Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hittites: The Great Civilization of Anatolia

Hittite Empire during its heights 
Before 2,000 BCE, Mesopotamia was a flourishing region of human civilization. Sumerian city states, the Akkadian Empire, and finally, the Early Babylonian Empire had risen and fallen as time went by. The Early Babylonians, in particular fell in the hands of another empire. This invaders, however, did not came from Mesopotamia. But rather, its conquerors started from the plateaus of the Anatolia – the Hittite Empire.

The Hittite Empire was once flourishing civilization in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Its civilization clashed with its contemporaries, most especially the Egyptians. Centered on its capital Hattusa, it united a group of Indo-European speaking people under one empire. And from this empire, it developed new technologies, which would bring advantages to its army. An army that would bring glory to the Hittite Empire.

The story of the Hittites. About 2,000 BCE, from the northern coast of the Black Sea, a group of people who spoke an Indo-European language migrated south into the warmer areas of Anatolia. There, their influx had overran the people who occupied the area – Hattians. From the Hattians, they received their name – Hittites.

The Hitties did not quickly developed into a powerful empire. Although, united by language, the Hittites were divided politically into small city-states ruled by a king. It was around 16th century that King Labarna united the all of the Hittite city-states in Anatolia and established his rule from the city of Nesa. Thus, the Old Hittite period began. Around 1650 BCE, Hattushili I took the throne, moved the capital to Hattusa, and began expanding the territories of the Hitties. Under his rule, Arzawa fell to the Hittites and the conquest of Syria began. His successor, Murshili I (Mursili) completed the conquest of Syria and also ended the Early Babylonian Empire with the capture of the city of Babylon. Murshili I’s successors, however, proved to be incompetent and weak. They could not protect themselves from the attacks of Hurrians from the east. As a result, much of the lands captured during the time of Murshili I and Hattushili I were lost. By the 1600 BCE, the Old Hittite period was over.

Following the fall of the Old Hittite Empire, it had a period of suspended animation 220 years. Nothing much happened.

But about 1420 BCE, the Hittite underwent a revival. Under Tudhaliya II, the New Hittite Empire began. He re-cemented the position of the Hittites in the region by launching a campaign to capture Syria, under which he was able to take the city of Damascus, and the Mittani Kingdom. Under also his reign he was able to defeat an alliance of 22 petty kingdoms led by the Kingdom of Arzawa from the west of Anatolia.

The Hittite Empire then reached its zenith under the rule of Shuppiluliuma, who reigned from 1344 BCE up to 1322 BCE. His reign saw the domination of Anatolia and the Levant. As a result, in the west, the Empire reach the eastern coast of the Agean Sea. In the east, its borders reached modern day Lebanon and the Euphrates River. He also subjugated the Mitanni Kingdom and was able to make rapprochement with Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten during a conflict for Syria.

Under Shuppiluliuma, the Hittite Empire experienced prosperity and stability. Stability centered on the King. The king of the Hittite was known as the Great King. He was great because bellow him were other lesser kings ruling small Hittite states who pledge allegiance to the Great King. With their declaration of loyalty, they were obligated to send tributes, soldiers, and religious donations to the capital Hattusa. The most famous examples of this lesser Hittite Kingdoms was the famous city of Troy. The Great King wielded religious and military significance. He was dubbed The Sun, signifying religious importance, and The Hero, displaying a strong military strength. The Great King also served as a head priest. Hence, it was his duty to preside over religious festivals across Anatolia. And upon his death, he was believed to become a God. In order for the King to show his power and he has the favor of the Gods, he must win battles. And the Great King win battles, the lesser kings continued to honor their pledge of allegiance.

Another key to the success of the Hittites was its military forces supported by new technology and sciences. Most its contemporary civilization were stuck with bronze weapons. But the Hittites had advance and began to use a stronger material for swords and spears. This new material was iron. The mountains of Anatolia provided abundant source of iron ore. They also found out how to change the form of iron. Bronze was transformed through melting the ore and placing it in a mold. Iron, however, was different. It was brittle if molded into weapons. But the Hittites found out that pounding iron after heating it then placing it in cold water resulted into strong iron weapons. Weapons that were stronger than bronze weapon in battle. Other than iron, the Hittites were also renowned for their chariots. Although they were not the inventors of chariots, they began to use two wheeled, light, and maneuverable chariots. The chariots became a major component to the armed forces of the Hittites.

Chariots played a big role in one of the greatest battle of the ancient world. During the reign of king Muwatallis (Muwatalli) II who reigned from approximately 1295 to 1272 BCE, tensions between Egypt and the Hittites in Syria once again rose and resulted into conflict. In 1275, Muwatallis faced Egypt’s Ramesses II at the Battle of Kadesh. Both sides had chariots. The Hittites brought them in huge numbers, about more than 2,000. The Battle of Kadesh was indecisive, both sides claim victory. Soon the stalemate resulted to an agreement. A Hittite princess was sent to Egypt to become a wife of Ramesses II to cement the peace between two great civilizations.

Prosperity lasted until 1220 BCE until chaos once again led to its final destruction. Attacks by so-called Sea People led to the weakening of the empire. Threats from a new power from Mesopotamia, the Assyrians, under Shalmanser I resulted to war. The relentless attacks led to lesser Hittite kings to lose faith to the Great Kings and began to halt tributes. As a result, Hattusa’s authority over the city-states led finally to the downfall of the Empire at about 1190 BCE. Hittites existent was then preserved to small Neo-Hittite Kingdoms.

The Hittite Empire was the first great empire of the Indo-European. It showed great achievements in warfare through iron and chariots. It became an equal rival to the power and strength of another great civilization – New Egypt.  Its developments made the Hittites known in history of mankind.

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