The Hittite Empire
Hattusa, Capital of the Hittite Empire – City Wall
The Hittite were a people in Asia Minor who formed one of the great empires of the ancient Middle East. It lasted from the eighteenth century BC through to the start of the twelfth century BC, and in its heyday challenged both Babylon and Egypt for leadership in the region.
The Hittites were a people who built a remarkable civilization in ancient Asia Minor. Unlike contemporary Middle Eastern peoples in Mesopotamia or Egypt, they did not live in a great river valley, and therefore did not have the benefit of large-scale, highly productive irrigation agriculture on which to build their civilization. What they did benefit from was cultural influences coming in from Mesopotamia and Egypt, via Syria, and it was these influences which enabled them to build their own civilization.
Hittite Empire, 1800-1200 BCE
Most of Asia Minor is covered by a highland plateau which is criss-crossed by deep river valleys. On this highland the climate is cold in winter and scorching in summer, and the terrain is mostly covered by a barren steppe landscape. The river valleys, however, are well-watered and fertile, able to support comparatively dense populations. They were not on nearly the same scale as the valleys of the Nile, in Egypt, and the Euphrates, in Mesopotamia, and did not give rise to the huge irrigation systems of those lands, feeding millions of people, but they were able to support a mixed arable and pastural farming economy.
At the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC the material culture of the societies of the Middle East was at the Bronze Age level. However, because bronze was expensive, it was used mainly in weapons, armour, art and jewellery. It was not widely used in farming, which was still at a Stone Age level of technology. This did not matter in the great river valleys of the Nile and the Euphrates, with their soft, easily-worked, highly fertile soils, but in less favoured climates it imposed a major constraint on agricultural productivity.
The rivers were not navigable by anything larger than small boats, which meant that all trade goods had to come in ox-drawn carts or heavily-laden donkeys, much more expensively than by water. This acted as a further limiting factor on the development of a sophisticated urban civilization. As a result if its geography, therefore, early 2nd millennium BC Asia Minor was covered by a patchwork of small-scale, village-based societies. The few small urban settlements formed the nuclei of local kingdoms.
There was never any question of the populations of Asia Minor being able to build the enormous cities and sophisticated societies like those of the Sumerians, Babylonians and Egyptians. The art and architecture of the region was on the whole simpler and not as impressive as those of Egypt and Mesopotamia: they simply could not muster the surplus resources to devote to constructing world-class monumental architecture on the scale of the Great Pyramids of Giza, the temples of Luxor or the ziggurats and temples of Ur and Babylon. Their literary output was also narrower and more derivative than those of some of their better-endowed contemporaries.
The Hittite Achievement
Hattusa City Gate
What the Hittites did succeed in doing was to create a large-scale and long-lasting state out of these unpromising circumstances, an empire which united disparate peoples within a single political system, and formed a highly effective regional power.
The Hittite kingdom was at times one of the largest and most powerful in the Middle East, able to compete on more than equal terms with the other great powers of the region, Babylonia, Assyria, the Mitanni and Egypt. Theirs was an aggressive, militaristic state; but to conquer and hold territory for several generations the Hittites had to do more than win battles. They had to develop practical political arrangements that enabled them to rule a wide territory where transport was neither quick nor easy. They had to provide their subjects with a consistent set of laws under which people of differing customs could live in harmony (the Hittite legal system was more humane than those of many contemporary societies). And they had to foster a religious environment which respected the varied beliefs and practices of their subjects while offering a spiritual focus for the wider national life.
Achieving these things enabled the Hittites to make a name for themselves, not only in the Middle East of the Bronze Age, but in the broad context of world history.
The Hittite civilization which emerged in the late 18th century BC was a hybrid one. The Hittites had mingled with the previous inhabitants of the area, the Hatti, to form a distinctive fusion of language and culture. Their close relatives, the Luwians and Hurrians, would also contribute important elements. Finally, contacts with the other great civilizations of the region, Mesopotamia and Egypt, would also help to shape Hittite civilization.
The Hittites had created a strong kingdom in north-central Asia Minor by the end of the 18th century BC, which rose to its height of power in the 14th and 13th centuries BC. Hittite power was finally destroyed at the end of the 13th century, though much of Hittite culture lived on in a number of “Neo-Hittite” kingdoms in southwestern Asia Minor and northern Syria.
Relief depicting Hittite soldiers
As with most, probably all, states of the Bronze Age, the Hittite governing institutions revolved around the king.
In early Hittite times, the kings’ hold on power seem to have not been very secure. There were frequent rebellions, and in particular, the death of a king seems generally to have heralded political crisis. The nobles were a powerful class, and jealous of their ancient privileges. This made for tension, and frequently conflict, between them and the kings, whose interests lay in centralising as much power in their own hands. One shadowy institution within the Hittite state seems to have been the Assembly, which, from the slender evidence we have of it, seems to have consisted of the nobility. One of its functions seems to have been to act as a court of appeal; politically, however, it clearly acted as a focus of opposition to the king.
What made this problem a great deal worse was that there seemed to be no clear line of succession from one king to the next; all princes of the royal house (of which there were many) apparently felt themselves eligible to become king, and if they could gain the support of a faction of the nobility, launched a bid for the throne.
Finally one of the kings, Telipinus (c. 1525-c.1500 BC) issued an edict setting down clear rules of succession. This marked a turning point: from then on, no more is heard of the assembly, and no more is heard of nobles disputing the succession.
In the Old Kingdom, the Hittite king was styled “Great King”, denoting a claim to be overlord of lesser kings. Later he had the title, “My Sun”, a term borrowed from contemporary monarchies in Egypt and Syria; this denoted a ruler endowed with superhuman powers, a “Hero beloved of the god”. This change in title reflects a development in which the status of the king changed from being something like a first among equals (so far as their nobility were concerned) to being more like the absolute monarchs of Egypt and Babylon. Although Hittite kings were never actually deified during their lifetimes, on death a king was thought to have become a god, and spirits of former kings received religious devotions.
The king was the supreme commander, law giver, judge and priest. Of these roles, only that of judge was regularly delegated to others; he was expected to personally fulfil his military and religious responsibilities in person.
Hittite queens had an independent position within the realm. They were high priestesses in the state religion, and some played a prominent role in affairs of state.
The Hittite realm consisted of a homeland surrounded by a growing cluster of kingdoms owing allegiance to the Great King in Hattusa, the Hittite capital.
Within the Hittite homeland, most towns and other communities had councils of local elders to look after their affairs. It was also their role to liaise with local Hittite governors or military officers. In the religious centres, the high priest also acted as the civil governor of the community.
As the kingdom expanded, more and more conquered kingdoms were brought under Hittite rule. If an enemy king surrendered, the Hittite king was usually content to accept his oath of allegiance, and the former enemy would receive back his kingdom as a vassal. A treaty would be drawn up and he would undertake to perform all the duties required of him.
Where a city resisted and had go be taken by force, the city was sacked and the inhabitants carried off to the Hittite capital with their cattle, They would then by distributed as serfs amongst the nobility. They were not made into slaves, however. The conquered territory was handed over to a new vassal ruler, usually a Hittite prince.
All vassals were given a great deal of autonomy, so long as they rendered tribute and provided troops for the Hittite army. In return the Hittite king promised to defend them from external enemies and to help keep the ruling family in power. All vassals were prohibited from any independent dealings with foreign kings.
As Hittite power expanded, vassal kingdoms in sensitive locations on the frontiers were created for Hittite royal princes: the famous cities of Aleppo and Carchemish in northern Syria were treated in this way. Later, as the empire grew yet larger, generals (who were usually relatives of the king) were appointed to governorships, with wide powers over large areas. They acted as intermediaries between the vassal kings and the Hittite Great King.
At whatever level, the administration of outlying territories involved the repair of roads and public buildings, the upkeep of temples, the dispensation of justice and the celebration of religious ceremonies.
Border vassals were alway liable to be secede, or be forced away from their allegiance, by a rival power such as the Mitanni, Assyria or Egypt; frontiers had constantly to be maintained by force or the threat of force.
The Hittites paid a great deal of attention to legal matters. This was perhaps because their kingdom united under one rule a disparate group of local societies, each with their own customs, and the Hittite rulers therefore had to provide a code of laws by which to adjudicate issues which arose between people from different localities.
Several collections of Hittite laws have been uncovered, each slightly different form one another. They probably reflect different stages of the development, and they often contain the phrase, ‘formerly a certain penalty was in force but now the king has ordained another (usually less severe) penalty”. This indicates that Hittite law was developing over time, and not set in stone (as other law codes seem to have been).
Like other early bodies of law, there was no distinction between civil and criminal law. It was concerned primarily with preserving law and order by seeking to set out rules of revenge and compensation to avoid individuals and families from taking matters into their own hands. Again like other law codes, the one crime not included in this was the most serious of all, murder. This was due to the fact that murder was still thought of as being beyond the power of the courts. The law did however specify how such a matter was to be resolved, by means of a “Lord of Blood”, a relative of the victim who was charged with exacting a suitable penalty.
Laws were mostly framed in the form of hypothetical cases followed by an appropriate ruling, worded in such a way that strongly suggests that they were derived from real cases. They were thus seeking to base the law on legal precedents.
The Hittites seem to have placed more emphasis than other legal systems of the time on ascertaining the facts in a case. Some court records have survived, and show considerable efforts to make detailed enquiries, which have a quite a modern ring to them.
Hittite law was humane by the standards of the time. The only capital offences were for rape, intercourse with animals and defiance of the state. Slaves, as ever, were in a worse position, being liable to the death penalty for disobedience to masters, and sorcery, and mutilation for lesser crimes. However, the fact that slaves’ crimes and misdemeanours were a matter for the courts, rather than simply being left to the whim of their masters, was itself an advance on many ancient law codes.
For free men and women, the penalty for most crimes was restitution of damaged or stolen property, or compensation for injury – though offenders were often required to pay several times the value of the damage caused. In most cases the reparation expressed in silver value. Offenders’ families and, in some cases, their whole communities, were held responsible for discharging the debt thus incurred.
Careful distinction was made between violations committed in anger or on purpose, and those committed by accident – a distinction not made in some other law codes.
In the first instance, cases came before the local elders. In more serious cases a local royal officer such as a local garrison commander would be required to be involved, in conjunction with the elders. Appeals went to the king (or in practice more likely his judicial advisors), and also, it seems, to the Assembly. The king’s decisions seems always to have been required in cases of sorcery, in serious cases of theft, and in all cases involving the death penalty.
The core of the Hittite army was the light horse-drawn chariot; indeed their chariotry was second to none, especially in later periods.
Hittite chariots were probably heavier than those of their enemies, particularly the Egyptians, and appear to have carried three men instead of two. Otherwise they were very similar in design.
The infantry were probably more numerous than the chariots, but played a subordinate role in battle.
The active campaigning season was confined to spring and summer. At the beginning of spring as order for mobilization would be sent out to those territories chosen to take part that year, and a rendezvous named near the relevant frontier. At the appointed time and place the king would review the army and take command in person.
The Hittites were masters of strategy and cunning. They executed feints, marches and counter-marches to confuse enemy, and before the battle of Kadesh succeeded in concealing their whole army from the Egyptians. Their objective always was to catch the enemy army in the open, where their chariots could be deployed to maximum effect. The enemies’ best hope was to avoid a pitched battle, disperse his troops and wage guerrilla warfare.
Exactly what the weapons and armour of Hittite soldiers was is not clear. The weapons used by the chariot-borne warriors were apparently the lance and the bow. However, Hittite carved figures show warriors wearing only belted kilt and helmet, and carrying short sword and battle axes, and on Egyptian carvings Hittite soldiers appear in long robes and armed with long spears. Perhaps these varied representations show the heterogeneous nature of Hittite forces, drawn as they were for a wide variety of peoples. The army which fought at the battle of Kadesh , for example, the largest ever mustered by a Hittite king, included contingents from every part of his empire, and from every possible ally and vassal.
The Hittite army contained sappers in connection with the construction of fortifications and for use in siege warfare. Prolonged sieges were sometimes required, and the Hittites had battering-rams and siege towers. They were also masters of defence – massive defensive walls surrounded their cities and fortresses, with gateways designed to make it as hard as possible to fight a way through.
On the north and west frontiers of the empire, where wild tribes threatened to raid, lines of fortresses guarded Hittite territory. The garrisons of these fortresses must have been permanent troops, rather than those mustered for a particular campaign. These garrison troops were probably made up of mercenaries, at least in part.
In the accounts of the victories and conquests of Hittite kings there is a complete absence of lust for torture and cruelty which characterised the annals of the Assyrian kings.
There was no Hittite navy; this is somewhat surprising as they possessed territories in Cyprus, and trade extensively with that island.
Society and economy
Relief depicting Hittite agriculture and exchange
At the top of Hittite society were the King and his kinsmen – members of the “Great Family” who enjoyed special status and privileges. They filled the highest offices of state, such as chiefs of the bodyguard, chief of the courtiers, chief of the wine pourers, chief of the treasurers, chief of the sceptre-bearers, and chief of the overseers of a thousand. In particular they held the top military commands.
Under them came a host of courtiers, bodyguards, grooms, cup-bearers, sceptre-men, overseers of thousands, chamberlains, and warriors. These were the elite of Hittite society, and with the royal family, their leading members formed a hereditary nobility.
This class possessed large estates, apparently fiefs conferred by kings on condition of providing military forces for the royal army. This is no doubt how the very effective – and expensive – chariot arm of the Hittite army was raised and trained. Temples also had large estates, and formed virtual states within a state. Along with the vast royal estates and noble estates, much of the productive land must have been owned by a comparatively small section of society.
The vast majority of the population lay outside this elite group. The individual towns and districts had their own local elites, who were the elders of their communities. These were probably made up of the richer traders and small landowners.
There was a large class of slaves, These are mentioned in the laws as possessing specific rights, and were able to possess property; nevertheless, the quality of their lives would have been completely dependent upon whether or not they had a just and considerate master or not.
The Hittites engaged in a lucrative trade with neighbouring lands, particularly with the wealthy urban societies of Mesopotamia. Asia Minor was rich in metals, and they traded copper, silver and iron in exchange for luxury textiles and jewellery from Mesopotamia, tin from Iran and Europe, and olive oil from Cyprus. Their smiths also manufactured bronze objects with tin. Hittite society included a small class of professional craftsmen – builders, weavers, leather-workers, potters and smiths are specifically mentioned. Most of the common people, however, were cultivators of the the land or herdsmen. Many of these, perhaps the majority, were probably tied in some way to the many large estates which covered the land. As well as having obligations to their lords, they were subject to labour and military service when called on by the state.
Silver was the medium of exchange, as it was throughout the Middle East at that time. This silver took the form of bars or rings. In earlier times, sliver was reckoned by measures of barley; later, the silver was measured by weight, adopting the Babylonian units of weight, the shekel and mina. For smaller transactions, lead was used.
Maximum prices were set by law (although whether these were adhered to in practice is not known).
The Hittite family was of the usual patriarchal type found in most pre-modern societies. The husband’s power over his wife was implicit in the marriage ceremony, where the bridegroom ‘takes’ his wife and thereafter ‘possesses’ her.
However, Hittite women had more rights than their sisters in other ancient societies. For example, they had the right to be associated with their husbands in choosing husbands for their daughter, and on the death of a wife her dowry only became the property of her husband if she was living in his house, if she were not (which in ancient society would have meant living in her father’s house) it would go to her children. These privileges may reflect the fact that a matrilineal system of inheritance still operated in parts of Asia Minor.
Marriage in which either party was a slave was recognized in Hittite law.
Hittite relief sculptures of Gods at the Yazilikaya Sancutary
The religions of Bronze Age Asia Minor, like most religions of the ancient world, were polytheistic by nature. They were closely related with one another, with the weather god being of particular importance amongst the many deities worshipped (perhaps reflecting the harsh climactic conditions of much of the country). Amongst the Hittites, however, the Sun goddess was apparently the most important deity; she was the goddess of battle, and the patron deity of the Hittite kings. The weather god took second place; he was her consort, and the god of battle.
The Hittites did not interfere with the religious practices and beliefs of their subjects peoples, and each maintained their own local shrines to their deities (all these cults were polytheistic). The Hittites in fact enlisted the most important of the cults into the state religion. To this effect the king assumed the role of chief priest in these cults, and each year did a ‘progress’ of the four chief shrines within his realm, each located in a different part of the kingdom. Hittite shrines ranged from open-air sanctuaries to elaborate temples, and the national deities of the Hittites were worshipped in the capital with great ceremony.
As was almost universal in ancient religion, divination was practiced to seek the will of the gods. This practice was governed by a set of complex rules, which were probably borrowed from the Babylonians. Magic was also important – magic rituals constitute a large portion of Hittite literature, and black magic was recognised as a crime by Hittite law.
The centralisation of government under the Hittite kings made a certain synthesis of religious practices inevitable. The deities of different peoples with similar characteristics and roles were identified with one another and treated as identical. In the 13th century the state religion seems to have shifted almost wholesale, displacing the older Hittite pantheon towards the Hurrian pantheon (with which its shared much in common) – the weather god Teshub and his consort Hebat; another prominent deity, the goddess Shaushka (identified with the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar). This probably came about through intermarriage between the Hittite royal family and Hurrian royal families. The most famous Hittite rock-carving, at Yazilikaya, reflects this shift.
Hittite cuneiform tablet
Language and writing
Two languages were used for official documents, Hittite and Akkadian. The only other commonly used written language within the Hittite realm was Hurrian, for commercial purposes.
Hittite was written in two scripts. Hieroglyphic Hittite, which was developed by the Hittites as a result of their acquaintance with Egyptian hieroglyphics, was used almost exclusively in rock carvings and inscription in stone monuments. The only exception was occasionally on official seals. This was one of several new scripts invented in mid-2nd millennium BC under stimulus from increased international contacts in western Asia, where the cultures of the Nile and Euphrates valleys met and mingled.
For more everyday documents a cuneiform script was used. This was derived from Akkadian, the script which had been dominant in Mesopotamia since the end of the 3rd millennium BC.
In the Old Hittite kingdom, the major artistic product was fine hand-made pottery, vessels of a variety of different kinds, painted with geometric designs which show links to finds of previous periods in Asia Minor history.
By the time of the empire metal seems to have largely displaced pottery, and the only ware is the plain domestic type. The empire period saw the rise of monumental stone bas-reliefs, often associated with hieroglyphic texts, carved either on stone blocks on the fronts of Hittite palaces and temples, or on rock faces. Many reliefs represent the king in his role as a high priest in an act of worship. One sequence, on a royal, palace, probably depicts a religious procession, showing musicians playing loots and bagpipes, jugglers, a shepherd leading his flock; a hunting scene is also shown. Possibly the finest of all Hittite bas-reliefs is the great figure of a warrior carved on one of the gateways of the capital.
The Hittites borrowed many subjects from Syria, and so indirectly from Mesopotamia: the motif of a god standing on an animal is Mesopotamian, for example. Egyptian influences can be seen in human-headed sphinxes which guard the gates of the capital and other towns. These are the nearest approach to sculpture in the round in Hittite art, and while some are crude and awkward in execution, their heads are usually well crafted. The motif of the winged sun-disc which hovers over the head of every Hittite king was originally the Egyptian symbol of royalty.
There are some distinctively Hittite elements in these bas-reliefs. In one, a king appears to be embracing his god – an intimate pose unparalleled in the art of any other ancient people. Another Hittite innovation is the (somewhat awkward) full profile representation of the goddesses depicted in the Yazilikaya bas-reliefs (the male gods are shown with torso in full face and the head and legs in profile, as in Babylonian and Assyrian art).
Hittite literature is composed of myths, annals, royal decrees, charters, deeds and curses (which are also common in Babylonian and Assyrian literature).
There were only a small number of myths, and these were of no great literary merit. Most are couched in the simplest prose, though the stories themselves are of considerable interest. For example a series of myths concern a god who goes missing and as a result the earth suffers through some natural disaster due to his or her protective care being withdrawn, until he or she was found again.
Apart from these, there were translations of Mesopotamian myths, the story of Gilgamesh, for example; and indigenous myths show affinities with Mesopotamian myths; they also show similarities with later Greek myths, as found for example in the poet Hesiod’s account of the creation.
Hittite literature is at its most original in the few royal statements that have come down to us. They are written in a vigorous style which which is in marked contrast to that of other contemporary nations. They read like transcriptions of speeches, with real emotion in them; their aim is to persuade listeners to a certain point of view. One contains an explanation for why the king (Hattusilis) is setting aside one crown prince for another, and another king (Telipinus) sets out new rules of inheritance of the throne. This reflects the fact that in Hittite political life (at least in its early period) where kings could not simply command their subjects, but had to rally his nobles and the rest of the community to his will; they had, in short, to exercise real leadership, and it is this that comes across in their edicts.
Agriculture and urban civilization had come early to Asia Minor. In the mid- to late-3rd millennium BC Asia Minor was convulsed by a general upheaval as peoples speaking Indo-European languages migrated into the region from both Europe, in the northwest, and from the Caucuses, to the northeast. Amongst them were probably the ancestors of the Hittites, together with their close relatives, the Luwians and Hurrians.
A few centuries of recovery allowed urban civilization to spread again into the region, but another general upheaval afflicted Asia Minor around the mid-18th century BC. By this time, the Hittites and other Indo-European peoples were well-established in Anatolia, as well as in other parts of the Middle East, and it was these groups who emerged from the time of troubles as the rulers of several small kingdoms. They were probably helped in this by a new military technology spreading down from their Indo-European cousins from the steppes, the chariot.
The Rise of the Hittites
It is from this period that a strong Hittite kingdom dates. It rapidly expanded over central, southern and eastern Anatolia to form what modern scholars call the Old Hitttite Kingdom (c. 1700 – c. 1595 BC).
From the early days of this kingdom, under the first major Hittite king, Hattusilis I (c. 1650-c.1620 BC), it became involved in wars in northern Syria, and also against its western neighbour, the kingdom of Arzawa (about which virtually nothing is known). It was under Hattusilis also that the Hittites established their capital at Hattusha.
The end of Hattusilis’ reign was marked by quarrels with and between his sons, and the succession went eventually to his grandson, Mursilis (c. 1620-1595 BC). It was this king who led an army 500 miles down the Euphrates and sacked Babylon in 1595 BC. On his return to Hattusha, laden with booty, Mursilis was assassinated in a family conspiracy, and the kingdom fell into disarray.
The Middle Hittite period
This troubled period was brought to an end by the accession of king Telipinus (c. 1525-c.1500 BC). Under this king the Middle Hittite period began. He issued a famous edict laying down precise rules of succession, so as to avoid the troubles at the end of previous reigns which had so weakened the kingdom in the past. The Edict also referred to an “assembly of citizens” – probably in fact a council of nobles, as in other early Indo-European societies – which was to act as a supreme court in legal matters.
Anatolia, 1500 BCE
After Telipinus’ reign, little is known of the course of events in the Hittite kingdom for some time. The aggressive stance of New Kingdom Egypt, which brought Egyptian armies into northern Syria, put the Hittites on the defensive there, and the rise of the Mitanni power in Syria brought a powerful and hostile neighbour to their borders in that direction.
Early in the 14th century BC, the Hittite kingdom began to revive under king Tudhalyas I. He conquered Arzawa and western Asia Minor, and inflicted a resounding defeat on the Mitanni in Syria, sacking Aleppo, and extending Hittite territory there. In the north, however, a new threat emerged with an invasion by the Kashku tribes.
After Tudhalyas’ death, the Hittite kingdom came under attack from all directions, and even Hattusha, the capital, was sacked by the Kashka. Arzawa was able to regain its independence, and the Hittite kings were hard pressed to maintain their borders intact.
The New Hittite period
With the accession of king Suppiluliumas I, at some date around 1350 BC, things began to improve again. Suppiluliumas spent the first few years of his reign consolidating his kingdom’s borders. This included strengthening the defences of the capital, Hattusha, with a massive system of walls. He then brought Arzawa under Hittite control again, and, most notably, smashed the power of the Mitanni, eliminating them as an independent power. He established firm Hittite control over northern Syria.
By the time of Suppiluliumas’ death, around 1320 BC, the Hittites were recognized as equals by the rulers of Egypt. The tide once again threatened to move against the Hittites, however, as Assyria grew in power and seized land in northern Syria. Arzawa again tried to throw off Hittite control, this time unsuccessfully. The Kashka remained stubbornly resistant to Hittite overlordship, and Egypt tried to extend its sphere of influence into northern Syria.
The Hittites, however, despite being surrounded by enemies, mostly maintained their borders effectively, and in under their king Muwatallis (c. 1295-1272 BC) fought the Egyptians to a draw at the battle of Kadesh (1275). This consolidated the Hittite hold on northern Syria, and in due course led to an alliance between Egypt and the Hittites (c. 1259), demarking their respective spheres of influence in Syria. This alliance kept the power of Assyria in check.
In the years before 1200 BC, the Hittites seem to have expanded their power into western Asia Minor, perhaps even bringing Troy under their control. However, this era was brought to an end by a mass movement of peoples from the west, which eventually affected all the great kingdoms of the Middle East.
Decline and fall of the Hittites
Ramesseum Second Court front wall Reliefs with traces of coloring from the Battle of Kadesh in Syria against the Hittites.
Phrygian tribes moved into western Asia Minor from Thrace, in Europe, and the “Sea Peoples”, a group of coastal peoples set in movement by events in Europe, raided Anatolia with such force that the Hittite empire collapsed. The Hittite domination of Anatolia and northern Syria was replaced by a multitude of small kingdoms and tribes, and the great period of Hittite civilization came to an end.
Nevertheless, the Hittite way of life would not be totally destroyed. In the southeast of Anatolia and northern Syria, the Luwians, a people closely related to the Hittites, who had been dominated by the Hittites for centuries and who had absorbed Hittite culture, formed a network of small kingdoms which modern scholars have labelled “Neo-Hittite”. It seems that in some cases, including the kingdoms centred on Matalya and Carchemish, the rulers of these Neo-Hittite kingdoms could trace their ancestry back to the old Hittite royal family. Scholars increasingly view these little states as playing an important role in the development of the later Mediterranean civilization.