A manifestation of the archetype of the Mesopotamian warrior-god who also controls irrigation and (somewhat) fertility, with temples in Nippur, Girsu (a suburb of Lagash), and Ur. His last two aspects are alluded to in the myths, but are far over-shadowed by his warrior-aspect.
Mesopotamian religion was heavily synchretistic, combining hundreds if not thousands of local divinities from the original inhabitants, the early Sumerians, and the nomadic, semitic Akkadians to form a pantheon based on archetypes. Thus, the mother goddess appears in the same mythic circumstances as Mami, Ninmah, Belet-Ili, or under countless other names.
Ninurta is a prime example of this process, representing a transitional shift from the Early Dynastic to the later Babylonian gods, thus assuming the role of the warrior God of Lagash, Ningirsu, and later being assimilated into the persona of Marduk, the warrior god of Babylon.
Ninurta is the son of Enlil, the chief of the gods, and the mother goddess - variously Ninmah, Ninlil, or Mami - whose job it is to protect the gods from their enemies. As such, there developed an oral biography, a cycle of tales regarding his heroic exploits, which take concrete form in three separate myths:
- The Exploits of Ninurta, also known as Lugal-e, the longest sumerian epic, dating to the Ur III period, which can roughly be divided into two parts. In the first, the hero Ninurta must defeat the monstrous abomination Asag, a child of Heaven and Earth, who leads the people of the mountains in a rebellion against the gods. In the second, having killed Asag, Ninurta must again restore order to the land, builds an irrigation system which enables systematic farming and prosperity, and then also must determine the fate of his 40 defeated enemies, all different types of stones.
- The Anzu-Epic, in which the lion-headed eagle, Anzu, steals from the god Enki the tablets of destiny, and Ninurta is given the task of bringing them back.
- The Return of Ninurta to Nippur, in which Ninurta, having defeated seven demonic enemies in the mountains, returns to Nippur and establishes his place among the gods, receiving as a reward cult-centres throughout the earth.
Each myth is structured on a very basic level: Ninurta must fight an enemy of the world order, he returns to his place among the gods, and is rewarded with praise or particular offerings.