The Hittite Wine Jug is not only an impressive display of craftsmanship but it also has a rich history that is not widely known. Why is it shaped like that? How is it made? What did they use it for? All valid questions which should become clear with a short history lesson!
How did it get its name?
This traditional shape for a wine jug was later named after the Empire it originated from. Roughly 4,000 years ago the historical land of Anatolia covered a majority of the area that we call present day Turkey. Between the 17th - 12th centuries BC, the Hittite Kingdom and Empire came to power and ruled the region, which became known as the “Land of Hatti” (Ha-ti). This Empire, along with other Anatolian civilizations, had a lot to do with wine’s spread across modern day Turkey. Not only were the Hittites fond of wine, they were also the first known civilization to establish laws and regulations surrounding it. These included laws to protect vineyards, the wine itself, as well as buying and selling it. Wine held much importance to the Hittite Empire economically, but even more so culturally.
Why is it shaped like that?
Although the Hittite Empire was profitable because of wine, they also viewed it as a drink of the gods. It would be used as offerings to the gods during rituals, in addition to saving it to be drunk on special occasions and during celebrations. One of the most important gods for the Hittite Empire was Ra, the sun god. The traditional wine jug is shaped as a circle which mimics the shape of the sun. This unique build also holds a functional usage in that traditionally, whomever was pouring the wine would thread his or her arm through the center and rest the jug on their shoulder. In addition to the practicality, there is another theory which states that due to the fact that the majority of people who drank wine were kings or someone of stature, the short spout was made so that the pourer would need to bow in order to serve them wine. (Fun Fact: Anatolia also translates to ‘sunrise’, further exemplifying the importance of the sun during that era.)
How is it made?
Looking at the distinctive structure of the wine jug, it is difficult to imagine how it was constructed. The people of the Hittite Empire were skilled craftsman with materials ranging from wood and clay to gold and iron. The wine jug was, and still is, routinely ceramic and hand-painted with traditional patterns. Each section is thrown separately on a ceramic wheel and then constructed later. The spout, neck and foot of the jug are created the same way a modern day vase is made. However, the circular section is made by creating essentially two bowls, one inside of the other on the ceramic wheel (try picturing a bunt cake mold). Once the desired size is reached, the sides of the center bowl are raised up higher and folded over to meet the sides of the outside bowl, and voilá! - a hollow circle. A small hole is then cut into the hollow circle which is where the neck and spout of the wine jug will later be attached. Can you picture it? If not, there are videos on YouTube.
All in all, these traditional Hittite Wine Jugs are nothing short of magnificent. Their structure and bright colored patterns are eye-catching but their deep rooted origins and the meaning behind the shape makes for a great story. If you are planning a trip to Turkey, make sure to visit a potter’s studio where you can watch one being made and painted! These jugs are also popular as souvenirs, but make sure you check the bottom! If the bottom of the jug is concave it’s authentic, if it’s flat, it is not handmade.