Introduction

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Some 28 kilometres east of the city of Izmir on Turkey’s western

coast, there is a mountain pass called Karabel. Overlooking the pass

is a relief cut in the face of the rock. It depicts a male human figure

armed with bow and spear, and sword with crescent-shaped

pommel. On his head is a tall peaked cap. A weathered inscription

provides information about him—for those able to read it.

Herodotos visited the monument in the fifth century bc. He describes

it in his Histories and provides a translation of the inscription

which, he declares, is written in the sacred script of Egypt: ‘With my

own shoulders I won this land.’1 The conqueror does not tell us his

name, but his costume is part Egyptian, part Ethiopian, and he is to

be identified with Sesostris, prince of Egypt—at least that is what

Herodotos would have us believe!

Twenty-three centuries later, in the year 1834, a French

adventurer-explorer called Charles Texier is searching in central

Turkey for the remains of a Celtic city called Tavium, referred

to in Roman sources. The locals tell him of some ancient ruins

150 kilometres east of Ankara.Texier visits the ruins.They are vast—

far exceeding in size anything described in Classical sources.One of

the entrance gates to the city bears a relief of a warrior—armed,

beardless, with long hair, wearing a tasselled helmet and a kilt.Texier

is mystified. It is like no other figure known from the ancient world.

The locals tell him that there are more figures nearby.They lead him

to an outcrop of rock, about thirty minutes’ walk from the ruins.This

brings further surprises. The rock walls are decorated with relief

sculptures—processions of human figures clothed in strange garments,

of hitherto unknown types. The reliefs are accompanied by

mysterious inscriptions, totally unintelligible. They can be neither

read nor identified. But they are dubbed ‘hieroglyphic’ because of a

superficial resemblance to the hieroglyphic script of Egypt. The

whole thing remains a bewildering mystery.

We move forward four decades, to the year 1876. In London a

British scholar called Archibald Henry Sayce delivers a lecture to

the Society of Biblical Archaeology. It is about a group of people

referred to in the Bible as the Hittites. They are apparently a small

Canaanite tribe living in Palestine. At least that is what the Bible has

led everyone to believe. In his lecture,Sayce puts forward a bold new

theory—that the Hittites, far from being an insignificant Canaanite

tribe, were in fact the masters of a great and widespread empire

extending throughout the Near East. The centre of this kingdom

probably lay in Syria—so Sayce believes. But its capital has yet to be

discovered.

Two more decades bring us to the first years of the twentieth

century. In Turkey the German archaeologist Hugo Winckler has

begun excavating the site which had so mystified Charles Texier

seventy years earlier. He sits in a hut on the site examining the large

quantities of clay tablets which the excavations are bringing to light.

They are inscribed in the cuneiform script.Winckler is able to read a

number of these since they are in the language called Akkadian, the

international language of diplomacy in the second millennium bc.

Winckler suspects that the site he is excavating may be part of

Sayce’s so-called Hittite empire. As he picks up one tablet, he reads

it with increasing excitement. It is the Akkadian version of a treaty

which the pharaoh Ramesses II drew up with Hattusili, king of the

Hittites, in the twenty-first year of his reign. This, combined with

other evidence, makes it clear that the site under excavation is the

Hittite capital, later to be identified as Hattusa. Unfortunately the

great majority of tablets unearthed from the site cannot be read.

They are in a strange, unintelligible language. Presumably it is the

language of the Hittites themselves.

Moving forward another decade, we find ourselves in a politically

turbulent Europe.A Czech scholar called Bedrˇich Hrozny´ has taken

up the challenge of deciphering the Hittite language. The task is

proving a frustrating one and is likely to come to an abrupt end as

war breaks out. Hrozny´ is drafted into the army. But he is given

exemption from military duties in order to continue with his scholarly

pursuits. As he peruses the Hittite tablets, he returns to a conclusion

proposed a few years earlier by the Norwegian scholar J.A.

Knudtzon, but generally rejected, that Hittite is an Indo-European

language, quite different from the Bronze Age languages already

known, like Babylonian and Assyrian. Beginning with a few basic

examples, most notably a line from a religious text which refers

simply to the eating of bread and the drinking of water, Hrozny´

demonstrates beyond doubt that Knudtzon’s theory is correct.With

this first crucial step, the door to the language is unlocked. A once

obscure, almost forgotten civilization of the ancient Near East is

opened up to the world of modern scholarship.

‘They’re a biblical tribe,aren’t they?’ reflects a popular perception of

the Hittites that has changed little in the last 150 years, despite all

that has happened in the world of Near Eastern scholarship in that

time. Indeed many readers who know of the Hittites only from biblical

references may wonder how a whole book could be devoted to

the handful of Old Testament tribespeople so called, like Uriah, the

cuckolded husband of Bathsheba, Ephron, who sold his field to

Abraham as a burial plot, and the sons of Heth, who was one of the

sons of Canaan.2 Up until the last decades of the nineteenth century

practically everything known about the Hittites was contained in the

Bible.Today anyone venturing beyond this source into the world of

modern Hittite scholarship will readily understand the astonished

reaction which the pioneering ‘Hittitologist’ A. H. Sayce must have

provoked 120 years ago in his lecture to the Society of Biblical

Archaeology in London. He claimed that far from being a small

Canaanite tribe who dwelt in the Palestinian hills, the Hittites were

the people of a great empire stretching across the face of the ancient

Near East, from the Aegean Sea’s eastern shoreline to the banks

of the Euphrates, centuries before the age of the Patriarchs. The

Karabel monument,first described by Herodotos, lies at the western

end of this empire. It depicts not an Egyptian prince but a local

western Anatolian king called Tarkasnawa, a thirteenth-century

vassal ruler of the Hittite Great King.3 In fact our biblical Hittites

with their Semitic names have little if anything to do with the earlier

people so called, who occupied central Anatolia in the period we

now refer to as the Late Bronze Age. Of mixed ethnic origins—Indo-

European, native Hattian, Hurrian, Luwian, and numerous smaller

groups—they called themselves by the traditional name of the

region in which they lived; they were the ‘people of the Land of

Hatti’. Largely for the sake of convenience, and because of their

long-assumed biblical connections, we have adopted for them the

name ‘Hittite’.

There may in fact be a genuine connection. Early in the twelfth

century the Hittite capital Hattusa went up in flames, and with its

destruction the central Anatolian kingdom was at an end. Elements

of the civilization did, however, persist in southern Anatolia, and

particularly in Syria, where in the fourteenth century viceregal kingdoms

were established, at Carchemish and Aleppo, under the immediate

governance of sons of the Hittite Great King. In these regions

collateral branches of the royal dynasty survived the upheavals

which marked the end of the Bronze Age and continued to hold

sway for some centuries to come. Along with this dynasty, elements

of the Bronze Age civilization persisted in the Syrian region through

the early centuries of the first millennium, as illustrated by the

Hittite-type monuments and sculptures and ‘Hittite’ hieroglyphic

inscriptions found at Carchemish and other sites.Yet the traditions

of Hittite civilization were influenced by and blended with those of

local Syrian origin, and it was this admixture which gave rise to what

are commonly known as the Neo-Hittite or Syro-Hittite kingdoms.

It is possible that these kingdoms appear briefly in the Bible.

On two occasions the Old Testament refers to a group of Hittites

who appear to be quite distinct from the hill tribesmen of Palestine.

In 2 Kings 7: 6, Hittite kings are hired by Israel along with the kings

of Egypt to do battle against an army of Syrians. In 2 Chronicles 1:17,

Hittite and Syrian kings appear together as recipients of exports

from Egypt.These passages give the clear impression that the Hittite

kings so mentioned enjoyed considerable status in the Syrian region

and may even have been commensurate in importance and power

with the pharaohs. In these two instances,then,biblical tradition may

reflect the continuing Hittite political and military and cultural presence

in Syria, albeit in an attenuated and hybrid form, during the

early centuries of the first millennium bc.4

I have devoted some space to the history of these latter-day

Hittites in my general historical survey of the Hittite world.5 However,

a full discussion of their society and culture is better dealt with

in the context of a broadly based treatment of the first millennium

successors to the Bronze Age civilizations, with all their blends,

interactions, and cross-cultural links. The focus of this present book

will be almost entirely on the life and society of the Late Bronze

Age Hittites whose kingdom spanned a period of some 500 years,

from the early seventeenth to the early twelfth century bc.

In compiling a history of the Hittite world, one becomes very conscious

of how much of it is a history of warfare in and beyond this

world. To a large extent that is due to the nature of our sources, a

reflection of what aspects, what achievements of his reign a Hittite

king chooses to relate to us. As Professor Hoffner notes, it is clear

that many historical works were primarily works of royal propaganda.

6 In seeking to demonstrate his prowess as a Great King

worthy of his illustrious predecessors, the ruler of the Hittite world

will almost always emphasize his military successes in the records he

leaves for posterity. Hence the picture frequently presented of a

kingdom geared to chronic warfare.That may indeed have been the

case more often than not in the Hittite world. But the picture is only

part complete. In fact the great majority of texts from the Hittite

archives have little or nothing to do with the military side of Hittite

life. They provide information on a wide range of other aspects

which help create a more balanced view of life and society in the

Hittite world. In dealing with a number of these in the pages which

follow I hope that this book will provide a useful complement to my

account of Hittite history.

Many books have been written about ancient peoples and places.

But even the most comprehensive treatments sometimes lack an

important perspective: while providing a wide range of information

about a particular society, they fail to convey any clear sense of what

it must have been like to live in it, to participate directly in the life of

its villages and cities, to meet its people on the streets and in their

homes. It is rather like reading a book of facts and figures about

Istanbul which though accurate and thorough in its details communicates

little of the essential experience of a visit to Aghia Sophia, or

a walk through the bustling alleys of the Covered Market or a ferryboat

trip along the Bosporus, or a ride in a dolmus¸. Of course no

matter how graphic the description of such experiences, it can never

be a satisfactory substitute for the experience itself—which as far as

the ancient world is concerned will be forever denied us, at least until

time travel becomes possible. Nevertheless, in using the factual data

on which our knowledge of an ancient society is based we should

attempt to build up a picture of this society not merely as detached

modern commentators but by seeing it through the eyes of someone

actually living in it, taking part in its daily activities, its festive occasions,

its celebrations, its crises and conflicts, experiencing its whole

mix of sights, sounds, and smells.

We find that no fewer than eight languages are represented in the

tablet archives of the capital. Probably as many if not more languages

were spoken in the streets of the capital every day, some of

them quite different from the languages of the archives. What did

this mean in practical terms? By imagining ourselves in the city’s

midst, we are likely to ask questions which we might otherwise never

have thought of. How did people of different ethnic origins and

speaking different languages communicate with each other on

everyday matters? What language did one use in buying a loaf of

bread or a pair of shoes, arranging lodgings for the evening, negotiating

a business deal or the price of a gold pendant? Was there

an informal city lingua franca, a kind of pidgin or ‘street-speak’?

Records of festival programmes survive in abundance in the

archives. What was it like to participate in one of these festivals?

To what extent can we recreate the festival experience from the

tediously repetitive formulaic instructions in the texts—the colour

and noise and pageantry of the festival processions and the feasting

and entertainment and sports contests associated with them? Military

annals routinely list the peoples taken from subject territories in

the aftermath of military conquest and resettled in the Hittite homeland.

We have only bald statistics.What of the human experiences

behind the statistics, as hundreds, sometimes thousands, of men,

women, and children are uprooted from their homes and forced to

walk hundreds of kilometres often in the harshest conditions to

servitude in an alien land? These are the sorts of questions we need

to ask if we are to make any genuine attempt to reconstruct the life

of the people of the Hittite world. In many cases we can provide no

more than tentative or incomplete answers, and in our reconstructions

we may sometimes stray beyond the bounds of evidential

support.That may on occasions be acceptable—provided we remain

within the bounds of possibility.

A further point needs to be made. To those to whom this book

serves as an introduction to the Hittite world, many of the customs,

beliefs, practices, and institutions referred to in the following pages

may have a familiar ring about them. The Hittites were an eclectic

people. They borrowed freely from predecessor as well as contemporary

civilizations in the Near East,weaving strands from a number

of different cultures into the fabric of their own. And quite possibly

they played an important role in the transmission of Near Eastern

cultural traditions and concepts to the European world. Similarities

and parallels can readily be found between Hittite and Greek traditions

and customs, as illustrated by literary and mythological motifs,

ritual practices, and methods of communicating with the gods. Some

of these may well have come to Greece via the Hittite world. Of

course the Hittites were but one of a number of possible agents of

east–west cultural transmission. As we have noted, their civilization

was a highly derivative one, and much of what they had in common

with the Greek world had been adopted by them from other sources.

Indeed the very fact that many of their cultural traditions were

widely in evidence in other civilizations of the Near East makes

it extremely difficult to identify which of these civilizations were

directly responsible for the transmission of particular traditions

to the west—or in what period the transmissions took place. The

considerable influence of the Near Eastern world on the evolving

civilization of Greece can now hardly be denied. But the specifics

of cultural transmission still remain debatable.

Chapter 14 deals with some of the possible links between the Near

Eastern world and the world that lay in and across the Aegean, and

the role which the Hittites may have played in establishing these

links. Otherwise there will be no specific discussion, except in a few

cases, of what aspects of Hittite civilization were of genuine native

origin, what were attributable to foreign sources, and what were

passed on to others. A number of books and articles have already

been devoted to such matters, both in the past and again in quite

recent years. Indeed there is every likelihood that research spanning

different time periods and different civilizations will become

increasingly common as the disciplinary barriers between

the various Near Eastern civilizations and particularly between the

Near East and Greece are progressively broken down.

Inevitably in writing a book of this kind, one has to be highly selective

in the material chosen for discussion. Inevitably there will be

criticisms because of what has been left out.The limitations imposed

by the publisher can be pleaded as part excuse. But even if the publisher

were indulgent enough to allow a book three times the current

length, it would not significantly reduce the element of selectivity,

given the substantial body of material which ongoing research in the

field of Hittite studies is constantly generating. Other experts in the

field may well have included different material or used different

emphases. Nevertheless, the book will have succeeded in its main

aim if its readers on completing it feel that it has brought them closer

to a knowledge and understanding of the life of the people, and the

people themselves, who dominated a large part of the Near Eastern

world throughout the Late Bronze Age.