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Who were the Hittites?

At the end of the third millennium BCE, the Hittites appeared within the curve of Halys river, and by the early 2nd Millenium had established their capital Hattusa, near modern Boghazköy.

Early on, the Hittite Kings took an interest in the Syro-Palestinian lands, and expanded under its early kings, Hattusili I (the founder of the Hittite state) and Mursili I. This expansion of the Hittites into Syro-Palestine is documented in a later treaty between the Hittites and Aleppo:

“Formerly the kings of Aleppo had acquired a great kingship; but Hatussilis, the great king, the king of the land of Khatte, terminated their kingship. After Hatussilis the king of the land of Khatte, Mursilis the great king, the grandson of Hattusilis, the great king, destroyed the kingship of Aleppo and Aleppo itself.”

(Translation taken from Donald Redford’s Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times (1995), page 134).

Mursili I marched further into Mesopotamia, defeating power centres like Aleppo and Babylon. Mursili I was assassinated on his return to Hatti, and so the power vacuums that he created were filled by other groups. Last week we saw that the Hurrians (soon to be the Mitannian state) were present in the area at this time, taking advantage of these very same power vacuums to establish power bases. There is evidence for Hurrian activity at Alalakh, for example, which suggests that the Hurrians filled this void created by the Hittite attack on Aleppo.

Suppiluliuma expanded his territory greatly in the Anatolian highlands, using force or diplomacy where necessary.

At this juncture, it might be useful to review our chronological table, adding in the Hittite rulers so you can see how everything fits together. Thankfully, unlike Mitanni, we do have lists of Hittite kings which, when combined with other evidence, allow us to build a reasonably accurate picture of who ruled, and in what order (for our purposes at any rate). Note the three phase pattern that has emerged:

Phase I: Early on in the Late Bronze Age, before the Hurrians had formed a state, the Egyptians and the Hittites were consolidating their territory closer to home, and so not coming into direct contact with each other.

Phase II: The Egyptians explode onto the Near Eastern scene, earning their place in the Superpowers club, but meet opposition in northern Syria-Palestine in the form of the newly emerged Superpower: Mitanni. This all culminates with the Battle of Megiddo. The Hittites at this time are preoccupied in Anatolia, hence we hear little of them.

Phase III: Peace is agreed between Egypt and Mitanni, and the Amarna Letters provide much information on how the Near Eastern Superpowers interact with each other, and with their vassals. However, the Hittites are keen to stake their place in the Near East and be recognised as a Superpower, so Supiluliuma does everything he can to join the club, as we will see in the next step.

Egypt Mitanni Hatti
Phase I    
    Hattusili I
Ahmose   Mursili I
Amenhotep I   Hantili, Zidanta
Phase II    
Tuthmosis I, Tuthmosis II Parrattarna, Kirta Telepinu
Tuthmosis II , Tuthmosis III Shuttarna I, Parsatatar Tudhaliya
Phase III    
Amenhotep II Saushtatar Hatusili II
Tuthmosis IV Artatama Hatusili II
Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten Tushratta, Artatama II, Shuttarna III Suppiluliuma I
Tutankhamun Shattiqaza Suppiluliuma I

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This article is from the free online course:

Superpowers of the Ancient World: the Near East

University of Liverpool

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