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By Billie Jean Collins, Research Associate
The Oriental Institute, and the
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
The University of Chicago

(This article originally appeared in The Oriental Institute News and Notes, No. 136, Winter 1992, and is made available electronically with the permission of the editor.)

As Shamshi-Adad's Assyrian kingdom disintegrated and Babylonia struggled to emerge from the obscure post-Hammurabi era (1792-1750 B.C.), far to the north, on the steppe that defines the Anatolian Plateau, the Hittites were coalescing from a group of small principalities into a great centralized kingdom.

As their power spread through Anatolia, eventually touching the Aegean coast in the west, the Upper Euphrates region in the east, Syria in the south, and the Black Sea in the north, so too did their culture. Yet it would perhaps be more accurate to say that as Hittite political power spread outward, so did the cultures with which they came into contact spread inward, towards the Hittite heartland and the capital at Hattusas.

Hittite society in the middle of the second millennium B.C. was a true melting pot of Hattian, Luwian, Palaic, Hurrian, Mesopotamian, and Hittite cultures. Nowhere is this better reflected than in their religion, where even at the highest level, the realm of the divine, gods from each of these groups were welcomed into the Hittite pantheon and worshipped according to proper local custom.

If the gods were physically remote, however, there existed means of bringing them closer, primarily through festivals and rituals designed to entice them into the human realm where they could then be called upon to aid men against the various hazards and travails of their daily lives.

When something went wrong for a Hittite, if his crop failed, or his wife was barren, or someone had cast a spell against him, or any host of misfortunes was besetting him, rituals could be performed that would purify and thereby cure him. Such rituals sometimes involved a puppy.

As a rule, dogs in Hittite society were valued for their abilities in the hunt, with the flocks, and as guard dogs. But even as pariahs they had their uses. Some scholars believe that the domestication of the dog may have been partially motivated by the useful sanitation services that these scavengers provided to human communities. The dog's role in Hittite society did not end with these activities, however.

Young dogs also played an extensive and apparently vital role in ritual. Indeed, puppies were exploited for ritual use to the exclusion of adult dogs. The reasons for this are never explained in ancient sources, although we may speculate that dogs were more easily available to the common populace that practiced these rituals than other animals, and that puppies were otherwise valueless, since they had not yet been trained as sheep dog, watchdog, or hunting dog. It seems very likely as well that some symbolic or religious significance was attached to puppies that was not attached to fully grown animals.

Historically speaking, few animals carry as much symbolic baggage as the dog. The howling of a dog is almost universally a harbinger of misfortune or death. Its habit of burying bones has generated in many cultures the belief in the dog as a companion to the soul on its journey to the underworld. The Parsees in India place a dog before the dying so that their eyes can rest on the animal upon the moment of death. A dog also helps to guard the soul of those who are pure from the unclean spirits who fight to take possession of it after death.

Vedic accounts say that the wind in the form of a dog accompanies the soul on its journey. In Greece and the Near East, a representation of a dog served as a guardian in burials. But if they are symbols of death and misfortune, they are equally associated with healing and life. In Mesopotamia, the dog was considered sacred to the goddess Gula, a healing deity. Near her temple in her city, Isin, thirty-three adult dog burials, dated to the beginning of the first millennium, have been found, along with pendants with dogs drawn on them and clay dog figurines.

In classical Greece, dogs were thought to cure various illnesses by licking the inflicted area and were associated with the cult of Asklepios, the mythological healer, and with Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth, in whose cult the sacrifice of a dog was thought to ease the birth.

Among the Greeks, dogs were even used to diagnose disease. The animal was put into contact with the inflicted person and then, since it was thought to take on the disease, was killed and examined.

In Sparta, dog sacrifice was practiced in the cult of Ares/Enyalios with the purpose of purifying a wound inflicted by weapons. The dog was believed to possess the power to cure blindness by licking the eyes, and the school of Hippocrates recommended the meat of a hound as particularly good for one's health.

The Roman author Pliny wrote of a remedy for a disorder of the stomach that involved pressing a blind puppy to the sick person's abdomen for three days. The illness was absorbed by the puppy, which then died as a result of it.

In medieval Germany, a ritual could be performed to rid oneself of fever and ailment. It entailed placing a bowl of sweet milk before a dog and reciting the lines, "Good luck, you hound, may you be sick and I be sound!" When the dog has drunk some of the milk, the afflicted person drinks after him. This alternation was repeated three times, after which the dog took on the illness and the person was free of it.

The belief in the dog's medicinal and purificatory powers, thus, was widely held. But why a puppy instead of an adult animal? The sources are silent on this point. The Hittites were not alone in their use of puppies in ritual. Puppy burials dated to the early fifth century have been found at Sardis. In this town of Asia Minor, young puppies were killed, dismembered, and buried in pots, although not apparently eaten, as part of a ritual banquet to Hermes Kandaulas (the epithet, coincidentally, means "dog throttler").

The Hittites were not exceptional in their view of the dog's healing abilities. In the Hittite Ritual of Zuwi, such a view is clearly outlined in a sympathetic magic ritual:

I hold the puppy to (the patient) with my right hand and say, `Just as the puppy licks its own nine body parts-I call the person by name-in the same way let it lick up the illness in so-and-so's body parts! Let it lick up the illness of (his) shoulder! Let it lick up the illness of (his) shoulder blade. And I make the puppy run behind his back. The head (of) the puppy I take hold of by the mouth. Let it lick up the illness [of (his)] h[ead]! The illness [of] his meliya- [and ...] likewise (let it lick up). The illness of his shoulder and back likewise (let it lick up). The ill[ness] of his anassa- [likewise] (let it lick up). The illness of (his) anus likewise (let it lick up). [The illness of his ... likewise] (let it lick up). The illness of his knees likewise (let it lick up). [... Let it] lick up the illness of his parasna-.'

This ritual is referred to as a transfer ritual because, by means of the touching, the sickness or impurity passes from the human patient to the agent of the purification, in this case, a puppy.

The puppy could also be used apotropaically, as in the Ritual of Huwarlu, in which a puppy is left in the bedchamber of the king and queen overnight to protect them from evil while at the same time a figurine of a puppy is set on the door bolt to make sure that the evil does not return through the door:

They make [a pu]ppy of tallow, and they set it on the wood of the palace's door bolt, and the Old Woman says as follows: `You (are) the puppy of the table of the king and queen, and as by day you do not allow a strange person into the palace, on this night you must not allow in an evil word.'

The phrase "puppy of the table" has a parallel in Book 23 of the Iliad, where, during the funeral of Achilleus' friend Patroklos, we find a reference to nine "dogs of the table" belonging to Patroklos. Two of these are killed by Achilleus and placed on Patroklos' funeral pyre:

...And there were nine dogs of the table that had belonged to the lord Patroklos. Of these he cut the throats of two and set them on the pyre...

The reference to Patroklos' dogs as "dogs of the table" is presumably a reference to dogs fed from table scraps, that is, pet dogs, and such a meaning is probably also to be attributed to the tallow puppy of the Hittite text.

The instructions regarding the tallow puppy are resumed in the next column:

Afterwards they lift the puppy of tallow that was sitting on the wood of the door bolt-they lift that one, and the Old Woman says as follows: `As such evil (and) malign words as the scepter bearers of the gods have driven out, you must not allow them back into the palace.'

One fragmentary passage suggests that a puppy could also be used in analogic purification. That is to say, by burying the dead puppy, the practitioner also buries the impurity of the patient:

[...t]hen [they] cut [up] a puppy [...] the uninitiated ones devour [it? ...] and [...] to the right side of the gate they bury (it). [...] the Old Woman (says) `let the [illness?] of this man likewise be buried!'

A puppy could also be offered as a sacrifice to the Netherworld deities in the hope of gaining their aid. This type of ritual is called purification by appeasement. The sacrifice is usually preceded by an entreaty to the deity. Of this type is a ritual performed by Maddunani the augur against an epidemic in the army. He uses a goat, a piglet, and a puppy to appease the Heptad (= the Pleiades?):

Then afterwards he takes for himself one kid, one piglet, and one puppy and over in another place they sever them for the Heptad, and afterwards he libates a little beer (and) wine three times for the Heptad.

Of these methods of purification with puppies, the most common was transference. I have already mentioned holding the puppy against the body parts of the patient. Other types of transfer ritual involve the use of dog parts in medicine, waving the animal over the patient, and-most commonly-severing the animal into two halves and sending the patient between them.

Potions. The Ritual of Hebattarakki describes a procedure against sorcery as follows: "I take dough of barley flour and I mix into it the excrement of a dog." Other ritual preparations follow. The Old Woman makes two images of a duck and puts them on the patient's shoulders, then recites the following incantation:

I have removed (the deity) Agalmati from you. I have pushed (the deity) Annamiluli from your head. I have extinguished fire from your head, and ignited it in the sorcerer's head. I drove away the stench of the dog from you, but the dog's excrement, the dog's flesh, and the dog's bones I burned.
Waving. The Ritual of Tunnawi uses a puppy and a piglet in a waving ritual. First the necessary ritual implements are listed: "If (it is) a man, then they take a black ram, but if it is a woman then they take a black ewe, one black piglet, (and) one black puppy. If (it is) a man then it is a male piglet, but if a woman then (it is) female." The list continues for ten lines more and includes a sheep and a lamb. Later in the ritual a purification is performed with each object, including the piglet and puppy: "Afterwards she lifts the piglet over him/her, and she pronounces the charm of the piglet. Afterwards she lifts the puppy over him/her, and she pronounces the charm of the puppy." Finally, the puppy and piglet are disposed of, taking the evil that they have absorbed through this ritual with them: "And they carry the puppy and the piglet to another place and they burn them with fire." The sheep and lamb, in contrast, are offered to the Sungod later in the ritual.

Severing. In the Ritual for a Routed Army we see a typical puppy-severing ritual:

If the troops are defeated by the enemy, then the offerings are prepared behind the river as follows: Behind the river they sever a human, a billy-goat, a puppy, (and) a piglet. On one side they set halves and on the other side they set the (other) halves. But in front (of these) they make a gate of hawthorn and stretch a decoration up over it. Then on one side they burn a fire before the gate (and) on the other side they burn a fire. The troops go through, and when they come alongside the river, they sprinkle water over them(selves).
The severing rituals always require cutting a puppy in half, often along with one or two other animals (usually a piglet and/or a billy-goat), and in special cases, as above, with a human. Almost always they involve a gate, most frequently made from a hawthorn bush. The purpose of the gate with its thorns was to scrape off the impurity from the offerant as he or she passed through. The halves of the severed animal were placed on either side of this gate and the patient walked between the severed parts, which presumably possessed the power to absorb the impurity from the patient as he passed. It is interesting to note that the animals most often endowed with this power, namely the puppy and piglet, are themselves considered unclean and impure and one wonders if this fact rendered them particularly capable of removing impurity in others.

The Ritual for a Routed Army was performed for the military and we may assume that the human sacrificed with the puppy was a prisoner. It is the only certain attestation of a ritual human sacrifice. The sacrifice of humans was probably reserved for times of extreme need, such as when the army was suffering defeat. There is even a parallel for the sacrifice of human prisoners in Book 23 of the Iliad. At the funeral of Patroklos, Trojan prisoners are thrown on the funeral pyre along with Patroklos' pet dogs.

The puppy-severing rituals often originated in the area of Kizzuwatna, in southeastern Turkey, where the population spoke Luwian, and through which the Hittites often absorbed Hurrian and Mesopotamian influences. They were part of the popular religion, performed for the army or the common people (never, it seems, for the royal family).

Many other puppy rituals similar to this one are attested in the Hittite corpus. Their abundance indicates that a well-known ritual procedure was being followed-a procedure that has parallels in adjacent cultures. As part of a ritual commonly performed for the army in Boeotia and Macedonia in the classical period in Greece, a dog's head was severed from its body and placed on the right, while the rest of the body was placed on the left. The entire army then marched through the divided carcass and was thereby purified. It has been suggested that the severing of the dog may have been symbolic of the disunity of the army, which could be repaired when the army passed between the two halves of the dog.

The Old Testament contains more parallels. In Genesis 15: 9-10, for example, Abraham cuts a heifer, a she-goat, and a ram in half and places the halves opposite each other:

He (Yahweh) answered, `Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.' He got them all and slit them through the middle, placing each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds.
Although no puppy is involved, this ritual clearly resembles the Hittite examples. A similar ritual is described in Jeremiah 34: 18-19, where the inhabitants of Jerusalem have sworn to a covenant with Yahweh but have broken it. Yahweh makes clear his displeasure:
I will hand over the men who have transgressed my covenant, who did not keep the terms of the covenant which they made in my presence, when they cut the young bull in two and passed between its parts-that is, the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem, the palace officials, the priests and landed gentry, who passed between the parts of the young bull-I will hand them over to their enemies, to those who seek their lives. Their corpses will be food for the carrion birds and the wild beasts.
The oath ceremony apparently involved cutting a bull in half. It dates to the end of the seventh or the beginning of the sixth century B.C. and is comparable to a text from Mari dated to 1765 B.C., which refers to the sacrifice of a puppy and a goat. Although the text does not say so, it is possible that the animals were to be split in halves as a warning to those who would break the oath. Compare Isaiah 66: 3-4a, which concerns forbidden worship:
He who slaughtered an ox (would now) slay a man, who sacrificed a lamb (would now) break a dog's neck, who presented cereal offering (would now present) the blood of a swine, who burnt commemorative incense (would now) worship an idol for, although they had chosen their (own) way they (now) delight in abomination; I too will choose ways to mock them to bring upon them the very things they fear.
Finally, Herodotus must have come across such a practice in his travels in the East, for he incorporates a story in his Histories about Pythius the Lydian, who is punished for a transgression with the death of his favorite son in the following manner:

Having answered Pythius in these words Xerxes at once gave orders that the men to whom such duties fell should find Pythius' eldest son and cut him in half and put the two halves one on each side of the road, for the army to march out between them. The order was performed.

At Patroklos' funeral in Book 23 of the Iliad, dogs are thrown onto the funeral pyre after their throats have been cut. Notably, at Asine, in a ritual burial, the head of a dog was placed in a tomb without an accompanying body.

The comparative evidence from Greece, Mesopotamia, and the Biblical sources tells us that certain religious conceptions of the dog were transported across cultural and chronological boundaries. It is difficult however to draw a line between what was independently shared and what was borrowed.
In the Hittite cult, puppies were never used as offering animals, as were the cow, sheep, and goat. This fact is attributable to the idea that puppies were not fitting offerings for the gods. The aversion of the divine realm to this unclean creature is clearly revealed in the Instructions to the Temple Personnel:
Let neither a pig nor dog of the gate enter the place of the stew! Is there something different (between) the mind of a human and (that) of the gods? No! Even (in) such (a matter as) this? No! Rather, (they are of) exactly one mind.

Outside of offerings puppies were commonly used in ritual to protect, heal, and purify. The killing of puppies in these rituals was not done for the benefit of the gods, but as an essential part of the process of purification.

Revised: July 30, 2007

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