird, a lion, and a “seven-headed serpent.” These are referred to as “The Trophies of Ninurta.” Ninurta is also depicted on Mesopotamian seals as toting a club and a bow, and wearing an animal’s skin (Burkert 1986). Some of Ninurta’s deeds were later associated with other gods: Marduk of Babylon, Nabu (son of Marduk), and Nergal, Lord of the Netherworld (Penglase 1994). Herakles was also associated with Nergal, who is shown with a club and bow (Burkert 1986).

Ninurta was later worshipped by the Assyrian kings, who invoked his protection in battle during the first millennium BC. The Assyrians constructed a temple in Ninurta’s honor next to a ziggurat which was probably also dedicated to him in their new capital Nimrud (Penglase 1994). 

Cults were also dedicated to Ninurta. These cults focused on his valiant deeds that helped rid the world of monsters. Like Herakles, Ninurta is a force for civilization and order in a chaotic world. Healing was attributed to Ninurta through his consort Gula who was the goddess of healing (Ringgren 1973).

Ninurta differs from Herakles partly because he is the embodiment of all divine powers (Ringgren 1973) and in many other ways. Nevertheless, the association between Ninurta and Herakles is deeper than mere surface characteristics. The “get and bring” idea of their labors are the same. Their function is to make the surroundings hospitable for humans and gods. They turn nature into culture (Burkert 1986).  (MAC)