Hittite Inventions & Technological Achievements

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.

The Hittites were one of the major powers of the ancient Near East and, as such, had to focus on military success, which they did through their invention of iron weapons and innovation with chariots. Read more about these innovations in this lesson.

Hittite Contributions

When you see movies depicting warfare in the ancient Near East, what are some common elements you notice? You probably have noticed—or at least remember seeing—that most of the soldiers are carrying iron weapons, or maybe that they are riding chariots into battle. These commonalities can be attributed, at least in part, to the Hittites, an ancient Near East group from the second millennium BCE. Despite the fact that many people have not heard of or know little about the Hittites, they were one of the major powers in the area during their time, alongside Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria.

Invention of Iron Weaponry

Iron weaponry and armor is something you might not have considered the origins of. Iron was not always used for warfare, however, because many ancient groups did not know how to refine iron ore to make it into a weapon. This credit is given to the Hittites who, by most accounts, were the first to make iron into weapons and armor, ushering in the Iron Age.

The Bronze Age

To understand the significance of this, we must first look back at the Bronze Age, which directly preceded the Iron Age and was named such because of the use of bronze for weapons, tools, armor, and so on. Bronze is an alloy metal, meaning it is a compound of other metals—in this case, copper and tin. Making bronze into weapons and armor requires some skill, of course, but not as much as iron work since bronze can be cold-hammered, or formed into something without heating the metal. You can imagine that, though it provided some protection and force, bronze did not make incredibly strong tools or armor.

The Iron Age

The use of iron made a huge change in warfare. The Hittites were skilled metallurgists, or people who study the properties and composition of metals, and had iron mines near the Black Sea on the northern part of the their kingdom. They discovered the strength of iron and how to make it into weapons and armor. They first smelted the ore, melting it into liquid form. Instead of just using a wood fire to smelt it, they used charcoal, which added carbon into the iron and made it even stronger. After pouring into in flat sheets or shapes, they used a technique previous unheard of and put the iron piece into the fire to soften the metal, then used a hammer to mold it.

Not only were these instruments stronger and sturdier, the blades were sharper as a result of the hammering. Iron was less expensive as well, so the Hittites were able to furnish their army with weapons and armor at a lesser cost and boost their economy by trading with surrounding nations who did not know how to work with iron.

Map of the Hittite empire with the Black Sea at the top
Map of the Hittite empire

Technological Advancements in Chariots

Chariots were common in the ancient world and were not created by the Hittites, but were redesigned by them for efficiency and speed. Chariots were typically two-wheeled vehicles pulled by horses (though other animals were sometimes used) with a carriage area for soldiers to ride in during battle, often carrying bows or spears. The Hittites followed this basic structure, though making the riding compartment bowed for more space by wetting the wood to make it pliable.

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