The Hittite Civilization

The Middle-East has been at the forefront of humanities growth, seeing the development of countless civilizations from the coasts of Syria to the Zagros mountains in Iran and the northern Arabian desert to the Caucasus. One such civilization to emerge in the Middle-East were the Hittites, who rose from obscurity in central Anatolia, and would rise to dominance as one of the first great empires of the world, next to the Akkadians & Egyptians.

Dawn of the Hittites & the “Old Kingdom”

In roughly 2000 BCE, Indo-Europeans, likely originating from modern Ukraine, made their way into Anatolia, creating multiple settlements and eventually forming small kingdoms. Roughly around the 17th Century BCE, ancient cuneiform tablets, written in Akkadian, describe a struggle between multiple cities such as Hattusa, the future Hittite Capital, Kanesh a former Assyrian trade colony, Zalpa, and Kussara. Eventually, one of these City-States was victorious. The region of Hatti was conquered by the descendants of the monarchs of Zalpa, causing Labarna/Hattusili I to ascend to the Hittite throne. Labarna’s reign consisted of acquiring the neighboring lands around Hattusa and consolidating the position of the Hittite Kingdom. Labarna’s son, Hattusili I, would succeed his father. Note that Labarna & Hattusili could be the same person however it is unknown to modern historians, so for this article we will assume they are different people. Hattusili would leave the familiar lands of Anatolia to conquer deep into Amorite Syria, sacking Aleppo. Mursili I would succeed Hattusili and continue his campaign in Syria, reaching as far as Babylonia and capturing the city of Babylon itself.

Sphinx Gate entrance at Hattusa.

The Middle & New Kingdoms

The start of the “Middle Kingdom” marked the ascension of Telepinu, who was responsible for the famous ‘Edict of Telepinu’. The Middle Kingdom would face numerous assaults from the northern Kaska tribes and constant war would engulf most of the period. Unfortunately, much of the period was lost to speculation, however it is believed the Kingdom itself was considerably weak. Despite this, the Hittite Kingdom would re-emerge as the Hittite Empire, marking the “New Kingdom” period. Under Tudhaliya I, the monarchy became strictly hereditary and the King became a far more religious figure. Under the leadership of Tudhaliya, the empire greatly expanded into Arzawa lands, reaching deep into Syria. Though the empire experienced a brief weakness with their capital being sacked, the empire quickly regained its strength under Suppiluliuma I. Suppiluliuma virtually brought the empire out of extinction and growing Hittite influence, and becoming the worlds greatest power, at least until the rise of the Assyrian Empire. During the latter half of the ‘New Kingdom’, many wars were fought between the Egyptian and Hittite empires, which eventually culminated into the Battle of Kadesh, where a pyrrhic stalemate ensued, leaving both sides weary and Kadesh barely in Egyptian hands. The Hittites would manage to reclaim Kadesh later. It is worth noting that the first peace treaty uncovered by archaeologists is preserved in a cuneiform tablet describing the proclamation of peace between Hatti & Egypt.

The Hittite Empire would soon find itself in a precarious situation. By 1363 BCE, the Assyrian Empire reached as far as Carchemish, and had a direct path into the core of Hittite territory. The Hittites disliked this encroachment of their lands. Despite Hittite warnings, many Assyrian campaigns were launched into Hittite lands destabilizing the empire. The situation only escalated when the “Sea People” arrived and plundered much of Syria, Cyprus, Asia Minor and Egypt. This attack brought the Myceneans, Hittites and Egyptians to breaking point. Even the now powerful state of Assyria was forced to abandon most of its territories to survive, as every nation in the Middle East began to crumble, with only Assyria surviving the ordeal. With the conclusion of the “Bronze Age Collapse”, the world looked vastly different, with new powers in control. The only familiar elements were the Assyrian Kingdom, which would expand greatly in the next few centuries, and the small Neo-Hittite states of northern Syria. Eventually, the Hittite state would be annexed by the Assyrians around 908-608 BCE, and the last traces of the Hittites vanished.

Conclusion

Not long after the Sea People swept through the Mediterranean, the Hittite Empire get overrun by the marauding Kaskan tribes and Phrygian armies that came from as far as the Ukraine. With all trace of the Hittite Empire gone, the kingdoms of Lydia and other smaller kingdoms rose, such as Phrygia. These kingdoms were the only buffer to the Assyrian advance into Anatolia.

Contrary to common belief, the Egyptians were not always the apex power in the Bronze Age. The Hittites often carried the same mantle and were arguably more powerful in their prime. However, corruption, Assyrian ambitions and swarms of north-western tribes brought this powerful empire to its knees and set the stage for the Iron Age.