First called Labbu by the Sumerians in 3000 BC, this dragon came to be known as Tiamat when that civilization gave way to the Babylonians and their mythologies blended. Broken down, Tiamat’s name means “life-mother,” and this she-dragon was indeed the creator of all. Part animal, part serpent, and part bird, Tiamat was revolting in appearance and certainly did not possess the nurturing qualities we now regard as motherly; for she, along with her husband Apsu, was terrible, vengeful, and full of malice toward the gods, which were her and Apsu’s descendants. Tiamat was the very spirit of chaos, and the she reigned with Apsu in troubled confusion and disorder.
The conflict began when their children began to put things into order. This upset Apsu, who first consulted with his minister Mummu. Together they devised a plan to stop their children’s, the gods, activities and destroy them. As they made their way to Tiamat to share the evil plot, they were overheard by Ea, who captured and slew Apsu and Mummd using an incantation. Ea then returned to the other gods to inform them of the terrible news, without knowing that his actions had been seen by his evil brother, Kingu, who had his own plans.
Kingu made his way to Tiamat with the tidings. Instantly she became enraged, just as he’d schemed. Fuming and full of wrath, she spawned an army made up of eleven kinds of monsters, each worse than the others. Among them were snarling dragons, vipers and pythons, hurricane monsters, hounds, scorpion-men, tempest furies, fishmen, and mountain rams. Colossal in size, with razor-sharp teeth, and poison in place of blood, these monsters were unafraid of battle. Finally, Tiamat stationed Kingu at the head of the army, honoring him by placing the tablets of destiny in his breast, for whoever was in possession of the tablets was given authority to lead.
Meanwhile, Ea had enlisted the aid of his father, Anshar. First, Anshar commanded Ea to visit Tiamat and beg for mercy. Ea mustered up the courage to face the great mother-dragon, but when he saw Kingu at the head of the dreadful army followed by the fuming Tiamat, he recoiled with fear and returned to tell the rest of the gods. One after one, the gods attempted reconciliation, only to be gripped with terror and sent back. Finally Anshar called on Ea’s son Marduck, exalting him to the status of hero, the highest of all the gods.
Cleverly, Marduck prepared terrible weapons of his own, including a net and seven winds from every direction. Thus arrayed for combat, Marduck led his army forward. As Marduck boldly approached the battlefield, Kingu lost his nerve and began muttering to himself, causing confusion among the ranks of monsters. Without flinching, Marduck called for Tiamat. Glistening and horrible, the wicked dragon came to the front of her army.
Angrily Marduck charged Tiamat with her crimes. Like one possessed, Tiamat screeched wildly in retaliation. The battle began. In the commotion, the gods trapped Tiamat in the net. Enraged, Tiamat opened her mouth seven miles wide in protest. Without fear or hesitation, Marduck commanded the seven winds to fill her belly. Then, as her courage fled her, Marduck used his spear to burst her belly and sever her inward parts. In one final stroke he pierced her heart. Without their creator and leader, the fierce monster army scattered, and Marduck claimed victory. The tablets of destiny were captured and bestowed upon the conqueror.
But the story of Tiamat did not end there, nor did her creations cease. Cleaving the great carcass of the dragon in two, Marduck used the upper half to create the heavens, and the lower part to make the earth. The waters gushing out of her became the clouds, and her eyes became the source of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Kingu was also slain, and his blood was used to create the first humans. And thus, chaos was conquered, and the world was forever secure.