The Iconographic Program of the Sculptures of Alacahöyük

in Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions
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The iconographic program of the sculptured friezes flanking the Sphinx Gate of Alacahöyük is analyzed based on numerous representations in Hittite art that may contribute to the understanding of the context and meaning of these carvings. It is argued that the cult and hunting scenes reflect the concept of the main triad of the Hittite state pantheon—Sun-goddess, Storm-god and Tutelary God, combining it with the new ideology of kingship of the later phase of the Empire period, which stresses the special ties between the king and the Tutelary God of the Countryside. Simultaneously, the lower frieze on the West Tower depicts the royal couple officiating at a cult ceremony presumably during a real local festival. Concerning the identification of Alacahöyük with one of Hittite holy towns, Arinna appears the best candidate. In fact, texts relating to the cult from Arinna enable us to interpret the Alacahöyük sculptures. These sculptures might represent the celebrations during the Great Festival in Arinna, which—as we know from the texts—was attended by the royal couple. There are historical and cultural arguments for dating the Sphinx Gate complex with its sculptures to the second half of the 13th century BC.

The Iconographic Program of the Sculptures of Alacahöyük

in Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions




H.G. Güterbock“Notes on Some Hittite Monuments: The Sphinx Gate of Hüyük, near Alaca,” AnSt 6 1956 54–56 Pl. IVa.


M.J. Mellinkop. cit.17.


M.J. Mellinkop. cit.17.


M.J. Mellinkop. cit.26.


Cf. A. Ünal“The Textual Illustration of the “Jester Scene” on the Sculptures of Alaca Höyük,” AnSt 44 1994 207–218; H. Baltacıoğlu “Alaca Höyük Sfenksli Kapı’ya ait akrobatlar kabartması” Olba 1 Mersin 1998 1–28.


A. Ünalop.cit. 211. It is rather a kind of spear that is held by the priest. A similarly looped spear is held by one of the two priests on the previously mentioned relief see n. 20.


Cf. E. von der Osten-Sacken“Der kleinasiatische Gott der Wildflur,” IstMitt 38 1988 70 71 fig. 3; H.G. Güterbock “Hittite kursa ‘Hunting Bag’” in A. Leonard B.B. Williams (eds) Essays in Ancient Civilization Presented to Helene J. Kantor Chicago 1989 113 f. 119 Pl. 19.


R.L. Alexander“A Great Queen on the Sphinx Piers at Alaca Hüyük,” AnSt 39 1989 151–158.


A. Archi“Divinità tutelari e Sondergötter ittiti,” SMEA 16 1975 89–118; now also N. Bolatti Guzzo M. Marazzi op. cit. 13 f. with references.


See J.D. Hawkins“Tudhaliya the Hunter” 49–76.


Cf. e.g. K. Bittelop. cit.201.


P. Neve“Zur Datierung des Sphinxtores in Alaca Höyük” 213–226. Also R. Naumann Architektur Kleinasiens von ihren Anfängen bis zum Ende der hethitischen Zeit Tübingen 1971 81–82 prefers a late 13th century date.


J. Seeher“Der Landschaft sein Siegel aufdrücken—hethitische Felsbilder und Hieroglypheninschriften als Ausdruck des herrscherlichen Macht- und Territorialanspruchs,” AoF 36 2009 125. A. Ünal is also not convincing when he argues (op. cit. 210): “In favour of an earlier date I wish to state here that the friezes on the orthostats render without exception Hattic cultic practices and it would be impossible to imagine that the Hittite king of the 13th century B.C. would be interested in setting up a huge cultic city with a monumental city gate like Alaca Höyük which is preeminently dominated by Hattic elements only 20 miles away from the capital city of Ḫattuša.” This kind of argument referring to the cultural history of Hittite Anatolia is based on false assumptions. Suffice it to say that the Tutelary God of the Countryside depicted in the hunting scenes of the upper friezes on the West tower belongs to the Luwian and not the Hattian religious realm. See P. Taracha op. cit. 111–112 with references.


Cf. P. TarachaReligions84–85.


P. Camatta“Die Stadt Ḫanḫana und ein Identifizierungsvorschlag,” AoF 33 2006 263–270.


Cf. M. Popkoop. cit.78–80.


H. Gonnet“La grande fête d’Arinna,” in Mémorial Atatürk. Études d’archéologie et de philologie anatoliennesParis 1982 43–71; E. Badalì “CTH 634 (“Grande fête d’Arinna”): tre nuovi testi” VO 6 1986 45–56; M. Popko op. cit. 80–82.



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