Hittite Empire

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Hittite Empire
Ancient Empire of Western Asia
LocationWestern Asia
State existed1430–1178 BC
GovernmentMonarchy (1430-1178 BC)
Head of GovernmentKing
LegislatureCouncil of Nobles
Major CitiesTarsus

Area450,000 km2
170,000 sq mi
Preceded byHittite Kingdom
Succeeded byNeo Hittite Kingdoms

The Hittite Empire began as an expansion out of the middle Hittite Kingdom in 1430 BC at its peak size it covered 450.000 sq km or 170,000 sq mi. It was considered one of the ancient Great Powers of the Bronze Age. The end of the empire was part of the larger Bronze Age Collapse between 1200 and 1178 BC. This lead to the fragmentation of the former empire into smaller independent states that later became known as Neo-Hittite Kingdoms.



The Hittite kingdom was centred on the lands surrounding Hattusa and Neša (Kültepe), known as "the land Hatti" (URUHa-at-ti). After Hattusa was made capital, the area encompassed by the bend of the Kızılırmak River (Hittite Marassantiya) was considered the core of the Empire, and some Hittite laws make a distinction between "this side of the river" and "that side of the river". For example, the reward for the capture of an escaped slave after he managed to flee beyond the Halys is higher than that for a slave caught before he could reach the river.

To the west and south of the core territory lay the region known as Luwiya in the earliest Hittite texts. This terminology was replaced by the names Arzawa and Kizzuwatna with the rise of those kingdoms. Nevertheless, the Hittites continued to refer to the language that originated in these areas as Luwian. Prior to the rise of Kizzuwatna, the heart of that territory in Cilicia was first referred to by the Hittites as Adaniya. Upon its revolt from the Hittites during the reign of Ammuna, it assumed the name of Kizzuwatna and successfully expanded northward to encompass the lower Anti-Taurus Mountains as well. To the north, lived the mountainous people called the Kaskians. To the southeast of the Hittites lay the Hurrian empire of Mitanni. At its peak, during the reign of Muršili II, the Hittite empire stretched from Arzawa in the west to Mitanni in the east, many of the Kaskian territories to the north including Hayasa-Azzi in the far north-east, and on south into Canaan approximately as far as the southern border of Lebanon, incorporating all of these territories within its domain.


The greatest Hittite citadel was at Hattusa (also spelled Hatusha and Hattusas), in the Boğazkale district in north central Turkey, inland from the Black Sea. This city had previously been the capital of the Hattians, and their local kingdom of Hatti was conquered by the Hittites around 1900 BCE. (The name Hittite derives from the name of the Hatti.) The Hittite capital was moved to Hattusa around 1500 BCE: a rugged and windswept area 1,200 meters (nearly 4,000 feet) above sea level. It also served as the Hittite Kingdom’s religious and administrative center. Hattuşa covered 1.8 square kilometers at its peak, with a population estimated at 40,000 to 50,000.

Rise to Power

When the Hittites entered Asia Minor around 2000 BCE, the region was populated by small yet sophisticated kingdoms. The Hittites began expanding their domain around 1900 BCE, using both force and diplomacy to bring rival city-states and kingdoms in Asia Minor under control. The Hittite realm went through several periods of expansion and contraction until around 1400 BCE. At that time, a series of strong kings expanded the kingdom into an Hittite Empire that streched across all of Anatolia, into Syria, and beyond the Euphrates River. The push into Syria brought the Hittites into conflict with the Egyptians, who also sought to dominate this region.

New Kingdom and Empire (1430-1180 BCE)

With the reign of Tudhaliya I (who may actually not have been the first of that name; see also Tudhaliya), the Hittite Kingdom re-emerged from the fog of obscurity. Hittite civilization entered the period of time called the "Hittite Empire period". Many changes were afoot during this time, not the least of which was a strengthening of the kingship. Settlement of the Hittites progressed in the Empire period.[43] However, the Hittite people tended to settle in the older lands of south Anatolia rather than the lands of the Aegean. As this settlement progressed, treaties were signed with neighboring peoples.[43] During the Hittite Empire period the kingship became hereditary and the king took on a "superhuman aura" and began to be referred to by the Hittite citizens as "My Sun". The kings of the Empire period began acting as a high priest for the whole kingdom—making an annual tour of the Hittite holy cities, conducting festivals and supervising the upkeep of the sanctuaries. During his reign (c. 1400 BC), King Tudhaliya I, again allied with Kizzuwatna, then vanquished the Hurrian states of Aleppo and Mitanni, and expanded to the west at the expense of Arzawa (a Luwian state).

Another weak phase followed Tudhaliya I, and the Hittites' enemies from all directions were able to advance even to Hattusa and raze it. However, the Kingdom recovered its former glory under Suppiluliuma I (c. 1350 BC), who again conquered Aleppo, Mitanni was reduced to vassalage by the Assyrians under his son-in-law, and he defeated Carchemish, another Amorite city-state. With his own sons placed over all of these new conquests, Babylonia still in the hands of the allied Kassites, this left Suppiluliuma the supreme power broker in the known world, alongside Assyria and Egypt, and it was not long before Egypt was seeking an alliance by marriage of another of his sons with the widow of Tutankhamen. Unfortunately, that son was evidently murdered before reaching his destination, and this alliance was never consummated. However, the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1050 BC) once more began to grow in power also, with the ascension of Ashur-uballit I in 1365 BC. Ashur-uballit I attacked and defeated Mattiwaza the Mitanni king despite attempts by the Hittite king Suppiluliumas I, now fearful of growing Assyrian power, attempting to preserve his throne with military support. The lands of the Mitanni and Hurrians were duly appropriated by Assyria, enabling it to encroach on Hittite territory in eastern Asia Minor, and Adad-nirari I annexed Carchemish and north east Syria from the control of the Hittites.

After Suppiluliumas I, and a very brief reign by his eldest son, another son, Mursili II became king (c. 1330). Having inherited a position of strength in the east, Mursili was able to turn his attention to the west, where he attacked Arzawa and a city known as Millawanda (Miletus), which was under the control of Ahhiyawa. More recent research based on new readings and interpretations of the Hittite texts, as well as of the material evidence for Mycenaean contacts with the Anatolian mainland, came to the conclusion that Ahhiyawa referred to Mycenaean Greece, or at least to a part of it.

After this date, the power of both the Hittites and Egyptians began to decline yet again because of the power of the Assyrians. The Assyrian king Shalmaneser I had seized the opportunity to vanquish Hurria and Mitanni, occupy their lands, and expand up to the head of the Euphrates in Anatolia and into Babylonia, Ancient Iran, Aram (Syria), Canaan (Israel) and Phoenicia, while Muwatalli was preoccupied with the Egyptians. The Hittites had vainly tried to preserve the Mitanni kingdom with military support. Assyria now posed just as great a threat to Hittite trade routes as Egypt ever had. Muwatalli's son, Urhi-Teshub, took the throne and ruled as king for seven years as Mursili III before being ousted by his uncle, Hattusili III after a brief civil war. In response to increasing Assyrian annexation of Hittite territory, he concluded a peace and alliance with Ramesses II (also fearful of Assyria), presenting his daughter's hand in marriage to the Pharaoh. The "Treaty of Kadesh", one of the oldest completely surviving treaties in history, fixed their mutual boundaries in southern Canaan, and was signed in the 21st year of Rameses (c. 1258 BC). Terms of this treaty included the marriage of one of the Hittite princesses to Ramesses.

Hattusili's son, Tudhaliya IV, was the last strong Hittite king able to keep the Assyrians out of the Hittite heartland to some degree at least, though he too lost much territory to them, and was heavily defeated by Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria in the Battle of Nihriya. He even temporarily annexed the Greek island of Cyprus, before that too fell to Assyria. The very last king, Suppiluliuma II also managed to win some victories, including a naval battle against Alashiya off the coast of Cyprus.[52] But the Assyrians, under Ashur-resh-ishi I had by this time annexed much Hittite territory in Asia Minor and Syria, driving out and defeating the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar I in the process, who also had eyes on Hittite lands. The Sea Peoples had already begun their push down the Mediterranean coastline, starting from the Aegean, and continuing all the way to Canaan, founding the state of Philistia—taking Cilicia and Cyprus away from the Hittites en route and cutting off their coveted trade routes. This left the Hittite homelands vulnerable to attack from all directions, and Hattusa was burnt to the ground sometime around 1180 BC following a combined onslaught from new waves of invaders, the Kaskas, Phrygians and Bryges. The Hittite Kingdom thus vanished from historical records, much of the territory being seized by Assyria. While the attacks from the Sea People and aggressive tribes, known as the Gasga, pushed the Hittites towards the end of Hittite power, many internal issues also led to the end of the Hittite kingdom. The end of the empire was part of the larger Bronze Age Collapse. This lead to the fragmentation of the former Empire into smaller independent states known as the Neo-Hittite Kingdoms


The head of the Hittite state was the king, followed by the heir-apparent. The king was the supreme ruler of the land, in charge of being a military commander, judicial authority, as well as a high priest. However, some officials exercised independent authority over various branches of the government. One of the most important of these posts in the Hittite society was that of the Gal Mesedi (Chief of the Royal Bodyguards). It was superseded by the rank of the Gal Gestin (Chief of the Wine Stewards), who, like the Gal Mesedi, was generally a member of the royal family. The kingdom's bureaucracy was headed by the Gal Dubsar (Chief of the Scribes), whose authority didn't extend over the Lugal Dubsar, the king's personal scribe. In Egyptian inscriptions dating back before the days of the Exodus, Egyptian monarchs were engaged with two chief seats, located at Kadesh (a Hittite city located on the Orontes River) and Carchemish (located on the Euphrates river in Southern Anatolia)

During the Old Kingdom there was a council of nobles, known as pankus, serving below the king. Territorial control over the core of the kingdom was administered by provincial governors who answered directly to the king. More distant territories were in the hands of vassal kings who acted according to treaties signed with the Hittite king. Each year, the rulers of vassal states brought gifts to Hattusas and pledged their loyalty. In return for military protection and favorable trading status, vassal states contributed precious resources, grain and troops to the Kingdom.

Head of State

Great Kings of the Hittite Empire

Ruler Reigned Lineage and key events
Tudhaliya I ca. 1430 BC (short) Lineage is uncertain; perhaps a grandson of Zidanta II. Became king after Muwatalli I was killed.
Arnuwanda I Son-in-law of Tudhaliya I
Hattusili II (?) The existence, lineage and time of his reign is disputed
Tudhaliya II ca. 1360? – 1344 BC (short) Son of Arnuwanda (or Hattusili II?)
Tudhaliya III "the Younger" Son of Tudhaliya II; assassinated upon his father's death; he may not have ruled at all.
Suppiluliuma I ca. 1344–1322 BC (short) Son of Tudhaliya II (or Hattusili II?); expanded the empire; mentioned in the Amarna letters
Arnuwanda II ca. 1322–1321 BC (short) Son of Suppiluliuma
Mursili II ca. 1321–1295 BC (short) Son of Suppiluliuma
Muwatalli II ca. 1295–1272 BC (short) Son of Mursili II; Battle of Kadesh, ca. 1274
Mursili III a.k.a. Urhi-Teshub ca. 1272–1267 BC (short) Son of Muwatalli II
Hattusili III ca. 1267–1237 BC (short) Son of Mursili II; treaty with Egypt ca. 1258
Tudhaliya IV ca. 1237–1209 BC (short) Son of Hattusili III; Battle of Nihriya
Kurunta ca. 1228–1227 BC (short) Son of Muwatalli II; his reign is uncertain; may have ruled for a very brief time in the middle of Tudhaliya's reign.
Arnuwanda III ca. 1209–1207 BC (short) Son of Tudhaliya IV
Suppiluliuma II ca. 1207–1178 BC (short) Son of Tudhaliya IV; fall of Hattusa, ca. 1178


The Hittite language is recorded fragmentarily from about the 19th century BC (in the Kültepe texts, see Ishara). It remained in use until about 1100 BC. Hittite is the best attested member of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family, and the Indo-European language for which the earliest surviving written attestation exists, with isolated Hittite loanwords and numerous personal names appearing in an Old Assyrian context from as early as the 20th century BC.


Hittite religion and mythology were heavily influenced by their Hattic, Mesopotamian, and Hurrian counterparts. In earlier times, Indo-European elements may still be clearly discerned. Storm gods were prominent in the Hittite pantheon. Tarhunt (Hurrian's Teshub) was referred to as 'The Conqueror', 'The king of Kummiya', 'King of Heaven', 'Lord of the land of Hatti'. He was chief among the gods and his symbol is the bull. As Teshub he was depicted as a bearded man astride two mountains and bearing a club. He was the god of battle and victory, especially when the conflict involved a foreign power.[67] Teshub was also known for his conflict with the serpent Illuyanka.


The Hittite imperial boundaries encompassed a diverse geography, including expansive grassy plains, mountains, seacoast, river valleys, and desert. Their economy was based mainly on grain and shepherding, but they also possessed large deposits of silver, copper, and lead ore. They were adept metalworkers and among the earliest makers of iron.


The Hittites were apparently very competent at conducting sieges and assaulting cities that resisted. They were possibly the first to adopt the horse for pulling light two-wheeled chariots and made these vehicles a mainstay of their field armies. Egyptian engravings of the Battle of Kadesh show three men in Hittite chariots using spears, but other evidence suggests that the war vehicles carried only a driver and archer. Perhaps the chariot archer replaced the chariot javelin thrower. Whatever the case, Hittite chariot armies were feared by most of their contemporaries.

Hittite foot troops made extensive use of the powerful recurve bow and bronze tipped arrows. Surviving artwork depicts Hittite soldiers as stocky and bearded, wearing distinctive shoes with curled-up-toes. For close combat they used bronze daggers, lances, spears, sickle-shaped swords, and battle-axes. Soldiers carried bronze rectangular shields and wore bronze conical helmets with earflaps and a long extension down the back that protected the neck.

The Hittites, who were not historically inclined toward maritime affairs, were also forced to look to the sea with more interest at this time, perhaps as a result of the threat posed by an increase in coastal raiding particularly by the Sea Peoples in response to this the Hittites established an strong and powerful Hittite Navy it took part in the first naval battle in recorded history in 1210 BC, in which the Hittite navy was victorious over the Alashiyan Fleet, (Cypriots).


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_empires