Imagine it is a dark and cloudy night. It is raining. You canít see the moon or the stars. When suddenly a lightning bolt explodes the tree a little ways down the street. How do you feel? Now imagine you donít have the benefit of the science of weather that we have today, and you donít know what caused the lightning bolt. What might have caused it? If you lived in ancient Mesopotamia, you would probably think that some force greater then man had done it. You would call this force a god.
The Mesopotamians had gods for everything. If you got sick one of the gods was mad at you. If your door stuck and was hard to open maybe you werenít paying enough attention to the gods. If two fields were side by side and one was growing with tall thick crops and the other full of weeds then the gods favored the one and disliked the other. You couldnít see the gods (at least normal people couldnít.) But the ancient Mesopotamian people believed that the gods ruled every aspect of their life.
The gods were unpredictable. You never knew what the gods might do. Thus, it was the responsibility of every individual to do everything they could at all times to keep the gods happy. Kings were not gods. Kings were mortals, just like the common man. In this, at least, all men were equal in ancient Mesopotamia. All men, including the king, were supposed to spend their time appeasing the gods.
Ancient Sumer: The ancient Sumerians were a very religious people. They believed that everything that happened good or bad was a result of their gods. They worked hard to make their gods happy. This was quite difficult since their gods, and they had hundreds of gods, were not a happy bunch. In fact they were downright grumpy. So the Sumerians spent a lot of their time and effort seeking new ways to please their gods. This kept them very busy because they believed in super powerful gods, like the god of the sky and the god of the sea. They believed in little tiny gods, like the household god who watched over the broom in their house, or the god in the tree out back who watched over that particular tree. They believed everything had a god tucked into it or was responsible for it. Each of these magical creatures had special powers. They did not all have the same special powers, but they all had powers. These magical creature did have one thing in common. They were immortal, which means they could live forever. To the ancient Sumerians, it was vitally important to keep every single god happy - every single one - because the Sumerian gods could and did interfere in the people's lives every day.
Ancient Babylon: The ancient Babylonians were a lot like the Sumerians. The Babylonians built their civilization in southern Mesopotamia. They started out as just another city, but soon took over the entire southern region. They built their civilization on the ruins of ancient Sumer. The Babylonians had long ago had adopted the Sumerian culture, government, economy, urban living, writing (cuneiform), law, and religion. They had the same bunch of gods, with some more added to them. The Babylonians differed from the Sumerians in that their gods had a hierarchy. Marduk, who to the Sumerians was just another god, was the leader of the gods to the Babylonians. The other gods worked for Marduk, with some being much more important than others. Like the Sumerians, the Babylonians spent time and effort in trying to make their gods happy. The city of Babylon was built to honor the great god Marduk.
Ancient Assyria: The Assyrians worshiped most of the same gods as Sumerians. Like the Babylonians, they added more gods. They recognized Marduk as an important god, but he was not the most important. To the Assyrians, the most important god was the god Ashur. They built buildings in their towns and decorated them with dragons and demons to protect themselves from the gods.