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Hittite Texts and Greek Religion

Interaction, Borrowing, Analogy

Understanding of the religions of the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Asia has been transformed over the last 150 years by the discovery of textual archives from many Bronze Age sites in Mesopotamia, Syria and Anatolia. One question that arises is how this evidence may illuminate the ancient religions to the West, especially Greece, either by suggesting patterns of influence or by providing comparative models.

This project approaches this problem with special focus on the textual archives of Hittite Anatolia, which document not just Hittite religious practices but also those of a number of other cultures in Anatolia and N. Syria: the Hattians, Luwians, Hurrians and others. Three factors make the Hittite archives particularly conducive to this sort of work: first, the Hittites were in direct contact with the Mycenaean Greeks; secondly, the Hittite evidence is usually rich and diverse; and thirdly Hittite religion is itself a extraordinary example of how one religious system can combine deities and other elements drawn from many other cultures, in Anatolia and Mesopotamia.

There are two main aims to my work. The first is to understand to what extent Hittite and Greek religion came into contact with each other and what the results of that were, if any. My working hypothesis is there was plenty of contact (via military activity, diplomacy, trade and perhaps common festivals), but only a limited amount of influence, mostly confined to the West ("Arzawa"). It seems that Mycenaean Greek religion, unlike Hittite religion, was conservative and on the whole resistant to external influence (The picture might change if we had more evidence for Western Anatolia, and it is always possible that influence took place several millennia before but is now undetectable). The second aim is to try to find whether there is anything to be gained from studying the religious systems side by side (in other words, from doing "comparative religion"), even if there was no influence. My working hypothesis is that taking a panoptic view of ancient religions has great value; it allows us to see which elements are common to all or most religious systems and which are distinctive; it may allow us to produce a sort of epidemiological map of regions which share similar religious memes; and in some cases it provides insights into the longue durée of the religious history of particular cultures.