1. Old Kingdom
2. Middle Kingdom
3. New Kingdom
Aerial view of Hattusha. Modern Bogazkale, Turkey. Photo: Yann Arthus-Bertrand/Corbis,
Hittite sphinx from Tell Alaf, Syria. Photo: Charles & Josette Lenars/Corbis.
Ancient people living in Anatolia in modern Turkey, and in northern Syria. The Hittites established two Empires in recorded history, the Old Hittite Kingdom, which lasted from around about 1680 until about 1500 BCE, and the second, called the New Hittite Kingdom, which lasted from about 1400 util about 1200 BCE.
The land that the Hittites originally inhabited was known as Hatti, and their main city became Hattusha. Although the origin of the Hittites is not known, it is clear that they did speak an Indo-European language, often called Nesian.
Old kingdom (1680-1500 BCE)
This kingdom was founded by the leader, Labarna, and under later kings it was extended to cover all of central Anatolia, down to the Mediterranean Sea. The kingdom became strong enough to be able to raid Babylon in 1595 BCE.
But the kingdom itself was never stronger than its leader, and there were no clear laws for how a new king should take power. Because of weakness at the top, the Hittite kingdom entered a period of decline that lasted through the final 30 years of the 16th century.
Middle kingdom (1500-1400 BCE)
This is the period about which the least is known. Apparently, the control over the Hittite kingdom soon passed to rulers from the Hangilbat region, who soon forged alliances with Egyptian kings. Inside Hatti, a new aristocracy took over the leading positions in the society.
To the south a new strong kingdom rose to power, Mitanni. Kizzuwatna to the southwest also emerged, both Hurrian forging strong ties with the Egyptians.
New kingdom (1400-1193 BCE)
About 100 years later, the Old Kingdom disappeared, and the New Kingdom was established. During a period of weakness, a new leader took control over Hatti. While the Old Kingdom had been a strong one, the New one became one of the leading states of its time, rivalling Egypt, Babylonia and Assyria.
The Hittite kingdom, experienced, alternatively, peace and war, depending on whether the neighbours held values embraced by the Hittites, or the neighbours wanted to gain control over Hittite territory and resources.
It is believed that during its final years, the New Kingdom was weakened by migrations into the region. It’s demise resulted from attacks by the Sea people.
City-states (1193-710 BCE)
Following the fall of the New Kingdom, young, smaller states emerged. These were typical city-states (independent cities with agricultural contexts). The most important among them was Carchemish. The people living in these states were known as Syro-Hittites, but by the 10th century many cities had been taken over by the Arameans.
As with most other ancient kingdoms, agriculture provided the foundation of Hittite economy. The main crops were wheat and barley, and the livestock was dominated by cattle and sheep.
The lands of the Hittites were rich, and there were good mineral reserves of copper, lead, silver and iron. It is believed that the Hittites were the first people to work iron.
It is believed that trade with other countries was limited. This was true because the kingdom so often found itself in a state of war. Hence, if the Hittites needed special natural resources, conquest provided the solution, not foreign trade.
Society and Culture
The Hittite governance was totally dominated by the king, who was also the supreme priest, military commander and chief judge. Still the king was defined as “first among equals”, suggesting that the Hittite society was less authoritarian than many others of its time.
During the Old Kingdom there was a council of nobles, known as pankus, serving below the king.
Territorial control over the core of the kingdom was administered by provincial governors who answered directly to the king. More distant territories were in the hands of vassal kings who acted according to treaties signed with the Hittite king.
Hittite society was much inspired by Babylonian patterns, as well as Babylonian law. The legal system was mild, and there were few examples of the death penalty. The basic penal principle was restitution or fining.
The art and architecture of Hatti was strongly influenced by neighbouring countries. They used stone and brick as well as wooden columns to erect their houses and temples. The Hittites built large palaces, temples and fortifications, upon which carved reliefs adorned walls, gates and entrances.
The main sources for the Hittites are provided by Hittite texts that were discovered at Bokasköy (the location of Hattusha) in 1906. Before they were found, researchers had to rely upon Egyptian and Biblical sources, both of which suffered from being written by enemies of the Hittites.
Around 1900 BCE: The first appearance of the Hittites in history. Most probably coming from western Europe, they invaded the region of the Hatti, and established the town Nesa.
Around 1800: The Hittites conquers the town Hattusha.
1680-1650: The Hittite king, Labarna, establishes what came to be known as the Old Hittite Kingdom, and made Hattusha its capital. Under his rule most of Anatolia is captured.
1620-1590: Under King Mursili 1, Halab (Aleppo) is conquered.
1595: Babylon is sacked by Mursili 1; with this the Amorite era seems to come to an end.
1500: The death of Telipinu. He is the last ruler of the Old Kingdom whose acts are known.
First half 15th century: The Hittite kingdom declines due to internal strife and external warfare.
Around 1400: Revival of the Hittite kingdom.
1380: Prince Suppiluliuma takes over the throne during a period of weakness and foreign invasions. Suppiluliuma defeats the enemies of the country, principally Mitanni, and extends the territories to areas that had been under Egyptian control.
About 1276: Battle at Kadesh, one of the most famous battles of the ancient world, in which Ramses 2 of Egypt claims a victory, but the Hittites, nevertheless, remain in Syria. Probably the battle was inconclusive.
About 1262: The Hittite King, Hattusilis 3, agrees upon a peace treaty with Ramses 2, and gives his daughter in marriage.
About 1193: Invasion of the Sea Peoples, who bring the Hittite kingdom to its demise.
12th- 8th centuries: Many migrations take place in the area, the Phrygians being the most important group. It is believed that a Hittite identity survives among 2 peoples, the Cilicians and the Syrians. Throughout this period people lived in city-states
Until 710: Most of the city-states have been conquered by the Assyrians.
1906 CE: The royal archives are discovered at Bogasköy in today’s Turkey.