Hittite History - The Lost Empire - How The Hitties Were Found


The History of The Hittites

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For 3000 years the great Empire of the Hittites was lost to history. No myths or legends even suggested the Ancient Hittite Kigdom ever existed, yet 3000 years ago the Hittites built an Empire that rivalled and fought the mighty Egyptian Empire. The Hittite Kingdom was designed to last for ever but suddenly and mysteriously it vanished from the historical record.


The Lost Hittite Empire


In 1834 a French explorer called Charles Texier was searching in central Anatolia, Turkey, for a lost celtic city called Tavium and came across the ruins of a vast city with a gate with 2 lion statues, the style of which was unknown to him and was a bewildering mystery. Probably because his discovery had been in such a remote part of Anatolia, where no important civilisations could have lived, it was over looked. About the same time archaeological digs in the Middle East excavated cuneiform clay tablet fragments that hinted at a lost ancient empire. In 1887, excavations at Tell El-Amarna in Egypt uncovered the diplomatic correspondence of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and his son Akhenaton with references to the "land of Hatti” which was unknown to archaeologists. This led to a speculation that started to circulate the archaeological fraternity fueling a debate about a possible lost ancient empire the Middle East.


Photo of the Hittite releif sculpture on the Lion gate to the Hittite capital Hattusa 14 (Paul E Williams)
Photo of the Hittite releif sculpture on the Lion gate to the Hittite capital Hattusa 14. Photography by ©


Early historians of the ancient world wrote that it was ruled by three great empires, Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. Early archaeological explorations confirmed this as all three Empires had left behind fabulous archaeological evidence in the form of great cities, artefacts, treasure and hard to miss burial sites like the Pyramids. A clay tablet from the Assyrian colony of Kültepe (ancient Karum Kanesh) containing records of trade between Assyrian merchants and a certain "land of Hatti” caused more speculation about a fourth empire but, if it had existed why was there no archaeology evidence to support its existence. Archaeological Excavations at Aleppo and Hamath in Northern Syria excavated clay tablets written in an unknown hieroglyphic language. The script on a monument at Boğazköy by a "People of Hattusas”, discovered by William Wright in 1884, was found to match these peculiar hieroglyphic scripts.


Picture & image of a Hittite Monument with Heiroglyphics from Sultanhani near Kayseri, Turkey. Ereceted by the town ruler Wassume to the God Tarhui to ask for a good harvest from the vineyards & Orchards. At the end is a warning of damnation for anyone who damages the monument. Ancora Archaeological Museum. 11
Picture & image of a Hittite Monument with Heiroglyphics from Sultanhani near Kayseri, Turkey. Ereceted by the town ruler Wassume to the God Tarhui to ask for a good harvest from the vineyards & Orchards. At the end is a warning of damnation for anyone who damages the monument. Ancora Archaeological Museum. 11. Photography by ©


In 1905 Hugo Winckler, professor of Oriental languages at the University of Berlin, was one of those who believed that the unknown hieroglyphic language had to prove the existence of a fourth great civilisation and therefore possibly a fourth Great Ancient Empire. Winckler could read several ancient languages including Babylonian and Assyrian but he lacked a link to help him decipher the unknown heiroglyph language. Winckler asked his colleagues throughout the world to let him know if they found any other examples of unknown ancient Middle Eastern languages in the hope he might find a “Rosetta Stone” that would help him decipher the hieroglyphs.


The Discovery of Hattusa


Theodore Makridi, the curator of the Ottoman Museum in Istanbul, brought Winckler a cuneiform clay tablet that he could not translate and neither could Winckler. The plot thickened when it was revealed that the tablet had been excavated in the remote high mountains of Central Anatolia , an inhospitable area devoid of any known ancient civilisations. Winckler and Makridi headed off into the wilds of Anatolia to investigate the source of the tablet. As Winckler travelled deeper into the remote wilds of Anatolia he stared to doubt that a fourth great empire could have existed cut off in such an isolated place. And then, in the middle of nowhere, they came across the ruins of a massive gateway adorned with the two huge lion statues Texier had discovered. The style of the sculptures differed from any other art they had ever seen. The size of the gateway was massive and the quality of the craftsmanship was exemplary. Ruins of an ancient city wall ran either side of the gateway way into the distance. The thickness of the walls indicated the fortifications of a major city that could only have been built by a major civilisation. Through the gates lay the ruins of a vast city that stretched out before them for miles. This great city in the Anatolian mountains was so remote that it had been totally lost to history.


Photo of the Palace Walls to the Hittite capital Hattusa 3
Photo of the Palace Walls to the Hittite capital Hattusa 3. Photography by ©


Winckler and Makridi started a series of excavations amongst the ruins searching for any clues that would shed light on who had live there and if they were connected to the missing fourth Empire. Clay tablets in the illegible cuneiform language of the Hittites were excavated from across the site but as they could not be translated they shed no light on the inhabitants of the city. In 1906 Winckler discovered a tablet he could finally translate. Babylonian cuneiform was the diplomatic language of the ancient world and the tablet read, " the treaty which Ramesses the Great King of Egypt made with Hattusili, Great King, King of the Hatti, in order to establish a great peace and great brotherhood between them forever". Only the Kings of the Great Empires of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon were referred to as "Great Kings" and yet here in this peace treaty was named a fourth Great King, Hattusili King of the Hatti. The peace treaty was dated 1259BC and proved that the mysterious lost fourth Empire had been found.

It took 100 years to unravel the story of the Hittites and decipher two seemingly impenetrable languages one in hieroglyphs and the other cuneiform. The city Winckler had discovered was named Hattusa and its inhabitants the Hittites.

Archaeologists were mystified why the Hittites of Hattusa had built their capital in the such an inaccessible and remote place in the barren inhospitable mountains of Central Anatolia. The location of Hattusa was totally inappropriate for the capital of an Empire. Typically all ancient capitals were built on major cross roads and trading routes so they were connected easily to the rest of the known world. Hattusa on the other hand was snowed in during the winter, tucked away as it was from any major trading routes or rivers and over 250 miles from the sea.


Photo of the rconstruction to the Hittite capital Hattusa
Photo of the rconstruction to the Hittite capital Hattusa. Photography by ©


As archeologists began to discover more Hittite towns in equally inaccessible locations it became clear that the remoteness of the sites seemed to suit unknown Hittite ambitions. Hattusa was meticulously planned with massive fortifications to withstand any attack. The Hittites incorporated the inhospitable landscape into their defensive strategy building walls along sheer cliff tops and across ravines. Hattusa was enclosed by a massive 8 meter thick walls stretching more than 4 miles around the city. The foundations of the walls were strengthened so they could support 8 meter high fortifications with 13 meter high towers built every 12 meters. Inside the city an even thicker wall was built on high banks through which ran 8 hidden tunnels from which Hittite Soldiers could emerge to and ambush invaders. At the heart of the city on a hill stood a castle for the kings. It had its own massive defences and was accessed by a defended central passage which denied access to all but the most important. From this vantage point the Kings of Hattusa could look out across the city which was one of the wonders of the ancient world.


The Hittites were ingenious engineers running water into the city through pipes from the surrounding mountains. The water was stored in 7 vast underground cisterns, one of which was big enough to hold enough water for 10,000, of the 50,000 population of Hattusa, for a whole year. The scale of the innovative defences of Hattusa pointed to a people obsessed with defending itself and prepared for long sieges. But why bother to go to extreme lengths in this remote barren part of the Ancient world that none of the major Empires were interested in?

As excavations of Hattusa continued the sacred places of the city were discovered, with mythical figures carved into the rock, but the lack of every day objects, artefacts and treasure puzzled the archaeologists. It was as if the city had been emptied and abandoned.



Where Was The Ancient Hittite Empire?


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