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Hittite empire

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The Hittite Empire at its greatest extent under Mursili II (c.1321–1295 BC).

The Hittite Empire (Hittite: URUHa-at-ti; "The Land of Hatti") was an ancient kingdom which encompassed a large part of Anatolia and north-western Syria as far as Ugarit, and upper Mesopotamia from the 18th century BC to the 12th century BC. The name of Heth, the son of Canaan, was perpetuated in the Hittite capital of Hattusa (Hittite: URUḪattuša), near modern Boğazkale in Turkey.

Heth's descendants (known as the Hattians) inhabited the "land of Hatti" in the central and southeastern parts of Anatolia until they eventually merged with, or were displaced by, by Indo-Europeans (known as "Nesites" or "Late-Hittites") who adopted their name for themselves as well as the term "Land of Hatti." These Indo-Europeans were ethnically and linguistically distinct from the Hattians. Although their empire was composed from many diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds an Indo-European language known as Našili or Nesian, was spoken by the dominant group. Today this language is known as Hittite.

They were known for their skills in working iron and making chariots. Even though they lived in the Bronze Age they were considered ahead of there time with their knowledge of Iron. The discovery of the Hittite Empire put to rest doubts about the validity of the Bible, because the Hittite Empire was one of the biggest ever mentioned in the Bible. In Ankara, Turkey there is a museum that contains many Hittite artifacts called the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.[1]


Treaty that established the domination of the Hittites over the people of Aleppo, Syria.
Hittite pottery

Before the 19th century the only evidence to support the existence of the Hittite empire was the biblical references made to it. This raised many questions about the validity of the Bible. Many of these questions were put to rest in 1876 when A.H. Sayce, a British scholar, discovered carved inscriptions on rocks in Turkey. This discovery made him believe that he had found evidence of the Hittite empire. Clay tablets containing similar inscriptions were discovered ten years later in Boğazköy, Turkey. In 1906, German archaeologist Hugo Winckler, who was an expert in cuneiform, studied the previously discovered tablets and decided to start his own expedition. Through Hugo Winckler’s excavation, he discovered large sculptures, a citadel, and five different temples. He also discovered over 10,000 clay tablets in a single storeroom. One of the tablets contained a record of the treaty between the Hittite king and Ramesses II. The tablets also showed them that the city that they had been calling Boğazköy was actually the Hittite's capital known as Hattusa. The city of Hattusha was 300 acres in area. Inside the five temples they discovered tablets that described in detail the ceremonies that the priests of that time period performed. They described the necessary ceremonies for purification of a person’s sin and the purification process of a new temple. This discovery also aided in the validity of the Bible because before critics had claimed that the laws and ceremonies found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy were too lengthy and complex for that time period. The Hittite tablet’s along with Egyptian and Emar sites have confirmed that those ceremonies lined up with the teachings of the Bible. [2] [1]

After conquering a civilization the Hittite Empire would make a treaty with the conquered people. Twenty-four of these treaties have been translated thus far. Through these translations scholars have been able to better understand the treaties that were established in the Old Testament. The discovery of the Hittite Empire has increased the understanding of this period of time in the Bible through social, cultural, and religious views. As well as added more evidence to the accuracy of the Bible.[2]


Hittite monument with hieroglyphic inscription
Hittite hieroglyphic writings

The Hittites writings used to be commonly referred to as Hieroglyphic Hittite but today they are referred to as Anatolian Hieroglyphics. Their writings were written in Luwian which was an Indo-European language very similar to Hittite. The Hittite writings were done in pictographic similar to the Egyptian's hieroglyphics, but they are distinctly different. The terminology hieroglyphic is commonly used when referring to the Hittite writings but the language is not related to the Egyptians hieroglyphics.

There were two main types of writing within the Hittite language: monumental writing and cursive writing. Monumental writings had specific pictures that were used to display a series of events. Cursive writing was based off of monumental writings but was much harder to distinguish what was trying to be portrayed. Similar to other empires oriental writings, the Hittites pictographic system had three types of signs: logograms, syllabic, and auxiliary marks. Logograms were like word signs. Syllabic signs using the rebus principle, which is the use of a word or pictographic symbol for the sounds it makes disregarding its meaning, developed signs based of the logogram signs. Auxiliary signs were used specifically for classification and punctuation. The Hittite’s writing was similar to other pictographic systems because of their use of logograms and auxiliary marks.[3]

The Hittite language was an Indo-European language making it distantly related to English, German, Greek, Latin, and Persian. In this tongue there are many loan words particularly religious vocabulary from Hatti and Hurrian. Hatti was the non-Indo-European language of the Hattians before the ancestors of the Indo-European Hittites became the dominant group. In 1916, the language had been translated and a copy of the translation was published. Over time the more common Hittite words were able to be translated giving scholars a better understanding of the writings. Later publications showed advances in the translation but no final copy with the full Hittite language was published.[4]


Old Hittite Kingdom

(1650 - 1500 BC) Hattusili I is credited with the foundation of the Hittite Empire. He conquered Hattusa's south plain all the way to the edge of Yamkkah which is present day Syria. After his death his heir, Mursili I, conquered Yamkkah. Before Hattusili I death he started a school to spread the culture and writings that he had come across in northern Mesopotamia. Telepinu succeeded Mursili I as ruler of the Hittite Empire. After making alliances with a Hurrian state he gained victories in the southwest parts of Mesopotamia. Telepinu was the last ruler under the Old Kingdom and the first under the Middle Kingdom. The rulers of the Old Kingdom started the use of treaties and alliances between other empires. They paved the way for later empires in the area of international politics. [4]

New Hittite Kingdom

(1450 - 1180 BC) The New Kingdom begins with the reign of Tudhaliya who allied with Kizzuwadna. He expanded the western territory into Arzawa. After Tudhaliya's death he was succeed by Tudhaliya I who was considered a weak king. Through this king many of the Hittite’s enemies were able to advance into the capital. Suppiluliuma I took over kingship and helped to bring the Hittite Empire back to its original glory. He defeated Aleppo and conquered the Syrian city state of Carchemish. As he conquered countries he placed his sons as rulers over each of them. The Hittite Empire had become a super power that even Egypt began to see as an equal. When one of the Egyptian pharaohs died the widow Tutankhamen sent word to Suppiluliuma to send her one of his sons so that he could help her rule Egypt. Suppiluliuma had been offered the power over all of Egypt through this marriage but because he waited to long another pharaoh came to power. After Suppiluliuma I his son, Mursili II, took over the kingship. Since the Hittite Empire had dominated countries in the east Mursili focused on dominion in the west. He attacked the city of Arzawa and Millawanda. [4] [1]

Battle of Kadesh

A peace treaty that was signed by the Hittite and Egyptian empires after the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC

The Hittite Empire relied heavily in their control over trade routes and metal supplies. Northern Syria was a key position because of its connection to Mesopotamia. This made is essential that it be protected from enemy nations. Pharaoh Ramesses II began to expand his empire and looked to this trade route as an addition to his kingdom. This sparked war between the Hittite king Muwatalli, who succeed Mursilis II, and the Egyptians. Ramesses inscriptions found in his tomb state that he won but because of the lack of detail in the inscriptions it is unclear if he really did win. It is commonly believed that he was pushed back by the Hittites. The clash of these two empires was in the year 1275 BC which is commonly referred to as the 5th year of Ramesses. After this battle the Hittites began to decrease in power and the Assyrians began to conquer lands that were once held by the Hittites. As Assyria rose to power, the Hittites were caught between two empires that wanted the trade routes held by the Hittites.[1] Hattusili III took over the throne and decided that an alliance must be made with Ramesses II in order to focus his attention on defending against the Assyrians. The Hittite Empire is commonly known for their treaties and alliances and this treaty was no exception. Hattusili III gave his daughter in marriage to Ramesses II to seal the deal. This is known as the Treaty of Kadesh and is the oldest treaty in history that is completely intact. The treaty which was signed in the 21st year of Ramesses II set the boundaries between the two empires at Canaan and ended the Battle of Kadesh.[4]

Biblical Hittites

The Bible continuously mentions the Hittite empire as one of great power and authority. Uriah the Hittite who was married to Bathsheba is just one example of a significant Hittite. Before the Hittite Empire was discovered there wasn't any evidence that supported that it existed aside from the Bible. Scholars used this to make statements concerning the accuracy of the Bible. They stated that the Bible had made up the empire because it could not be found. They believed that if an empire that big could not be found then it must mean that the Bible was a fraud.[5] These claims were laid to rest with the discovery of the Hittite Empire. Following the discovery of the capital they found the treaty of Kadesh in Egypt. The treaty was first written on silver tablets located in the Hittite capital of Hattusa and Heliopolis. Another copy was found at the Karnak Temple engraved onto the wall. [6] The Old Testament refers to the Hittite Empire over 50 times under the names of "children of Heth" (Hebrew: בני-חת, Benei-Ḥēth), "native of Heth" (Hebrew: חתי, Ḥittī), or "Hittites" (Hebrew: חתים, Ḥittīm).[5]

Early in Scripture, mention is made of the Hittite tribes dwelling in central Palestine (Genesis 15:19-21, 23:3-7, 10, 16-20, 27:46; Numbers 13:29; Deuteronomy 7:1-5, 20:17; Joshua 3:10). According to the mysterious but incredible Table of Nations, these Hittites were the dark, swarthy descendants of Heth, son of Canaan (Genesis 10:15). The Hittites were apparently the first nation to smelt iron. The Armarna tablets contain letters that were sent from the Hittite king Suppiluliuma I to the Pharaoh Amenhotep IV. Ramesses II also tells us how he engaged the Hittites in what was the earliest recorded battle involving massed chariots. This was the famous Battle of Kadesh, and it appears that the Hittites got the better of the Egyptian forces.

In time they migrated from Palestine to Dardania in Asia Minor. But there were "Late-Hittites" who are not included in the Table of Nations.[7] These are the Indo-Europeans who settled in the territory of these Hittites took their name and applied it to themselves because they were such famous warriors. In the Middle East, three or four racial groups may be identified as Hittites. Many Historians still do not yet understand this:

Biblical references to Hittites in southern Palestine—Esau marries two Hittite women, for example—remain a puzzle to scholars. [8]
The Hittites, previously mentioned, were invaders from Asia Minor, not the original group descended from Heth. Some confuse the Hittites with the Khittites, another group who inhabited Asia Minor. The Hattians and the Indo-European "Late-Hittites" both had distinct racial characteristics. The original Hittites (Hattians) were a dark-skinned people who had a yellow/brown skin tone. In Egyptian monuments the original Hittite people were depicted with prominent noses, straight or hawked who were
somewhat proud, with full lips, the cheek-bones high, the eyebrows fairly prominent, the forehead receding like the chin, and the face hairless ... The hair is black, the eyes dark brown.
The skin colour varied from brown to yellowish and reddish [because of the racial stocks being confused by writers?]. Greek tradition insists the people were warlike, rude people, known for their frenzied dances and music. [9]

Later, within its chronological framework, the Bible refers to the Hittite Empire, as a major power which arose where many of the descendants of Heth migrated to (1 Samuel 26:6; 2 Samuel 11:2-6; 1 Kings 10:29; 2 Kings 7:6). These were white Nordic types who assumed the name 'Hittites' from the original inhabitants.[10] In the book Peoples of the Old Testament the following important quote is found:

Every treatise on the Hittites should begin with a warning to the reader about pitfalls posed by the term ‘Hittite’, which often seems to connote something quite different to each scholar. It is possible to identify at least four distinct ethnic groups in antiquity to whom the name ‘Hittite’ … has at some time been applied.[11][12]

The same is true for the Scythians and other peoples. Two possible reasons for the Nordics who invaded Asia Minor having been called 'Hittites' may be assumed: Firstly, they occupied the same territory as the sons of Heth; and secondly they were a warrior nation like the original Hittites. In addition to the Nordics and the original Hittites we find that a small Mongoloid tribe known as the Khittites also dwelt in Asia Minor. The Armenians were also known as the Hittites and all other tribes roundabout. Professor Waddell spells the name of the Nordics as Khatti or Catti.[13] While scholars generally agree that they migrated down from a region north of the Black Sea (where many descendants of Arpachshad had migrated to), some claim they came down from the Caucasus while others dispute this, stating that they came into Asia Minor from south-east Europe, crossing over the Bosporus.[14] Some even think they came from the south.

No one really knows their original name, yet clues remain which appear to suggest that their original name was Nesites, Nestians, Hestians, or Aestians. One of their major cities was Neša and their language was called Nesian, Našili, or Nesumnili.[15] What historians do know with certainty is that their migration into Asia Minor was followed by a period of few records. Come 1460 BC, the Hittite Empire arose to become one of the most amazing empires of ancient times. But from whom sprang the Nordic Hittites? What of their ethno-genesis? Historians do not tell us, but circumstantial evidence points to the Asshurim peoples. Asshur, father of the Asshurim—sometimes spelled Ashuram[16]—was a descendant of Abraham:

"And Abraham married another wife, named Keturah: Who bore him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. Jokshan also begot Sheba and Dedan. The children of Dedan were Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim." - Genesis 25:1-5

"And Abraham gave all his possessions to Isaac. And to the children of the concubines he gave gifts, and separated them from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, to the east country." - Genesis 25:5-6

They were sent east of Palestine, not south into Saudi Arabia, as many speculate. From there they would have migrated north of the Caucasus with other descendants of Arpachshad, becoming known as the Aryans while others ended up in far-off north-west India. Given that the birthright was not granted to them, it would have led to conflict extending down the generations, between them and Jacob (Israel).

Egyptian depictions of the Battle of Kadesh reportedly show long-nosed Hattian soldiers while their Hittite leaders looked different, according to Turkish archaeologist Ekrem Akurgal.[17] Akurgal claims that "The Hattians were still the great majority of the population in the Hittite period."[18] If true, the Indo-Europeans constituted a ruling elite within the Hittite Empire whereas the assimilated Hattians were lower ranking members of Hittite society.


Entrance into the capital city Hattusa
Entrance into the underground defense tunnels of Hattusa

Hattusa (Hittite: URUḪattuša) was the Hittite Empire’s capital. According to archaeologists findings, the capital city was invaded and burned. A German archaeologist by the name of Jugen Seeher led the excavation of the city and determined that it was attacked around the 12th century BC. Through the excavations they found that the city was nearly abandoned before it was attacked. Assyrian records show that Hattusa was the center of an Anatolian kingdom but in the 18th century their king cursed the land and it was abandoned. Hattusili I, a Hittite king, rebuilt the city. The city was close to a water supply, the land was good for growing crops, and there were forests surrounding the city. There was also a rock that was above the city that could be used as a defense. Hattusa was almost destroyed a couple times throughout the many years it served as the Hittite capital. In the 14th century their enemies launched a number of repeated attacks on the city. Tudhaliya III, the Hittite king of that time period, decided to abandoned the city. The city was destroyed and Amenhotep III the Egyptian pharaoh said that "the land of Hatti is finished." This inscription was found on a tablet which was found in Egypt at the Tell el-Amarna. Through the leadership of Suppiluliuma I Hattusa was rebuilt and all foreign enemies were chased out. [6]

See Also



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Discovery of the Hittite EmpireBy Albright School of Biblical Archeology
  2. 2.0 2.1 Archaeology and the Old Testament By Patrick Zukeran. Probe Ministries
  3. Hittites: History and Writings By Encyclopedia Judaica. 2008. The Gale Group. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise
  4. 5.0 5.1 Hittites Throughout the Bible By 2010]
  5. 6.0 6.1 "The Last Days of Hattusa", by Trevor Bryce, Archaeology Odyssey 8:01, Jan/Feb 2005.
  6. Simon 1959:41
  7. "Expeditions", Biblical Archaeological Review, 1998: 77.
  8. (Hoeh: 1969:2:28.)
  9. Douglas 1972:528
  10. Wiseman 1973:197
  11. Keller 1980:89
  12. Waddell 1929:10
  13. Roux 1982:215
  14. Wiseman 1973:199
  15. Douglas 1972:101
  16. Ekrem Akurgal, The Hattian and Hittite Civilizations, Publications of the Republic of Turkey: Ministry of Culture, 2001, p.8 Akurgal writes here: "The large-nosed soldiers identified as "Hitti" in the Egyptian temple depictions of the Battle of Kadesh show a completely different ethnic type from their [Indo-European] kings in the same scenes."
  17. Akurgal, op. cit., p.6

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