History of Hattusa, Capital of the Hittite Empire

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has been an adjunct professor of religion at Western Kentucky University for six years. They have a master's degree in religious studies from Western Kentucky University and a bachelor's degree in English literature and religious studies from Western Kentucky University.

The Hittites, an ancient civilization that rivaled Egypt and Assyria, cursed, conquered, destroyed, and rebuilt the city-state of Hattusa in modern-day Turkey. Read this lesson to learn more about the complex history of Hattusa and its importance to Hittite culture.

The Hittite Empire

Perhaps you have heard of the legend of the lost city of Atlantis, a splendid city on an island that eventually sunk into the ocean never to be seen again. The Hittite empire was much like this for thousands of years. It was a major ancient power for about 500 years, from around 1700-1200 BCE, alongside Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia. Though the empire was mentioned in the Hebrew Bible of the Israelites and the Amarna Letters, which had a correspondence between the Egyptian pharaohs and other nations, most people thought the Hittites were fictitious until archaeological evidence was found in the 19th century CE that showed they not only existed, but were a major empire of the Ancient Near East. At the height of their empire, the Hittites ruled over most of what is now modern-day Turkey.

Map of the Hittite Empire with Hattusa represented by the yellow dot
Map of the Hittite Empire

The Building and Overtaking of Hattusa

Because evidence about the Hittites was found relatively recently, many things are unclear about who they were and where they came from. About a thousand years before the Hittites became a major power, an indigenous group called the Hatti inhabited the area of modern-day northern central Turkey. They built a small city-state named Hattusa in the area they called the ''land of the Hatti.'' Despite attacks by the Akkadians under the rule of the famous Sargon the Akkad, the Hatti still kept their city-state strong.

However, after maintaining Hattusa for nearly a millennium, the Hatti had trouble with the neighboring city-state of Kussara. Kussara seems to be the origin place of the Hittites, whether before or after they overtook Hattusa. Regardless of their origins, their king, Anitta, decided to lay siege to Hattusa and eventually captured the city-state and drove the Hatti away. Anitta decided, instead of just laying claim to the property, to burn the city to the ground and curse it, writing there, ''Should any king after me attempt to resettle Hattusa, may the weather god of heaven strike him down.'' This event marked the beginning of the Hittite Old Kingdom.

Hattusa: Capital of the Hittite Empire

Despite Anitta's curse, another king from Kussara decided to rebuild the city. His name was Hattusili I. Notice the similarity to the city name? His name literally means ''one from Hattusa'' and most scholars think he changed his name upon rebuilding the city to lay claim to it as his capital. Hattusili I was responsible for founding the Hittite Empire with its capital at Hattusa. As the capital of the empire, the succession of kings resided there. However, there was much political turmoil with successors killing their predecessors and others usurping the throne. The Hittite empire went into a ''dark age'' before reemerging as the New Kingdom under the rule of Tudhaliya I.

Destruction, Abandonment, and Reconstruction

Around the 14th century BCE, the city of Hattusa was attacked and destroyed by a group called the Kaskas who lived in the Kaskan mountains in the north. The king was forced to abandon his city. Under Suppiluliuma I, Hattusa was rebuilt. The Hittites strengthened their empire and used Hattusa as a place of welcome to allow people to pay tribute and even used the reception hall to host visitors from neighboring nations of Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria. In comparison to other nations' cities, however, Hattusa seemed lackluster, so the royal seat was moved to another city.

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