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Hittites

Basalt relief showing a storm-god

Between 1400 and 1200 BC the Hittites established one of the great empires of the ancient Middle East. At its height, the empire encompassed central Turkey, north western Syria, and Upper Mesopotamia (north eastern Syria and northern Iraq).

Although they spoke an Indo-European language, the Hittites adopted many of the traditions of Mesopotamia, including the cuneiform writing system. At the capital, Hattusa, Archaeologists have excavated royal archives written in cuneiform on clay tablets.

The Hittites were famous for their skill in building and using chariots. They also pioneered the manufacture and use of iron.

By 1300 the Hittite Empire bordered on Egypt and both powers vied for control of wealthy cities on the Mediterranean coast. This led to the Battle of Kadesh with Rameses II (1274 BC.) On Rameses II’s monuments, the battle was commemorated as a great victory for Egypt, but the Hittite account, found at Hattusas, suggests that the battle was closer fought.

Civil war and rivalling claims to the throne, combined with external threats weakened the Hittites and by 1160 BC, the Empire had collapsed. Hittite culture survived in parts of Syria such as Carchemish which had once been under their power. These Neo-Hittites wrote Luwian, a language related to Hittite, using a hieroglyphic script. Many modern city names in Turkey are derived from their Hittite name, for example Sinop or Adana, showing the impact of Hittite culture in Anatolia.

Image caption: Basalt relief showing a storm-god
Neo-Hittite, 10th century BC. From Carchemish, south-east Anatolia (modern Turkey)

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