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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Anatolia


Hittites / Hatti (Kheta) (South Indo-Europeans) (Bronze Age)

The Hittites were an Indo-European people who emerged into history circa 1800 BC, by which time they were in the process of conquering a new home for themselves. They had arrived in Anatolia as part of the South Indo-European group of at least three main divisions, which eventually emerged into history as the Palaic-speaking Pala, the Hittites, and the Luwians.

Their pre-Anatolian-speaking ancestors had divided from the main collective of Indo-Europeans by 3500 BC, and perhaps up to a millennium earlier. They most likely headed down through the Caucasus by following one of the coastal routes, either along the eastern coast of the Black Sea or the western coast of the Caspian Sea.

MapFrom there, following what may have been a period of cultural gestation in Europe's southern Caucasus region, the Hittite group is presumed to have headed due west towards the Near East's central Anatolia and the small city states of the Hatti. Once there they began fighting the Hatti people for dominance, revealing a level of militancy and possibly superior fighting numbers which made conquest preferable to subservience (see map link).

The Hittites must be clearly distinguished from the indigenous Hatti, the non-Indo-European people who already inhabited the region and who were probably direct descendants of the early farmer cultures in the region.

FeatureThey were conquered by the Hittites, who to all intents replaced them in their homeland, taking on their civilisation, gods, way of life, and elements of their language too (see feature link, right, for an examination of the origins of the Hittites). That process was not instantaneous though. Early Hittite kings bear what seem to be indigenous Anatolian names, hinting at a level of integration or temporary reverse dominance.

The early Hittites initially referred to themselves as Neshites (or Nessites, and their language as nešili), after the city of Kanesh which they conquered in the early eighteenth century BC. They were referred to as Hatti by their neighbours throughout their existence as a nation, and their state as 'The Land of the City of Hattusa', but this was largely down to their neighbours not being willing to distinguish between the indigenous Hatti and their conquerors. Egypt knew their land as Kheta (seemingly the same name but with a heavier accent).

The Hittites are also mentioned in the King James Bible, translating their name as 'Children of Heth', the son of Canaan. Equating the historical Hittites or the later neo-Hittite states with the Old Testament's Hittites is still a matter of contention, even though the use of the Biblical name to refer to the historical Hittites is now commonplace.

Central Anatolian mountains

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Horse The Wheel and Language: How Bronze Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC: Holy Warriors at the Dawn of History, William J Hamblin (Routledge, 2006), from Hittite Diplomatic Texts, Gary Beckman (Second Ed, Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1999), from The Kingdom of the Hittites, Trevor Bryce (1998), from The Hittites, O R Gurney (1991), from The Hittites, J G Macqueen (1996), from Hittite Prayers, Itamar Singer (Scholars Press, Atlanta, 2002), and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and A Brief History of Hattusha/Boğazköy (from Archive.today), and Proclamation of Anittas (Hittite Online, Linguistics Research Center, University of Texas at Austin), and Anatolian Conference abstracts, Emory University, and Linguistics Research Center (University of Texas at Austin), and The historical geography of north-central Anatolia in the Hittite period: texts and archaeology in concert, Roger Matthews & Claudia Glatz (Anatolian Studies Vol 59, 2009, pp 51-72, available via JSTOR), and The great king Zuzu of Alahzina ,the Goddess Allani and the Stormgods of Kussara and Alalaḫ, Joost Basweiler (available via Academia.edu).)

c.2300 BC

Some time after this point, Luwian-speakers settle in Anatolia, just to the south of the (probably indigenous) Hatti. The Luwians are Indo-Europeans of the South Indo-European group - generally agreed to have been the first to migrate out of the original Indo-European homeland to the north of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea.

The route they have taken in their migration is open to interpretation (and guesswork!), but a route through the Caucasus seems most likely, followed by a more easterly route around the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea. The Luwians form two major regional states, Arzawa and Kizzuwatna.

Map of proto-Anatolian migration 3000-2000 BC
This map attempts to illustrate in basic terms the separate paths taken by the Luwians, Hittites, and Pala during their westwards migration and their progress from proto-Anatolians to kingdom-builders (click or tap on map to view full sized)

FeatureAround the same time, 'barbarians from the north' are causing problems in cities within Syria, likely to be Luwians testing their defences (see feature link for more on early Syria). The Hittites, however, make no such appearance in written records for a further five hundred years or so.

During this time they most likely remain in whatever grazing lands their cattle occupy to the south of the Caucus Mountains. Why they remain behind for so long when the Luwians have found a new home is unknown.

Why they begin to move around the end of the nineteenth century BC so that they arrive in central Anatolia shortly after the beginning of the eighteenth century BC is equally unknown. Population increase and the need for fresh grazing land may be the best reasons. Or perhaps they are Luwians themselves, changed by association with the Hatti.

early 18th cent BC

Pithana / Pitkhana / Bithana

Tribal leader. Became king of Hatti Kussara and then Kanesh.

Pithana, the earliest-documented Hittite ruler, and his son rule their newly conquered domain in Anatolia from the unlocated city of Kussara. Pithana later conquers the Hatti city of Kanesh, centre of the Assyrian trading colonies in Anatolia, perhaps moving his capital there (and probably ending Assyrian trading there too).

Kültepe (ancient Kanesh)
The archaeological site of Kültepe (Kanesh, or 'Ash Hill' in Turkish) was first occupied in the Chalcolithic period (the Copper Age) but perhaps reached the height of its development between the twenty-first to eighteenth centuries BC

Neither Pithana nor Anitta bear Indo-European names, suggesting a degree of intermingling between the Indo-European Hittites and their immediate native Anatolian neighbours at some point in the last few centuries.

Have the Hittites been integrating themselves into eastern Hatti territory over the course of several generations, only now to make a grab for power? Pithana is the first of what is sometimes referred to in modern texts as the 'Kussaran clan', the rulers of Kussara down to Tudhaliya I.

mid-18th cent BC

Anitta / Anittas

Son. King of Kussara & Kanesh.

At the very start of his reign Anitta defeats Piyusti, king of Hatti. A second battle at the city of Salampa sees Piyusti defeated again.

He retreats and fortifies his capital at Hattousha (Hattusa), but Anitta storms and conquers it after famine has weakened the defenders. Anitta also attacks the city of Zalpa, recapturing the Kaneshan god and ending the threat from the north.

Next, Anitta turns his attention southwards and defeats the city of Salatiwara in two campaigns (which lies on a road connecting the kingdoms of Wahsusana and Purushanda). In the final stage of his campaigns, Anitta marches against the important city of Purushanda and the king surrenders without offering battle.

The city of Hattusa
The city of Hattusa seen from the southern fortifications, with the ruins of the huge temple of the storm god in the centre

With these victories he brings the entire valley of the River Kizil Irmak up to its mouth on the Black Sea under Hittite control. In composing a text celebrating the victory - the 'Proclamation of Anitta' (CTH 1) - Anitta creates the first Hittite inscriptions and the earliest-known Indo-European writings. Anitta's kingdom at Kussara collapses soon after his death, but his descendants remain based there for another century.


Son. At Kussara? May never have become king.

Zuzzu / Zuzu

Last ruler at Kanesh. 'Great King'.

Kanesh is destroyed around this time by a king of Salatiwara, perhaps at the end of Zuzzu's reign as 'great king' of Kanesh. Zuzzu's name, like those of his ancestors, Pithana and Anitta, is not Indo-European.

It seems to be an indigenous Anatolian name instead, showing either that the Hittites have been following non-Hittite leaders or that early Hittite and Hattian society has become integrated. Later Hittite names, though, are largely Indo-European.

The Kültepe tablets
The Kültepe tablets were written by Assyrian traders who were based at Kanesh between 1920-1740 BC, recording business transactions in the Old Assyrian dialect of Akkadian

This point represents the definitive end of the Assyrian trading colonies, with trade routes thoroughly disrupted by the recent chaos. Kanesh fades completely as the Hittites withdraw to Kussara, building a new state which becomes far more powerful during the 'Old Empire' period.

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