In 1595 BCE, a mysterious new army struck Babylon without warning, spreading terror throughout the city. These warriors would cross the ancient Near East, destroying anything in their way with ruthless efficiency. In a time of war and conquest, they were the mightiest military power of their age. They were the Hittites, a warlike civilization that rose in central Anatolia from the capital city of Hattusa. At its height from around 1400 to 1200 BCE, the Hittite empire extended over a wide area of modern day Turkey and northern Syria.
Hattusa was different from the other major cities of the ancient Near East in one major respect: it was landlocked and not located on a major river. At first glance, such a situation may seem like a liability, which it was in terms of trade, but for the most part its central position meant that the Hittites could move their armies more efficiently from one theater of operations to another (Macqueen 2003, 56). As a landlocked capital, Hattusa was also safe from naval attacks from other kingdoms, so if the Hittites' enemies wanted to invade their capital, they would have to trek through the middle of the kingdom to get there, which was most unlikely. As Hittite power grew during the Old Kingdom, the royal city of Hattusa became more important and even wealthier. From his citadel overlooking Hattusa, Hattusili I launched the first major Hittite attacks into the Near East, first conquering the cities between Hattusa and the Mediterranean (Macqueen 2003, 36).
The Hittites’ mission was to become the greatest empire the world had ever seen, yet once they had succeeded, this ruthless army and the vast empire it had created simply disappeared as mysteriously as it had emerged. The Hittites imposed themselves upon the mountains of central Anatolia, where they built the capital city of Hattusa, intending for it to last forever, but it was so remote that no other great civilization settled in the same location thereafter. As there was no one else to pass on the Hittites' great myths and legends, their history died with their exodus from the capital in 1200 BCE. Over time, the stones of Hattusa were buried, and its name was forgotten.
For 3,000 years, all traces of the Hittites and their capital city were lost, from the history books to myths and legends, until, one by one, fragments from their lost world began to emerge. The rediscovery of this civilization through its texts and material remains represents one of the major achievements of archaeology in the 20th century. These tantalizing remains have opened up a world of mysteries and secret codes, a fortress city built to last forever, an unstoppable war machine, and a mighty empire that at one point was greater than the contemporary one in Egypt.
Even today, after all the research that’s been done, when compared to some of their contemporaries – including the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians – the Hittites are considered somewhat distant both culturally and geographically. The Hittites were an Indo-European speaking people in an ocean of Afro-Asiatic and Semitic groups, their homeland was to the north of Mesopotamia, and it contained no major river like the Nile, Tigris, or Euphrates Rivers. The Hittite empire was also far less enduring than its neighbors, considerably shorter than most of the other major kingdoms of the Near East.
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