Hidden Futures: Death and Immortality in Ancient Egypt, Anatolia, the Classical, Biblical and Arabic-Islamic World

By J. M. Bremer; Theo P.J. Van Den Hout et al. | Go to book overview

Death as a Privilege
The Hittite Royal Funerary Ritual*

Theo P. J. van den Hout


INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

The institution that we call "kingship" was -- and still is -- in many cultures and societies a binding factor of importance, representing the unity of a nation and the personification of its collective power. Tradition is an important aspect in royal ideology: a ruling house likes to present its foundations as deeply rooted in national history, looking back on a long and preferably uninterrupted line of predecessors. Taking on the leadership over a country, however, implies responsibility, so that often the fate of the leader is bound up with the well-being of 'his' country. This may not so much mean that the king is easily criticized when something goes wrong but rather that he is the embodiment of the "prosperity and perpetuity of the political order."1 As long as he is strong and healthy, the country is, too. In its modern form we can see this principle at work when the Dow Jones index and the exchange rates of a nation's currency keep pace with the health and well-being of the world's leaders. As a consequence, the death of a king may not only create a politically unstable situation, but can be highly disconcerting from an ideological point of view as well. A successor, therefore, is often quickly enthroned to discourage any potential usurpers, and in the funeral ceremony of his predecessor the idea of continuity and perpetuity of kingship is stressed. The deceased king's body is embalmed or a lifelike effigy is made to deny, as it were, his death. Theories such as that of "the king's two bodies" are developed: his "body natural" and his "body politic."2 The former refers to the individual king as a human being subject to all possible physical defects, and the latter to him as the abstract office of government carried on by one individual after another: the king as guardian of the Crown. So, to safeguard the country at the moment of a king's demise, emphasis has to be laid on visualizing that body politic. But also in a situation where there is no threat of interregnal disorder whatsoever, the death of a

____________________
*
Research for this study was made possible by a fellowship from the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences. Furthermore, I would like to express my gratitude to Ph.H.J. Houwink ten Cate for his most valuable suggestions. To Dr.-Ing. P. Neve I am indebted for his kind permission to publish here the two photographs of the miniature axes (Figs. 5-6) as well as the map of Ḫattuša (Fig. 1) and to Dr. D.J.W. Meijer for the photographs of Yazilikaya Room B.
1
R. Huntington -- P. Metcalf, Celebrations of Death. The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual ( Cambridge 1979), 154.

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