Hittites (1,650-1,178 BCE)

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Alaca Höyük Sphinx Gate
Ivory Sphinx
Hüseyindede vases
Fist drinking cup
King’s Gate/Lion Gate/Sphinx Gate at Hattusa
Battle of Kadash relief

Treaty of Kadash
Hittite deities/Engravings at Yazılıkay
İmamkullu relief
Seal of Tarkasnawa
Luwian Hieroglyphs
Hittites c 1500 BCE

The Hittite Kingdom came into being 1.680-1.650 BCE, it became an Empire from the 15th-13th c BCE. This was not a peaceful time, as the Hittites confronted the New Kingdom of Egypt, the Middle Assyrian Empire and the empire of the Mitanni for control of its land. The Middle Assyrian Empire eventually emerged as the dominant power and annexed much of the Hittite Empire.

At its height, in the late Bronze Age, Hattusa (or Hattusha) was the capital of the Hittite Empire. (UNESCO World Heritage Site Ref # 377) It was built in the great loop of the Kızılırmak River, near modern Boğazkale, Turkey. Hittites referenced themselves as the Kingdom of Hattusa and had a distinct language.

The history of the Hittite civilization was assembled from cuneiform texts found in their kingdom, and from the diplomatic and commercial traffic with Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt and the Middle East.

Very little Hittite art has survived. There are carved ivory pieces and ceramics, monumental carvings, rock reliefs and metalwork. Significant items include the Alaca Höyük bronze standards and Hüseyindede vases.


Located 36 km to the northeast of Hattusa, Alaca Höyük is an important site. Excavations found this had been in use pre-Hittite, with a number of royal tombs dating from 3,000 BCE. Some suggest the Hittite name for the location was Arinna, from their Sun-Goddess. The southern gateway was set between two towers and two 4m tall rocks were carved to create two 2m high sphinxes. Inside this Sphinx Gate was a large Hittite building complex
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: metmuseum.org

This 18th c BCE ivory sphinx is painted. It has long curls of hair over its chest that art historians term as Hathor curls, for the Egyptian goddess Hathor. In Egypt this suggested a royal sphinx, its significance to 18th c Hittites is not known. It is on show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
These Hüseyindede easrtheware vases are Early Hittite vases decorated with reliefs, which were found in excavations at Hüseyindede Tepe near Yörüklü in the Tprovince of Çorum, Turkey dating to c1,650 BCE. They were found in pieces, restored by and now on show at the Çorum Archaeological Museum.
They were turned on a potter’s wheel, then figures made of high-quality clay were attached to the surface of the vases, in friezes. The resulting composition consists of red, black and cream coloured clays.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

This Hittite silver drinking cup, shaped like a fist, is dated to 1400-1380 BCE.
It is on show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA.
Hattusa had three gates as part of its fortifications.
The top image shows the King’s Gate at the SE corner of the site. The gate is decorated here with a replica of the 2.25m high sculpture of their God of War in high relief. The original relief can be seen today in the Museum of Ancient Civilizations in Ankara.
The middle image is the Lion Gate in the SW of Hatusa. Lions were used to ward off evil.
The bottom image is of the Sphinx gate at the south of Hattusa. The two sphinxes were taken to Germany for restoration. One was retained at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, and after protests was returned in 2011. The other had been returned in the 1930s, but is on display in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.

Image source: ancient.eu

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Battle of Kadesh (1274 BCE), it took place on the modern Lebanon–Syria border. It is the earliest battle in recorded history for which details of tactics and formations are known. This is based upon the discovery of a number of Kadesh inscriptions and the Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty (see below). It is believed to have been the largest chariot battle ever fought, with 5,000-6,000 engaged.
It resulted in an Egyptian tactical victory, but indecisive strategically.
This relief shows Ramses II killing one Hittie while trampling another. It is in the Abu Simbel temple.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Egypto-Hittite Peace Treaty was agreed (c1258 BCE) between Hattusili III (king of the Hittite empire c1267–1237 BCE) and Ramses II (Egyptian pharaoh 1279-1213 BCE).
This is the Hittite version of the earliest known surviving peace treaty and is sometimes called the Treaty of Kadesh. It is on show at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. The Egyptian version is at the Precinct of Amun-Re in Karnak.
Yazilikaya was a Hittite holy site just walking distance from the gates of their capital, Hattusa.
Rock reliefs were a prominent aspect of Hittite art, and Yazilikaya contains the most important of these. Dated to 1250-1220 BCE, the upper relief is of deities in procession, the lower is of the god Sharruma and King Tudhaliya IV.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

This 3.5 x 2m Imamkullu relief is on a trachyte igneous boulder, making the Hittite entrance to the Gezbel pass where, in ancient times, two routes joined up to cross the Taurus Mountains.
The relief has three parts. The armed human figure at the top left had Luwian hieroglyphs identifying him as Kuwalanamuwa, probably a Hittite prince. Then the weather god is shown on a chariot borne on the necks of three mountain gods. At the top right a winged goddess is standing on a tree, probably Šauška/Ishtar, she holds her robe open to the weather god. There is a bird flying between them. The weather god with an undressing goddess, often with a bird between them, is a motif used on a number of Syrian cylinder seals. Some suggest this might link with the Asherdu myth, in which Ishtar in the form of a bird, catches the weather god having sex with Asherdu, a mother goddess and the wife of Elkunirsa, the creator god.
This Hittite Seal has Luwian hieroglyphs (aka Anatolian hieroglyphs) which is conjectured to be descended from Aegean scripts. The seal provides the same message in cuneiform. This dual script piece (à la Rosetta Stone) assisted with the first Luwian interpretations as it had died out c600 BCE.
At the centre is a figure in royal dress which the inscription identifies as Tarkasnawa, king of Mira, a Hittite vassal state.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: ancient.eu

Image source: luwianstudies.org
Hittites assumed a northern Syrian variant of the Akkadian cuneiform originally invented in Babylon. Using this Akkadian cuneiform, Hittite scribes made records in different languages: for example Nešili, the language of the Hittites, and Luwili (Luwian) the language of the south/west of Asia Minor. The Hittites, influenced by the Luwians, also developed a set of hieroglyphs (c1650 BCE), both Luwian forms were found in Hattuša as monumental inscriptions.

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