27 January 2014

A Day in the Life of Puduhepa, Queen of the Hittites

First extant peace treaty: between Hittites and Egypt
Queen Puduhepa pressed her seal into the first extant peace treaty in history between her kingdom of the Hittites (in what is now Turkey) and Rameses the II, Pharaoh of Egypt during the Late Bronze Age. Her letters, treaties, religious codifications and judicial decrees came to light when archaeologists dug up the great cuneiform libraries of her capital, Hattusha. She reigned for some seventy years. At about fifteen she married Hattusili, who later became the Great King of the Hittites and she the Queen. Had her kingdom not been buried by the sands of time until the mid 20th century, she would be as famous as Cleopatra—trust me.

Blessings on all those archaeologists and Hittitologists who found and translated the evidence. With their scholarship and some imagination of my own, I am turning this recently uncovered queen into an ancient sort of sleuth in a mystery series.

There are a lot of gaps in a world that came to us in such a state of ruin, yet we are able to patch together some of the events that made up the life of this formidable queen—and might have occured in a reconstructed day.

As Puduhepa’s hypothetical day begins, she reaches for that first glass of water to quench her morning
Reconstructed walls of Hittite capital Hattusha
thirst. From one of the tablets found in the Hattusha libraries, we have instructions to the palace personnel about the royal water. “All the kitchen personnel—the cupbearer, the table-man, the cook, the baker, the dairy man (the list goes on and on) you will have to swear an oath… Fill a bitumen cup with water and pour it out toward the Sun-god and speak as follows: ‘Whoever does something in an unclean way and offers to the king (or queen) polluted water, pour you, O gods, that man’s soul out like water!’” and “You who are water carriers, be very careful with water! Strain the water with a strainer! At some time I, the king, found a hair in the water pitcher in Sanahuitta. I expressed my anger to the water carriers ‘This is scandalous. … If he is found guilty, he shall be killed!’”

It is worthwhile to note, that according to the Hittites, a hair could be used to place a curse on the king or queen. Just slip the correct hair in with the proper incantations and you could shorten the king’s life, cause him a wasting illness, or any number of other mysterious problems. Curses were a regular concern—which explains the stiff penalty in this case, although ritual purity in general for the royal family was a tremendous concern for reasons of proper relationship and harmony with the gods rather than notions of healthfulness.

Once Puduhepa refreshes herself with water free from any curses, she might prepare herself to go to the temple to make offerings and pray. Puduhepa’s love and devotion for her husband were legendary. They met accidentally (except they both attributed it to their patron goddess Ishtar) and it was love at first sight. In a dream Ishtar commanded Hattusili to marry Puduhepa. Puduhepa also had dreams from Ishtar regularly and these two mystics, who led extremely pragmatic lives, found great solace in each other. So when Hattusili was ill, as he often was both with a mysterious eye ailment and something painful in his feet, Puduhepa prayed fervently for his health.

Hittite goddess with child
In the inner sanctum of the temple where only the royal family and the priests were allowed access, Pudhepa makes offerings to the divine statues of the gods. Each day these gods are offered food and drink, dressed and bathed. In this brightly frescoed space before gold and silver statues draped in finery, Puduhepa offers a goat or bull for sacrifice and she has selected bread offerings from a myriad of shapes—today perhaps a hand or bird—and her breads are sweetened with honey and soaked in olive oil.

To insure her husband’s health she beseeches the gods to bring Hattusili long life and well-being. In one of her extant prayers she opens by reminding the Sun-goddess Arinna that Hattusili had recaptured the goddess’s sacred city of Nerik and now the traditional offerings to her are once again being made there. After this reminder of the goddess’s debt to Hattusili, Puduhepa goes on to make this plea, “Since I, Puduhepa, am a woman of the birthstool (a midwife—multi-talented queen), … have pity on me, O Sun-goddess of Arinna, my lady, and grant me what I ask of you! Grant life
Ram's head rhyton libation cup for offerings
to Hattusili, your servant! Through the Fate-goddesses and the Mother-goddesses may long years, days and strength be granted to him.” Later in the same prayer, now directed to one of Arinna’s attending goddesses, Puduhepa suggests that maybe someone has made an offering to the gods to damage Hattusili or has otherwise cursed him, and that this goddess should undo that harm and in return Puduhepa will give her a life-sized silver statue of Hattusili with golden head, hands and feet. That’s a lot of wifely devotion and an interesting window into how the Hittite queen viewed her relationship with the gods. The queen wasn’t afraid to resort to divine bribery.

Next in her day she could select from a wide range of activities we know she engaged in. She served as her husband’s primary source of counsel, as a priestess of Ishtar, as supreme judge for the Hittite Kingdom, as a midwife, as an astute political negotiator, and as a marriage broker between great rulers such as Rameses and her husband’s many children (by concubines as well as Puduhepa’s own).

At the end of her busy day she had a supper of lamb roasted in cumin and garlic with a side dish of lentils and leeks. Perhaps some cucumber in yogurt cooled her tongue and the exotic, imported treat of dates was laid out on a silver tray for her enjoyment. More likely the finishing sweet came in the form of dried figs and apricots. She might even have drunk her beer through a straw, which as near as we can tell was a filter to keep the bits of grain out of one’s mouth.