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The most significant culture in Anatolian history was created by the Indo-European Hittites (2000-1200 BC.) who, probably coming from the northern part of Europe, established themselves in Anatolia at the end of the third millennium BC. The newcomers adopted the Hattian culture and continued to call Anatolia the Land of Hatti. For this reason they were also called the people of the Land of Hatti by their neighbors. The term Hittite is modern and is derived from the word Hatti. In the 15th and 14th centuries BC the Hittites created one of the three most important states in the Near East. In the 13th century they shared with the Egyptians the hegemony of the Near Eastern world and developed a civilization of great originality and distinction. The history of the Hittites can be classified into the following periods:

  1. the Early Hittite Period (2000-1750 BC),
  2. the Assyrian Colonies Period (1950 -1750 BC),
  3. the Old Hittite Kingdom (1750-1450 BC),
  4. the Hittite Empire (1450-1200 BC),
  5. the Neo-Hittite city states (1200-700 BC).
The Early Hittite Period
(2000-1750 BC)

The influx of Indo-European tribes into Asia Minor towards the end of the 3rd millennium halted the impressive growth of the Hattian civilization. There is an exact parallel for this period of stagnation in Troy, where the unimportant building phases III-V follow the golden age of the second settlement. The break in development which occurred in both regions of the peninsula at the same time suggests that there is a causal relation between this cultural impoverishment and the disorder which probably resulted from the Indo-European invasions.

We have records of a number of Central Anatolian city states in the first quarter of the 2nd millennium which were ruled by minor potentates: Kaneş (Nesa), Kuşşar, Hattuşa, Zalpa and Puruşhanda. Like many other so far undiscovered cities, they began life as principalities of the native peoples, i.e. minor Hattian states. Then, following the Indo-European immigrations, they fell gradually into the hands of the Hittite rulers.

At first the most important of these towns was Kaneş -identical with present-day Kültepe, near Kayseri in Cappadocia. The excavations directed by Tahsin and Nimet Özgüç, have yielded excellent results. It is in Kültepe that we can discern the first concrete traces of the Hittites, whose presence there was established by Sedat Alp. He demonstrated convincingly that the suffixes ala, ili, ula, found in native proper names mentioned in the Kültepe writings, are Hittite transformations of the Hattic suffixes al, il and ul. Recently, moreover, continuing the work of H. G. Güterbock and using new arguments, he has virtually proved that Kaneş and Nesa were one and the same. Since the Hittites called their tongue Nesian, Nesa (now Kültepe) was most probably their capital. A large building of megaron type uncovered on the main mound at Kültepe and dated to c. 2000 BC. is also clear evidence proving the arrival of the Indo-European Hittites in this formerly Hattian city.

The Assyrian Colonies Period
(1950 -1750 BC)

Writing was first employed in Anatolia in the days of the city states. Thousands of Assyrian cuneiform tablets have been found in the Assyrian colony of Kültepe which throw light on many contemporary matters. Even early Hittite rulers like Anitta, king of Kuşşar, seem to have already been using Assyrian cuneiform in the 18th century BC.

The unique art of the Hittites developed from a happy cross-fertilization of the cultures of the indigenous Hattian and immigrant Indo-European peoples. In the main, the conquerors respected the religion and customs of the natives and adapted themselves to local conditions. The Hittites' adoption of Hattian place names and proper names shows clearly how the two ethnic elements fused together.

The advanced artistic level of this early period can best be judged by its monochrome pottery, found at Kültepe, Acemhöyük, Boğazköy and Alişar, i.e. ancient cities located in Cappadocia. The hallmark of the period is the characteristic long-spouted jug. The abrupt inversion of form below the belly of the jug and the precise contours display an attractive and tectonic sculpture. Other vessels of this period also exhibit similar sharp inversions of form, hard contours and boldly elongated spouts. The advanced cultural level of this early historical period is also evident in seals with excellent figurative scenes, in human and animal-shaped rhyta, in figurines made of clay, lead, ivory and other materials and in painted pottery.

In the excavations at Kültepe and Karahöyük (near Konya) impressive remains have been discovered which indicate the presence of palaces and temples at that time.

Cappadocia was the most prosperous part of Anatolia during the Early Hittite period, for Kültepe was, as already noted, the main centre of artistic and commercial activities. The trading colonies which Assyrian merchants created at Kültepe, Boğazköy and at many other places mentioned in the records but not yet identified were commercial centers where a very significant exchange of products and artifacts took place. Assyrian merchants bartered mainly textiles and costly garments for copper, which was abundant and inexpensive in Asia Minor. The basic currencies were gold and especially silver. The proportion of value of gold to silver was 1:8. Copper of good quality was worth 46 to 70 times its weight in silver. A metal called amutum was 40 times the price of silver; this must have been iron which was, as already mentioned, produced in Anatolia by the Hattian period. Since no roads existed for four-wheeled transport, goods were conveyed by donkeys, to which the adjective "black" was regularly attached. On a mould found at Kültepe a donkey is represented along with two divinities as the most important animal of the period. Trading was carried out on a very large scale. Assyrian merchants made a profit of more than 100 per cent from their transactions.

The Old Hittite Kingdom
(1750-1450 BC)

From the outset the new state was so strong that a few generations later Murşili I (c. 1620-1590 BC.) was able to conquer first Aleppo and then Babylon, thus causing the downfall of Hammurabi's dynasty. The Hittites used the cuneiform script imported from Mesopotamia in the 18th and 17th centuries. They also had a picture-writing system which can be seen on their seals and public monuments.

The art of the Old Kingdom is closely linked with that of the earlier age. Some of the artistic pottery from Alaca imitates the design and boldly elongated spouts of the burnished monochrome vessels of the preceding period. However, we can trace the beginnings of a new aesthetic concept in the slender proportions of many vessels from Alaca, Alişar and Acemhöyük. The high standard of living in the Old Kingdom is reflected in the numerous handsome earthenware hip-baths discovered at Alişar, Boğazköy and elsewhere.

Old Kingdom architecture continued in the native Anatolian tradition; nevertheless there are unmistakably original features, both technical and formal. One example is the appearance of the cyclopean wall system, previously unknown in Anatolia. On the citadel of Hattuşa, the seat of the Hittite rulers, there must have been palaces similar to those recently discovered in the cities of the early historical period. The latest German excavations at Boğazköy have revealed that the stone-vaulted subterranean passages which were used for defensive sorties in the Empire period were also known in the Old Hittite Kingdom.

The Hittite Empire
(1450-1200 BC)

Hittite art reached its peak during the Empire. Monumental sculpture and architecture began to flourish at this time. Representational art, fostered by the building of the huge palaces and temples of the Hittites, held an eminent position in the Eastern world. The Hittites created the best military architecture of the Near East. Their system of offensive defense works, handed down from the Old Kingdom, grew into a unique type of fortification under the Empire. The impressive cyclopean walls at Hattuşa and Alaca display a high level of craftsmanship. From the point of view of their strategic contouring in a very difficult terrain and of the layout of their offensive defense works, the walls of ancient Hattuşa axe an unrivalled masterpiece.

At the German excavations in Hattuşa (Boğazköy), five temples have been uncovered whose size and architectural design place them among the finest monuments of their time. The largest of them, consecrated to the weather god of Hatti and the sun goddess of Arinna, is reasonably well-preserved and still gives a vivid impression of its time. The whole complex, storerooms included, is 160 m. long and 135 m. wide. The temple itself is a rectangular building with an inner court. On the north-eastern side there is an additional wing containing nine rooms where the actual places of worship were located. In the two largest rooms stood the statues of the weather god and the sun goddess of Arinna. These, unfortunately, are no longer in existence.

The major characteristic of Hittite architecture is its completely asymmetrical ground plan. The Hittites employed square piers as supports and had neither columns nor capitals. Both unique and typical are the large windows with low parapets which were set into the outer walls of the temple but not into the walls of the courtyard.

It is unfortunate that not a single cult statue has survived; in fact, we have no free-standing sculpture at all from the Empire period. On the other hand, a great number of impressive reliefs have been preserved. The outstanding reliefs of the period are carved on the face of a rock formation at Yazılıkaya, a holy place 2 km. to the north-east of Hattuşa. The large open gallery with its reliefs of male and female deities formed the shrine of the adjacent temple, the foundations of which have since been uncovered. Whereas in Hattuşa the religious rites were carried out in closed rooms in front of the cult statue, in Yazılıkaya they were performed in the open air before the reliefs of deities. These reliefs present a collective picture of all the Hittite gods.

The side chamber was devoted to the royal cult, and the statue of King Tudhaliya IV once stood at the north-eastern end. The pedestal of this statue and a cartouche relief on the wall have been preserved. The remaining reliefs in the chamber represent King Tudhaliya being embraced by the god Sarruma, and also the sword god and a procession of twelve other gods. Like the mountain god represented on the king's cartouche, all these reliefs face north, i.e. towards the statue. Anyone entering the now inaccessible south entrance to the side-chamber would be faced with the dominating presence of the king's statue at the north end.

Despite marked Anatolian-Hattian, Mesopotamian and Hurrian influences, the Hittites developed their own individual culture in Anatolia. It is astonishing that a people as strongly and continuously influenced by the Mesopotamians as the Hittites could have formed such very different characteristics from their Oriental neighbors in several aspects of their cultural life and have developed a truly Western way of thinking. One of the most important traits of the Hittites was their sense of loyalty to a state governed by law. Although he ruled by right of heredity, the king was merely primus inter pares. The Hittites of the Empire showed no interest in the ideas of Oriental absolutism and the divine right of kings. It was only towards the end of the Empire that they became inclined to tolerate some Oriental ideas. However, this brief appearance of an orientalization of basic concepts could not really affect the basic character of Hittite culture. We see in the Testament of Hattuşili I that the court functions of the king among the nobles were taken away from him. Nobles had to be referred to the pankus or community of nobles. In the law of succession passed by Telepinu the rights of nobles were carefully respected. The king was warned You shall not kill one of the kinsmen, that is not right; or He who becomes king and plans evil against his brothers or sisters must have a care: you who sit in the pankus must say to him: 'How deeds of blood shall be dealt with, see from the tablet.' Whoever commits evil among brothers and sisters answers for it with the royal head. Call the Assembly, and if the things come to a decision he shall pay with his head.

It was the duty of the king to attend to the welfare of his realm, to wage war and, as high priest, to conduct religious ceremonies. We know from the text of Telepinu's law that the name of the founder of the Hittite dynasty was Tabarna (also written Labarna). This is a Hattian word, which was adopted as a title by later kings, as was Caesar by the Romans.

In time, however - as we can see from a study of royal seals - the Hittite kings felt obliged to adopt grandiloquent titles in accordance with Oriental custom. This was inevitable if their prestige was not to be diminished at the hands of their vassals. However, these were only the initial steps in a process of orientalization which rapidly developed in the late Hittite period. Albrecht Götze says that royalty had become theocratic in the Hittite Empire and cites a text which states: The land belongs to the weather god; heaven and earth and the people belong to the weather god. He made Labarna, the king, his regent and gave him the whole Hittite land. Thus Labarna shall rule the entire land with his hand. In this we see an essentially Oriental idea introduced into the Hittite conception of kingship.

We know of no text in which the Hittite king was deified during his life-time, as was the case among Oriental peoples. The Hittites only knew of the deification of deceased kings. The texts say of a dead king: He has become a god. Yet it seems that at the end of the Empire the Oriental custom of deifying the king in his life-time was introduced in Hattuşa. In the large cult room of the shrine at Yazılıkaya Tudhaliya IV had had himself represented as a god standing on a mountain. As this relief was probably carved during his reign, it appears to point to an Oriental conception of apotheosis at this time. It is also striking that on one of his seals found at Ras Shamra this same king is wearing a sacred cap with horns. A limestone stele found in the shrine at Büyükkale, with the name of Tudhaliya in hieroglyphs (probably Tudhaliya IV), is yet another instance of this king's predilection for placing his picture or cartouche in cult rooms. We thus see clear indications of the process of orientalization towards the end of the Hittite Empire.

One of the most important features of the Hittites, which distinguishes them from their Oriental neighbors, is the humane character of their laws. Of great importance to them, as Albrecht Götze has pointed out, was a high valuation of human lives and the rights of the individual. Humiliating punishments like mutilation, which were practiced under Assyrian law, were almost completely absent. The killing and burning of the enemy, the erection of skull pyramids, the impaling and flaying of the enemy - all atrocities common to the Assyrians - were unthinkable in Hittite Asia Minor. Neither the texts nor the art monuments give evidence of such acts. In addition, the treatment of slaves was very humane. Albrecht Götze writes: The law gave a slave permission to marry a free woman legally without depriving her of the rights of her free birth. The only condition was that the slave must pay the price of his bride. If such a marriage was dissolved, the fortune and the children were to be distributed according to the same principles as applied to marriage between free men. Slavery did not hinder the amassing of a private fortune, and the possession of such wealth began to dissolve the barrier between slaves and free men.

Marriage between brother and sister, frequent in the Oriental world, was punishable by death among the Hittites. This is conveyed by the unequivocal words of Şuppiluliuma I in the treaty of Hukkanas: My sister, whom I, the Sun, have given to you in marriage, has many sisters of various degrees. They have now become your sisters too because you have married their sister. There is one important law in the Land of Hatti: the brother may not have sexual intercourse with his own sister or his cousin. This is the rule. He who disobeys it shall not live in Hattuşa but shall be killed. But in your country, which is immoral, it is the custom to allow sexual relations between the brother and his sister or cousin. This is not permitted in Hattuşa. If a sister of your wife, or a half-sister or a cousin of hers, comes to stay with you, give her to eat and drink. Eat and be merry. But do not allow yourself to desire her. That is not permitted; that is punishable by death.

The superior social position of women is another Hittite characteristic which distinguishes them from Oriental peoples. We see an instance of this feature in the story of Queen Tawannana, who remained queen even as a widow throughout the reign of her son. It was only after her death that her daughter-in-law inherited the title of Tawannana. As Tawannana is a Hattian word, the superior position of the queen, almost equal to that of the king, may be a custom of indigenous Hattian origin. Only the reigning king had a harem: the ordinary people do not appear to have practiced polygamy. Family life was organized along patriarchal lines.

These characteristics and basic conceptions grant the Hittites a special place in the history of the world. For over 500 years these people stood for a humane outlook going far beyond their Oriental neighbors. In this lies their greatest merit. The Hittites, like so few other peoples in history, successfully combined the arts of war and of diplomacy. Because of their extraordinary abilities and exemplary powers of adaptation, based on a sense of reality and tolerance, they were able, for half a millennium, to unite numerous races of different languages and cultures under a common rule.

Ancient Civilizations and Ruins of Turkey,
Ekrem Akurgal
Istanbul 1973