The Hittites

Hittite Solar DiskThe Hittites are an ancient people of Asia Minor and Syria who flourished from 1600 to 1200 BC. They were people of Indo-European connection and were supposed to have entered Cappadocia around 1800 BC. The Hittite empire, with its capital at Bogazköy (also called as Hattusas), was the chief power and cultural force in Western Asia from 1400 to 1200 BC. It was a loose confederation that broke up under the invasions (c. 1200 BC) of the Thracians, then Phrygians, and then Assyrians. The Neo-Hittite kingdom (c.1050-c.700 BC) that followed was conquered by the Assyrians. The Hittites were one of the first peoples to smelt iron successfully. They spoke an Indo-European language.

Because the Hittites were newcomers to Anatolia they were basically forced to settle where they did because they couldn't find a better place. The Hittite population would largely have consisted of peasants. There was a recognized class of craftsmen especially potters, cobblers, carpenters and smiths, and though metal principally worked was bronze, the smelting of iron was already understood and a high value was set on this metal. The medium of exchange was silver, of which the Taurus Mountains contained an abundant supply; however, it is not known how this potential source of wealth was controlled by the Hittite kings. Traces of metallurgy are found in Hattusas. Textual and material ranging from goldsmiths to shoemakers and to pottery. The Hittite economy was based on agriculture, with the main crops being emmer wheat and barley. It took at least 22,000 hectares of arable land to meet the annual needs of Hattusas. Honey was a significant item in the diet. Domestic livestock consisted of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and perhaps water-buffalo. Donkeys were used as pack animals. They used also dogs as their best friends. Hittites used cuneiform script on their inscriptions but they also used the hieroglyph form on some inscription, intended for ordinary people to understand the contents easily.

The king was supreme ruler, military commander, judicial authority and high priest. Surrounding him was a large class of nobles and dignitaries who, especially in the earlier centuries, possessed considerable power and were largely related to the king by blood. Throughout, the government of the most important cities and provinces was assigned by the king to members of his own family, each bounded to him by ties of homage and fealty. In later centuries, the same principle was extended to native vassal who became members of the royal family by marriage. The oath of fealty was a personal matter and so it was necessary, on the death of a kind, for all vassal treaties to be renewed by his successor. This feudal principle was in fact the basis of Hittite society as a whole. The nobles possessed large manors, each with its own peasants and artisans, who held their tenements on condition of payment of rent in kind or performance of appropriate services. A peasant could leave his holdings to his son; a craftsman could sell it, with the obligation passing to the buyer; but the lord had the right to choose or approve the new feudatory and invest him with the obligation.

A notable characteristic of the Hittite state is the prominent part played by women, especially the queen. Pudupepa, wife of Hattusilis III, is regularly associated with her husband in treaties and documents of the state and she even carried on correspondence with foreign kings and queens in her own right. Both she and the last queen of Suppiluliumas I remained in office until their husbands' death; thus it is inferred with the Hittite king. There is some reason to believe that a matrilineal system once prevailed in Anatolia and the independent position of the Hittite queen could be a result of this. The Hittite family was of the normal patriarchal type: the father gave his daughter aqua in marriage; the bridegroom paid him the bride-price and thereafter took the bride and possessed her; if she was taken in adultery he had the right to decide her fate.

The collection of roughly 200 Hittite laws, complied in a single work in two tablets, contain laws of different periods showing a constant development towards milder and more humane punishment. The most primitive clause prescribes drawing and quartering for an agricultural offense. Other capital crimes are rape, or in case of a slave, disobedience and sorcery.

Slavery was severe. The master had the power of life and death. In most cases, it is stated that a animal was to be substituted for the man and a compensation of some sorts was paid. The spirit of Hittite law was more humane then that of the Babylonian or Assyrian legal codes.

The Hittite weakness was that they never had a reliable native population. It was solved by the settlements of deportees, who retained royal control even when put beside native communities.

They were influenced by Hatti civilization to a great extend in religion, the mythology, the art and culture. Although Hittites were the rulers of the country, their kings adopted Hatti names.

Although the Hittite Empire vanished thousands of years ago, it has by no means been forgotten, and its capital Hattusha has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Moreover, an enlarged copy of a cuneiform tablet found here hangs in the United Nations building in New York. This tablet is a peace treaty concluded after the Battle of Kadesh between the Hittite king Hattusili III and the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II about 3300 years ago, demonstrating to modern statesmen that international treaties are a tradition going back to the earliest civilizations.