Oannes: The Amphibian God of Mesopotamia

It is believed that during the day this deity emerged from the water and taught the human race arts, sciences and writing.


Oannes is a mysterious amphibious being found in Sumerian, Chaldean and Babylonian mythologies.

Berossus the Chaldean, a Babylonian priest of the 3rd century BC, wrote the Babyloniaka, the history of Babylon, which tells:

“But in the first year after the deluge there appeared an animal endowed with human reason, called Oannes, which sprang up out of the midst of the Erythian Sea, at the point where the borders of Babylon were.


He had a whole body like a fish, but above his fish head he had another head, which was of a man, and human feet emerged from under the fish’s tail. He had a human voice, and an image of him is preserved to this day. He spent the day among men without food; taught them the use of letters, the sciences and the arts of all kinds.

He taught them how to build cities, erect temples, make laws, and explained the principles of geometric knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds from the earth and showed them how to gather the fruits; in short, he instructed them in everything that might tend to soften human customs and humanize their laws.

From that moment on, nothing else was added to improve his instructions. And when the sun went down, this being Oannes withdrew to the sea, for he was an amphibian.”

According to ancient texts, whose origins are lost in time, thousands of years ago, amphibious beings landed in Sumer aboard a resplendent “flying egg”.

These entities, known as Apkallus, instructed human beings in a variety of knowledge, which gave rise to civilization as we know it today.

Interestingly, at the same time, creatures very similar in appearance to these descended from the skies aboard a brilliant “ark” in the present-day territory of Mali, whose inhabitants were also trained in multiple knowledge.

Vetween the floodplains of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers 5,500 years ago, the Sumerian civilization was born, considered the first and oldest of those known to this day. The origin of its inhabitants is still uncertain, although the term Sumerian is not only applied to the inhabitants of that region, but is also used to refer to all speakers of the homonymous language.

Members of this civilization invented cuneiform writing in the mid-4000s BC, which they wedged into wet clay tablets that they then dried or baked.

The Sumerians left a legacy of an immense written production among which we find economic, legal, scientific and religious material. Only a minimal part can be considered strictly literary works.

Among his writings, the Hymnography stands out, with a deep religious content. Virtually all the gods, the most qualified kings and the most prestigious temples were glorified in these compositions, which were recited at both religious and secular festivities.

The group of “civilizing heroes” of Mesopotamia is known by the name of Apkallus, which means “very intelligent” and had a series of unusual characteristics and an exotic look that was apparently not human. These beings were described as repulsive and considered an abomination due to their half-man, half-fish appearance.

Berossus, priest of the god Bel, the Akkadian name for Marduk, the most important deity of Babylon, wrote the history of Babylon for the Greek world at the time. It is known that he knew Aristotle and was a contemporary of Alexander the Great.

Titled Babyloniaka, this work explains the traditions and origins of civilization. To compile the story, Berossus turned to the archives of the Temple of Bel, located in the territory of present-day Syria, and drew on the representations on the walls of the temples, the original documents and traditional knowledge.

Although his work has not stood the test of time, some fragments of it have come down to us through other authors such as Apollodoro, Alejandro Polihistor, Abideno and Flavio Josefo and, in fact, specialists have verified that names and events narrated by this priest are faithful to the content of others texts from the Mesopotamian tradition.

The civilizing heroes that the Babylonians called Apkallus were a group of amphibious creatures whose leader went by the name of Oannes the Wise.

The ancient text tells: “In Babylon many men, coming from different parts, settled in Chaldea, where they led a disordered existence, like animals. On one occasion, it happened that there appeared for the first time on the coast, out of the Eritrean Sea, an extraordinary and gifted monster called Oannes. Its whole body was like that of a fish and under its fish head was another human head, and it also had feet, like a man’s, attached to the fish’s tail. His voice and language were intelligible and human. His image has been preserved in memory and is still represented in our time.”

Berossus says that this creature established contact with human beings and transmitted knowledge about science and all kinds of arts. Oannes taught writing, building houses and founding temples, as well as compiling laws and the principles of geometric knowledge. He also showed how to distinguish seeds and how to pick fruit, and when the sun went down Oannes would go back to the sea and stay there every night as he was an amphibian. Later, other similar beings appeared.

It is said that for the Babylonians, Oannes was the same as Ea or Enki, others identified him with Adapa.

Classical authors such as Hyginus, Manius and Xanthos corroborate the story of the Apkallus coming to Earth and another variant of the same event in a text attributed to Germanicus says that a divine fish endowed with supernatural powers hatched from an egg that had a bright and luminous appearance on the banks of the Euphrates River.

Likewise, Sozomenus, a 5th-century historian, recounts that one of these fish-like gods descended on the Euphrates as if it were a “flaming star” fallen from the sky.

There is no doubt that the Mesopotamians considered these beings to be flesh and blood, and even the famous astrophysicists Losif Shklovsky and Carl Sagan felt that the stories about Oannes and the other fishmen deserved more attention from experts, as they could constitute evidence of contacts with extraterrestrials in ancient times.