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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Visual Signatures of Hittite Art: The Double Headed Eagle and Upturned Shoes

  So hey what about my book review of The Kingdom of the Hittites by Trevor  Bryce appearing in the "top posts" list over on the sidebar? (1) 128 page views in the past month?  That's ridiculous because book reviews about ancient Near Eastern History rank just above "Comparative Philology" in the mental list I keep of "least popular subjects to blog about."  But there you have it smack dab at #3 behind only 2013 Chart Leader, my book review of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and my post about the Statement split  LP by Clandestine Records featuring Dirty Beaches, Ela Orleans and Slim Twig.

  And sure, it's only 100 page views but if there is anything I've learned in 6 years of blogging is that the difference between 0 and 100 is harder to bridge then the difference between 100 and 10000.  Not that the Kingdom of The Hittites by Trevor Bryce is going to clock 10000 page views.

  If I had to guess "why" I would say it's the Neo Hittite Lion that I used as an illustration.  That image obviously shows up on the first page of results when someone punches "Hittite" into Google Images.

 But Hittite visual motifs aren't just about enormous stone lions.

This is an example of a Hittite rendering of a double headed Eagle.

 A second visual motif is the double headed Eagle and the depiction of the Eagle as shown above.  The double headed Eagle is not an image specific to Hittite civilization.  There are examples of double headed Eagles going back to the Babylonian Empire.  There are also Eagles and double headed Eagles outside of the ancient Near East- the Ostrogoths. The Germans used the double headed Eagle in the 20th century.  The Eagle with a single head but sharing the same posture as the double headed Eagle is widespread.  If you look at the seal of the United States there is a visual continuity between that Eagle and the Hittite Eagle depicted above:

  The spooky thing is that the Hittite civilization was unknown when the US seal was designed.  The Hittites were only rediscovered in the late 19th century- they were forgotten.

  The people who designed the US seal were of course familiar with the Eagle as a standard bearer for the Roman legion:

 So it's pretty clear how the Eagle made it from Babylonia to Assyria to Hittites to Lydians to Greeks to Romans- that's a well documented history of conquest and domination.  If you look at the shared iconography of the three Eagles separated by millennia- that is a stirring testament to the power of a specific visual image.

  The Double Headed Eagle already has a long history in what we now call "popular culture." For example the use of the double headed eagle by the Masonic movement extends back to the 18th century:

Masonic Double Headed Eagle

You've also got the well known phenmenon of the upturned shoes of Hittite warriors:
The upturned shoes of Hittite's as depicted by multiple artists of the ancient Near East.

 These shoes differed from the shoes worn by Egyptians and other contemporary Near Eastern civilizations and were likely ancient "snow shoes" that testified to the wearers coming from someplace where it snowed.


(1)  I think the money part of the Hittite history is their interaction with the Lydian/Luwian peoples who themselves interacted with the Greeks who founded "the West."  The Hittites first encountered these Greek-related tribes of western Anatolia as conquerers- the art that remains is literally of the Hittites marching into the west in their snow shoes.

  These Hittite conquered Greek-related tribes may have relocated West, and that is something that Bryce discuses. His theory is that the fall of the Hittite empire was triggered by a drought, and resulted in the migration of several central Indo European/Anatolian peoples to new locations in the Meditteranean basin, perhaps directly spawning the Etruscans in north-central Italy and creating whole tribes of Pirates who show up in Egypt, Crete and Mycenae as the so-called "Sea People."

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