Hittite Religion, Gods & Mythology

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson takes a peek into the vast pantheon and mythology of the ancient Hittites. Within, you'll learn about who the Hittites were, some of their most well-known gods, and the myth of succession for the throne of the gods.

Who Were the Hittites?

For most people, their familiarity with the Hittites comes from biblical references in the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament. They appear in Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Ezekiel. However, when comparing historical records, biblical records, and archaeological evidence, scholars agree that the Hittites from the Bible are more aptly called the Neo-Hittites who remained in the region during the decline of their kingdom.

Map of Hittite kingdom of Hatti
Map of Hatti

The original Hittites ruled a large empire they called Hatti, from around the 18th century BCE, in what is now part of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. Speaking an Indo-European language called Nesite, the Neo-Hittites kept the culture going in the areas near Syria when the Hatti kingdom collapsed in the 12th century BCE. This lesson, however, is about their religion. So let's find out why archaeologists call Hatti the ''kingdom of a thousand gods.''

Polytheism

Most of what we know about the Hittites comes from their own writing, uncovered from archaeological digs. These texts provide us with a look into governmental records, history, and religious beliefs. We also gain evidence of their religion from unearthing temples and shrines. This is how the kingdom got its nickname from archaeologists.

Hittite cuneiform tablet with script for Goddess Teteshapi festival and ritual
Cuneiform Tablet

The archaeologists miscounted a bit, however. The Hittites did not have 1,000 gods; they had many thousands of gods and adopted new ones from each culture they met. Their pantheon also had a succession of rulers as the gods seemed to overthrow each other quite frequently until Tarhun took the throne.

Relief sculpture of Hittite gods at Yazilikaya Temple
Hittite Gods


The following is a list of the main deities that appeared most often in Hittite mythology.

  • Istanu: He was the god who ruled the sun when it was in the sky. Istanu was also the god of judges.
  • Lelwani: Also a goddess of death, Lelwani ruled the sun in the earth. Basically, that meant ruling the sun when it set as well as any fires within the earth like magma.
  • A'as: This god seemed to be the Hittite version of Ea, an Akkadian deity, and Enki, a Sumerian god. The domain of A'as was wisdom. Myths about him show other gods consulting him, especially on matters of taking the throne of heaven from other gods.
  • Hanwasuit: She was the goddess of thrones, empowering the mortal kings of the Hittites with the divine power to rule.
  • Hannahannah: Sharing the domain of wisdom with A'as, Hannahannah was a mother goddess known to comfort and guide the other Hittite gods. While A'as appeared in myths about overthrowing rulers, Hannahannah appeared in myths involving gods going missing.
  • Tarhun: He was the god of storms and the king of all the Hittite gods. According to mythology, Tarhun gathered his siblings to overthrow Kumarbi, the king of the heavens before Tarhun. A large portion of recovered mythology told stories of Kumarbi, his children, and their demonic servants of the underworld repeatedly battling Tarhun to try to regain the throne.

Relief sculpture of Tarhun in Aleppo, Syrian Museum
Tarhun

  • Kumarbi: King of the gods before Tarhun, Kumarbi ruled the Netherworld and the dark creatures inhabiting it.
  • Shaushka: She was the goddess of beauty and fertility but also of jealousy and rage. Saushka was one of Tarhun's wives.
  • Ullikummi: The son of Kumarbi, he was the evil god dethroned by Tarhun. Ullikummi's mother was an attractive rock Kumarbi decided to seduce. Yes, you read that right — a rock. Ullikummi grew to be a giant made of basalt, a type of stone. He appeared in many of the myths involving his father's attempts to take back the throne of the gods.

Ruins of a Hittite temple in Ain Dara, Syria
Ain Dara Temple

Succession of God Kings

The stories in Hittite mythology told of four gods who sat on the throne of heaven. The first was Alalu, father of the later king Kumarbi. He was only able to rule for nine years until Anu, the sky god, overthrew him. Alalu fled to the underworld at that time.

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