The Hittite arrival in Anatolia, perhaps as early as 2300b.c.e., coincided with that of less powerful Indo-Europeans, including the Luwians and the Palaians, and with that of the Indo-Europeans who made their way into India and Iran to the east.
The Hittites established an empire at Hattusa in north-central Anatolia around 1600 BCE. This empire reached its height during the mid-14th century BCE under Suppiluliuma I, when it encompassed an area that included most of Asia Minor as well as parts of the northern Levant and Upper Mesopotamia.
The Hittites quickly adapted their language to the cuneiform script learned, presumably, from the Mesopotamians, and Hittite remained the dominant language of Anatolia during the second millennium.
The Hittite language was a member of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family. They referred to their native land as Hatti, but despite the use of Hatti for their core territory, the Hittites should be distinguished from the Hattians, an earlier people who inhabited the same region (until the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC) and spoke a language possibly in the Northwest Caucasian languages group known as Hattic. The conventional name “Hittites” is due to their initial identification with the Biblical Hittites in 19th century archaeology.
The Hittites used Mesopotamian cuneiform letters. Archaeological expeditions to Hattusa have discovered entire sets of royal archives in cuneiform tablets, written either in the Semitic Mesopotamian Akkadian language of Assyria and Babylonia, the diplomatic language of the time, or in the various dialects of the Hittite confederation.
Before the discoveries, the only source of information about Hittites had been the Old Testament. Francis William Newman expressed the critical view, common in the early 19th Century, that, if the Hittites existed at all, “no Hittite king could have compared in power to the King of Judah…”.
As archaeological discoveries revealed the scale of the Hittite kingdom in the second half of the 19th Century, Archibald Henry Sayce postulated, rather than to be compared to Judah, the Anatolian civilization “[was] worthy of comparison to the divided Kingdom of Egypt”, and was “infinitely more powerful than that of Judah”.
Sayce and other scholars also mention that Judah and the Hittites were never enemies in the Hebrew texts; in the Book of Kings, they supplied the Israelites with cedar, chariots, and horses, as well as being a friend and allied to Abraham in the Book of Genesis.
The first archaeological evidence for the Hittites appeared in tablets found at the Assyrian colony of Kültepe (ancient Karum Kanesh), containing records of trade between Assyrian merchants and a certain “land of Hatti”. Some names in the tablets were neither Hattic nor Assyrian, but clearly Indo-European.
The script on a monument at Boğazköy by a “People of Hattusas” discovered by William Wright in 1884 was found to match peculiar hieroglyphic scripts from Aleppo and Hamath in Northern Syria. In 1887, excavations at Tell El-Amarna in Egypt uncovered the diplomatic correspondence of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and his son Akhenaton.
Two of the letters from a “kingdom of Kheta”—apparently located in the same general region as the Mesopotamian references to “land of Hatti”—were written in standard Akkadian cuneiform script, but in an unknown language; although scholars could read it, no one could understand it.
Shortly after this, Archibald Sayce proposed that Hatti or Khatti in Anatolia was identical with the “kingdom of Kheta” mentioned in these Egyptian texts, as well as with the biblical Hittites. Others, such as Max Müller, agreed that Khatti was probably Kheta, but proposed connecting it with Biblical Kittim, rather than with the “Children of Heth”.
Sayce’s identification came to be widely accepted over the course of the early 20th century; and the name “Hittite” has become attached to the civilization uncovered at Boğazköy. During sporadic excavations at Boğazköy (Hattusa) that began in 1906, the archaeologist Hugo Winckler found a royal archive with 10,000 tablets, inscribed in cuneiform Akkadian and the same unknown language as the Egyptian letters from Kheta – thus confirming the identity of the two names. He also proved that the ruins at Boğazköy were the remains of the capital of an empire that, at one point, controlled northern Syria.
Under the direction of the German Archaeological Institute, excavations at Hattusa have been underway since 1907, with interruptions during both wars. Kültepe was successfully excavated by Professor Tahsin Özgüç from 1948 until his death in 2005. Smaller scale excavations have also been carried out in the immediate surroundings of Hattusa, including the rock sanctuary of Yazılıkaya, which contains numerous rock-cut reliefs portraying the Hittite rulers and the gods of the Hittite pantheon.
Most of the narratives embodying Hittite mythology are lost, and the elements that would give a balanced view of Hittite religion are lacking among the tablets recovered at the Hittite capital Hattusa and other Hittite sites: “there are no canonical scriptures, no theological disquisitions or discourses, no aids to private devotion”.
Some religious documents formed part of the corpus with which young scribes were trained, and have survived, most of them dating from the last several decades before the final burning of the sites.
The scribes in the royal administration, some of whose archives survive, were a bureaucracy, organizing and maintaining royal responsibilities in areas that would be considered part of religion today: temple organization, cultic administration and reports of diviners make up the main body of surviving texts.
The understanding of Hittite mythology depends on readings of surviving stone carvings, deciphering of the iconology represented in seal stones, interpreting ground plans of temples: additionally, there are a few images of deities, for the Hittites often worshipped their gods through Huwasi stones, which represented deities and were treated as sacred objects. Gods were often depicted standing on the backs of their respective beasts, or may have been identifiable in their animal form.
The population of the Indo-European-speaking Hittite Empire in Anatolia included a large population of Hurrians, who were neither Indo-European nor Semitic, and there is significant Hurrian influence in Hittite mythology. By the Early Iron Age, the Hurrians had been assimilated with other peoples, except perhaps in the kingdom of Urartu.
During the Middle Kingdom, between 1500 and 1380b.c.e., however, Hattusa was ruled by kings with Hurrian names. That fact suggests possible conquest by the Hurrian Kingdom of Mitanni, southwest of Lake Van in what is now the Kurdish area where Syria, Turkey, and Iraq meet. The Mitanni Hurrians (also known as Naharin), with their capital at Wassukkani, were themselves ruled by an Indo-Aryan aristocracy with some allegiance to Indian deities.
The Hurrians had moved into Mesopotamia and what is now Syria at about the time of the Hittite arrival in Anatolia. By the middle of the millennium they had established major centers at Nuzi in the eastern Tigris region and Alalakh in northern Syria, and by late in the millennium there was an important Hurrian presence and influence in Canaanite Ugarit.
The Hittites were progressive rulers in the sense that they accepted the languages, religions, and other cultural traditions that existed in the lands they conquered. From the Hattians and other neighbors, the Hurrians, they borrowed and assimilated so much of both language and religion that it is almost necessary to speak of Hattian, Hurrian, and Hittite mythology as a combined entity.
The mythology of pre-Greek and pre- Islamic Anatolia, then, is an amalgamation of the pantheons and sacred stories of the Hattians, the Hittites, and the Hurrians. Other Mesopotamian mythic material and Canaanite stories also found their way into Anatolian mythology by way of the Hurrians.
The religiously tolerant Hittites attempted to make sense of the many deities that they accepted into their official pantheon. Near the Hittite capital of Hattusa, at a place called Yazilikaya, is a second-millennium b.c.e. open stone gallery in which a procession of gods and goddesses is carved. These are the “Thousand Gods of Hatti,” a collection of old Hattian, Hittite, and Hurrian divinities, many identified in a hieroglyphic script developed by the Luwians.
The deities assimilated by the Hittites from the indigenous Hattians are somewhat unclear to modern scholars because of our still scant knowledge of the Hattic language. The Hattian pantheon seems to have been at first a collection of personifications of aspects of nature, such as Estan (“Sun” or “Day”) and Kasku (“Moon”), and expressions of life forces represented by mother goddesses (Kattahha; Hannahanna, meaning “Grandmother”; Kubaba; and Wurusemu), king–war gods (Wurrunkatte, Zababa, and Kattishabi), and a storm-weather god (Taru).
Later deities derived in part from the Hurrians were, for the most part, more endowed with human characteristics, not always noble ones, than those of the Hattians and old Hittites, and were clearly influenced by Mesopotamian deities.
The old Hattian mother goddess, with roots at least as deep as the concept of the great goddess depicted in nearby Neolithic çatal Hüyük, was the source of life and a natural mate for the Anatolian weather-storm god, himself a close mythical relative of Zeus, Indra, Thor, and other familiar Indo- European sky gods, perhaps especially those of Eastern Europe. An important function of the storm god was to constantly fight to retain his power at the top of the pantheon. In this aspect also he resembles other Indo-European high gods and storm gods.
In their specifically Hittite form, the high god and the great goddess became the sun goddess of Arina—originally Estan, later Hebat among the Hurrians—and the weather god of Hatti, sometimes called Taru in Old Hatti, Tarhunna among the Hittites, and Teshub (Tessub, Tesup) by the Hurrians. The high god, whatever his name, was symbolized, like so many Middle Eastern high gods, by the bull. His consort was always a mother goddess such as Wurusema, the wife of the Hattic Taru. At Hattusa, the weather god was the city deity.
The sun goddess at first seems to have shared that honor as his consort. The patriarchal Hittites and Hurrians thought of the sun as male, however, and under them there was a definite moving away from the old Hattic understanding. The Hittites referred to “Our God Siu” (same root as Zeus, meaning “Light of Heaven”), and the Hurrians worshipped the sun as the male Simigi.
Still, the sun goddess of Arina, syncrenetized by the middle of the second millennium with the Hurrian Hebat, the “Queen of Heaven,” clearly leads the procession of goddesses at Yazilikaya and might possibly have been differentiated from the male sun god by being designated a sun goddess of the underworld, an aspect supported by the Hurrian-Hittite assimilation of the Babylonian Allata or Allatum (Inanna’s underworld sister, Ereshkigal) as the underworld sun goddess Allani.
Certainly, in the Old Kingdom, the sun goddess was the Anatolian mother of fertility. If her ancestor was the goddess of çatal Hüyük, her Anatolian descendants were the great Phrygian goddess Cybele, the mother of the sacrificed Attis, and the famous many- breasted Artemis of Ephesus.
The mother goddess and the storm god had two daughters: Mezulla, who served as an intermediary between the human and divine worlds, and Inara, who was enlisted by her father to help in his struggle against the chaotic forces who would overthrow him.
Another Hurrian-Hittite goddess of importance was Sausga, a mythological relative of Inanna/Ishtar in Mesopotamia. Sausga was both a warrior and a love goddess. Like Devi as Parvati in India, she had aspects of fertility, as well as of destruction, like Devi-Kali.
A goddess of magical powers was Kamrusepa, a deity of Luwian origin, who among the Hattians was Kattahziwuri and who was associated with curing spells and with the myth of the disappearing god—a myth that had many versions in Hittite-Hurrian mythology, the most important of which was the story of Telipinu.
Myths of original—pre-pantheonic—deities are present in the Hittite-Hurrian canon. The Hurrians probably equated these primeval deities with the Mesopotamian Anunnaki. They included some familiar Sumero-Babylonian gods—Anu and Enlil, for instance—and were cast aside by the weather-storm god and his associates.
As in Greece, where Zeus emerged from an ancient struggle involving first Ouranos and then Kronos, the Hittite-Hurrian weather god was the end product of a process by which the original father god Alalu was overthrown by his servant or son Anu, and Anu was defeated by his son Kumarbi, who gives his name to a whole cycle of war-in-Heaven myths known as the Kumarbi cycle.
The Kumarbi cycle and the Illuyanka cycle, a series of stories about the storm god and the monstrous serpent Illuyanka, provide us with the few indications we have of Hittite-Hurrian myths of creation. Both of these myth cycles are concerned with the struggle between order and chaos that is at the center of most creation myths.0195156692.hittite-hurrian-mythology.1.tifAn eighth-century BCE. brass votive plate from Turkey thought to depict Teshub, the Hurrian storm or weather god.
The so-called Old Hittite Kingdom was centered in Hattusa (near modern Bogazköy) and by the middle of the millennium, the kingdom had formed an empire of all of Anatolia and much of Mesopotamia. Although belonging to the Bronze Age, they were the forerunners of the Iron Age, developing the manufacture of iron artifacts from as early as the 14th century BCE, when letters to foreign rulers reveal the latter’s demand for iron goods.
The Hittite military made successful use of chariots. In the mid-fourteenth century bce. Hittite kings retook the throne in Hattusa, beginning the Early Empire period, and soon conquered the Mitanni Hurrians and established control over much of the Hurrian Empire in Mesopotamia and Syria.
The Hittites had always been a warlike people who both traded and fought over the centuries with their neighbors, the Hurrians and Assyrians, but also with the Babylonians and, especially, the Egyptians to the south. The Egyptians considered them barbarians who, toward the end of the millennium, stood in the way of their imperial advance to the north and east.
In 1300 the armies of the Hittites and the Egyptians fought to a draw near Kadesh, and eventually a treaty between Ramses II and Hattusili III was solidified by the marriage between the Egyptian pharaoh and Hattusili’s daughter.
After 1180 BC, amid general turmoil in the Levant associated with the sudden arrival of the Sea Peoples, the kingdom disintegrated into several independent “Neo-Hittite” city-states, some of which survived until as late as the 8th century BCE. The history of the Hittite civilization is known mostly from cuneiform texts found in the area of their kingdom, and from diplomatic and commercial correspondence found in various archives in Egypt and the Middle East.