Tiamat is a Mesopotamian chaos monster, symbolic of the chaos before creation and the birthing process of creating. She is highly associated with the ocean and the salt-water therein. She is the mother of everything, including the gods. Her first mate, Apsu, personified male chaos before creation and was associated with the freshwater beneath Earth. Together, the two created many gods and beings.
Modern interpretations depict Tiamat as a multi-headed dragon (in the popular D&D role-playing game) or a sea serpent. However, the descriptions of Mesopotamian myth do not seem to match these depictions. Instead, it is suggested that she has a long tale that “shake together” but otherwise her description is human-like.
In the Enuma Elish it is related that Apsu became angry and irritated with his noisy, chaotic offspring and plotted to kill them. The couple’s son, Ea, discovered this, so he captured and killed his father Apsu. Kingu, another of Apsu’s and Tiamat’s sons, told all of this to Tiamat, who then created 11 monsters to avenge her husband’s death.
Tiamat chose Kingu as her lover and consort, and she gifted him with the Tablets of Destiny. While most of her children were afraid of her, she was overcome by one of them—sources differ in who actually killed Tiamat: sometimes it is Ea himself, or it is Enlil, or it might be Marduk, who is Ea’s son.
Tiamat was sliced in half, and from her ribs were made heaven and earth. Her eyes, full of tears, became the source of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Her tail became the Milky Way, and her blood became the seas. Kingu was also killed, and his blood mixed with the dirt of the earth to make mankind. And so the world was born.
Tiamat’s story might be the earliest recorded (it is certainly one of) example of Chaoskampf, a battle between a primordial chaos monster and a culture hero (Marduk, who made the Earth from Tiamat and then became Lord of the Gods).
Tiamat is complex, dark, and mysterious. In part, this is because she is chaos personified—it would be difficult to imagine a linear story of chaos. But she’s also complex, dark, and mysterious because we’re only equipped with part of her myths, what we’ve been able to discover and what has been passed down from an ancient people long since gone. The Mesopotamian peoples were not homogeneous–they did not all come from the place originally and did not all speak the same languages. As a result, Tiamat, and many of the other gods, goddesses, and monsters, became many things to many people—some of which we’ll never know.