Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hittite Innovation: Chariots

Mobile warfare has been with mankind ever since horses and other fast or big moving animals were utilized for battle. Horses were used for cavalry and served as shock units. In the ancient world horses were not enough to win battles. Kingdoms and empires back then needed more than just a horse in order to win battles. The chariot was an innovation that brought to the front line the efficiency of archery and deadliness of spear attacks in fast speed. Among the most well-known civilization that developed the chariot was the Hittites.

Hittites were not inventors of the chariot but they did developed and produced it in huge quantities. The Hittites were an Indo-European speaking people that occupied Anatolia and started a kingdoms which would equal its rival Egypt in the south. They developed iron works, which helped it to expand its borders. And in addition to iron, they also adopted the idea of chariots and developed them for their benefit.

Chariots was introduced to the Hittites about 1600 BCE. It was then fully utilized during the reign of Hattusili I. And ever since it became the bulk of the Hittite Army. Chariots were useful for the Hittites. It was considered the most elite unit in the Hittite army. In times of war, it served as the ancient tanks that advance towards enemy line. During siege, they supported infantry during assaults in city walls. Also, chariots were responsible in effectively capturing or ambushing supply caravan destined to the besiege city. When there was no war, the chariots served as city patrols. Chariots served as symbols of Hittite domination over cities. Its size and capability stroke fear to anyone having the idea of rebellion. Other than military and security purposes, the chariots were also used by Hittite nobles and other wealthy individuals. To have a chariot was a status symbol. It was used for transportation and even just for entertaining once self.

The most famous depiction of a Hittite chariot was from an Egyptian relief of the Battle of Kadesh. The Battle of Kadesh was a showdown between the Hittite King Muwatallis II and Egyptian King Ramasses II. In the relief, it was said that the Hittites had an estimated 2,000 chariots during the battle. The Hittite chariots had a heavy box serving as a cab, with an axle passing beneath it, which held 2 six-spoke wheels. The six-spoke wheel was an innovation made by the Hittites. Other contemporary chariots of the Hittites had eight spoke, and in some regions it did not even had a spoke at all. The six-spoke allowed the chariots to move faster because the wheels were light. Thus, with speed and light wheels, it became maneuverable. The Hittite chariots during the Battle of Kadesh used two horses, but in some chariots, 2 to 4 horses were used for the chariot. The dimensions of the Hittite chariot were said to have approximated 1.25 meters in length and 1 meter in height. The cab was made from wood bended into shape by using steam. In order to protect it from fire arrows, it was covered by leather from ox hides. Three men manned the Hittite chariots. One served as the shield bearers that protected the two other men. Then a spear man who trust the enemy in close range, and sometimes served also as the archer. And finally, the driver which also sometimes helped the two other men in fighting.

The chariot brought prestige to the Hittite Empire. It was a machine that helped to forged and expand the Hittite civilization. It allowed the Hittites to rival other great civilization of Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt. Although, the chariots did not prevented the fall of the Hittites, the great skill and innovation that they put to their chariots remained well-known.

See also:
Early Babylonian Empire

Bryce, T. Life and Society in the Hittite World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Burney, C. Historical Dictionary of the Hittites. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2004.

Fields, N. Bronze Age War Chariots. New York: Osprey Publishing, 2008. 

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