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From before ca. 1700-1190 BCEFrom before ca. 1700-1190 BCE

Index / Religions / Historical /
Hittites /

1. Conception of gods
2. Conception of man
3. Cults and Festivals
4. Sources

Religion among the Hittites, an ancient people that lived in what today is Anatolia in Turkey. The Hittites dominated the region from around 1680 until 1190 BCE.
It is believed that their religion was one of great syncretism, their central elements being gathered from the Hattians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hurrians, Luwians and other peoples.

Conception of gods
Their mythology has taken several elements from Hurrian and Babylonian religions. We hear of several generations of gods who ruled the cosmos and who were challenged by a monster.
Their religion is often characterized by the expression, "1000 gods of Hatti." The gods that were incorporated into the Hittite pantheon (the system of gods) were arranged and classified according to their strength and function. Moreover, the gods were arranged genealogically. At the centre of the gods was the male storm god, Teshuba, and his wife, the sun goddess, Hebut. One clear principle of the Hattite religion was that the pantheon could always be extended.
The Hittite religion may have appeared to be tolerant, but beneath the surface where the conflicting gods of conquered people's shared power, troubled realities were hidden. By incorporating foreign gods into the Hittite pantheon, the Hittite rulers secured their control over the subdued people. In making the subdued people's gods part of the Hittite kingdom, their gods became kin to the Hittite gods, and their people, kin to the Hittites. Thus, the Hittites exercised control over all.
The Hittites used an earthly name for each god, but believed that the gods had specific names that they used for each other in the divine realm.
The gods were to a large extent human, except for their strength and power. They experienced the same emotions as humans: happiness, love and anger. But their shape was often non-human, and we see gods presented in the shape of different animals. The weather god was a bull, the god Sharruma a calf, Ishtar a lion while the hunting god was a deer. But gods could also be represented as things, like weapons and stones.

Conception of man
From what we know about Hittite religion, nothing is said about the creation of humans. However, there is no reason to assume that such myths never existed.
Humans consisted of two qualities: body and soul. While the king and prominent royal members ascended to the realm of the gods (they, having the character of gods, themselves), ordinary humans faced a destiny as spirits in the underworld. The idea of an existence after death is not very positive in Hittite religion.
From the prayers that have been preserved from Hittite tablets, it can be learned that humans felt close to their god or gods, offering homage in the role of servants. It is also known that the religion includes the idea of sin (that humans could act against the will of the gods).
It is likewise understood that people often used mediators when they wanted to influence their gods.

Cults and Festivals
The Hittites performed daily cultic rituals, in which the deities were brought food and drink. The deities were believed to live in temples, where there were even designated areas to sleep.
There were also smaller and larger festivals, on monthly and annual bases. For these festivals the supreme priest performed the rituals.
Magic was central in Hittite religion, and magic was performed by "old women," who could perform sorcery, or magic, and cast spells.
With the death of a member of the royal family, the Hittites had the body burned inside the temple. It was then believed that the soul of the person continued to be present within the walls of the temple.

One of the main sources for understanding Hittite religion is the rock sanctuary of Yazilikaya near Bogasköy, where wall reliefs with processions of gods, and even a temple can be seen.

By Tore Kjeilen