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.