Written by: Julia Richardson

A Hittite Goddess

A Hittite Goddess: On display at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara

The Tawananna, Hittite Queen, who inspired this website, is Puduhepa. Queen Puduhepa stands out from a predominantly male dominated history as a woman of remarkable achievement and inspiration. A large number of ancient texts survive which illustrate the importance of her role and while we will never know what her daily life was really like, we can start to unravel the perception of women as powerless, purely domestic and passive in the history of civilization. Puduhepa was a queen, a diplomat and a priestess. Her role was not insignificant; in fact, from the documents that survive we can see that she was a woman of considerable strength and a woman who garnered a substantial amount of respect. Thus, Puduhepa, over 3000 years since she lived, is a symbol of the true strength, fortitude and courage of Anatolian women throughout every era of history.

Puduhepa was the wife of King Hattušili III of the Hittite kingdom in the 13th C BCE. There are numerous letters and documents attesting to her role in the Hittite kingdom and throughout the texts, she appears as a personality of great interest and strength of character. Puduhepa, as queen was frequently referred to on equal terms with her husband the king leading us to imagine that the role of women in 13C BCE was not merely that of domestic servitude. The first example of this is the autobiographical Apology of Hattušili (CHT 81)[i] which refers to the king and queen on equal footing. It may seem insignificant, but for a queen present or past to be referred to on equal terms with her husband and king should not be underestimated. The evidence that suggests the power of Puduhepa is in direct contrast to structured subordination of women typically found in patriarchal societies and an exciting starting point for further exploration into the life of this Hittite queen.

The story of Hattušili and Puduhepa starts upon his return from the Battle of Kadesh (1274-5). It is when he stops on his way at the city of Lavazantiya to pay tribute to the goddess Ishtar that he is instructed by the goddess to marry Puduhepa. It is told that Ishtar appeared to him in a dream and he obediently followed the command of the all-powerful goddess. Puduhepa herself was a Priestess of Ishtar, referred to as a handmaiden of Ishtar, and the daughter of a Priest called Pentipšarri. There are many interesting points raised by the story of how Puduhepa came to be Tawananna, notably the role of the goddess and the religious authority already possessed by Puduhepa before she came to be queen.

We are told of Puduhepa and her husband that the goddess bestowed on them the “love of husband and wife”.[ii] What is intriguing about this account is firstly the image of the king doing the bidding of the goddess and then the reference to the love between and husband and wife, which raises the question as to what kind of love this was? Was it expected that a woman find some kind of love in her marriage, certainly this has not always been a concern of those who have participated in the buying and selling of brides. Could a Hittite bride expect love in her marriage or even the respect of her husband? We may never really know the answers, but being able to ask the questions allows us to see that our assumptions of women and their roles throughout history are significantly more complex than we could have ever imagined.

The most exciting discovery in the life of Puduhepa was her correspondence with Ramses II of Egypt. He addressed her with the respect one would expect of the leader of a foreign nation. This communication has led to wide speculation as to the nature of Puduhepa’s role and the undoubted assertion that this woman was actively participating in international diplomacy with what seems to be considerable skill and impact. It is notable that Ramses II addressed her in exactly the same manner with which he addressed the King.

The king of Egypt, the Great King, the son of the Sun, beloved of the God Amon, the First Great King, the king of the land of Egypt, will speak thus to the Great Queen Puduhepa of the Hatti land, my sister: Look! Ramses, beloved of the God Amon, the Great King of the land of Egypt is well. His houses, his sons, his armies, his horses, his chariots and the things in his country are (also) very well. May you Great Queen of Hatti land, my sister, also be well! May your houses, sons, horses and chariots and the things in your country (also) be well.”[iii]

Pudehepa’s full participation in the public sphere of national and international politics, diplomacy and legal proceedings contrasts with the limited selections of roles, consigned to the private sphere, in which women were thought to have predominantly occupied. The very fact of the existence of such a woman in the ancient world of the Hittites creates an interesting opposition to the perception of womanly duties as being somehow predetermined as homemakers, wives and mothers. The argument that women are biologically assigned these inferior roles by a higher power starts to weaken when we see in all periods of history women breaking out of their stereotypical roles and challenging the commonly held belief that they are somehow inferior to their male counterparts. Women have always challenged these stereotypes and have contributed in countless way to the world we live in and it is here, on this website, led by Puduhepa, that we can start to give tribute to the women who helped shape the world we live in.

[i] CHT 81 is the reference number for the Catalogue des textes hittites (CTH).

[ii] Darga, Muhibbe. Women in the Historical Ages. In Women in Anatolia, 9000 Years of the History of the Anatolian Woman, Turkish Republic Ministry of Culture, Istanbul, 1993, p30.

[iii] Letter from King Ramses II of Egypt to Hittite Queen Puduhepa, quoted from Women in Anatolia, 9000 Years of the History of the Anatolian Woman, Turkish Republic Ministry of Culture, Istanbul, 1993, p108.