The Hittites: Civilization, History & Definition

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  • 0:00 Introduction to the Hittites
  • 0:33 The Hittites' Civilization
  • 2:08 Hittite History
  • 4:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

This lesson will explore the history of the Indo-European group known as the Hittites. The Hittites began as a group of tribes sharing a common language and land. They unified as a single empire to become a major competitor in the quest for land and resources.

Introduction to the Hittites

Have you ever wondered where the term Iron Age comes from? The Iron Age began when iron replaced bronze as the most popular metal used for weapons. This was the accomplishment of a group of people known as the Hittites. The Hittites were an ancient people from the area that is today Turkey. They monopolized ironwork until the fall of their empire when they were forced to spread to other areas. The Hittites can attribute much of their success to their adeptness for metallurgy. Metallurgy is the use of metals and the science of separating metals from their ores.

The Hittites' Civilization

The Hittites developed new techniques for using iron around 1500 BC. Up until this time, weapons were generally made from bronze. Bronze is harder and heavier than iron. The use of iron weapons, which remained unique to the Hittites, helped create successful military campaigns. After the fall of the Hittite empire, ironsmiths migrated into many areas, taking with them their knowledge of ironwork. Iron weapons popularized by Hittites were used until Imperial times.

Another reason the Hittites were successful in battle was their use of light chariots. The chariots they used were powered by two horses. They were fast and narrow enough to fit onto small roads and paths.

The Hittites may have first occupied Anatolia in the 17th century BC. The Hittites were made up of several tribes who spoke Indo-European languages. Hattusilis, who was a priest and a king, established the Hittite capital at Bogazkoy in the 17th century. The city was set on a steep slope and contained at least five great temples.

Map of Hittite Land
Hittite Map

Hattusilis aspired to build an empire. He pushed his military forces to the Mediterranean Sea and also into northern areas of Syria. Hattusilis brought scribes from Syria. These were people who could write documents in cuneiform. Cuneiform is an ancient form of writing using wedge shapes. Cuneiform tablets are one of the best sources for studying Hittites. Hattusilis had the scribes brought in after military expansion to teach the Hittites the writing system. Thanks to Hastusillis's ambitious military actions, there is a better understanding of the culture and major events of the Hittites.

Hittite History

Hittite history is generally divided into two major time periods: the Old Kingdom (1700-1500 BC) and the New Kingdom (1400-1180 BC). Sometimes included is an obscure period referred to as the Middle Kingdom (1500-1400 BC).

The Old Kingdom was established by a ruler named Labarna. The aim of the rulers of this time was to gain control and consolidate the various groups of Hittites into a singular kingdom. The Old Kingdom came to an end with the death of its late ruler, Telipinus. Telipinus wrote in a proclamation that held solid control and peace within his kingdom.

In Hittite history, the time from 1500-1400 BC is a time referred to as the Middle Kingdom. Very few records have been found in this century after Telipinus's reign ended in 1500 BC. One reason documents may be scarce is because the Hittites were likely under attack constantly. Many researchers look to the Old and New Kingdoms for answers because of the obscurity of the Middle Kingdom.

However, one important occurrence during this time was an alliance formed with Egypt. The alliance soon faltered as Egypt allied itself with a new enemy of the Hittites: the Mitanni.

Peace Treaty between Hittites and Egyptians
Hittite-Egyptian Peace Treaty

The New Kingdom is sometimes called the Hittite Empire period. It was during this time period that the kingship became hereditary, meaning kingship was passed down or acquired from parent to offspring. Kings began acting as high priests for the kingdom, and were seen as godlike.

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