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History of the Hittite Empire

Joseph Comunale, Jessica Elam Miller
  • Author
    Joseph Comunale

    Joseph Comunale obtained a Bachelor's in Philosophy from UCF before becoming a high school science teacher for five years. He has taught Earth-Space Science and Integrated Science at a Title 1 School in Florida and has Professional Teacher's Certification for Earth-Space Science.

  • Instructor
    Jessica Elam Miller

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

Learn about the Hittite empire. Discover where did the Hittites live and explore the Hittite civilization. Learn about the fall of the Hittite empire. Updated: 04/06/2022

Hittites

The Bronze Age was a period of time in human history that lasted from around 3300 BCE to about 1150 BCE, and is characterized by the widespread use of bronze among multiple civilizations connected by trade. The Bronze Age is largely considered to have consisted of four main large civilizations or empires: the Myceneans (ancient Greece), the New Kingdom of Egypt, the Assyrians, and the Hittites. The purpose of this lesson is to focus on the Hittites. But who were the Hittites? Where did the Hittites live? And what makes the Hittites different than other Bronze Age civilizations?

First, a simple Hittites definition is the group of peoples within the Bronze Age civilization that occupied the region of Anatolia in modern-day Turkey from around 1700 BCE until 1190 BCE. What makes the Hittites different than other Bronze Age civilizations is their use of iron. The Hittite civilization was the first to have metallurgists develop and design the appropriate furnaces which could be brought to temperatures hot enough to melt iron ore; though iron artifacts are rare prior to the collapse of the Bronze Age.

Metallurgy is the skill and practice of working, and using metals, and extracting them from their ores. Bronze is made through the metallurgy of copper and tin, which both do not require temperatures as high as iron to extract from their ores. The Hittite culture generally contained skilled metallurgy, with both bronze and iron.

Where Did The Hittites Live?

As previously mentioned, the Hittites lived in Anatolia or the region that is modern-day Turkey. The Hittite empire likely spread from modern-day Istanbul and the entire southern coastline of the Black Sea down through Turkey, and to areas in middle Syria and northern Lebanon where the Hittites shared borders with the Egyptian Empire.


This map shows the expanse of the Hittite Civilization.

This map shows the region where Hittite people lived.


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.

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  • 0:00 Introduction to the Hittites
  • 0:33 The Hittites' Civilization
  • 2:08 Hittite History
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Hittite Civilization

What is known about the Hittite civilization comes from writings about them abundant in the ancient Hebrew Tanakh, and Old Testament, and from what remains of their writings written in the adopted style of cuneiform. Cuneiform is a style of writing that originated in Mesopotamia and involves the use of pressed wedge shapes into clay tablets. The Hittites adopted this form of writing when their Empire spread from Anatolia, south into modern-day Syria where they encountered the practice.

Additionally, the Hittites appear in the archeological evidence throughout Turkey such as excavations at Boghaskoy, or modern-day Bogazkale, which was once the site of the capital of the Hittite Empire - Hattusa. Hattusa was originally inhabited around 2500 BCE by a group of indigenous peoples and cultures of Anatolia, known as the Hatti and possibly Hurrian cultures. These two cultures may have been the basis of the early Hittite culture. However, archeological evidence also suggests that the city of Hattusa, which was previously established by the Hatti was invaded by the Hittites at the start of the empire's expansion around 1700 BCE. The Hittite capital is established by the Warrior-King Hattusili at the location of Hattusa around 1650 BCE, and the Hatti culture was absorbed by and assimilated into the Hittite culture.

As the Hittites developed, they became skilled at metallurgy and moved from using solely bronze to increasing the use and integration of iron, which began at least as far back as 1380 BCE. The Hittites eventually replaced their bronze weapons with iron ones. This put them at a great advantage on the battlefield not because iron is a superior alloy to bronze, but because of the rarity of tin. Though copper is abundant, tin is also required to make bronze. Tin mostly had to be imported into Anatolia from regions in modern-day Europe. Because iron was more abundant than tin, it provided the Hittites with more resources to increase the manufacture, and production of weapons and armor.

The skilled metallurgy of the Hittites also took part in the creation of another technology, they are known for abundantly using. The Hittites were known for using horse-drawn chariots in war. According to Hebrew texts, chariots were among some of the things the Hittites supplied to the Israelites in the Book of Kings.

Due to the expansion and military conquest and exploits of the Warrior-King Hattusili, the Hittites were made up of several tribes, which all spoke early Indo-European languages. The Hittites adopted the practice of cuneiform writing when the Warrior-King Hattusili expanded the empire into Syria. Hattusili brought Syrian scribes back to Anatolia to teach the Hittites. The clay cuneiform tablets that resulted from this cultural exchange now help historians and archeologists better understand the Hittite culture and its historical events.


A statue made by the culture of the Hittites.

A statue of a king or god from around 1600 BCE in the Hittite Empire.


Hittite Empire

The Hittite Empire can historically be divided into three kingdoms: the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom.

  • The Old Kingdom of the Hittites lasted from 1700 BCE to approximately 1500 BCE. This time period was established by the Warrior-King Hattusili, who was also known as Labarna.
  • The Middle Kingdom of the Hittite Empire lasted from 1500 BCE to 1400 BCE. Its beginning is marked by the end of the reign of the last monarch named Telepinu.
  • The New Kingdom of the Hittites lasted from 1400 BCE to the collapse of the empire in 1190 BCE. Its beginning is marked by kingship or monarchs becoming hereditary, and ends with the Bronze Age Collapse.

Old Kingdom

The Old Kingdom of the Hittite Empire began with the military expansion brought on by the ruler Hattusili, or Labarna. After Hattusili, another ruler named Mursili continued the military conquests. Mursili made conquests down the Euphrates River and sacked Babylon.

Mursili's continuation of military campaigns strained the resources of the Hittite Empire, and upon returning home Mursili was assassinated by his brother-in-law and son-in-law. The Hittite Empire began to experience a decline; the brother-in-law Hantili ruled for 30 years before also getting assassinated by his son. The Hittite kingship and position of the monarchy during the Old Kingdom were not as powerful as the position of the Pharaohs of Egypt who were considered to be living gods. Instead, issues of succession could become rivalries and civil wars. The monarch Telepinu followed after the sequence of assassinations and reigned until ~1500 BCE, which brought on the Middle Kingdom of the Hittite Empire.

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.

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Video Transcript

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.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who destroyed the Hittite empire?

The Hittite Empire was destroyed during the Bronze Age Collapse. The Assyrians sacked and burned the capital of the Hittite Empire in 1190 BCE. The Empire was also under attack by the Sea Peoples by boat, and the surrounding Kaska tribes from inland.

What were the Hittites known for?

The Hittites are known for their cultural expanse which reigned throughout the Bronze Age in Anatolia. The Hittites were the first civilization to begin to widely work with and use iron. Iron metallurgy from the Hittites eventually brought on the Iron Age after the Bronze Age Collapse.

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