Hitties, the People Who Drank God
Author: Oleg Cherne
The Hitties are one of today’s most understudied ancient cultures, despite the fact its size and significance in the world matches the Ancient Egyptians and Babylonia. Aspects of the Hittite heritage indeed went on to merge with the cultures of the Greeks, Romans, and Jews. Just take their cult of the god A’as alone, which later transformed into the image of the ancient Hebrew god-father Yahweh!
Unfortunately, this people, a sort of ground zero for many cultures and religions of the world still around today, remained mostly obscure until the 19th century. Only then did researchers turn their attention to this powerful empire mentioned in the Bible north of Israel. One of the lead experts of Hitties in this period was British scholar Oliver Robert Gurney, and a wealth of information was extracted from the Bogazkoy Archive, with its 10,000 cuneiform tablets written in Hittite.
The Hittite Empire extended across the modern territory of Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey, where Prophet Muhammad referred to as paradise on earth. Moses in turn referred to this land as the country of milk and honey. We would also like to add our own metaphor to this beautiful list: the land where people were connected to heaven. And the vine was their ladder.
The first and foremost thing to know about Hittites is that all spheres of their lives were interconnected. In order to understand this idea better, let’s compare it to our own lives today.
For example, people today argue a lot about national cuisines and dishes. This very fact indicates that nations are seeking out new ethics and ideas expressed in their food (or at the very least trying to bring old ones to life). And this is no trivial topic, as determining the traditional food of a nation can strengthen it and bring people together thanks to a common belief or creed.
Turning back to the past, this is fascinating in that the great ancient cultures did not revolve around any particular ideas of ethics, philosophy, or other concepts. Their place and integration in the world was the axis of their existence. Although the forms in which this relation existed differed: they were expressed in deities, rituals, rhythms of life, and an understanding of the world depending on global conditions (such as the climate and geography of a place). However, the main principles always remained universal.
For this reason, the nations of the past did not engage in discussion of ideology. Their mission in life was far beyond the limits of a single mind or even those of a country — it was a complex structure encompassing the entire world. In short, cultures based on ethics attempt to establish rules of interaction between individuals, whereas civilizations of the past searched for primary sources of energy and existence. The Hittites brought this quest to a new level and encouraged the growth of other nations.
Libyans, Lydians, Hattians, Luwians, Semites, Assyrians, Babylonians — the Hittite state consolidated at least eight peoples and their languages on its territory. As is evident here, this land acted as a magnet for people, helping create the first ever federate state in the world. Modern scholars list Hattusa (the capital), Purushanda, Samuha and Kussara as centers of the Hittite civilization, a kingdom spread across a vast area (today’s Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and parts of Georgia and Armenia).
Later, the Hebrew people reflected this land in the symbolism of Biblical stories. The Legends of Gilgamesh, also a part of Hittite culture, were also transformed and integrated in the oldest versions of the Bible.
Earth force as a central pillar of Hittite culture
Wine is the cord that stitches Hittites into the world’s global fabric. This nation formed the essential principles of work with dimensions, land (or terroir), and an understanding of wine and the art of drinking, gathering it all into a complex and universal system.
Like most cultures of the past, the Hittites were in constant search of places of power. Such places were treated as geometric shapes or structures, and beverages were capable of expressing and enhancing their properties. Every place was a three-dimensional structure in its own right, with its own symbolic rhythm, vibration, deity, plant, animal, drink and mineral, that combined together to determine its power. These factors were unique for each area, which is only logical, as no one place can ever be recreated somewhere else.
Hittites studied dimensions with astrology, rituals, medicine and mathematics. Fifteen centuries before Pythagoras and Euclid, the Hittites also knew how to calculate volume and surface. At the same time, many areas of their life were non-verbal and were directly related to experience beyond rationality.
Natural phenomena were seen as acts of the divine will connected to a certain place. For example, the god of thunder was related to the capital city of Hattusa. The personification of natural events is typical for many ancient cultures.
As for natural mineral wealth, Hittite country was a very rich land, especially in the region of the Taurus Mountains. Note here the parallels with other cultures of the past. For instance, in the kingdom of Pergamus, Magnesia-on-Meander, where the altar of Zeus stands, and at the foot of Mount Thorax in Thessaly, people mined white magnesia. The Ionian city Colophon was also famous for its resin, etc. New opportunities and a connection with the macrocosms draw people here from the very start. For Hitties, the most precious mineral was potassium tartrate, or wine stone, and grapes were the most valuable plant.
It is abundantly clear that the Hittites worshiped some kind of divine energy — look at their god of power Inar and the god-protector of this power A’as, later transformed into Yahweh. The life of kings and their people depended on the land as a source of power. Curiously, the peak of the Hittite state occurred around 14th century BC, after which their culture falls into irreversible decline.
One episode of the Epic of Gilgamesh later reinterpreted in the Bible falls exactly into this historical period: the Great Flood. Even if we take into account that the language of ancient scriptures is filled with symbols and fables, it is hard not to notice the notion of losing the power of the land in this episode. Perhaps this is also what happened to Hittites at some period, after they lost the ability to cultivate grape.
If we can recall, what was the first thing Noah saw after he survived the great Flood? A grape vine. Indeed, modern scholars offer multiple interpretations of this event. This may be due to the lack of research in respect to Hittite heritage and the later transformation of religious texts through the prism of other beliefs.
Article 47 of the Hittite Code mentions the ability of the land to give something to people. This section of the story contains the key to understanding the formula of their lifestyle: if a land can offer power, it can serve as an area adapted for human life. But losing this power inevitably ends in the death of the entire nation, just as occurred to the Hittites.
When their land lost its power, they could no longer nurture their gods, and a king (also the priest of fertility rituals) who failed to provide his people with bread, wine, beer and water did not deserve to hold the title of ruler. As a result, society fell apart after people lost their metaphorical ability to «drink their gods.» Alluwamna is believed to be the last of the kings capable of performing this uniting ceremony.
That’s why the period of expansion led by king Hattusili II marked the start of their decline, as why else would they start a military campaign if not to conquer new sources of power? The Hittite civilization knew many more rulers, but all of them were more invested in wars than agriculture.
The grape vine as a stairway to heaven
Unlike other ancient polytheist cultures, the Hittites had a very peculiar concept of space and dimensions, filled with a power represented by the solar disk.
They believed space to be a dense substance of conical form, which towards its point became sparser and more ethereal. If a person could make their mental body thinner by drinking wine, they earned the ability to ascend to heaven with the aid of a sacred guide—the chief cupbearer, master of measure and proportions. This is furthermore reflected in the fact that the Hittites did not allow uncontrolled binge-drinking.
The Hittites left us a unique genre in their wake—the discussion of missteps and failures, the purpose of which was to identify and analyze dishonest actions. If a deed went against the will of the gods, it was destructive on both a personal and social level. For us, drinking wine is a way to relax, but the Hittites saw it as a method for concentration. Without control, a person could not ascend to heaven.
The god of thunder Teshub, the most respected god of Hittite mythology, was a force that could destroy the divine ladder and thus prevent people from reaching heaven. The Hittites thus established a special cult devoted to appeasing this god and mitigating the destructive aspect of the world’s order. The position of a person, their looks, clothes, and occupation were measured according to the power of the thunder god.
The spiral of a vine is reflected in the image of this god, with his curly beard, special tunic, and shoes with tips curving inward. He is constantly in motion, and even moves in spirals. This vibration, or spiral movement, symbolized thunderstorms. All the spiral-shaped movements of the world interacted, and were concentrated in the form of wine, the drink that filled a person with power and guided them on their way.
This conclusion is supported by the fact that the Hittite solar cult was founded on female figures and held the strongest influence on creation. It was affiliated with filling things with divine power and helping them grow. Agricultural produce was and still is, first and foremost, a source of solar energy. This is where Telepinus, the god of the grapevine, takes the stage.
As a side note, various monuments of the Hittite period indicate that their city structures, buildings and planning, also followed a spiral pattern. Many important centers of social life connected with wine were situated in hard-to-get places with landscapes resembling a spiral—just take a look at Cappadocia or Zincirli. The list of mysterious patterns goes on and on… But to sum it up, it demonstrates how important the knowledge of an area and its energy was for Hittites. Even despite the fact that later on the Romans and Greeks transformed and interpreted it in their own way.
King Tarritktimme had an odd seal that represents the Hittite view of space, and their mysterious ability to «drink space.» It is quite representative that Hittite writing also followed the same structural principal, where every symbol was cone-shaped and pointing towards the sky. His seal reveals to us how the Hittite words for «king» and «land» were the dominating symbols of sustaining and perceiving the world order.
Speaking of Hittite monuments, we absolutely cannot forget to mention Yazilikaya, the holy site near Hattusa. The carvings on the rock here depict two processions of gods, walking towards each other and to the center of the niche, meaning the center of the whole site.
As we can see, the Hittites valued locations for their ability to establish a connection between the human and the divine. Their formula was approximately as follows: any place a person occupies must lead them to heaven. And wine was the drink that directly expressed this connection.
There are numerous fascinating archive materials regarding the Hittite king Anitta: just like his father before him, he was responsible for protecting the Grand Ladder. Is this not the same ladder that leads people to heaven? On top of this, the Hittites also had many symbols of plants, among which the grapevine was the most valued for expressing its upward movement.
Symphony of grapes
Apart from the grape, wheat and dates also played the role of a creation and connective force in Hittite culture. They had three hundred sixty ways of preparing dates, and multiple hymns for wheat and apple trees, which is an obvious sign of the utmost importance plants and vegetation held for this people. Here we run smack dab into the notion of structural drinks, in particular, mead and date wine.
What is meant here by structure? Back then, sounds (force, vibration) were the primary energies, rather than words, thoughts or information. Sound can be understood as a frequency that a form emits. Hence, Hittites could consume divine force through the sound related to a drink, deity or place, where every drink had its own sound and melody.
This hypothesis is supported by the monumental picture of king Varpalav and his protector god Tarhunna on the Ivriz relief. The deity is holding a bunch of grapes in his hands, and a grape vine twines around his body. This characteristic peculiarity was furthermore reflected in their language, which was polytonic, with lots of vibrations and variation.
According to the images preserved from this period, food was as important for the Hittites as wine, as both were part of the sacred offerings to gods. The Hittites never treated wine as a commodity; it was first and foremost their poetical bread, a food that helped them establish a connection with their deities and talk to them. In a similar vein, vineyards were not merely objects of agriculture, but divine gardens where quality mattered more than quantity, coupled with their compulsory aesthetic pleasure.
The role of funerary rites and the place of wine in them in Hittite and other ancient cultures indicates that the process of preparing for death and departure into the other world was a very important part of life. We also find evidence of the crucial importance of wine for life in Homer, when he describes the wine poured onto the funeral bonfire for the Greek hero Patroclus. Hector, the famous hero of Troy, was also buried with similar solemnities.
Hittite kings had a curious ritual of «washing their intestines.» One documents describes this process taking place in 9th century BC under the rule of Assyrian king Assurnasirpal II. To celebrate his inauguration, he organized a feast for 70,000 people in the capital city Nimrud. The preparations were impressive: he purchased 10,000 bottles of wine, 10,000 jars of beer and 100 vessels of special beer mixed with wine and spices.
The Hittites used wine at all their holidays and ceremonies. There were even medical rituals, which involved giving warm wine to patients. For them healers warmed up three rhytons of wine and offered up one cup to the goddess of the sun.
Here is a description of a ritual for the foundation of a new palace: «They planted a grape wine and said: just like this wine shoots its roots into the soil, may the king and queen strike root here and bloom.» The oath of Hittite soldiers also mentions a mixed drink of water and wine used as part of a pledge ritual.
We also find more proof of belief in the cleansing power of wine in many other texts of Hittite culture. It was used to cleanse cities, purify people after sexual assaults, and in royal funerals: «They brought a cup of wine and offered it to the king’s soul.» Drinking wine and beer sealed military and political treaties, and warranted them with divine approval.
Most offerings to the gods also consisted of barley and grape, in other words beer and wine. Consequently, these were also Hittite food staples.
Winemaking became an independent branch of agriculture around 3,000 BC, which means that most Hittites drank wine or beer regardless of their social status. But it should be noted that class stratification in their society depended on the energy level of a person. People were expected to recognize their competency and responsibility in the face of gods. The gods had to match similar requirements, as what mattered was the actual connection between a god and a person.
This was the manifestation of a vibration concentrated in the form of a beverage. When a person drank such a beverage (a concentrate of divine sound), they established a connection with the god and this way «drank their god.» But «drinking god» also means «drinking space,» which has its own specific frequency. As you can see, the web of interconnections between phenomena and events played a paramount role in the life of Hittites.
So what did the Hittites teach the world with this? They recognized that all living things are in constant movement and emanate certain vibrations, and that these vibrations can be of different frequency (density). We can find this characteristic in sounds, which can give an area some unique properties, from more obvious frequencies to more sublime, closer to the divine.
A thought is also a type of sound, although much less dense. Our minds have a certain density as well, and objects and phenomena outside of it can be either more crude or a lot thinner, which is why it can be so hard for us to put some concepts into words, a fact the ancient Hittites understood intrinsically.
Every phenomenon functions at its own vibration, sound, structure. Hittites show us that everything is sound, everything is space, energy, vibration, rhythm, wine, and mineral. They were the first to ever intertwine all objects into a wholesome worldview, and demonstrate it as a connection of humans and gods through wine as a vessel of divine energy.
Hittite rituals serve as catalysts for particular vibrations and invoke a state of mind similar to what we know today as ecstasy or poetical inspiration. The main tool used by both kings and priests was nothing other than wine.
And everything depended on its quality, as it represented the will of the gods and their divine nature. For example, king Hattusili I condemned the royal cupbearer to death for serving bad wine.
This attitude was the ideal impulse needed to promote the spread of a sophisticated and careful wine culture. Ultimately, this was a result of multiple factors and aspects, and power and aroma played a key role. We can say with a significant degree of certainty that the Hittites’ taste were well-developed and balanced, especially their sense of smell: if you look at ancient Hittite images, you can notice how detailed and elaborate their depictions of noses are. So, in addition to energy and vibrations, the organoleptic qualities of wine were important as well.
The techniques of wine production over time became more and more complex, starting from the cultivation of vines and organizing vineyards, to the improved quality of storage and transportation vessels. All these factors helped bring the wine industry to a new level. The cultivation of new varieties of grape also allowed to discover new tastes and fragrance notes in the drink, opening up new opportunities in the art of wine.
It would be fascinating to read further studies on the connection between wine as a source of vibrations and poetry. Unfortunately, since poetry was an oral art, it gradually dissolved in Babylonian and Assyrian cultures with almost no trace, and died out completely with the arrival of the Etruscans and Philistine.
The main task of Hittite poetry was the veneration of Telepinu, the god of farming, and consequently wine. Chanting poems was related to the god of thunder, who protected and searched for Telepinu when he left our world in winter and needed to be returned in spring. In fact, this cyclical myth promoted the culture of enjoying and savoring wine: enjoy your wine, or the god will get offended and never return!