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Anatolian States

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores the history of state formation in the Anatolian States, focusing on the Hittite state, which it explains arose in north-central Anatolia early in the Late Bronze Age while the Middle Bronze Age saw the rise of an Indo-European dynasty. It also considers the role of Pithana and his son and successor Anitta in establishing the first great Anatolian empire and the conquests made by the Hittites.

Keywords: state formation, Anatolian States, Hittite state, Indo-European dynasty, Pithana, Anitta, Anatolian Empire, Hittites

The Hittites

Historical Background

The Hittite state arose in north-central Anatolia (modern Turkey) early in the Late Bronze Age, probably during the first half of the seventeenth century bce. The name “Hittite” is derived from Old Testament references to a small Iron Age Canaanite tribe living in Palestine. These biblical Hittites in fact had little or no connection with the Late Bronze Age Anatolian peoples to whom we now apply the term. The latter simply referred to themselves as “the people of the land of Hatti”; they defined themselves not by any ethnic designation, but by reference to the land in which they lived. The name “Hatti” applied primarily to the region defined by Anatolia’s longest river. Now called the Kızıl Irmak (“Red River”), the Hittites called it the “Marassantiya”; in Classical times, it was known as the “Halys.” The river has its source near Turkey’s border with Armenia, and after describing a great southward curve through the north-central region of the Anatolian plateau it empties into the Black Sea northwest of modern Samsun. It has a total length of approximately 1,050 kilometers. The region within it was originally the homeland of a pre–Indo-European people, the Hattians, who may have lived there for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years before the arrival of Indo-European newcomers probably during the Early Bronze Age (third millennium bce). One branch of these newcomers occupied territories lying to the east and southeast of the Halys basin, and one of their principal settlements was the city Kussara, probably located in the anti-Taurus range. By the end of the third millennium bce, they were in regular and apparently peaceful contact with the Hattians, from whom they adopted (p. 162) many cultural, social, and religious traditions. But they also preserved a number of their Indo-European traditions, most notably their Indo-European language, which they called “Nesite” (Map 5.1)

 Anatolian StatesClick to view larger

Map 5.1 The World of the Hittites. Map edited by G. Barjamovic.

In the first three centuries of the second millennium bce, known as the Middle Bronze Age, the Assyrians established a network of merchant colonies in eastern Anatolia, which traded tin and textiles in exchange for silver and gold with the local Anatolian kingdoms, including the kingdom of Hatti. This period also saw the rise of an Indo-European dynasty based originally in Kussara, which reestablished itself in the city Nesa (Kanesh, mod. Kültepe) just south of the Halys River. The Assyrians had already established here the headquarters of their commercial operations in Anatolia. Nesa thereupon came to be identified with the dynasty, as reflected in the name “Nesite,” which throughout the subsequent history of the Hittite world was used to designate the official language of the Hittites. The two most important rulers of the Indo-European dynasty, Pithana and his son and successor Anitta, established the first great Anatolian empire. On a stele set up at the gate of his city, Anitta recorded, in the Indo-European Nesite language, his conquest of the entire Halys basin region as far north as the Black Sea, and in the other (p. 163) direction, the region extending southward to the Salt Lake (Neu 1974). Hattus, capital of the kingdom of Hatti, was one of the victims of Anitta’s campaigns. The city was razed to the ground. The site was declared accursed, and sown with weeds; it was never again to be resettled. Turbulent conditions throughout eastern Anatolia around the middle of the eighteenth century bce, generated very likely by conflicts of the kind in which Anitta engaged, led to the Assyrians’ withdrawal of their colonies and the collapse of the empire that Anitta had built up.

In the early decades of the seventeenth century bce, however, a new dynasty emerged in eastern Anatolia, its original seat probably being located in the city of Kussara. This dynasty ushered in the era of the kingdom of the Hittites, which for much of the Late Bronze Age (from the seventeenth to the early twelfth century bce) dominated the Anatolian peninsula. At the height of its power in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries bce, it also held sway over substantial parts of northern Syria and some territories beyond the Euphrates in northern Mesopotamia. One of the earliest members of this dynasty was a man called “Hattusili I” (ca. 1650–1620 bce). He is the first Hittite king with whom written records can be directly associated, though there were at least two previous rulers of the dynasty from which he came. Hattusili is generally credited with refounding the city Hattus, now called “Hattusa,” in defiance of the curse that Anitta had imposed upon it during the previous century. Though some scholars question whether he was in fact the city’s refounder, there is no doubt that he was responsible for its first major development and above all for its establishment as a royal capital. Henceforth, Hattusa became the administrative and religious center of the Hittite kingdom for almost all of its history.

This kingdom had small and shaky beginnings. It was but one of a number of petty states in its region that were in constant conflict, vying with one another for political and military supremacy. Hittite records report that one of Hattusili’s royal predecessors, a man called “Labarna” (probably his grandfather), succeeded in uniting his family and the whole of the small kingdom beneath his leadership before embarking upon a series of conquests that gave him supreme rule over large parts of eastern Anatolia as far south as the Mediterranean Sea (Hoffmann 1984, 12–15). Hattusili consolidated his predecessor’s Anatolian conquests, and then launched a series of campaigns into northern Syria (Bryce 2005, 70–72, 76–83). Here he confronted the powerful kingdom of Yamhad, whose chief city Aleppo he failed to capture, probably after repeated attempts. But Hattusili claimed conquests even further afield, on at least one occasion crossing the Euphrates and penetrating deep into northern Mesopotamia. His grandson and successor Mursili I followed in his footsteps, again campaigning in Syria where he captured Aleppo and destroyed it. While the city still smoldered, Mursili marched eastward to the Euphrates River and south along the river to Babylon. He seized, plundered, and destroyed the city (ca. 1595 bce), thus bringing to an end the dynasty of Hammurabi, before returning home with the spoils of battle (Bryce 2005, 97–100).

These conquests of Hattusili and Mursili established Hatti as one of the Great Kingdoms of the Near Eastern world. During the Late Bronze Age, there were (p. 164) four such kingdoms: until the middle of the fourteenth century bce, Hatti, the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni, Egypt, and the Kassite kingdom of Babylonia; from the mid-fourteenth to the early twelfth century bce, Hatti, Assyria, Egypt, and Babylonia. Assyria had replaced Mitanni in the list of Great Kingdoms after the destruction of the Mitannian empire by the Hittite king Suppiluliuma I (ca. 1350–1322 bce). The rulers of these kingdoms formed a kind of exclusive club. They often corresponded with one other, exchanged diplomatic missions, and referred to one another as “My Brother.” As with the other superpowers of the age, the fortunes of Hatti waxed and waned dramatically through the 500 years of the Late Bronze Age kingdom’s existence. And on at least two occasions before its final collapse, the kingdom came very close to extinction. We shall consider below the factors that elevated it to superpower status as well as those that led to its fragmentation and collapse.

The Royal Dynasty

From the beginning of its recorded Late Bronze Age history, the land of Hatti was ruled by a monarchy. Whether or not the king was originally elected, as some scholars have suggested, the very first references we have to the Hittite monarchy indicate that the person actually sitting upon the throne believed he alone had the right to decide who his successor would be, choosing him from among the members of his own family. That the royal succession was a privilege confined to a small group of families related by blood or by marriage was apparently never in dispute. But contests did arise over who, within these families, would actually occupy the throne after the death of its incumbent. In theory, the king was the appointee of the gods. He ruled by divine right and his person was sacrosanct. In practice, there is never any suggestion that the gods played a role in the selection of a new king. From the time of Hattusili I onward, the king simply proclaimed who his successor would be—unless circumstances prevented him from doing so (see below)—though he may well have sought divine endorsement for his decision through oracular consultation or other means. Hattusili summoned an assembly of his leading nobles and military officers to inform them that he had rejected his nephew, the previously named heir to the throne, and appointed his grandson Mursili in his place. Hattusili had called the group together not to seek approval for his decision but rather to extract from them a pledge of allegiance to his new appointee. All this is recorded in a document commonly referred to as the Testament of Hattusili (Hallo and Younger 2003, 79–81).

Mursili did in fact succeed his grandfather and went on to enjoy a distinguished military career. But the royal succession remained a highly contentious issue, and for the next seventy years it was determined by a series of palace coups. These began when Mursili was assassinated by his brother-in-law Hantili (ca. 1590 bce), who seized the throne for himself. Hantili too was eventually overthrown and murdered by his son-in-law Zidanta, the next in the line of kings who usurped (p. 165) his way onto the throne. The last of the usurpers, Telipinu (ca. 1525–1500 bce), who recorded the disasters of his predecessors’ reigns in a document commonly called The Proclamation of Telipinu (Hoffmann 1984), sought to stabilize his position, and to secure the throne for his descendants, by establishing fixed principles of succession:

Let a prince, a son of the first rank, become king. If there is no prince of the first rank, let him who is a son of the second rank become king. But if there is no prince, no heir, let them take an antiyant-husband* for her who is a daughter of the first rank, and let him become king. (Proclamation §28, II 36–39)

The aim of these provisions was to ensure that the succession would in future be limited to the incumbent’s lineal descendants. But there was a let-out clause: In the event of a king having no male heir, kingship could pass to a daughter’s husband who had “entered into” the king’s family. In effect, a son-in-law could become a son of the king by adoption, and thus be entitled to inherit the throne.

This succession law was not entirely successful in preventing future royal coups. But it is remarkable that, with the exception of a couple of possible interlopers, the Hittite throne remained within the one small family group throughout the whole history of the Hittite kingdom. Indeed this royal dynastic line continued to be in evidence for several generations beyond the collapse of the Hittite empire, in the period of the so-called neo-Hittite kingdoms of eastern Anatolia and northern Syria. Earlier Hittite kings frequently included the name “Labarna” in their nomenclature. This became a royal title, adopted from the first king whose personal name was Labarna—much as the title Caesar was adopted by Roman emperors.

What were the ethnic origins of the royal dynasty? There has long been a view that the Hittite kingdom began when an Indo-European ethnic group imposed its dominance upon the native Hattic population of north-central Anatolia. In fact, by the beginning of the second millennium bce the population of this region, which became the core territory of the Hittite kingdom and is now often now referred to as the Hittite homeland, was probably a composite of many peoples from different parts of the Near Eastern world, speaking a range of languages. Already in the kingdom’s early years, Hattic, Indo-European (including Luwian), Hurrian, and very likely other ethnic elements were present within the region defined by the Marassantiya/Halys River. Certainly, the official language of the Hittite kingdom was the Indo-European language called “Nesite.” But this may not have been the most widely spoken language in the homeland, let alone the kingdom at large. On the other hand, its use may reflect the ethnic origins of the royal dynasty that established its control over the kingdom in the first half of the seventeenth century bce. But it has also been argued that some of the Hittite kings were of Hattic origin—on the basis of their names, like Mursili, Huzziya, and Telipinu. That begs an important question, for the origins of these and other person-names have yet to (p. 166) be conclusively established. In any case, the derivation of a name need not reflect the ethnicity of the person who bears it. The most likely conclusion is that ethnic identity played at most only a very minor role in the administrative and social structure of the Hittite kingdom in its core region.

In the first century or so of the kingdom, the monarch occasionally called together an assembly called the panku, a term that in origin is a Hittite adjective meaning “all, entire.” The panku was apparently made up of personnel of the royal staff, including highly placed members of the palace administration. It exercised certain advisory and supervisory functions during Hattusili I’s reign, and in Telipinu’s reign was assigned important disciplinary powers, designed primarily to ensure the implementation of the rules of royal succession. But subsequently, very little is heard of the panku, and almost certainly the institution had been abolished or had at least faded into oblivion, by the end of the period commonly designated as the Old Kingdom (ca. 1400 bce). (For more on the panku, see Beckman 1982.)

The Role of the Gods

The king ruled as absolute monarch of his realm, subordinate and accountable only to the gods, whose deputy he was on earth. The king himself was never accorded divine status during his lifetime, though after his death he joined the ranks of the gods and was the beneficiary of a cult established in his honor. A king is frequently referred to on his death as “becoming a god.” During his lifetime, he was the chief priest of his realm, and as such was expected to participate in the kingdom’s most important religious festivals. This was no small responsibility. Up to 165 festivals were incorporated into the official calendar, and the king’s presence was required at many of them—even if at times this meant cutting short a military campaign to ensure his availability. Much of the king’s time was occupied with annual pilgrimages to the holy cities of his realm, like Arinna and Nerik.

A storm god and a sun goddess were the most prominent deities in the Hittite pantheon, but there were dozens of regional variants of these and other deities throughout the realm. Each king also had a special patron deity who protected him through his life and ran before him in battle. Thus Ishtar was the patron of the thirteenth-century bce king Hattusili III, and the storm god of lightning the patron of his son and successor Tudhaliya IV. Each new conquest swelled the ranks of the kingdom’s deities, as those of the conquered states were added to the pantheon. It was the Hittites’ proud boast that they were the people of a thousand gods. This boast was on the one hand a clear demonstration of Hittite religious tolerance and the respect the Hittites accorded to all deities, whatever their origin. On the other hand, it had good propaganda value, emphasizing as it did the wide spread of territories over which the Hittites held sway. Yet so large an accumulation of gods made the pantheon increasingly unwieldy. This prompted Puduhepa, wife of Hattusili III and a former Hurrian priestess, to embark upon a rationalization (p. 167) of the pantheon, which she began by syncretizing its most important deities. The storm god was equated with Hurrian Teshub, and the sun goddess of Arinna with Hepat. The syncretization process also illustrates the increasing Hurrianization of Hittite culture in the final century of the Hittite empire, particularly in the reigns of Hattusili III and Tudhaliya. The finest surviving example of this is the Hittite rock sanctuary now called Yazılıkaya (Turkish for “inscribed rock”) near the Hittite capital Hattusa. Two files of deities are depicted there, males and females separately in the Hurrian manner, in Hurrian garb and with Hurrian names.

The Acquisition of Empire

The size of the territory ruled by the kings of Hatti fluctuated dramatically throughout the kingdom’s history. As we have noted, in the reign of Suppiluliuma I the kingdom of Hatti reached the height of its power and influence in the Near East, controlling an empire extending from the Aegean coast of Anatolia eastward to the western fringes of Mesopotamia, and southward through Syria-Palestine to the region of Damascus, where Egyptian-controlled territory began. There were four main components of the empire: (1) the core homeland territory, located in the region defined by the Marassantiya River; (2) buffer territories that lay to the east and southwest of the homeland, and were sometimes regarded as an integral part of it—the so-called Upper and Lower Lands; (3) a network of vassal states in Anatolia and northern Syria; (4) viceregal kingdoms at Carchemish and Aleppo in Syria, the viceroys being members of the king’s direct family line; and in the thirteenth century bce, the appanage kingdom in southern Anatolia called “Tarhuntassa,” ruled by a member of a collateral branch of the royal family.

The acquisition by military force of the subject territories that constituted their empire was in large measure a necessity imposed upon the Hittites. Inhabitants of a land virtually surrounded by hostile neighbors, and with no significant natural defenses, they were obliged to take on the role of aggressors, partly as a means of ensuring their survival. Their king was also their leader in war, and could spend a significant part of almost every year of his reign on active campaign. Of necessity, prowess in the field of battle was one of the most important qualities of a good king, and indeed an essential component of the ideology of kingship. Demonstration of this quality required a king to match, and if at all possible to surpass, the achievements of his predecessors. On major operations, the king himself led his troops on campaign and into battle. There were, however, occasions when he delegated military command to a subordinate—often a member of his own family, generally one of his brothers or sons. On a number of occasions, a brother of the king who held the highly prestigious post of GAL MESHEDI (chief of the bodyguards) conducted a major military campaign on the king’s behalf. Other members of the Hittite nobility were assigned major military roles, sometimes as divisional commanders within an army under the leadership of the king or a prince, sometimes (p. 168) as the leaders of smaller-scale military expeditions sent against an enemy or a rebel vassal state. But even when he was not leading a campaign, the king closely monitored all aspects of it through regular exchanges of messages and bulletins with the field commander.

There is no doubt that Hittite armies were generally highly disciplined and efficient, and could move with great rapidity to regions where campaigns were to be conducted. And in the majority of such campaigns, they appear to have been resoundingly successful—when they were able to confront their enemies in set battles. They were apparently less successful in conducting siege warfare and in subjugating areas where the enemy engaged in guerilla-type warfare. They also suffered several major reverses in conflicts with other Great Kingdoms, notably Mitanni early in Suppiluliuma I’s reign, Egypt early in the reign of Muwattalli II, and Assyria in the reign of Tudhaliya IV. The core of the Hittites’ defense force was a full-time, professional standing army, made up partly of levees imposed upon the subject states. The troops in this army were on year-round service. They were quartered in military barracks, and so could be promptly mobilized. Civilians could also be called up for major military campaigns. Between the full-time professional army and the civilian soldiers, there was a category of what we might call “reservists” or “territorials.” These men were almost certainly better trained than the civilian soldiers, and probably served in the army on a fairly regular basis during the campaigning season. The payment they received was in the form of land assigned to them by the king. The produce of this land was supposed to support them and their families throughout the year. The army’s elite force was its chariot contingent. In the thirteenth century, the Hittites developed the use of three-man chariots, whose crew consisted of a driver, a fighter armed with spear and bow and arrow, and a defender equipped with a shield. We do not know how effectively this somewhat cumbersome unit performed in the field of battle against the conventional two-man chariots used, for example, by the Egyptians.

The size of the armies that Hittite kings sent or led on campaign is largely a matter of conjecture (see Beal 1992, 291–296). Expeditionary forces dispatched against rebellious vassals or hostile independent states probably numbered between 5,000 and 10,000 troops, depending on the strength of the enemy, the extent to which they were supported by other states in the region, and the extent to which the Hittites could call upon the support of loyal vassals in the region. For a major engagement against a foreign Great King, the Hittites undoubtedly put a much larger force in the field. In the battle of Qadesh, fought between the Hittite king Muwattalli II and the pharaoh Ramesses II in 1274 bce, Ramesses reports that the total Hittite forces numbered no less than 47,500, including some 3,500 chariotry and 37,000 infantry.

The first Hittite campaigns in northern Syria, in the reigns of Hattusili I and Mursili I, may have been intended in part to secure control over the routes that passed through Mesopotamia and Syria. The Hittites may well have relied on these routes for their supplies of a number of commodities, most notably tin, an essential ingredient in the production of bronze. During the Middle Bronze Age, Assyrian merchants had provided the Anatolian kingdoms with tin, which came to (p. 169) Mesopotamia probably from sources in Afghanistan and was then conveyed along the routes that linked Mesopotamia with Anatolia. If, as seems likely, the Hittites were dependent on the same sources for their supplies of tin (for possible Bronze Age tin sources in Anatolia, see Kaptan 1995), they may well have been obliged to establish an effective presence in the Syrian region to ensure these supplies were not denied them by an enemy power. Campaigns of conquest and destruction in the region by early kings, like Hattusili, Mursili, and Tudhaliya I, were the prelude to the establishment of more permanent authority over the northern Syrian states by later Hittite kings. But these early campaigns were very likely also undertaken to offset the threat to the Hittite homeland of the Hurrians who were rapidly spreading through northern Mesopotamia, northern Syria, and eastern Anatolia. A number of the Hurrian states had, by the end of the sixteenth century bce, amalgamated into a single political federation called the “kingdom of Mitanni.” This kingdom posed the greatest threat to the Hittite world until its destruction by Suppiluliuma I.

Military campaigns also provided an important source of revenue for the Hittite king. Though he was the absolute and supreme ruler of the Hittite world, his authority depended very largely on the support of a powerful aristocracy. Its ranks included wealthy landowners, who had in many cases received their estates from the king as a reward for services rendered. They provided the king with a large part of his officer class, and expected to receive from him a generous share of the booty resulting from military conquest. In accordance with the “ethics” of warfare, an enemy or rebel city that surrendered without resistance to a Hittite army on campaign was spared destruction and plunder, provided it henceforth acknowledged the Hittite king as its overlord and paid whatever tribute was required of it. But if a city had to be taken by force, then it was looted and torched, and its inhabitants massacred or transported back to the homeland of its conqueror. Much of the booty from plundered cities and states in fact consisted of livestock and human transportees. The latter, who presumably were made up of the able-bodied inhabitants of a conquered region—men, women, and children—were resettled in various parts of the homeland, including underpopulated frontier areas that were prone to incursions by hostile groups, like the Kaska tribes from the Pontic mountain zone along the southern coast of the Black Sea. Many of the male transportees were recruited into the king’s militia. Others were pressed into service in the kingdom’s numerous temple establishments. A large number of the transportees, together with cattle and sheep from the conquered lands, were regularly allocated by the king to his land-owning officers to restock their estates.

The Maintenance of Empire

The importance of transportation as a means of boosting the homeland population can scarcely be overestimated. The constant demands imposed upon this population by yearly military campaigns, sometimes hundreds of kilometers from their place of origin, must seriously have affected the kingdom’s ability to defend its (p. 170) own frontiers. On a number of occasions, an enemy exploited the king’s absence on a major military expedition to cross the inadequately protected frontiers and occupy or ravage the fields and towns lying within it. The demands of military campaigns must also have significantly depleted the homeland’s agricultural force, particularly at times when the king ordered a general call-up of able-bodied men to supplement the forces of his professional army. In the last century of the empire, the homeland appears to have become increasingly dependent on the importation of grain from abroad to feed its population. This may have been due in part at least to the redeployment, from the fields, of increasing numbers of yeomanry for military service, as the defense of the realm came under ever greater pressure from rebel states and outside forces.

Manpower shortages and the problems of providing adequate defense for the homeland while the main defense force was away very likely explains why Hittite kings often preferred to resolve a dispute with a foreign ruler or rebel vassal by negotiation rather than by military conflict. While the success of the kingdom of Hatti in establishing itself as the dominant power in Anatolia for much of its 500-year existence rested ultimately on brute force, its rulers’ skills in the art of diplomacy must also be reckoned as a major factor in this success. The clearest reflection of these skills can be seen in the treaties which Hittite kings drew up with their vassals (Beckman 1999). Hittite sovereignty over vassal states was generally imposed in the wake of military conquest. The vassal states were assigned to the control of local rulers, whose obligations to their overlord were carefully spelled out in treaties, each a personal compact drawn up by the Hittite king with his vassal ruler. The most important of these obligations were military. The vassal was obliged to provide troops to fight alongside Hittite forces whenever he was called upon to do so, particularly when Hittite campaigns were being conducted in his region. He was forbidden to enter into independent relationships with foreign powers or to have independent political or military dealings with the rulers of other vassal states. And he was obliged to act as a local intelligence agent, informing his overlord without delay of any anti-Hittite political or military activities in his region. Other obligations commonly involved an annual payment of tribute to Hattusa.

It should be stressed that the treaties were agreements between two persons, overlord and vassal, not between two states. The vassal swore allegiance to his overlord and pledged support for the latter’s successors in his direct family line. Should the Hittite throne be seized by a usurper, the treaty became null and void, except that the vassal might be called upon to help restore the legitimate king to his throne. In return for the fulfillment of his treaty obligations, the vassal was guaranteed sovereignty in his kingdom, and also the sovereignty of his legitimate successors in his direct family line. Apart from the obligations imposed by treaty upon him, the vassal ruler was allowed a high degree of autonomy in the administration of his state. Probably, this was due less to a liberal policy by Hittite kings toward their vassal states than to practical necessity. The Hittite kingdom lacked both the administrative machinery and the (p. 171) manpower necessary to administer and control its vassal territories directly. It was only in the Syrian viceregal seats at Carchemish and Aleppo that direct Hittite rule over territories outside the homeland region was established. Even the stationing of Hittite garrisons in the subject territories was a rare occurrence, generally confined to regions that were considered particularly volatile and that lay near the homeland’s frontiers.

The fact that a number of vassal rulers, particularly in western Anatolia, violated their oaths and rebelled against Hittite rule, or were overthrown by anti-Hittite elements in their states, might be seen as indicating that the treaty system was very limited in its effectiveness. This is true up to a point. But the system did succeed in establishing relatively long periods of stability in some of the more fractious of the Hittites’ subject territories, thus reducing the need for repeated Hittite campaigns in these territories. And in the last two centuries of the Late Bronze Age, the Hittites’ vassal states in northern Syria provided an important bulwark against a resurgence of Egyptian territorial expansion north of Damascus.

Peace accords and strategic alliances established by a number of Hittite kings with their foreign counterparts also played a significant part in the maintenance of Hittite power and influence in the Near Eastern world. After the famous battle of Qadesh, fought between the Hittite king Muwattalli II and the pharaoh Ramesses II in 1274 bce, relations between Hatti and Egypt improved to the point where in 1259 bce a treaty was drawn up between Ramesses and Muwattalli’s brother and second successor Hattusili III (Beckman 1999, 96–100). The somewhat strained relations between the two royal courts prior and subsequent to the conclusion of this, the so-called Eternal Treaty, are reflected in the large body of surviving correspondence that passed the two kings and other members of their families (Edel 1994). Like the Amarna correspondence of the previous century, the letters from the mid-thirteenth-century bce Hittite-Egyptian corpus illustrate the importance of international diplomacy in maintaining peace between the Great Kingdoms of the Near East for much of the Late Bronze Age. Wars between the major powers of the age were remarkably few and far between.

The Administration of the Kingdom

Just as he dealt directly with his vassal rulers, so too in the administration of his homeland regions the Hittite king dealt on a one-to-one basis with many of his officials, both in the capital Hattusa and in the homeland’s regional centers. The former included the hazannu, the “lord mayor,” or chief administrator of Hattusa, who had particular responsibility for the security of the capital. The latter included an official called the BĒL MADGALTI (Hittite auriyas ishas; lit., “lord of the watch-tower”), a term used of the king’s district governors. The duties and obligations of these officials included the security of the frontiers; command of the garrisons stationed in the area; the maintenance of buildings, roads, and irrigation (p. 172) canals; management of the king’s lands and collection of his taxes; the upkeep and restoration of temples; and a range of judicial functions that entailed traveling around their districts to preside at local assizes.

The relationship between the king and his various officials was regulated by sets of instructions that spelled out the latter’s official duties and obligations. Twenty or so of these documents have survived (von Schuler 1957). A firsthand record of day-to-day administration in the kingdom’s regional centers is provided by letters, or bulletins, found in the archives of several of these centers, excavated in comparatively recent times—namely Ortaköy (Hittite Sapinuwa), Kuşaklı (Sarissa), and Maşat (Tapikka) (Bryce 2003, 170–181). The letters were written by the king to his local officials, or by the local officials to their king, or by Hattusa-based officials to local officials, or by local officials in one region to their counterparts in other regions. Their contents range widely, but above all they provide a firsthand view of the conditions, problems, and dangers confronting the king’s civil and military appointees in these regions.

Most of our information about the Hittite imperial administration, both within the homeland and the subject territories, is based on the thousands of fragments of clay tablets discovered in the palace and temple archives of the capital Hattusa. The tablets are inscribed with the cuneiform script, adopted from the scribal schools of northern Syria probably as a result of Hittite contact with the region during the campaigns of Hattusili I. The tablets range widely in content. They include religious, mythological, and literary texts; a collection of laws; correspondence with foreign and vassal rulers; treaties; and administrative texts. As we have noted, the Indo-European Nesite language was the official chancellery language of the Hittite kingdom. But seven other languages are represented in the archives, including Luwian, Hattic, and Akkadian. The last of these was the international language of diplomacy in the Late Bronze Age, and was used by the Hittite administration in correspondence and treaties with foreign rulers, and with the Hittites’ vassal rulers in Syria. The Nesite language was used for diplomatic communications with the vassal rulers of western Anatolia. Alongside the cuneiform script, a Luwian hieroglyphic script (once referred to as “Hittite hieroglyphic”) was used for recording inscriptions in the Luwian language on stone monuments and on seals used by royalty and other elite members of the Hittite social and administrative hierarchy. The majority of hieroglyphic inscriptions, which are found throughout Anatolia and northern Syria, date to the thirteenth century bce, and in greater numbers to the so-called neo-Hittite period from circa 1100 to 700 bce (Hawkins 2000).

Literacy in the Hittite world, as elsewhere in the Late Bronze Age Near East, was confined largely to a class of professional scribes, though a small range of other persons, including doctors and ritualists, must also have been literate (Bryce 2002, 56–71). The scribes were employed in both palace and temple bureaucracies. An indication of their numbers is provided by the fact that at least fifty-two scribal staff are recorded in a text found in a building complex associated with the Temple of the Storm God in Hattusa. There were thirty other known temples in (p. 173) Hattusa, each of which very likely had a scribal establishment. The staff of scribes employed in the palace bureaucracy was no doubt considerably larger than all of them. There must have been a clear hierarchy within the scribal class. At the bottom end would have been journeyman clerks employed in the largely routine, mechanical tasks of copying texts and filing and retrieving documents from the archives. At the top end were scribes who played a major role in the imperial administration, preparing drafts of treaties and other important documents for the king’s consideration, and more generally serving in the ranks of the king’s closest advisers. A number of them must also have participated in Hittite diplomatic missions to foreign courts. The best known of all Hittite scribes was a man called “Mittannamuwa,” who rose to the exalted position of “great scribe” (GAL DUB.SAR) and was subsequently appointed by Muwattalli II as administrator of Hattusa when Muwattalli transferred the royal capital to Tarhuntassa in southern Anatolia.

In addition to his roles as chief priest of the Hittite world and commander-in-chief of its armies, the king was the supreme judicial authority in the land. His judicial responsibilities included the arbitration of disputes between vassals, the hearing of appeals against judgments made by lower courts, and the conduct of cases that had to be referred directly to him for judgment. Sorcery and illicit sexual practices, including bestiality and incest, were included in this last category. These and all other offenses subject to capital punishment had to be referred to the king’s court, for the king alone had the right to pronounce sentence of death. In practice, he must have delegated many of his judicial responsibilities, as indeed a number of his administrative and diplomatic responsibilities, to other persons. Members of his own family, including the Syrian viceroys, were probably the main delegatees in all these areas. Hattusili III’s consort Puduhepa was actively involved in the administration of justice throughout the realm, sometimes in association with her husband, sometimes judging cases on her own, as her husband’s deputy. This was but one of the areas in which she played a major role in the kingdom’s affairs, figuring prominently in other contexts as chief priestess of the Hittite realm and as an international diplomat who corresponded on equal terms with the pharaoh Ramesses II. She was also responsible for engineering a number of royal marriage alliances. Her prominence in Hittite affairs was in part due to her position as the reigning queen. This position was sometimes formally designated by the title “Tawananna.” Its holder, almost always the king’s chief wife, was high priestess of the Hittite realm. She could be highly influential in other areas of the kingdom’s activities and retained her position for the whole of her life, even if she outlived her husband.

More generally, judicial responsibilities were exercised by a range of officials. These included provincial governors, as noted above, and at a lower level, Councils of Elders. Probably consisting of the heads of prominent local families—wealthy local landowners and the like—the councils appear to have had a range of judicial and religious responsibilities, but were subordinate to the governors of the regions in which their communities were located.

(p. 174) Our knowledge of Hittite law depends in the main on a collection of 200 laws, surviving in fragmentary copies in a number of versions, the earliest of which goes back to the middle of the seventeenth century bce (Hoffner 1997). There may well have been even earlier versions. The Hittite collection appears to be essentially a compilation of legal precedents. Unlike Hammurabi’s laws, there is no preamble attached to it, no suggestion that it was divinely endorsed or inspired by any underlying set of moral or philosophical principles. Nor was it ever presented in monumental form for public display. This may have been at least partly because the collection was never a static entity, but rather a series of guidelines that underwent a number of modifications in later versions. The main drift was toward less severe penalties for offenses committed, replacing, for example, punishment by mutilation in a number of cases with payment of a fine, and a marked reduction in the number of offenses that attracted the death penalty. This in fact illustrates one of the Hittite laws’ most characteristic features. In contrast to Hammurabic law, the emphasis in Hittite law was not on retributive justice or vengeance for its own sake but rather on fair compensation to the victim of an offense, to be made by the person who committed an offense against him. It is a good example of Hittite pragmatism. The amount of compensation was determined by a range of factors, including the status of both the offender and the victim. The laws make clear that every member of the state had a right to the protection of the laws. But justice was not even-handed in its application. A distinction was drawn between slave and free. Thus compensation imposed for offenses against the former were generally only half that imposed for offenses against the latter.

The term “slave” (IR3) as used in the laws may have applied to any persons in Hittite society who were the property of a master, including the large numbers of transportees who were part of the spoils of Hittite military campaigns and were assigned to estate owners in the homeland. The constant importation of such persons into the homeland, particularly in the late fourteenth and early thirteenth centuries bce, must have had a significant impact on the ethnic composition of the region. If we can trust his figures (as we probably can), the Hittite king Mursili II (ca. 1321–1295 bce) regularly brought back thousands, sometime tens of thousands, of transportees in the wake of his annual military campaigns conducted in rebel and enemy territory. We cannot be sure that the ideogram IR3, as used in the laws, does in fact apply to transportees (who are otherwise scarcely mentioned in the document) as well as to slaves acquired by other means (e.g., through debt-slavery; see Hoffner 2002, 186–187). But in any case, the persons so designated seem to have enjoyed a relatively high degree of freedom, which included the right to own and accumulate property, and to contract a marriage with persons of free status, with the prospect of producing free offspring. It is impossible to say whether these provisions in the laws reflect typical or atypical practice in Hittite society. The latter may well be so since it is clear that many of the laws were concerned with reporting decisions handed down in specific cases where exceptional circumstances were involved.

(p. 175) Hittite texts tell us little about the economic basis of Hittite society. It is clear, however, that this basis was primarily agricultural, and that a large percentage of the population lived off the land. The produce of this land, including its cattle and sheep, its crops and orchards, generated much of the taxes and revenues collected by the state. There is little evidence of wealth acquired from mineral sources, and as we have noted, much if not all of the tin required for the production of bronze had to be imported into the Hittite world, probably from sources much further to the east. Plunder and tribute from the vassal states no doubt constituted a significant source of income in the heyday of Hittite military campaigns, particularly in the second half of the fourteenth and the early years of the thirteenth century bce. But by and large the Hittite economy appears not to have been a significantly diversified one. There is very little evidence that the Hittites engaged in mercantile activities on any significant scale, and the fact that the homeland was landlocked meant that the Hittites could never engage directly in seagoing enterprises. The likelihood is that international trade, which brought goods to the Hittite homeland, was largely in the hands of foreign entrepreneurs. (On merchants in the Hittite world, see Bryce 2002, 87–97; Hoffner 2002).

We have noted that in its final decades, the homeland seems to have found it increasingly difficult to feed its population from its own resources and became increasingly dependent on the importation of grain from outside sources, notably from Egypt and the kingdom’s Levantine states. The recently excavated grain silos in the Hittite capital, if datable to this period, may well reflect additional measures taken by the last Hittite kings to stockpile grain in anticipation of continuing shortfalls in local production. The disruption of shipping routes in the eastern Mediterranean by pirates and probably other forces hostile to Hatti, and apparent shortfalls in grain production in the Syro-Palestinian states, may well have helped precipitate a crisis of major proportions in the final years of the Hittite kingdom’s existence. A number of explanations have been offered for the kingdom’s fall in the early twelfth century bce. Most of these—prolonged drought, local uprisings, earthquake, invasions by outsiders, and so forth—should be related to the widespread upheavals that brought to an end many of the Bronze Age centers of power throughout the Aegean and Near Eastern worlds. But in addition, it now seems increasingly likely that major divisions within the ranks of Hittite royalty also contributed to the kingdom’s collapse (see Bryce 2007).

As for the capital, a recent reassessment of the material remains of Hattusa in its final years has led to the conclusion that the city was not suddenly destroyed in a single cataclysmic attack upon it, as once believed. Rather, it was abandoned before such an attack took place, by its royal family and other members of the administrative elite who presumably reestablished themselves in another location yet to be identified (Seeher 2001). It was in the wake of this abandonment that Hattusa apparently fell victim to marauders who left the city in ruins.

(p. 176) The Neo-Hittite Successors

The collapse of the Hittite empire in the early twelfth century bce left a power vacuum in Anatolia, particularly on the plateau, which was largely filled in the early Iron Age by the kingdom of Phrygia (see below). Many Hittite towns and cities had been abandoned, their inhabitants seeking new lands to settle, within the context of the massive population movements associated with the so-called Sea Peoples of Egyptian records. On the other hand, a number of principalities arose in eastern Anatolia and northern Syria in the wake of the fall of Hatti. Now commonly referred to as the “neo-Hittite kingdoms,” they were in effect the Iron Age successors of the Late Bronze Age kingdom of the Hittites (see Bryce 2012). Some had their origins in Bronze Age cities and states; others appear to have been new foundations. But all of them preserved in modified form many Hittite cultural traditions, for up to 500 years after Late Bronze Age Hatti’s disappearance.

South of the Halys River extending through the region of the Hittite Lower Land was the country called “Tabal” (biblical Tubal). Initially, Tabal consisted of a series of small, independent principalities, which had by the end of the eighth century bce amalgamated into two relatively major kingdoms: in the north, the kingdom sometimes now referred to as “Tabal proper” (Assyrian Bit-Burutash); in the south, the kingdom of Tuwana, which covered the region of the classical Tyanitis. In Anatolia’s southeast, the kingdom of Que emerged, originally extending over much of Late Bronze Age Kizzuwadna, and later referred to as “Hume” in Neo-Babylonian texts. To the west of Que lay the kingdom of Hilakku, covering much of the territory of classical Cilicia Aspera. Carchemish, located on the west bank of the Euphrates and formerly a viceregal seat of the Hittite empire, was the center of the most important neo-Hittite kingdom. Other neo-Hittite kingdoms in the Taurus and northern Syrian regions included Melid (modern Arslantepe), Gurgum (modern Maraş), Kummuh (later Commagene), Til Barsip (modern Tell Ahmar), and Hamath (modern Hama).

The language, culture, and ethnicity of at least some of these reflect a relatively smooth transition from their Bronze Age predecessors. Luwian was widely spoken in the region, if we can so judge from the distribution of Luwian inscriptions throughout the neo-Hittite centers. The Luwian hieroglyphic script now completely superseded the old cuneiform script in written records. (For the corpus of hieroglyphic inscriptions, see Çambel 1999; Hawkins 2000). Continuity is also illustrated by direct family links between the Late Bronze Age Hittite royal dynasty and a number of the neo-Hittite rulers. Thus Talmi-Teshub, who was viceroy at Carchemish during the reign of the last Hittite king Suppiluliuma II, and great-great-grandson of Suppiluliuma I, was succeeded by his son Ku(n)zi-Teshub, whose grandsons were kings of Melid. Very likely a number of groups from the old Hittite homeland, particularly the elite elements of Hittite society, found a new home for themselves in Carchemish. The strong links with Bronze Age Hittite cultural traditions in the neo-Hittite world may well have been due largely to their (p. 177) preservation by such elements who sought to maintain in their new environment whatever they could bring with them from their old.

But the neo-Hittite states were never closely united politically. Their relative cultural coherence was also progressively weakened, as illustrated by the gradual replacement of the Luwian language by Phoenician and Aramaic. Many of the distinctive features of the neo-Hittite civilization began to yield to Aramaean influence as the Aramaean presence became ever more prominent in the region. And the more distinctive features of traditional Hittite art and architecture were increasingly modified by their intermixture with Syrian and Assyrian elements. Lack of political unity among the neo-Hittite kingdoms is generally seen as the chief reason for their eventual disappearance as they were incorporated, one by one, into the Assyrian empire. The last of them fell to the Assyrian king Sargon II between 717 and 708 bce.


On the Anatolian plateau, the Phrygians were the most important of the Late Bronze Age Hittites’ successors (for a general account of them, see Mellink 1991). According to Greek tradition, they were immigrants into Anatolia from Macedon and Thrace. Homer’s references to them in the Iliad imply that they were already well established in their homeland by the end of the Late Bronze Age. But the likelihood is that their migration took place during the upheavals associated with the end of the Bronze Age in the twelfth century. By the last decades of the second millennium bce, a Phrygian state was beginning to evolve. With its capital at Gordion, located on the Sakarya (classical Sangarius) river, circa 100 kilometers southwest of Ankara (see Voigt 1997), this state reached the peak of its development in the eighth century. Phrygian power now extended eastward across the Halys River into what had been the homeland of the Late Bronze Age Hittite kingdom. The former Hittite capital Hattusa may by the eighth century bce have become a largely Phrygian settlement, as indicated by the architecture and ceramic ware of the period, and by the establishment in the city of the cult of Cybele, the Phrygian mother-goddess. Other former Hittite settlements that the Phrygians occupied within the Halys basin include Gavurkalesi (anc. name unknown), site of a Hittite sanctuary 60 kilometers southwest of Ankara; Alaca Höyük, probably the sacred Hittite city Arinna, 25 kilometers north of Hattusa; and Tapikka (modern Maşat), located 116 kilometers northeast of Hattusa and once a provincial center of the Hittite homeland.

At some point in their history, the Phrygians became associated with a people called the “Mushki,” already attested in Assyrian texts from the reign of Tiglath-pileser I (1114–1076 bce (Grayson 1991, 33). The nature, date, and origins of the Phrygian-Mushki association are still matters for debate (Kossian 1997). But a (p. 178) widely held view is that toward the end of the eighth century bce, an amalgamation took place between Phrygian and Mushki groups. The union was almost certainly due to a Mushki king called Mita, better known by his Greek name Midas (Sams 1995). From his capital at Gordion, Mita/Midas ruled a kingdom that extended eastward toward the Euphrates River, southward into the region later known as Cappadocia, and westward as far as the Aegean Sea.

The Phrygians belonged to the Indo-European-language-speaking peoples, as indicated by two sets of their inscriptions, unfortunately only partly intelligible. The first set, found mainly on the facades of rock-cut monuments, date from the eighth to the third centuries bce, and the second, consisting mainly of curse formulae, to the second and third centuries ce.


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                                                    (*) I.e., a husband who enters into and therefore “becomes a member of the wife’s family in inversion of the usual custom” (Beckman 1986, 17).