Monday, August 21, 2006

Hittite Laws on Sexuality

A number of sections in what remains of the Hittite law record deal with the restrictions on sexual behavior. The last fourteen clauses, out of 200, are dedicated to this subject, which, according to Bryce, 2002, is a high proportion, considering how many other expected problems are completely absent from the record. It is interesting to note that the death penalty is applied to cases of beastiality and incest, but is rare otherwise, where even many cases of murder resulted in a mere fine. And perhaps more curious is the fact that it was not all cases of beastiality: intercourse with pigs, dogs, and sheep was reason for death, but there was an entire clause exempting those who had sex with a horse or mule (Bryce 48).

Bryce explains this as illustrating the extreme importance placed on cleanliness in Hittite society. The act of murder in some circumstances only claimed one victim, but the act of forbidden sex, or hurkel, could stain all those in contact with the offender, and could endanger the community at large. Even sex with a married partner was seen to cause defilement, and so the King was not allowed to engage in sex the night before an important ritual, and priests could be executed if they were to enter the sanctuary while unclean. They were required literally to bathe themselves, although later (probably under Hurrian influence, according to Bryce) the same thing could be accomplished through a scapegoat ritual. It seems that sometimes banishment was imposed instead of the death penalty, and this could actually be advantageous, since the offender himself carried away his unclean body, instead of the citizens being responsible for the proper disposal of the corpse after an execution.

We can see the importance of the incest taboo in a letter of King Suppiluliuma to one of his vassal rulers, found in Bryce, 2002, page 50, and translated by Beckman: For Hatti it is an important custom that a brother does not have sex with his sister or female cousin. It is not permitted. Whoever commits such an act is put to death. But your land is barbaric, for there a man regularly has sex with his sister or cousin. And if on occasion a sister of your wife, or the wife of a brother, or a female cousin comes to you, give her something to eat or drink. Both of you eat, drink, and make merry! But you must not desire to have sex with her. It is not permitted, and people are put to death as a result of that act. You shall not initiate it of your own accord, and if someone else leads you astray to such an act, you shall not listen to him or her. You shall not do it. It shall be placed under oath for you.

This is the only clear example of a Hittite king interfering in the local practices of his vassal rulers (Bryce 50). The prohibition only covered relations between blood relatives; it did not apply to relatives by marriage, provided that the woman's husband was not alive. And there is even one clause which permits a free man to have sex with free sisters by the same mother, and even the mother---that is, provided that they are not all together! Like many of the laws, this was probably included as a reaction to a specific case, serving as a precedent.

There is no mention at all of homosexuality in the Hittite laws. Bryce thinks the omission may indicate that it was accepted and therefore never came under legal consideration.

Perhaps the most baffling problem concerns necrophilia, which in one clause is legally sanctioned, while on the other hand the Hittites often avoided any physical contact with corpses for fear of contamination.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, i'm a french student and I study the Hittite civilization and language.
There is just a problem in your message. There is nothing about homosexuality in this laws but I study the hittite homosexuality. It's a crime but there is just one or twoo thing about homosexuality. It's not because you have never read something about homosexuality that it's accept ;)

4:13 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

Hi, thanks for your comment. I'm sure you know more than I do, and I'd appreciate any sources that you have on this. I was simply summarizing Bryce here: these aren't my own conclusions. I had a little trouble understanding your note. You can write in French if you want, and I'll try to read it. Thanks for reading, N.

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Il n'y a donc en effet aucun paragraphe de cette loi relatif à l'homosexualité. Cependant de grands spécialistes du sujet, tel Bottéro ou Freu, avancent une homosexualité chez les Hittites. En effet une stèle relative à ce sujet existe, cependant je n'ai pas sur moi le nom exact de la stèle. C'est tout comme l'inceste un crime énorme et le chatiment était plus que cruel.
Pour un peuple qui se disait civilisé voilà une marque de barbarie.
En ce qui concerne mon anglais désolé il n'est pas des meilleur ;)

6:58 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

Bonjour: Merci de ces deux noms. Je rechercherai leur travail. La stèle indique-t-elle la punition des homosexuels, ou simplement l'existence de l'homosexualité?

Je n'ai pas trouvé beaucoup sur l'Internet, excepté cette citation (ancienne) par H. A. Hoffner: "A man who sodomizes his son is guilty of urkel (illegal intercourse) because his partner is his son, not because they are of the same sex", et, "it would appear that homosexuality was not outlawed among the Hittites" ('Incest, Sodomy, and Bestiality in the Ancient Near East', 1973).

Où étudiez-vous? Votre anglais est meilleur que mon français. :) J'espère que vous continuez à écrire ici. Cordialement, N.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A man who sodomizes his son is guilty of urkel (illegal intercourse) because his partner is his son, not because they are of the same sex", et, "it would appear that homosexuality was not outlawed among the Hittites" ('Incest, Sodomy, and Bestiality in the Ancient Near East', 1973).

This citation is about incest and not homosexuality so the crime is'nt the sexuality act between two men here but the incest relation.

Homosexuality is a crime like incest. I see M.Mazoyer, who is a french hittitologue today, if i can i will speak with he about homosexuality laws.

4:10 AM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

Thanks, that would be great, I'd like to update my post, N.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Casey said...

There may actually be a case against Hittite homosexuals: the "hurkiles pesnes" or "men of hurkil". Note that "pesnes" is the same root as the modern English "penis".
I think it was Calvert Watkins who wrote an article on it... him or Puhvel. Both focus on similar phrasology in IE languages.

10:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings all,

Did we ever found indications that Hittite condemned homosexuality? I'd be very interested in any update!

7:47 AM  
Blogger barry said...

It is interesting that Bryce concludes that Hittite silence about homosexuality constitutes proof that it wasn't forbidden. I wonder what Bryce would conclude from the silence in Mosaic law on the subject of the minimum age a girl must reach before she can become married. I myself, an atheist, conclude that the Mosaic legislation doesn't say anything about this age, because there was no set age (i.e., Moses would not have thought it immoral for a 30 year old man to sexually consummate marriage to a 6 year old girl).

It's also interesting that the Hittites show concern for morality at'd never think so if all you went on was the repeated references in the Pentateuch that broad-brush the Hittites and others as hopelessly debauched incorrigibles. If you used only the bible, you'd think the contemporary pagans did little more than have public orgies, throw live babies into burning ovens, and go around harming everyone and everything as often as possible (!?)

5:54 PM  
Blogger Putt said...

Barry, I do believe in Moses' time they went by a girls period and not age. If we should accept the likelihood that men were engaging in same-sex acts during the time of the Hittites, yet no laws were written down forbidding such acts, then the possible conclusion is that homosexuality was accepted.

12:56 PM  

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