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Expeditions: Hattusas, Turkey, BAR 24:02, Mar-Apr 1998.

A Late Bronze Age City

HattusasLittle remains of magnificent ancient Hattusas, the seat of the great Hittite Empire during the middle of the second millennium B.C. The city was once protected by stone walls nearly four miles long, their gateways decorated with intricate relief carvings. The King’s Gate (photo above) bears an impressive regal-like carving—though this gate is misnamed, for the figure actually depicts a Hittite war god.

Among the Hattusas finds are documents and seals in the Hittite language, sinuous statues of deities and humans, incense burners and fine pottery. In addition to distinctive Hittite characteristics, these objects show the influences of Egypt, Assyria and the Aegean—a virtual map of the Hittite empire’s international reach. Also found near Hattusas are mysterious hieroglyphic rock inscriptions, which may date to before the Hittites borrowed Akkadian cuneiform from the Assyrians.

Birth of a Kingdom

Around 2300 B.C., proto-Hittite groups crossed the Bosporus into Anatolia, bringing with them a variety of Indo-European languages. Some of these groups gradually coalesced into the Old Hittite Kingdom (1680–1420 B.C.), with its capital at Hattusas. The second Old Kingdom ruler, Hattusili I, extended Hittite power from central Anatolia into northern Syria, conquering the important commercial city of Aleppo around 1600 B.C. Five years later, according to Hittite and Akkadian texts, Hattusili’s successor, Mursili I, floated down the Euphrates, sacked Babylon and put an end to the city’s First Dynasty. After Mursili’s death, political dissension crippled the kingdom; by the end of the 15th century B.C., the Hittite realm consisted of Hattusas and little else.

The Great Hittite Empire

A new Hittite dynasty, destined to become a major player in Near Eastern politics, arose in Hattusas around 1420 B.C. Under Suppiluliuma I (1350–1325 B.C.), the Hittites again expanded their influence southward, establishing Syria as a Hittite province. Here they came into conflict with Egypt—initiating a half-century-long test of diplomatic skill and military might. Suppiluliuma, hoping to forge dynastic bonds with Egypt, sent his son, Zannannzas, to marry the widow of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, but the prince was murdered en route to Egypt.

In the early 13th century B.C., tensions between the Hittites and Egypt were eased by a peace treaty signed by Suppiluliuma’s successor, Hattusili III, and Pharaoh Ramesses II. One copy of this treaty, in the Hittite language, is engraved in cuneiform script on tablets found near Hattusas; two other copies, in Egyptian hieroglyphics, are carved on walls in Thebes and Karnak. This period of détente was so successful that Hattusili visited Egypt, where his daughter was married to Ramesses II.

Decline and Fall

Hattusas’s halcyon days came to an end a century later. Once the capital of a great empire with influence from Babylon to Cyprus, it was burned to the ground in 1180 B.C.—perhaps by one of the Sea Peoples (tribes from the Aegean that settled the Levantine coast in the early 12th century B.C.). Assyrian records mention a number of small Iron Age (1200–586 B.C.) Neo-Hittite kingdoms in northern Syria and southern Anatolia; these kingdoms may have been formed by Hittites who fled south after the fall of Hattusas or by Hittite vassal kingdoms, such as Carchemish, that survived the onslaught of the Sea Peoples.

Hittites in the Bible

After Sarah’s death, Abraham travels to Hebron and pleads with the resident Hittites- “I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; sell me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead out of my sight” (Genesis 23-4). Ephron the Hittite then sells the patriarch a burial field and cave for 400 silver shekels. Biblical references to Hittites in southern Palestine—Esau marries two Hittite women, for example—remain a puzzle to scholars, though it is possible that after the fall of the Hittite Empire, bands of Hittites settled in southern Israel. Joshua’s reference to the territory between Lebanon and the upper Euphrates River as “the land of the Hittites” (Joshua 1-4), however, is supported by Assyrian records that mention the Neo-Hittite kingdoms.

How to Get There

Daily international flights to Istanbul, with connections to Ankara. By sea, ferry service from Italy, Greece and Turkish Cyprus. The ruins of Hattusas, near the modern-day village of Bogazkale, can be visited on a day’s excursion from Ankara. Rental cars and bus service available.

No visa required for American citizens. No vaccinations required. For more information, contact the Turkish Information Office, 1714 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 306, Washington, DC 20036; phone- (202) 429–9409, fax- (202) 429–5649.

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