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 Culture of the Hittites
Have you ever been around someone so much that you start acting, dressing, or talking like them? The culture of the Hittites, a major empire in the ancient Near East from about 1700–1200 BCE, is probably a result of something similar. The Egyptians neighbored them, as well as the Hatti, an indigenous people whom they conquered, and both groups probably had a tremendous impact on their culture.
The Hittites were a lost civilization for several thousand years, even considered fictional by many people until archaeological evidence was discovered in the late 19th century CE. Because of this, many details about the Hittites are incomplete or theorized—hence, ''seem'' and ''probably'' in discussing their lives—but we have a general picture of what their lives were like. Let's take a look into how the Hittites lived their day-to-day life.
Climate and Food
The food of the Hittites was like what you might find today in modern-day Turkey, the area where the Hittites lived. Since their empire included mountains in some areas, the banks of the Black Sea in others, and a large area in the desert, the climate ranged from cold and snowy to hot and dry. The range of food reflects this because of the variety of agricultural options. The Hittites ate everything from legumes, like lentils and chickpeas, to fruit, like pomegranates and figs. They grew many types of grains including wheat, which was usually made into bread, and barley, which was often made into beer. In addition to growing crops, the Hittites raised livestock, such as sheep, goats, and cows. They also appear to have eaten various wild animals, mostly deer—though they didn't hunt much. Agricultural success or failure was usually contributed to whether the gods—of which the Hittites had many since they were polytheistic—were appeased or angry with them.
Society and Marriage
The Hittites had a mostly patriarchal society that was ruled and run by men. The society was structured like a familial clan system, with a leader or patriarch who presided over a whole extended family. Even though men ran the country, however, it seems that royal women had some involvement in leadership. Women were also employed in artistic jobs being musicians, dancers, singers, weavers, and textile makers. They sometimes worked jobs in the field harvesting crops.
There was also a concept of loyalty to one's spouse among the lower-classes, as the society was largely monogamous except in the case of royal men who typically had multiple wives and concubines. Many women were just past puberty when they were married. Average families probably had a few children as well as some servants.
Work and Leisure
Hittite jobs and occupations spanned the usual range for the ancient Near East. Some men were upper-class and owned property, had roles in court, or were district leaders, though most were lower-class and were employed as craftsmen or agricultural workers. They performed their crafts—like leather working or carpentry—primarily for their household or wherever they were an indentured servant, but other times, they would perform their services to others in exchange for money or wares. Since the Hittites were the first to smelt iron into weapons, this craft was important for their economy as they traded it with other nations. It was traditional for a son to be trained in and take on his father's craft, so this inherited craft could be passed down for many generations.
The Hittites didn't work all the time but engaged in some leisure activities. Since few people were literate and video games weren't invented yet, the Hittites' leisure activities were mostly music and sports. In festivals, the Hittites sang and played a variety of instruments, including the harp and lyre. Sports were much like those of the Egyptians. The Hittites participated in boxing, archery, and both foot and chariot racing.
Most Hittite clothing was made from one of two materials: linen or wool. The Hittites used leather for clothing like belts or sashes. Belts and sashes, though, as well as short kilts and tunics with sleeves were items specific to men. Women, on the other hand, wore long robe or dress-like outfits, as well as a kuressar, or scarf, on their head. Both sexes wore an assortment of jewelry, however, as was standard in the ancient world.
One of the most interesting things about the Hittites is their language. It is related to English—very, very distantly. Both languages come from the Indo-European language family, which contains most every language you can think of—like German, Russian, Greek, and Spanish—all of which are related. The Hittite language goes much further back than English and is part of the Anatolian branch, which includes the languages of the area that is now modern-day Turkey.
In fact, the Hittite language was probably the first ever Indo-European language to be written down. The language was written using adapted letters from the Akkadian alphabet, just with different words and meanings. This is like learning Spanish when you know English or vice versa: both use the same alphabet with similar pronunciations but have a different vocabulary.
Day-to-day life for the Hittites was not much different from that of the rest of the ancient Near East. From what we can tell with the limited historical records and archaeological finds, Hittite culture was probably inherited from different cultures, like the Egyptians and the Hatti, an indigenous group whom they conquered. The Hittites probably had a diet composed of legumes, fruit, and grains, with some wild meat, like deer. The society was patriarchal, though some royal women would help their husbands rule. They had a typical range of jobs from being craftsmen to workers in the court, and their clothing varied based on their sex, with a woman wearing a long robe-like garment and a kuressar, or head scarf.
The language of the Hittites is quite interesting as it is an Indo-European language, unlike that of the Egyptians and other surrounding cultures. Particularly, the Hittite language is part of the Anatolian branch, which is native to the area of modern-day Turkey. They adapted the Akkadian alphabet for their language, using the pronunciation of it, but changing the vocabulary.
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