Elisabeth Rieken and Daniel Schwemer

Citatio: E. Rieken & D. Schwemer, hethiter.net/: HFR Einleitung (2022-05-12)

Introduction to the HFR Project

Significance | State Administration | Festival Ritual Texts | State of the Research | Challenges | Research Goals

The Historical Significance of Hittite Festival Rituals

In the 17th century BCE, a territorial state was established in Central Anatolia, namely, the Hittite Empire, which was to have a significant impact on the fate of the Near East in the 2nd millennium BCE. The history and culture of the Hittites are extraordinarily well documented, especially through the extensive textual finds in the state archives of the city of Ḫattuša (Boğazköy), which served the Hittite kings as a royal residence with only a few brief interruptions. The Hittite state administration adopted the Mesopotamian cuneiform script along with its typical writing medium, the clay tablet, and adapted it to the Hittite script as early as the 16th century BCE.

In addition to Hittite cuneiform texts, the Hittite clay tablet collections also contain smaller groups of cuneiform texts in other ancient Near Eastern languages. Luwian and Palaic, like Hittite, belong to the group of Anatolian languages, which is the earliest attested branch of Indo-European. Hittite is a language of the culture that dominated Central Anatolia in the pre-Hittite period and has been transmitted only by Hittite scribes; it was used by the Hittites as a sacred language in the context of ceremonial texts. The languages of Mesopotamia, Akkadian and Sumerian, were used mainly in the fields of scribal education and diplomacy, whereas Hurrian is attested in Hittite archives mainly in the context of the transmission of South Anatolian-North Syriac religious traditions, which played an important role in the Hittite royal court from the 15th century BCE onwards.

The temple cult - the daily provisioning of the gods as well as the cyclical cultic festivals - is a central element of religious, social, political and economic life in all ancient Near Eastern cultures. Thus, an exploration of the processes, structures and transformations of the cult not only allows decisive insights into the conception of the sacred and the understanding of sacredness, the structure of the world of the gods, the relationship between mythology and ritualism, sacral languages, and sacral geography as well as cult topography, but it also sheds light on essential aspects of social, political and economic culture. In the cult, power relations are articulated and legitimized, and participation in the rituals serves social cohesion and the definition of common identities throughout the whole of ancient society, not only among the social elites. The rituals of the cult structure the course of the year. The cult itself suggests constancy and the stability of tradition through its cyclical structure; in diachronic perspective, the tension between tradition creation, change, revision, and reform can be studied paradigmatically in the cult system. In the official cult of a heterogeneous territorial state, local peculiarities, regional traditions, and central regulatory claims coexist and compete. For an understanding of the Hittite state, the study of the organization, realization, and maintenance of the cult provides essential insights into administrative and production structures, as well as into the transmission techniques of the experts responsible for the proper functioning of the cult.

The sources allow comprehensive investigations of the cult system for only a few regions and time periods of the ancient world, in which, on the one hand, a multitude of cultic institutions and regional traditions within a larger political structure can be taken into account and, on the other hand, the historical development of the cult can be reconstructed on the basis of the evidence. The Hittite tradition represents a special stroke of luck in this respect, since from the relatively manageable historical period of the Hittite empire (17th-13th century BCE) a multitude of textual sources is available, which directly illuminate the Hittite cult system with its numerous different traditions and milieus.1 Among the sources relevant for the reconstruction of Hittite cult, the so-called ‘Festival Rituals’, regulations for the performance of cult at the sanctuaries of the land of Ḫatti, occupy an outstanding position due to their large number, their diachronic dispersion, and their direct reference to cultic practice and administration. The most comprehensive possible editorial indexing of this extensive group of texts forms the fundamental prerequisite for an adequate understanding of Hittite cultic life. Due to its complexity and the favorable source situation, this corpus of texts offers a unique opportunity to exemplify the structure, function, and dynamics of a cultic system in ancient cultures.

Festival Rituals, Cult Observance, Royal and State Administration

With nearly 10,000 fragments, the ‘Festival Rituals’ are the most extensive text group among the cuneiform texts found in Ḫattuša’s clay tablet collections. Festival ritual texts are succinctly worded, often extensive, technical prescriptions. They were intended to guide experts in performing cultic rituals that fell outside of the daily provisioning of the deities, and occurred on specific, usually seasonally determined occasions, logographically referred to as EZEN₄ “festival”.2 Textual finds in Hittite provincial cities show that the state administration of the cult system, as well as the exceedingly rich textual production associated with it, were not limited to the capital city of Ḫattuša; thus, festival ritual texts have also been found in Ortaköy, Kuşaklı, Oymaağaç, Kayalıpınar, Yassıhüyük, and Meskene.

The central role of cult worship becomes quickly apparent to anyone who visits the ruins of a Hittite city. Monumental temples dominate the cityscape; landscape markers outside the urban area serve as sacred sites. In Ḫattuša - the “City of the Gods” according to a recitation of the monthly festival - more than thirty temples are archaeologically attested in the city area. Care for the cult of the gods is one of the essential duties of the king and the local ruling elites appointed by the king. From ancient Hittite times, the king played a central role in the performance of the festival rituals as the highest-ranking cult servant.

The Hittites describe the ideal performance of the cult with the word šakuwaššar(ra)- “complete”: All festivals are to be performed on schedule, and all prescribed offerings included. The complete performance of the cultic rituals is considered a prerequisite for the goodwill of the gods toward king and country, as is made clear by the repeated commitment to this ideal in the service regulations for temple servants. At the same time, passages, especially in historiographical texts and royal prayers, show that real-life conditions, characterized by military and political constraints, did not always correspond to the ideal of cult observance and that cultic duties could be neglected (Hittite šakuwantariya-).

The king, as the highest official of the cult and guarantor of the state’s well-being, is especially committed to the šakuwaššar(ra) ideal. In fulfilling his duty, he is supported by the largely centralized administrative apparatus of the empire: scribes research how and when the festivals are to be celebrated; they approve and document the respective versions of the festivals; they organize and supervise their implementation.3

The Corpus of Festival Ritual Texts and Related Textual Corpora

The text output of the cult administration is considerable. Festival ritual texts were produced in various formats: ‘summary tables’ give a concise overview of the program of multi-day festival rituals. ‘Daily tables’ describe the rites or partial festivals to be performed on single days or over several days at a particular location. Apparently only on special occasions were summary tablets made of all the festivals that were to be celebrated by the king in the course of the year.4

Alongside the festival ritual texts are other groups of texts that directly serve cult administration: Lists of rations to be supplied by special occupational groups; tablets of texts to be recited during the festival; royal decrees regulating certain cults; protocols of inspection by royal administrators of local cults in which the king did not participate (the ‘cult inventories’); protocols of oracle inquiries with respect to the conduct of certain festivals. In particular, decrees and cult inventories may contain passages that, like the festival ritual texts, provide regulations for the performance of certain festivals.

Often the ceremonial ritual texts written on clay tablets refer to wooden writing tablets that were probably inlaid with wax. These play an important role in cult administration; unfortunately, not a single one has survived, so one of the groups of sources important for the reconstruction of Hittite cult life is unfortunately lost forever.5

The Hittite cult, defined as the set of rites and festivals that serve the worship and cultivation of the gods by the people, is per se traditional. It is not by chance that one of the Hittite expressions for “rite” and “cult”, is the word šaklai- which actually denotes the conventional endowed with authority: custom, habit, rule, in short, tradition. The reference back to old tablets and the appreciation of written tradition is therefore particularly pronounced in the field of cultic worship; when kings undertake the reorganization of a local cult, they point to the consultation of old tablets and present their measures as restoration. The systematic archiving and maintenance of ceremonial ritual texts contribute to the fact that this genre forms such a large part of the extant Hittite textual corpus.

However, the transmission of the festival ritual texts was not limited to the regular handwritten recopying of the same texts. The sequence and design of the festive rituals were altered repeatedly. This resulted in omissions, the adaptation of ritual regulations to new situations, and the incorporation of additional sacrifices donated by kings. For changes in the ritual procedure, the approval of the deity was usually obtained by means of oracle inquiries. This divine confirmation is not only recorded in minutes of the oracle inquiries, but also noted in the ceremonial ritual records. In fact, changes in the ritual process are documented by a rewrite of the festival ritual text. The festival rituals were in a constant state of change, the authorization and documentation of which lead to an increase in manuscripts and at the same time to the emergence of a complex tradition.

In addition to documenting tradition and change, the manuscripts of festival ritual texts probably also have the concrete function of instructing action, which their apparently prescriptive formulation suggests from the outset. The festival ritual texts themselves indicate that during the performance of the ritual, scribes used clay or wooden tablets to give instructions on how to distribute offerings to the deities.6 The fact that copies of the festival ritual texts relevant to specific cult sites are kept both in the royal archives of Ḫattuša and on site is another indication of the use of the festival ritual texts as a guide in the performance of the cult.

The festival ritual texts document an early attempt to ensure compliance with certain standards nationwide through systematic quality management on the part of the state administration. Adherence to these standards, which among the Hittites were legitimized and prescribed by divine authority, ensured the favor of the gods and thus made an important contribution to the welfare of Hittite kingship and state. However, the primary meaning attached to the organization of the cult by the Hittite state administration was not solely ideological. The conduct of the cult and its supervision by the royal administration ensured the continuous nationwide presence of the royal person and the regular visits of local delegations to the capital. They convey a common identity and legitimize royal rule to Hittite elites and, to some extent, probably to the wider population as well.

State of the Research and Desiderata

The large proportion of festival ritual texts in the written Hittite tradition was recognized early on, and the first survey works on Hittite culture already give space to the description of cult life.7 Güterbock, in particular, contributed to the further development of the genre in a series of essays,8 whose explanations of the overview tablets were continued by Houwink ten Cate in several fundamental contributions.9 Since the 1970s, various individual festival rituals or groups of festival ritual texts associated with specific cult sites have often been edited in monographic form;10 individual texts have been discussed and sometimes edited in the form of articles.11 Festival rituals that contain non-Hittite (Hattic, Palaic, Luwian, or Hurrian) passages on a larger scale have been included - sometimes only in selections or excerpts - in the respective special corpora.12 In addition, studies on certain aspects of the cult (especially temple, music, dance) contain adaptations of individual passages.13 An overview of the most important festival rituals with content information, but without text adaptations, has recently been given by Haas (Haas V. 1994a: 674–875). Various sub-complexes of the festival ritual texts have been processed in the form of qualification theses and smaller research projects, or are currently in progress.14 In the more recent German collaborative research projects in the field of ancient studies, history of religion, and ritual studies, the corpus of Hittite festival rituals and the Hittite cult have received no or only marginal consideration. The festival ritual texts have been recognized as the most extensive Hittite text group since the beginnings of Hittitology, and the successive publication of the text finds from Ḫattuša in autographs, mainly through the project “Hittitische Forschungen” of the Academy of Sciences and Literature, Mainz,15 has allowed the comprehensive edition of individual festival ritual text complexes by individual scholars.16 However, the editorial treatment of this text genre, which is important for Hittite cultural history, is still in an initial stage: for example, an edition of the most important festival ritual complex of the Great Kingdom period, the AN.DAḪ.ŠUM festival in spring, has never been undertaken. The number of unassigned fragments currently assigned to collection number CTH 670 (“festival ritual fragments”) in the Catalogue des Textes Hittites (CTH) exceeds 3500. The ratio between the number of festival ritual fragments found in Ḫattuša and the fragment joins made is significantly lower than for other Hittite text genres. In the meantime, supplements and additions have been made to almost all of the editions presented, which are systematically made accessible to the scholarly public by means of the concordance of Hittite cuneiform tablets, but this editorial processing has so far only taken place in individual cases.

For the study of overlapping cultural-historical, linguistic-historical and paleographical questions, the most extensive Hittite text genre can currently only be used to a limited extent. All in all, any treatment of a single text area from the festival ritual texts is necessarily preliminary, until a comprehensive and systematic treatment of the entire text inventory (including the fragments that have so far only been roughly assigned) has been carried out.

Special Editorial Challenges of the Festival Ritual Texts

The overall unsatisfactory state of the research, despite many individual contributions, is objectively due to the extraordinary challenges that a comprehensive critical edition of Hittite festival ritual texts must face:

  • The total number of manuscripts and the size of both the manuscripts to be reconstructed (large-format library tablets) and the texts to be reconstructed (series comprising several tablets in different versions) require long-term research and a powerful digital infrastructure.
  • Most of the manuscripts are preserved in a highly fragmented state. Given the richness of stereotyped formulas and passages common to all festive ritual texts and the editorial and historical complexity of festive ritual texts, the reconstruction of manuscripts by means of direct and indirect mergers of fragments requires information support beyond philological indexing, based on the systematic collection and digital analysis of formal characteristics.
  • In classifying manuscripts, the philological edition of ceremonial ritual texts must, as far as possible, distinguish duplicates (transcripts of the same text), variants (transcripts of different versions of the same text), and parallels (seemingly duplicating parallel passages in different texts).17 In the case of fragments, reliable classifications are often only made possible by mergers. As a basis for sifting and pre-classifying fragments, they must be available in a digital base corpus that allows targeted searches according to content and formal criteria.
  • The corpus of festival ritual texts has so far been only provisionally defined and arranged. It must therefore be reconstituted to a large extent in the course of the editorial work through the reconstruction of manuscripts and texts, thereby revealing its actual form. For this reason, the project can only be approached as a dynamic, digital edition that publishes progress in knowledge and newly indexed materials in a timely manner and makes them accessible to users online, so that actual printed works can be presented in later phases of the project. In this way, new textual discoveries and texts that are still unpublished today can also be successively integrated.

Research Objectives

The project pursues four overall goals, all of which relate to the editorial indexing and overall interpretation of the festival ritual texts.

1) Basic corpus of festival ritual texts

The project incorporates transliterations of all manuscripts of festival ritual texts into a digital basic corpus, comprehensively annotated with metadata, which allows complex research through manuscript and text reconstruction and, at the same time, topically indexes the fragments that cannot yet be assigned to an individual text or text complex. This basic corpus was published online at the end of 2021 (basic corpus) and has since been continuously corrected and expanded with new finds.

2) Critical editions of selected festival ritual texts

HFR produces critical editions of a selection of ceremonial ritual texts within the framework of the digital infrastructure of the HPM, while taking into account the history of transmission as far as possible; in principle, isolated individual fragments are excluded from the editions and are only indexed within the framework of the basic corpus. Individual text groups are annotated and produced as printed works.

The following criteria were applied to the selection of texts to be presented in the form of critical editions: (1) volume and state of preservation of the available manuscripts; (2) significance for the history of religion and the history of language; (3) necessity for a first or new edition; (4) lack of treatment in the context of other research projects on individual Hittite festive rituals.

3) Digital recording and textual metrological analysis of the tablet fragments

The project serves to reconstruct the manuscripts of ceremonial ritual texts as comprehensively as possible, both with the conventional philological methods of text edition and with the help of virtual manuscript reconstruction. For the latter, the original tablets and fragments are digitally recorded with the help of high-resolution 3D scans and analyzed through textual metrology by means of special software. The data analysis should enable the formation of fragment groups with a high probability of association. In this context, new insights into Hittite cuneiform paleography are also expected.

4) Studies

Beyond its textual core, the project serves to explore the historical development of the Hittite cult system as a state-organized religious practice with great political and economic significance. The dissertations produced within the framework of the project’s internal doctoral program illuminate individual aspects of the textual complex. Overarching studies are being produced on the paleography, linguistic form, and overall interpretation in terms of the history of religion.

Paleographic study

Due to new text editions and innovative hypotheses on textual adaptation, the discussion about methodology and the results of paleographic text dating, which was intensively conducted in the 1970s and 1980s, has recently been rekindled. The project’s planned research can be expected to lead to substantial progress in this question, because on the one hand the Middle and Late Hittite ceremonial texts, a corpus which has so far been largely excluded from the discussion, will be included in the research, and on the other hand a new technical methodology will be applied.

Building on the textual metrological analyses and the record of the festival ritual texts in the annotated basic corpus, which allows for a quantification of the application of ‘orthographic’ rules, a paleographic investigation is being undertaken on a representative selection of festival ritual texts. In addition to a systematic documentation of the graphics and character forms in state of the art quality (photos, 3D scans and 3D geometries), the aim of the study is first to define significant diachronic and synchronic variances, taking into account new parameters such as stylus shape, stylus position, trajectory angle, wedge group geometry etc. On this basis, the significance of the variable character forms for the dating of transcripts, for a possible functional categorization of writing types, as well as for the size and continuity of scribal teams and the identification of individual scribal hands can be thoroughly investigated.

Linguistic study

An overarching linguistic study will contribute to a deeper understanding of the diachronic development and archival organization of the ceremonial ritual corpus and its identity-forming contents, as well as to knowledge of Hittite language development in general; in this context, the results of the paleographic study represent an important prerequisite for addressing these questions. Relevant research topics here are, for example, the description and typological classification of technical language features, as well as the forms of textuality: to what extent do the scribes see themselves as authors, copyists, or as compilers making interpretive selections from the discursive tradition of the ‘cultural library’? How are the scribes’ aims and intentions, as well as their relationship to the produced text, reflected in its linguistic realization? An important starting point for the investigation of the form of textuality and the scribal activity will be the tracing of recurring motifs through the entire history of transmission. Besides classifying the content into the macrostructure of the text, the linguistic techniques of describing such units of meaning will be in the focus: technical linguistics, explicitness and variability of the linguistic form; connection to the context; possibilities of linguistic innovation and archaization.

Study of the history of religion and administration

A religious and administrative history of the texts of the Hittite festival ritual tradition will make the meaning and real life context of Hittite festival rituals accessible to a wider audience. The aim of the study is to provide a comprehensive description of the scope, structure, organization, and religious, political, and social functions of the cult controlled by the royal house at Hittite sanctuaries in the 13th century BCE. A central concern of the study will be to draw a diachronically differentiated history of the development of the Hittite cult that can actually be demonstrated by the texts of the cult practice: Which traditions are taken up in the cult of the 13th century, how are they adapted and further developed, how do measures of individual kings and queens affect the design of the cult? Can these developments be linked to the archaeological evidence at Ḫattuša or at other Hittite sites? Directly connected with a diachronic analysis of the festival ritual practice is the question of the development of the relationship between the cult in the ancient capital Ḫattuša and the local cults of the land of Ḫatti, especially in times when Ḫattuša did not serve as royal residence.


The overall aim of this research project is the reconstruction and editing of the most extensive and at the same time least explored Hittite text group, which originates primarily from the German excavations at Ḫattuša. The critical analysis of the primary sources is guided by the question of the significance of the festival ritual texts within the religious, bureaucratic, economic, and political practice of the Hittite state, especially in the 13th century BCE, and how the relationship between the festival ritual texts in the narrower sense and the Hittite festival ritual tradition in the broader sense (cult inventories, edicts, oracle protocols, etc.) can be described. At the same time, the project aims to contribute to ritual research, to the history of the religions of ancient Near Eastern cultures, to cuneiform paleography, and to advance the linguistic study of text types of ancient language groups.

In Hittitology, one speaks of ‘cult layers’ in order to summarize groups of texts that belong to a certain, usually regional tradition, or contain elements of such a tradition. The characteristics of a ‘cult layer’ are, besides typical practices and motifs, above all the linguistic character of the relevant texts (recitations; terminology).
To be distinguished from the festival rituals (also called ‘festival descriptions’; English festival texts) are the ‘invocation rituals’, which are mainly purification, healing and evocation rituals for specific occasions. As a rule, they can be clearly distinguished from the festival ritual texts in terms of language, actors, motifs, and function.
On the function and meaning of the festival ritual texts, see currently Schwemer D. 2016a and Burgin J.M. 2019a; however, as Klinger J. 2013e: 93–95; iin discussion with Hutter M. 2008b and Görke S. 2008a points out, many assumptions commonly made in Hittitology about the function of the festival ritual texts are shaped by presuppositions that still require actual verification on the as yet elusive textual corpus.
So far, only one text of this type, KUB 25.27, has become known.
On the role of wooden tablets in Hittite writing and administrative culture, see especially Gordin S. 2010a: 162–63, Waal W. 2011a, Cammarosano M. et al. 2019a, Hout Th.P.J. van den 2020c: 184–217.
See Schwemer D. 2016a: 20 (especially on KUB 10.45 Rs. III 12′-14′ and KUB 20.59 Rs. V 2-6).
See especially Goetze A. 1933a: 150–60 (2nd ed. 1957: 161-69) and Gurney O.R. 1977a: 25–43; cf. also Hoffner H.A. 2006d.
Most notably: Haas V. 1970a (cult of Nerik); Neu E. 1970a (thunderstorm rituals); Otten H. 1971c (KBo 19.128); Lebrun R. 1976a (cult of Šamuḫa); Singer I. 1983-1984a (KI.LAM Festival); McMahon G. 1991a (festival rituals für DKAL); Yoshida D. 1992a (Middle Hittite precursors of the AN.DAḪ.ŠUM Festival); Badalì E. - Zinko Ch. 1994a (16th day of the AN.DAḪ.ŠUM Festival); Popko M. 1994a (cult of Zippalanda); Klinger J. 1996a (285–615: Festival of the Month); Glocker J. 1997a (cult of Kuliwišna); Nakamura M. 2002a (nuntarriyašḫa- Festival); Groddek D. 2004m (Old Hittite KI.LAM Festival); Taracha P. 2005d and 2017a (spring festival celebrated by the prince). Motivated by linguistic-historical and paleographic issues were the transcription and glossaries of “Old Hittite ritual texts” in Neu E. 1980d and 1983b.
In selection: Gonnet H. 1975-1976a (spring festival); Haas V. - Wäfler M. 1976a and 1977a (11th day of the AN.DAḪ.ŠUM Festival; festivals for the netherworld deities); Lebrun R. 1977d: 116–42 (festival for Teššub and Ḫebat of Lawazantiya); Forlanini M. 1984a; Haas V. - Jakob-Rost L. 1984a (festivals for Telipinu); Pecchioli Daddi F. 1988a (festival fragments mentioning the NIN.DINGIR priestess); Popko M. - Taracha P. 1988a (28-29th days of the AN.DAḪ.ŠUM Festival); Yoshida D. 1992a (7th-8th day of the AN.DAḪ.ŠUM Festival); Bawanypeck D. - Görke S. 2001a (‘Storm-god of the meadow’); Corti C. 2010a; 2010d (northern Anatolian cults); Groddek D. 2010b (ḫišuwa Festival, 10th tablet); Taggar-Cohen A. 2010a und Mouton A. 2011b (ḫaššumaš Festival).
See Starke F. 1985a: 270–418 (Luwian; esp. cult of Ištanuwa); Klinger J. 1996a: 687–726 (Hattic antiphonal chants); Wegner I. - Salvini M. 1991a, Wegner I. 1995c, 2002a (Hurrian; ḫišuwa Festival et al.).
Cf. Alp S. 1983a (temples); Martino S. de 1989a (dance); Badalì E. 1991a, Schuol M. 2004b (music); Yoshida D. 1996a (solar deities).
To be mentioned are: M. Doğan-Alparslan (Istanbul): ḫišuwa festival (cf. Doğan-Alparslan M. 2020b); P. Taracha (Warsaw): festivals celebrated by the prince (cf. Taracha P. 2017a), cult of Ḫanḫana; dissertations: F. Barsacchi (Florence/Würzburg): thunderstorm rituals (cf. Barsacchi F.G. 2017a); N. Galmarini (Rome): texts on the AN.DAḪ.ŠUM festival (CTH 615; 616; 618; cf. Galmarini N. 2013a, 2014a, 2015a; H. Marcuson (Chicago): Ziparwa festival (CTH 750; cf. Marcuson H. 2011a); G. Stivala (Mainz): Hittite cult songs (cf. Stivala G. 2006a; 2007a; 2011a).
During its running time (1961-2015; academy funding since 1979), the “Hittite Research” project produced volumes 11-69 in the series “Cuneiform Texts from Boghazköi” (KBo), with a total of well over 14,000 text numbers. In the second major publication series for cuneiform texts from Ḫattuša, “Cuneiform Documents from Boghazköi” (KUB), sixty folders were published between 1921 and 1990.
For discussions of this methodological problem, see Singer I. 1983-1984a: Bd. 1, 2 und Groddek D. 2004m: 8–9.