Hittite Government, Laws & Economy

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

Did you know that the Hittite empire was the first civilization to have a constitutional monarchy, where the king did not have absolute power? Learn more about this Hittite government as well as their laws and economy in this lesson.

Hittite Government

In the ancient world, rulers were often left with too much power, leading to terrible consequences for their citizens. The Hittite empire began this way with the king having control over all facets of life, earning the title of the ''Great King.'' At some point, probably in the change from the Old to the New Kingdom, the Hittite monarchy changed to a constitutional monarchy, or a government with a main ruler who has constraints to his/her power through a constitution. Scholars actually think that the Hittites had the first constitutional monarchy in the world!

Because the king was not the sole authority, he had nobility to whom he delegated duties. This group was called the Panku, or ''Assembly,'' and acted in taking care of legal matters, mostly. While most reported to the king, some scholars think that other members of the Panku did not. While the Panku was intended to be a type of judicial court, they frequently acted in opposition to the king in ''electing'' a new king from among their sons since there was no clear line of succession. This led to a major problem with violence and a history of regicide until, finally, in the late 16th to early 15th centuries BCE, King Telipinus created an edict to give rules for who would inherit the throne when the previous king died. While women did not typically have major roles in the society, the queen helped her husband rule the empire as well.

In addition to the Panku, the king presided over many cities and town which each had its own leader who reported to the king. Conquered cities would usually be set up as semi-autonomous city-states. The ruler would be established as a vassal, or subordinate land-owner, to the king and would pay tribute to the king in exchange for protection for the city-state and help in keeping the leadership of it in his family.

Hittite Laws

The Hittite empire was quite well-developed and had a well-established law code, even having distinctions between accidental and intentional breaches of law. As we have already seen, the Panku acted as the judges in many cases while only severe cases required taking the case to the king. Among these cases was, perhaps surprisingly, sorcery. However, murder was not punishable by law, simply because the Hittites did not think there was a way to prevent it, so they let families decided on the punishment within their family unit.

So what type of laws did the Hittites have? Some have actually been preserved on clay tablets. Most laws deal with civil and criminal issues, such as revenge, theft, and retribution. Most of the laws are causative laws, which are laws that set up a cause-and-effect situation. For example, one law states, ''If anyone causes a female slave to miscarry, if it is her tenth month, he shall pay 5 shekels of silver.'' The laws are set up as ''if...then'' statements to describe the consequences.

Though the Hittites still had slaves, they provided slightly better treatment than other nations by treating them as humans, though of a lesser sort. The death penalty was not incredibly common, though some actions—like bestiality, sorcery, and incest—resulted in it. Except for the king, polygamy was outlawed. Over time, as the civilization developed, the punishments changed, typically becoming less severe.

Hittite law tablet
Hittite law tablet

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