Ancient Turkey

At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, it was here that the some of the earliest people, the Hurrians and Hittites, formed the first European military empires.

Turkish Cavalery via Ralamb Costume Book & A briefe relation of the Turckes, their kings, Emperors, or Grandsigneurs, their conquests, religion, customes, habbits, etc (1600’s)
The Ancient Civilizations of Anatolia

Head of a Young Prince, Hittite, 10th-8th Century BCE

One of the great crossroads of ancient civilizations is a broad peninsula that lies between the Black and Mediterranean seas. Called Asia Minor (Lesser Asia) by the Romans, the land is the Asian part of modern Turkey, across Thrace. It lies across the Aegean Sea to the east of Greece and is usually known by its Greek name Anatolia. Asia Minor juts westward from Asia to within half a mile (800 meters) of Europe at the divided city of Istanbul, where two suspension bridges over the strait of Bosphorus link the two continents. Asia Minor is also bordered by the Sea of Marmara on the northwest. The area of the peninsula is about 292,000 square miles (756,000 square kilometers). In about 2000 BC Asia Minor was in the hands of the Hittites, who migrated from the area east of the Black Sea. Their civilization rivaled that of the Egyptians and Babylonians. In the 12th century BC their empire fell to the Assyrians. Small seaboard states grew up, only to fall to the Greeks, who colonized the entire coast in about the 8th century BC. According to legend, they first laid siege to the city-state of Troy during the Trojan War. In 560 BC Croesus mounted the throne of Lydia in Asia Minor and soon brought all the Greek colonies under his rule. Croesus was overthrown by Cyrus the Great of Persia. Two hundred years later Alexander the Great again spread Greek rule over the peninsula.

The Hittites

A Hittite Chariot from an Egyptian relief

Roaring into history from mysterious origins, the Hittites would rule a great empire that stretched from Mesopotamia to Syria and Palestine. The Hittites are shrouded in fog and mystery; we don’t where they came from, and for a long time the language they spoke was undecipherable. In the end, it turns out they were Indo-European, that is, they spoke a language from the Indo-European language family, which includes English, German, Greek, Latin, Persian, and the languages of India. Their invasion spelled the end of the Old Babylonian empire in Mesopotamia (1900-1600 BC), and like so many others before them, the invaders adopted the ways of the conquered; after the conquest of Mesopotamia, the Hittites adopted the laws, religion, and the literature of the Old Babylonians thus continuing the long heritage of Sumerian culture. Their empire was at its greatest from 1600-1200 BC, and even after the Assyrians gained control of Mesopotamia after 1300 BC, the Hittite cities and territories thrived independently until 717 BC, when the territories were finally conquered by Assyrians and others.

The Hebrew scriptures have little to say about the Hittites, and the Egyptians regarded them as barbarians. In fact, from 1300-1200 BC, the Hittites waged a war against Egypt that drained both empires tragically. The Hittites themselves seem to have left few accounts of their history, so until this century no-one really knew their culture or the greatness of their political ascendancy.

A map of the Hittite Empire

A map of the Hittite Empire

But the Hittites are perhaps one of the most significant peoples in Mesopotamian history. Because their empire was so large and because their primary activity was commerce, trading with all the civilizations and peoples of the Mediterranean, the Hittites were the people primarily responsible for transmitting Mesopotamian thought, law, political structure, economic structure, and ideas around the Mediterranean, from Egypt to Greece. So the Hittites are the great traders in the culture built by the Sumerians and adopted and modified by later peoples. Because of the Hittites, when the Hebrews migrated to Canaan under Moses they found a people, the Canaanites, who were, culturally speaking, Mesopotamian.

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Battle of Kadesh

The Battle of Kadesh (also Qadesh) took place between the forces of the Egyptian Empire under Ramesses II and the Hittite Empire under Muwatalli II at the city of Kadesh on the Orontes River, in what is now the Syrian Arab Republic.The battle is generally dated to 1274 BC. and as probably the largest chariot battle ever fought, involving perhaps 5,000–6,000 chariots. The immediate antecedents to the Battle of Kadesh were the early campaigns of Ramesses II into Canaan. In the fourth year of his reign, he marched north into Syria, either to recapture Amurru or, as a probing effort, to confirm his vassals’ loyalty and explore the terrain of possible battles. The recovery of Amurru was Muwatalli’s stated motivation for marching south to confront the Egyptians. Ramesses marched north in the fifth year of his reign and encountered the Hittites at Kadesh.

The Hittites were some of the first warriors to use the chariot

The Hittites were some of the first warriors to use the chariot

The Battle of Kadesh between the Hittites and Egyptians has been hailed as the first true battle for study, for it is the first time in history where enough historical evidence survives, from both sides, to paint a fairly accurate picture. The armies of these two empires were both powerful and massive. Ramesside Egypt is covered with depictions and inscriptions of the Battle, and an entire epic poem by an unknown Egyptian scribe, recalls the battle in ‘vivid’ detail, “Now when the king looked behind him, he saw that he was blocked off by 2500 chariots. All the various warriors of the wretched king of Hatti encircled him, and of the numerous lands that were his allies; warriors from Aradus, Mese, Pedes, Keshkesh, Irun, Kizwanda, Cherb, Ekeret, Kadesh and Reke. They stood three to a chariot and had united against him.

The two players in this momentous clash, are the Egyptian and Hittite empires. The Hittites had recently lost much of their northern Syrian territories to the Hurrians, but with the succession of Subbiluliumas, Hittite prestige was restored. After at first attempting an alliance with Egypt, he eventually decided against such a step, persuading Ugarit (the last main Egyptian stronghold in Syria) to defect, Subbiluliumas led a successful assault against the Pharaoh’s forces in Syria, pushing Egyptian boundaries back behind Kadesh.

Occupied with her religious revolution, and then later by the end of XVIII Dynasty, Egypt was in no position to rebuke the Hittite advances. Attempting to curb their power, the widow of the young-king Tutankhamun asked for the betrothal of a son of Subbiluliumas, but the Hittite prince was assassinated on his way to her. With the rise of the more aggressive and military-apt Pharaoh’s of the XIX Dynasty, Egypt resumed her efforts towards empire. Sety I set the stage for the conflict between Egypt and the Hittites. In attempting to recover Amurru in Syria, he sought the Eleutheros Valley. This strip of land allowed its occupants an easy line of communication between the Mediterranean and northern Syria, and was easy on marching armies due to its flat land. Kadesh was the key-point to controlling the Eleutheros Valley, and an attempt to capture it proved unsuccessful for Sety.

His son, however, believed he could succeed. Ramesses II is one of the most famous pharaoh’s in history, and his program of monuments and temples was one of the greatest in Egyptian history. Ramesses was a fine general and leader, but he often let his ambition outrun the reality, and his reign was quite a strain on Egypt’s resources. His opponent in the Battle of Kadesh, was king Muwatallish. He rose to power in 1308 BCE, and was content with defending the current borders of the Hittite empire, roused to action only when required. In 1275, Ramesses made the first move, leading an Egyptian force of around 20,000 beyond Egypt’s borders. He proceeded to divide his army into four corps which were to march on Kadesh by way of the desert. A second, smaller army, was to take sail and land north of Byblos before setting out for Kadesh also – Ramesses attempted the first ever documented pincer movement!

Ramesses though, made a few important mistakes. Separating his army into four divisions, each marching up to a day apart, and crossing the Orontes river in Syria at various times, they were unable to support each other, with the Pharaoh compounding the problem by not creating adequate communication not only between the divisions, but between them and himself.

Ramesses set out for Kadesh with the first corps, the second following slightly behind, but with the 3rd and 4th divisions remaining on the right bank of the Orontes. Shortly after, Ramesses intercepted two “Bedouin” spies, who told the Pharaoh about the fearful flight of the Hittite enemy in face of the Egyptian forces. Ramesses believed them. He was later to realize that the Bedouins were actually Hittite! As Ramesses plowed onwards, a host of a 1000 Hittite charioteers descended upon the 2nd corps at a ford. The unsuspecting Egyptian army was no match for the heavy chariots, each manned with 4 or 5 Hittite warriors. Assistance was no where in sight, for by now 2 days separated the leading 1st corps and the remaining 3rd and 4th. The Egyptians fled.

Ramesses received word of the Hittite attack and sped in haste, with his small personal guard, to strategic hill near the marauding Hittites, erecting a fort and valiantly fending off his enemies, despite overwhelming numbers. Relief was at hand, when the second army that had traveled by boat, arrived and fought of the now disorganized Hittite forces. The enemy withdrew and took to Kadesh. Ramesses gathered his armies, and returned to Egypt, where he declared the clash a victorious battle, adorning walls of all major temples with valiant scenes from the conflict.

A depiction of Hittite warriors from a lost stone carving

A depiction of Hittite warriors from a lost stone carving

The Battle of Kadesh was the last major clash between the Egyptian and Hittite empires. The result was a blow to both states, but in an indirect way. Though Muwatallish had halted Egyptian expansion and defined a peaceful border of the Hittite Empire, this battle had serious consequences for the Hittites. During the conflict with Egypt, Assyria had annexed Mitanni, removing the buffer that the Hittites so relied upon. For Egypt, the defeat of her army led to an all-out revolt by her Canaan vassals, and with them went the last great possessions of the Pharaoh’s beyond the Sinai.

Hittite king Hattusilis III finally took over the throne and exiled the son of Muwatallish, who was very unpopular at the time. When Hattusilis evaluated the condition of his empire and that of Assyria, he became increasingly friendly with Egypt. In the twenty-first year of Ramesses’ reign, ca. 1259, Hattusilis and Ramesses created a diplomatic treaty, the first document of its kind. Hattusilis sealed this deal by marrying his daughter to Ramesses. It contained four important conditions: a) The continuation of the treaty concluded between Ramesses and Muwatallish, concerning non-aggression. b) Mutual assistance in the form of military aid. c) Security in the problem of Hattusilis’ succession d) Mutual extradition of fugitives. This pact, reflected in the relieves of Abu Simbel, gave the people of the Near East the great accomplishment of nearly seventy years of peace. Today an enlarged copy of this peace pact made of cuneiform tablet found in Hattusas hangs in the United Nations building in New York, demonstrating to modern statesmen that international treaties are a tradition going back to the earliest civilizations.

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Hittite Mythology

Figure of a Hittite Mountain deity

Figure of a Hittite Mountain deity

The Hittites had an abundant number of local cult deities and sets of local pantheons. As the government became more centralized, particularly during the imperial period around 1400 – 1200 B.C., there were efforts to equate many of these local deities and form a state pantheon.

Such a pantheon was headed by the Weather-god/Storm-god, who also represented the mountains, and his consort – usually the earth goddess, who was also attached to the waters of rivers and the sea. The Hittites themselves write of ‘the thousand gods of Hatti’, and more than eight-hundred such names have been discovered.

The associated myths have both Hittite and Hurrian content, with the origin of many suspected to be Hurrian. The Kumarbis-Ullukummis myth is chief among the Hurrian tales and the Illuyankas stories and missing god myths of Telipinus and the missing Storm-god are thought to be more Hattic. There also exist fragments of a Hittite version of the Gilgamesh epic and many Akkadian deities were worshiped outright. Doubtless the Hatti left their mark in Hittite religion as well.

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The Kingdom of Lydia

Lydia emerged as a Neo-Hittite State after the collapse of the Hittite Empire in the Western Anatolia region.In the 12th century BC. Lydia’s earlier name was Maeonia. Their capital was Sardis, although the city was called Hyde in that period. The Lydians ruled about the 12th century BC to about 546 BC. Lydians ruled a large part of anatolia in their peak time stretching from the Black Sea to the Aegean and Mediterranean (only Lycia and Pamphylia was not taken). Lydians used a Indo-European language whereas Greek effect on literature and fine arts were seen.

Lydia was ruled by 3 dynasties from the beginning to the end. These dynasties were Atyads, Heraclids and Mermnads. The region was actually called Lydia with the beginning of the last of these dynasties, the Mermnads. Gyges, the first ruler of this dynasty, changed the name of their capital to Sardis. While being a rather small nation during the first two dynasties, Lydians followed an expansionist policy during the last. Gyges launched military campaigns both to the North and West of Anatolia. During this period, the barbarian Cimmerians were terrorizing the east Anatolia. After destructing Phrygians, they attacked the Lydians. The first battle was avictory for the Lydians but the second attack was succesfull. Almost all Lydia was conqured by the Cimmerians but the capital of Sardis could not be taken. Ardys (652-621 BC), following the death of his father at the second battle against the Cimmerians, asked help from the Assyrians and in a decisive battle Cimmerians were beaten and never was able to recover. Ardys, after years of terror in his country, started a reconstruction campaign in Lydia. All sacked cities were rebuilt. After that Lydians marched towards the Ionian cities and took Priene.

After the death of Ardys, Sadyattes, with almost no great opportunity for the Lydians came to rule. His son however, next ruler of Lydia, was one of the greatest kings of Lydia. Alyattes (610-560 BC), with great diplomatic skills, reasserted Lydis’s sway over the Ioanian and Carian cities made Lydia one of the most powerful nations of the Near East. The greatest danger for the Lydians though, the Persian Empire, was rising in the east in this period.

Ruins of the Hittite capitol of Hattusa

Ruins of the Hittite capitol of Hattusaage-age-pics

After a long and and successful reign of Alyattes, his son Croesus, accepted as the greatest king of Lydia (according to the Greek sources), came into rule (560-546 BC). During his rule, Lydia reached the zenith of its power. But ironically, also during his reign, Lydia was defeated and ended by the Persians. Croesus, enlarged the Lydian Kingdom to its peak after conquering whole Ioania including Ephesus, one of the most civilized and developed cities of its time. He started a reconstruction of the Artemis Temple at Ephesus which was severely damaged by the Cimmerians. On the eastern border, Persians became a huge threat for the Lydians where a war was inevitable. The first day ofthe battle was very harsh and both armies got back at the end of the day. Thinking of getting support from his allies and re-attacking the Persians in the next spring, Croesus decided to go back to Sardis. But another great king, Cyrus of Persia, moved his army to the Gediz Plain near Sardis and beat Croesus here. Lydians puleld back to the fortified walls of Sardis. After a siege of 14 days, Sardis fell and the Lydian Kingdom ended. Lydians were the first civilization that used coins around 600 BC in the history of mankind. They made gold, silver and electrum (mixture between gold and silver) coins.

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The Hurrians

The lions gate at the ruins of the Hittite capitol of Hattusa

The Hurrians enter the orbit of ancient Middle Eastern civilization toward the end of the 3rd millennium BC. They arrived in Mesopotamia from the north or the east, but it is not known how long they had lived in the peripheral regions. There is a brief inscription in Hurrian language from the end of the period of Akkad, while that of King Arishen (or Atalshen) of Urkish and Nawar is written in Akkadian. The language of the Hurrians must have belonged to a widespread group of ancient Middle Eastern languages. The relationship between Hurrian and Subarean has already been mentioned, and the language of the Urartians, who played an important role from the end of the 2nd millennium to the 8th century BC, is likewise closely related to Hurrian. According to the Soviet scholars Igor M. Diakonov and Sergei A. Starostin, the Eastern Caucasian languages are an offshoot of the Hurrian-Urartian group.

It is not known whether the migrations of the Hurrians ever took the form of aggressive invasion; 18th-century-BC texts from Mari speak of battles with the Hurrian tribe of Turukku south of Lake Urmia (some 150 miles from the Caspian Sea’s southwest corner), but these were mountain campaigns, not the warding off of an offensive. Proper names in cuneiform texts, their frequency increasing in the period of Ur III, constitute the chief evidence for the presence of Hurrians. Nevertheless, there is no clear indication that the Hurrians had already advanced west of the Tigris at that time. An entirely different picture results from the 18th-century palace archives of Mari and from texts originating near the upper Khabur River. Northern Mesopotamia, west of the Tigris, and Syria appear settled by a population that is mainly Amorite and Hurrian; and the latter had already reached the Mediterranean littoral, as shown by texts from Alalakh on the Orontes. In Mari, literary texts in Hurrian also have been found, indicating that Hurrian had by then become a fully developed written language as well.

An early Hittite Stela showing a warrior with spear and shield

An early Hittite Stela showing a warrior with spear and shield

The high point of the Hurrian period was not reached until about the middle of the 2nd millennium. In the 15th century, Alalakh was heavily Hurrianized; and in the empire of Mitanni the Hurrians represented the leading and perhaps the most numerous population group.

The Hurrians were one of a people important in the history and culture of the Middle East during the 2nd millennium BC. The earliest recorded presence of Hurrian personal and place names is in Mesopotamian records of the late 3rd millennium; these point to the area east of the Tigris River and the mountain region of Zagros as the Hurrian habitat. From then on, and especially during the early 2nd millennium, there is scattered evidence of a westward spread of Hurrians. An even greater westward migration, probably set in motion by the intrusion of Indo-Iranians from the north, seems to have taken place after 1700 BC, apparently issuing from the area between Lake Van and the Zagros. Evidence indicates that the Hurrians overthrew the Assyrian rulers and subsequently dominated the area. East of the Tigris the flourishing commercial centre of Nuzu was a basically Hurrian community, and Hurrian influence prevailed in many communities of Syria. Hurrians likewise occupied large sections of eastern Anatolia, thereby becoming eastern neighbours and, later, partial dependents of the Hittites.

Yet the Hurrian heartland during this period was northern Mesopotamia, the country then known as Hurri, where the political units were dominated by dynasts of Indo-Iranian origin. In the 15th century BC the Hurrian area ranging from the Iranian mountains to Syria was united into a state called Mitanni. In the middle of the 14th century, the resurgent Hittite Empire under Suppiluliumas I defeated Mitanni and reduced its king, Mattiwaza, to vassalage, while Assyria seized the opportunity to reassert its independence.

Despite political subjection, the continued Hurrian ethnic and cultural presence in Syria and the Cilician region (Kizzuwadna) strongly influenced the Hittites. The carvings at Yazlkaya, for instance, suggest that the official pantheon of the Hittite Empire was thoroughly Hurrianized; Hittite queens had Hurrian names; and Hurrian mythology appears in Hittite epic poems.Except for the principality of Hayasha in the Armenian mountains, the Hurrians appear to have lost all ethnic identity by the last part of the 2nd millennium BC.

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The Kingdom of Mitanni

The ruins of mount Nemrud, where In 62 BC, King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene built on the mountain top a tomb-sanctuary flanked by huge statues

The kingdom of Mitanni was a feudal state led by a warrior nobility of Aryan or Hurrian origin. Frequently horses were bred on their large landed estates. Documents and contract agreements in Syria often mention a chariot-warrior caste that also constituted the social upper class in the cities.

The aristocratic families usually received their landed property as an inalienable fief. Consequently, no documents on the selling of landed property are to be found in the great archives of Akkadian documents and letters discovered in Nuzi, near Kirkuk. The prohibition against selling landed property was often dodged, however, with a stratagem: the previous owner “adopted” a willing buyer against an appropriate sum of money. The wealthy lord Tehiptilla was “adopted” almost 200 times, acquiring tremendous holdings of landed property in this way without interference by the local governmental authorities. He had gained his wealth through trade and commerce and through a productive two-field system of agriculture (in which each field was cultivated only once in two years). For a long time, Prince Shilwa-Teshub was in charge of the royal governmental administration in the district capital. Sheep breeding was the basis for a woolen industry, and textiles collected by the palace were exported on a large scale. Society was highly structured in classes, ranks, and professions. The judiciary, patterned after the Babylonian model, was well organized; the documents place heavy emphasis on correct procedure.

Native sources on the religion of the Hurrians of the Mitanni kingdom are limited; about their mythology, however, much is known from related Hittite and Ugaritic myths. Like the other peoples of the ancient Middle East, the Hurrians worshiped gods of various origins. The king of the gods was the weather god Teshub. According to the myths, he violently deposed his father Kumarbi; in this respect he resembled the Greek god Zeus, who deposed his father Kronos. The war chariot of Teshub was drawn by the bull gods Seris (“Day”) and Hurris (“Night”). Major sanctuaries of Teshub were located at Arrapkha (modern Kirkuk) and at Halab (modern Aleppo) in Syria. In the east his consort was the goddess of love and war Shaushka, and in the west the goddess Hebat (Hepat); both were similar to the Ishtar-Astarte of the Semites.

The sun god Shimegi and the moon god Kushuh, whose consort was Nikkal, the Ningal of the Sumerians, were of lesser rank. More important was the position of the Babylonian god of war and the underworld, Nergal. In northern Syria the god of war Astapi and the goddess of oaths Ishara are attested as early as the 3rd millennium BC.

In addition, a considerable importance was attributed to impersonal “numina” such as heaven and earth as well as to deities of mountains and rivers. In the myths the terrible aspect of the gods often prevails over indications of a benevolent attitude. The cults of sacrifices and other rites are similar to those known from the neighbouring countries; many Hurrian rituals were found in Hittite Anatolia. There is abundant evidence for magic and oracles.

Temple monuments of modest dimensions have been unearthed; in all probability, specific local traditions were a factor in their design. The dead were probably buried outside the settlement. Small artifacts, particularly seals, show a peculiar continuation of Babylonian and Assyrian traditions in their preference for the naturalistic representation of figures. There were painted ceramics with finely drawn decorations (white on a dark background). The strong position of the royal house was evident in the large palaces, existing even in district capitals. The palaces were decorated with frescoes. Because only a few Mitanni settlements have been unearthed in Mesopotamia, knowledge of Mitanni arts and culture is as yet insufficient.

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The Mitanni Language

Hebat, the supreme goddess of the Hittites

In earlier stages of research, the terms Mitanni language and Subarian were used as designations for Hurrian. In Hittite cuneiform texts, hurlili “language of the Hurrian” is used. In the last centuries of the 3rd millennium BC, Hurrians were already present in the Mardin region, which, from a geographical point of view, belongs to the North Mesopotamian plain. In Mesopotamian texts (from the time of the Akkad dynasty) some Hurrian personal names and glosses have been found. The customary assumption is that this non-Semitic and also non-Indo-European ethnic group had come from the Armenian mountains. During the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, the Hurrians apparently spread over larger parts of southeast Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia.

Still later, during the intermediary “Dark Age,” they are supposed to have infiltrated into Cilicia and the adjacent Taurus and Antitaurus regions (Kizzuwatna in 2nd millennium texts). Before the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, an Indo-Aryan ruling caste wielded some type of authority over parts of Hurrian territory. Some names and words in ancient Near Eastern texts bear witness to their presence. Among these words are a group of technical terms related to the training of horses that found its way into Hittite treatises on that subject; they are most important from a historical point of view. After Sumerian, Akkadian, Hattic, Palaic, and Luwian, Hurrian and these Indo-Aryan glosses constitute the sixth and seventh additional languages of the Hittite archives.

Hurrian texts have been found in Urkish (Mardin region, c. 2300 BC), Mari (on the middle Euphrates, 18th century BC), Amarna (Egypt, c. 1400 BC), Bogazköy-Hattusa (Empire period), and Ugarit (on the coastline of northern Syria, 14th century). Amarna yielded the most important Hurrian document, a political letter sent to Pharaoh Amenhotep III. From Mari came a small number of religious texts; from Bogazköy-Hattusa, literary and religious texts; and from Ugarit, vocabularies belonging to the more “scholarly literature” described above and Hurrian religious texts in Ugaritic alphabetic script. Hurrian personal names, found in texts from many sites (Bogazköy-Hattusa, Alalakh, Ugarit, and especially Nuzu), constitute a second linguistic source of major importance.

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