Festivals and Social Hierarchies in the Hittite Court

Michael Moore, UCLA

This study utilizes Michael Dietler’s theoretical framework of feasting to study the reification of the social hierarchy within the Hittite court through religious festivals. Social hierarchies can be created and reinforced through spatial positioning (where individuals are situated relative to one another), the type and quality of food rations allotted to each individual, behavioral distinctions (whether an individual is sitting, squatting, sitting, kneeling, bowing, or some other behavior), and temporal distinctions (the order in which people are served food, participate in a procession, etc.). Although Hittite festival texts provide a wealth of information about the identities and roles of participants in religious ceremonies, this vast corpus of texts remains largely untapped.

Focusing on the KI.LAM festival and incorporating information from the Palace Chronicles and instruction texts, this study examines how court etiquette and religious ceremonies combined to reinforce social stratification in the Hittite court. Social status was heavily dependent upon the king’s favor, and physically interacting with the king was a mark of prestige. Few were accorded this privilege, however, and items frequently exchanged hands at least twice before reaching the king from the most senior officials, cementing the elevated status of the king and the chains of command that organized the cooks, waiters, priests, bodyguards, and other officials of the Hittite court. The order in which individuals processed in and out of the Great Assembly during the KI.LAM festival sheds additional light on the social hierarchy of the Hittite court.