The leaven of the brewer and the oaths taken by soldiers of the Hittites.


For the same reasons, the beer leaven - ambivalent symbol of life and death - has served as support for the solemn oaths among the Hittites. Soldiers must take an oath of personal loyalty to the royal family. This text written in Hittite comes from Hattusa. This fortified city became in 1650 B.C. the capital of the Hittite empire that dominates the Central Anatolia during the second millennium [1]. The priest recites the text before the the soldiers who must take an oath of loyalty. This text has woven strong images inspired by the daily life of soldiers. It provides evidence of the importance of beer among the Hittites, at least among the soldiers that came from the four corners of the empire to serve the Hittite king :

«  He (the priest) puts the leaven in their hands, and they (the soldiers) touch it with the tongue
and he speaks as follows : " What is this? Is it not some leaven?
And as someone who takes a little leaven
and mixes it in the dough vessel and lets the dough vessel
rest one day and it swells,
so one who transgresses these oaths
and behaves treacherously against the king of the Hatti country 
and to the Hatti country directs a hostile glance, let these oaths capture him,
and let him be completely broken by disease
and let occur a bad end ! "
And those say : let it be (so) !

We are sure that the leaven (hitt. ³arnammar) denotes the brewing ingredient, because the same text goes on and talks about malt and beer-bread. 

The malt is used as a metaphor for sterility, the beer-bread as one of annihilation. Indeed, the malt is a sprouted grain which is then dried and degermed. Hence, it cannot be used as seed. About the beer breads, they are crushed before soaking and cooking in the mashing vat. In both cases, the misfortune is great for anyone who betrays his oath. He is threatened to die childless as the malt or to have bones crushed like beer bread beer crushed on the grindstone.

So, the Soldier's Oath continues in this way on the clay tablet : 

«  Now he puts malt (BULUG) and beer-breads (BAPPIR) in their hands,
they touch them with the tongue, and he speaks to them
this way: "Just as these beer breads are crushed with the millstone
and are mixed with water, boiled and crushed,
so let those who violate these oaths
and to the king, to the queen, to the king's son
and the country of Hatti cause harm,
let these oaths capture them and their bones
likewise grind and likewise roast them
and likewise crushed them, and let lead to a bad end !
And those say "Let it be (so) !

Just as malt does not reproduce
and is not sown in the field and (no) seed
make, likewise that we prepare also no bread with it,
and do not put it in the granary,
likewise to who transgresses these oaths
and to the king, to the queen, to the king's son causes harm,
let the oaths destroy his own future,
his wifes to [neither] son nor daughter
give birth, let in his land, his fields (and)
his meadows not a plant growing,
let his oxen and sheep not calve any lamb or veal !

This statement about malt being synonymous with sterility can be found almost word for word in the Myth of the Hittite agrarian God Telepinu. He has left the country, which has been plagued by disaster and famine. Nothing grows, neither plants, animals nor humans can reproduce. Men and gods are dying of hunger and thirst, and consequently none of them manage to find Telepinu. In the end, only a fragile bee will succeed.

 On the subject of sterile seeds and the malt for beer brewing, here is what the myth says : " Just as the malt is dried out (sterile), (and) it is not brought to the field and no seeds are earned from it, no bread is made from it [and] it is not kept in the granary  …" (Telepinu III, 16-19 in CTH 324.1, CTH 324.2, CTH 324.3).


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[1] N.Oettinger 1976, Textes de Bogazköy : 9 (Studien zu den Bogazkÿ - Texten 22). Bogazköy is the Turkish site of Hattusa, ancient capital of the Hittite empire. French-English translations after the german publication, translation and studies by Oettinger.
StBoT 22 text and translation are available at

15/01/2012  Christian Berger