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May/June 2004 · Historically Speaking29 Rediscovering the Ancient Hittites Trevor Bryce THE CHIEF WARRIORS anddignitaries ofthe land have been summoned to hear their master's final instructions. On the couch before them the Great King lies, once the mightiest warrior ofthe age, now afeeble old man whose last hour is at hand. Hehas one more importanttask toperform— the announcement ofa new heir to the throne. Treachery anddisloyalty have ruledoutallprevious candidates. His own sons, even his beloved daughter, have rebelled against him. Now the favorednephew, recentlygroomedto occupy his uncle's throne, hasprovedunfitfor kingship. "Thisyouth was an abomination to the sight(P); he was without compassion; he was coldandpitiless!" Repudiating theyoung man, the kingproclaims a newsuccessor . It isfor thispurpose that his chiefwarriors and dignitaries have been summoned. Theperson so soon to wearthe royal mantle is the king'sgrandson . He is stilla child. But the oldman is left with no other choice. He now gathers his last reserves of strength to command those assembled around his deathbed to nurture, guide, instruct, andprotect their new lord until he has reached an age where he can assumefully the responsibilities ofkingship. His task completed, the dying kingseeL·finalcomfort in the embrace ofa woman, perhaps a daughter , perhaps afavorite concubine: "Do notforsake me, " he whispers to her. "Hold me to your bosom. Keep mefrom the earth. " This scene was played out some 3,600 years ago, in a city called Kussara, ancestral home of the dynasty that ruled the Hittite world for almost half a millennium, in the period we call the Late Bronze Age (17th-12th centuries B.C.E). The man on his deathbed was Hattusili I, the king who established Hattusa in central Turkey as the capital of an empire which became for a time the supreme power in the ancient Near East. But decline and fall were inevitable. In the early decades of the 12th century, this mighty empire collapsed and disappeared, the Hittites leaving no trace of their existence beyond a handful of passing references in the Bible. Ironically, most of these references portray them as but one of a number of small Canaanite tribes inhabiting the hill country of Palestine during the early centuries of the 1st millennium B.C.E. This is the image that the name "Hittite" most commonly conjures up today. But the biblical Hittites have little if any connection with the Bronze Age kingdom which at the height of its power in the 14th and 13th centuries covered a vast region, from the western coast of Turkey across northern Syria to the lands lying east of the Euphrates.1 The story of the Hittites' rediscovery began some 170 years ago. In 1834 the French explorer-adventurer Charles Texier came upon the ruins of a large ancient city some 150 kilometers east ofmodern Ankara. Nearby was an outcrop ofrock embellished with reliefs of mysterious figures in strange garb. Some ofthe reliefs were accompanied by inscriptions in a hitherto unknown and totallyunintelligible script. Fortyyears later, in 1876, the British scholarArchibald Henry Sayce delivered a lecture in London to the Society of Biblical Archaeology in which he claimed that this script belonged to the Hittite people. Far from being a small Canaanite tribe, he declared, the Hittites were once the overlords ofaverylarge part ofthe Near Eastern world. In the first decade ofthe 20th century excavations conducted by the German archaeologistHugo Winckler on the site ofTexier's mysterious cityprovided proofthat it was the capital of the land of Hatti, the kingdom ofthe Hittites. To their capital the Hittites gave the name Hattusa. The outcrop of rock lying close by was an open-air religious sanctuary, perhaps the most important sanctuary in the Hittite world and today known by its Turkish name Yazihkaya ("inscribed rock"). The key to identifying the capital was provided by a tablet inscribed with the cuneiform script and written inAkkadian, the international language of diplomacy in the Late Bronze Age. It proved to be the Hittite version ofa treatydrawn up with the pharaoh Ramesses ?, and its discovery on the site of Winckler's excavations left no doubt that this site was indeed the seat of Hittite power. Many other tablets found on the site were also written in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 29-32
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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