The Mystery of Hittites

Scientists believe that the Hittites came from the area beyond the Black Sea. The Hittites occupied central Anatolia, building their capital city at Hattusa (modern Bogazköy). The first kings of the Hittite Old Kingdom, such as Hattusilis I (reigned c. 1650-c. 1620 BC), extended Hittite control over a great part of Anatolia and northern Syria. Mursilis I who was Hattusilis’ grandson invaded Babylon, putting an end (c. 1590 BC) to the Amorite dynasty. After the death of Mursilis and after a struggle for power, Telipinus obtained the throne in 1530 BC.

After the reign of Telipinus very few historical records are available until the Hittite New Empire (c. 1400-c. 1200 BC). Suppiluliumas I (c. 1380-c. 1346 BC) brought the empire to its highest peak of domination.

The Hittites under the command of Muwatallis (c. 1320-c. 1294 BC) fought for the domination of Syria with ancient Egyptians under Seti I and Ramses II.  This is known as one of the greatest battles of the ancient world, the battle of Kadesh in 1299 BC. Although Ramses claimed the victory, the result was most certainly indecisive, so 16 years later, under Hattusilis III (c. 1275-c. 1250 BC), a peace treaty and a pact for mutual defense were signed between the Hittites and the Egyptians.

Copy of Kadesh Treaty

A clay copy of the original treaty, which was inscribed on silver, is presented in the photo. The treaty was agreed between Ramesses II and Hattusili III, the new king of the Hittites. It is the oldest such international agreement ever known to have been made. This copy was found in what was the Hittite capital, Hattusa.  Here is an extract from the Hittite version of the text:

‘It is concluded that Reamasesa-Mai-amana , the Great King, the king (of the land of Egypt) with Hattusili, the Great King, the king of the land of Hatti, his brother, for the land of Egypt and the land of Hatti, in order to establish a good peace and a good fraternity forever among them.’

The fall of the Hittite empire (c. 1193 BC) was sudden and some historians attributed this to large-scale migrations that included the Sea Peoples. The center of the empire was invaded by Phrygians, the Cilician and Syrian dominions kept their Hittite identity for another five centuries, organized in many small independent city-states, which were gradually embedded in Assyria until 710 BC when the last vestiges of Neo-Hittite political independence disappeared.

Hittite cuneiform tablets discovered at Bogazköy (in modern Turkey) have offered important information about their political and social organization, economy, and also about their religion. The Hittite king was the ruler, the military leader, the judge and Hittites believed he became a god after his death. Hittite society was feudal and agrarian, the Hittites were freemen, artisans, or slaves. Anatolia was rich in metals, especially silver and iron. In the empire period the Hittites developed iron-working technology, helping to initiate the Iron Age. The Hittite iron chariots are the lightest made.

The religion of the Hittites is not completely known, but we know it as a tolerant polytheism that included indigenous Anatolian deities and also Syrian and Hurrian divinities.

The art of pre-imperial Hittite culture is very little known; the art objects found are stone sculptures in an unrefined style. The art of the Late Hittite states is substantially different, being a mixture between Hittite, Syrian, Assyrian, and, occasionally, Egyptian and Phoenician motifs and influences.


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