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Gula / Ninisina - Ancient Near East

Gula / Ninisina

Gula (meaning “great”) was the goddess of healing and a patron of physicians. Her alternative title, Ninisina, simply means “Lady of Isin”, and it was in this city that she had her main cult centre (E.GAL.MAH). Other temples to Gula are known from Borsippa, Aššur and Nippur – at the latter site, a shrine to Gula has recently been excavated by a University of Chicago expedition [Gibson 1990]. That such a facility should exist in Nippur is no accident: Gula was the consort of Ninurta, the city god of Nippur (less commonly, Gula has been considered consort to Pabilsag or to Abu, a minor vegetation deity). According to Mesopotamian belief, Gula was mother to the gods of healing Damu and Ninazu. Gula was also known as Nintinuga, Ninkarak, Meme and Bau, the names of other goddesses with whom she gradually became syncretised.

The sacred animal of Gula was the dog – a large number of small votive figures of dogs were dedicated to the goddess by her devotees and supplicants, the models acting as offerings. Moreover, excavations at the Isin sanctuary of Gula in the early 1970s revealed dozens of canine burials, approximately half of them puppies, deposited ritually in the main ramp leading to the temple. It seems that dogs wandered freely within the sanctuary and played a key role in the healing ritual.

The name of the goddess Gula has been given to several features within the Solar System under the prevailing system of planetary nomenclature, including acrater on the Jovian moon of Enceladus and a large shield volcano on the surface of the planet Venus.

Select Bibliography

Avalos, H.

1995 “The Temples of Gula / Ninisina”, chapter 2 in Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel, [HSS Monographs 54], Atlanta, 1995, pp. 99-231.

Fuhr, I.

1977 “Der Hund als Begleitter der Göttin Gula und anderer Heiliggottheiten”, in Hrouda, B. et alii (eds), Isin – Isin Bahriyat I: Die Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen 1973-1974, München: Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1977, pp.135-145.

Gibson, McGuire

1990 “Nippur, 1990: Gula, Goddess of Healing, and an Akkadian tomb”, The Oriental Institute News and Notes, 125 (September-October 1990).

Livingstone, A.

1988 “The Isin ‘Dog House’ Revised”, JCS 40 (1988), pp.54-60.

Ornan, Tallay

2004 “The Goddess Gula and Her Dog”, Israel Museum Studies in Archaeology 3 (2004), pp.13-30.

Römer, W. P. Ph.

1969 “Einige Beobachtungen zur Göttin Ninin(n)sina auf Grund von Quellen der Ur III-Zeit und der altbabylonischen Periode”, in AOAT  1, Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1969, pp. 279-305.

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