Tarhunt: Definition & Concept

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore Tarhunt, the most powerful god within the ancient Hittite religion. From birth to the slaying of the serpent Illuyanka, Tarhunt shares many characteristics with other ancient deities.

Powerful Gods

Every religion, whether they have one god or hundreds, has one god who is the most powerful. For Greeks it was Zeus; for Muslims, it's Allah; and in the Vedic texts, it's Vishnu. Some of these religions even overlap. For instance, the Greek Zeus and Roman Jupiter are virtually identical.

For the ancient Hittites, their ancient god amongst the gods was named Tarhunt. Like Zeus and Jupiter, Tarhunt was virtually indistinguishable from Teshub, the most powerful god from other religions popular in Asia Minor.

Who was Tarhunt?

As the most powerful god, Tarhunt was often depicted carrying three thunderbolts. He controlled the weather and storms. He was also often depicted with a bull, an animal considered sacred in many ancient mythologies. In Hittite mythology, Tarhunt was born when the god Kumarbi bit off Tarhunt's father's genitals. Tarhunt was married to the goddess Arinniti, and together they had a son named Sarruma.

Slaying of Illuyanka

The most important Hittite myth involving Tarhunt has the god slaying the giant serpent, Illuyanka. According to Hittite mythology, Tarhunt lost his eyes and heart in his first battle with Illuyanka. To get revenge, Tarhunt guided his son, Sarruma, to marry the serpent's daughter and then ask for Tarhunt's eyes and heart back as a wedding gift. With his organs restored, Tarhunt challenged Illuyanka to another battle, but was stopped by his son when Sarruma realized Tarhunt used him. Sarruma then told his father that if he was going to slay Illuyanka, he would have to kill Sarruma as well. In response, Tarhunt slayed both Illuyanka and his son with thunderbolts.

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