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Much of the world recently marked the 100th
anniversary of the forced removal, loss of property and eventual slaughter of
almost all Armenians in Turkey. The Turkish government objects to the use of the word genocide when referring to this tragedy.
Ottoman Empire population census document 1893-1897
Turkish textbooks and
politicians use phrases like “the fog of war” to explain how a million and a
half Armenians lost their lives (also they downplay the numbers). They subsume
the plans perpetrated against Armenians in particular under the suffering WWI
caused for so many in Turkey and thus hide the Armenian plight from memory.
It’s good and proper to sympathize with the universal suffering that occurred,
but that does not require selective amnesia. Historians, including a couple
well-regarded Turkish historians, have culled the primary source materials and conducted
interviews on this subject. These historians do not agree with the official
Turkish government version. So we’ll see how things go over time with this
issue of lost history in Turkey.
Meanwhile, I’m struck by the irony. The last few decades in
Turkey have seen extensive—even extraordinary—efforts to use archaeology to uncover
history that was for millennia quite literally buried in the sands of time. In
the process, the empire I find utterly fascinating has come to light in ever
greater detail: the Hittites. So in honor of Turkey’s laudable efforts to reclaim
its Bronze Age history (1600-1100 BCE), even if it is still confused about its
modern history, I bring you one interesting detail that we now understand about
an empire that rivaled Egypt, the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the
Hittite Cuneiform Tablet
Fortunately the Hittites were a literate culture and we have
found and translated many of their records and literary pieces. These libraries
of clay tablets were written in the Near Eastern cuneiform script although Hittite
is an Indo-European language related to Greek. From all the hard work of
archaeologists, scholars and translators, I bring you two Hittite laws
regarding rape and adultery, translated by Harry Hoffner, Jr. Notice what these
laws say about women, men, fairness, and other intriguing issues.
If a man seizes a woman in the mountain(s) (and rapes her),
it is the man’s offence, and he shall be put to death, but if he seizes her in
(her) house, it is the woman’s offence: the woman shall be put to death. If the
(woman’s) husband (lit. the man) finds them (in the act) and kills them, he has
committed no offence.
If [the husband] brings them [his wife and accused lover] to
the palace gate (i.e. the royal court) and says: “let my wife not be put to
death” and spares his wife, he must also spare the lover. Then he may veil her
(i.e. his wife). But if he says, “Let both of them be put to death” and they
‘roll the wheel’ the king may have them killed or spare them.
I enjoyed this precise window into the human mind and values
in about 1300 BCE.
First, I notice that if a man rapes a woman, the penalty is
extreme and this speaks of value placed on a woman. Hittite law avoids the
death penalty, so it’s pretty dramatic here and may not have been the actual
course of action.
We are struggling in modern society with date rape and
defining when to prosecute. I wouldn’t want to adopt the Hittite measure of
rape, but I am intrigued to find the traces of a similar struggle. If you are
“at home” you invited it, by Hittite standards—this presumes the family’s
ability to protect its women in the usual course of events, I suspect. Far from
home, where a woman is vulnerable, it is indisputably rape.
Gates of Hattusa, the King's Court
As has often been the case in history, a man can, with
impunity, kill his wife and her lover if he catches them in the act. But notice
he cannot kill only the man. And if he turns it over to the authorities (the
King’s court held at the gates of the city), he must accept the same punishment
for both wife and her accused lover. And if he accepts her back, he must
publicly restore her respect and reputation by veiling her—that is restoring
her as his bride.
We would love to know exactly what “roll the wheel” meant,
but we don’t. In the Hittite murder mystery I’m working on, the relevant
historical records that I used as background contain this same tantalizing
phrase. It refers to a divination of some sort. Hittites loved divination. They
put great effort toward discerning the will of the gods. Murder, divination and
applied tidbits from this system of laws—all present and accounted for in my
My source for the translation and interpretation of these
Hittite laws is:
The Laws of the
Hittites A Critical Edition, Harry Hoffner Jr. Brill 1997
Documenta et Monumenta
Orientis Antiqui (DMOA) Studies in Near Eastern Archaeology and Civilisation Volume
Starkston writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite
Empire. She is a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa
Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin and
humanities. She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona
with their golden retriever Socrates. Her debut novel is Hand of Fire.
excerpt, book reviews, historical background, as well as on-going information
about the historical fiction community onwww.JudithStarkston.com