Thursday, January 12, 2023

Staging Kingship: A Performance-Oriented Approach to the Hittite 'Theatre of State'

Extant Hittite sources evoke the image of a society “obsessed” with the celebration of religious festivals. These festivals take place at the interplay between religion and politics: they reflect a meticulously organized and maintained system of ceremonies not just aimed at appeasing the gods and ensuring the prosperity of the realm, but also used to legitimate and support the rule of the royal elite. In recent scholarship, it has been suggested that the Hittite empire was a Geertzian ‘theatre state’, in which festivals reproduced and created sovereignty (Glatz 2020, 101). My research expands on this idea. I investigate how Hittite festival performances were orchestrated to function as a form of impression management, so as to create, negotiate, and sustain the power of the king and his elite. I develop a performance-oriented approach, drawing on theory from theater and performance studies, as well as on performance-oriented scholarship on the ancient world. This approach adds to our understanding and appreciation of Hittite performance culture in general and expands our understanding of the very practicalities of Hittite festival performances: the ‘how’. Building on my understanding of the ‘how’, I ultimately look at ‘why’ festivals were performed in particular ways. That is, I ask what efficacies were pursued in their creation. I survey and categorize examples from both the material and textual records, such as the lay-out of the urban landscape of Hattusa, as well as selections from the AN.TAḪ.SUM and KI.LAM festivals, so as to expose which cultural behaviors were especially meaningful and in what ways. I argue that the Hittite toolkit of impression management consisted of different performance ‘building blocks’, some of which were used with specific socio-political effects in mind: i.e. emphasizing the status of the king, creating a sense of community, and constructing social differentiation. Most striking among these building blocks is the constant change of performance stages during festival celebrations. These stage transitions resulted in a fluctuating permeability of the performance, turning specific events within the festival into diacritical ceremonies. Despite the existence of large audiences during some parts of Hittite festival performances, I argue that most of their socio-political effects were aimed specifically at elite audiences. My performance-oriented approach reveals how religious festivals functioned as the fabric of the Hittite ‘theatre of state’ and shows the ways in which they created political power.  


No comments:

Post a Comment