Indo-European people from central Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) who controlled Asia Minor from the eighteenth to the twelfth centuries B.C.E. Hittite history falls into three major periods: the Old Hittite Kingdom (ca. 1700–1500 B.C.E.), the Middle Hittite Kingdom (ca. 1500–1430 B.C.E.), and the New Hittite Kingdom or Empire (ca. 1430–1180 B.C.E.).
The first Hittite king whose name appears in the historical record is Hattusilis I (r. ca. 1650–ca. 1620 B.C.E.) who expanded his realm into Syria and conquered Babylon, ending the rule of the descendants of the famed king Hammurabi (r. 1792–1750 B.C.E). Success was short-lived, however, and by 1595 B.C.E., struggles within the ruling family weakened Hittite authority over their vast domains. Some 70 years later, Telipinus (r. ca. 1525–ca. 1500 B.C.E.) assumed the throne and restored order. A proclamation issued by Telipinus is one of the few documents still existing from this period of Hittite history. Beginning in 1430 B.C.E., a series of kings extended the empire to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and south to the Egyptian border.
The Hittites were known for the making and selling of iron tools and weapons, which formed a vital part of their economy. The trade in metal goods brought the Hittites into contact with a wide variety of people from whom they borrowed elements of other people's cultures. For example, although they spoke a native tongue, tablets uncovered at Bogazkoy in modern-day Turkey in 1905 revealed that the Hittites wrote in Akkadian cuneiform. The Hittites adopted much of Babylonian culture, including King Hammurabi's Code of Law, as well as the idea of a
king who was both warrior and high priest. They accepted the Babylonian gods but, unlike the Babylonians, were tolerant of other faiths. The Hittites allowed their subjects to worship the gods of their own choosing, and conquered peoples were allowed to keep their own cultural practices and languages.
Control over trade routes and sources of metal ores eventually led to conflict between Hittite and Egyptian rulers. In 1274 B.C.E., Egyptian forces under Rameses II, the Great (r. ca. 1279–ca. 1213 B.C.E.), met the Hittite army of Muwatallis (1320–1294 B.C.E.) in the largest chariot battle to date at Kadesh on the Orontes River, in modern-day Syria. The result was a draw, but the cost of the wars and the loss of manpower weakened both sides significantly. The Hittite Empire was left vulnerable by the Egyptian campaign and by struggles for the throne within the ruling family. In 1193 B.C.E., a groups of invaders known as the Sea Peoples attacked a militarily overextended and financially exhausted Hittite Empire. By 1180 B.C.E., the empire had ceased to exist, but small, independent kingdoms built on the ruins of the empire continued until about 700 B.C.E.
Bryce, Trevor. The Kingdom of the Hittites. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Bryce, Trevor. Life and Society in the Hittite World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Hoffner, Harry A., Jr. Hittite Myths. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998.
Hoffner, Harry A., Jr. The Laws of the Hittites. New York: Brill, 1997.