1750 BC to 1180s BC
Turkey and SyriaThe Hittites were an Anatolian people who played an important role in establishing first a kingdom in Kussara before 1750 BC, then the Kanesh or Nesha kingdom (ca. 1750-1650 BC), and next to an empire centered on Hattusa in north-central Anatolia around 1650 BC. This empire reached its height during the mid-14th century BC under Šuppiluliuma I, when it encompassed an area that included most of Anatolia as well as parts of the northern Levant and Upper Mesopotamia.
The early history of the Hittite kingdom is known through tablets that may first have been written in the 19th - 18th century BC, in Hittite; but most of the tablets survived only as Akkadian copies made in the 14th and 13th centuries BC. These reveal a rivalry within two branches of the royal family up to the Middle Kingdom; a northern branch first based in Zalpuwa and secondarily Hattusa, and a southern branch based in Kussara (still not found) and the former Assyrian colony of Kanesh. These are distinguishable by their names; the northerners retained language isolate Hattian names, and the southerners adopted Indo-European Hittite and Luwian names.
One set of tablets, known collectively as the Anitta text, begin by telling how Pithana the king of Kussara conquered neighboring Neša (Kanesh). However, the real subject of these tablets is Pithana's son Anitta (r. 1745–1720 BC), who continued where his father left off and conquered several northern cities: including Hattusa, which he cursed, and also Zalpuwa.
Anitta was succeeded by Zuzzu (r. 1720–1710 BC); but sometime in 1710–1705 BC, Kanesh was destroyed, taking the long-established Assyrian merchant trading system with it. A Kussaran noble family survived to contest the Zalpuwan/Hattusan family, though whether these were of the direct line of Anitta is uncertain.
The founding of the Hittite Kingdom is attributed to either Labarna I or Hattusili I (the latter might also have had Labarna as a personal name), who conquered the area south and north of Hattusa. Hattusili I campaigned as far as the Semitic Amorite kingdom of Yamkhad in Syria, where he attacked, but did not capture, its capital of Aleppo. Hattusili I did eventually capture Hattusa and was credited for the foundation of the Hittite Empire.
On Hattusili I's deathbed, he chose his grandson, Mursili I (or Murshilish I), as his heir. In 1595 BC, Mursili I conducted a great raid down the Euphrates River, bypassing Assyria, and captured Mari and Babylonia, ejecting the Amorite founders of the Babylonian state in the process. However, internal dissension forced a withdrawal of troops to the Hittite homelands.
The period of the 15th century BC is largely unknown with very sparse surviving records. Part of the reason for both the weakness and the obscurity is that the Hittites were under constant attack, mainly from the Kaska, a non-Indo-European people settled along the shores of the Black Sea. The capital once again went on the move, first to Sapinuwa and then to Samuha. There is an archive in Sapinuwa, but it has not been adequately translated to date. It segues into the "Hittite Empire period" proper, which dates from the reign of Tudhaliya I from c. 1430 BC. With the reign of Tudhaliya I, the Hittite Kingdom re-emerged from the fog of obscurity. Hittite civilization entered the period of time called the "Hittite Empire period". Many changes were afoot during this time, not the least of which was a strengthening of the kingship. Settlement of the Hittites progressed in the Empire period.
Unfortunately, that son was evidently murdered before reaching his destination, and this alliance was never consummated. However, the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1050 BC) once more began to grow in power also, with the ascension of Ashur-uballit I in 1365 BC. Ashur-uballit I attacked and defeated Mattiwaza the Mitanni king despite attempts by the Hittite king Šuppiluliuma I, now fearful of growing Assyrian power, attempting to preserve his throne with military support. The lands of the Mitanni and Hurrians were duly appropriated by Assyria, enabling it to encroach on Hittite territory in eastern Asia Minor, and Adad-nirari I annexed Carchemish and northeast Syria from the control of the Hittites.
Another weak phase followed Tudhaliya I, and the Hittites' enemies from all directions were able to advance even to Hattusa and raze it. However, the Kingdom recovered its former glory under Šuppiluliuma I (c. 1350 BC), who again conquered Aleppo, Mitanni was reduced to vassalage by the Assyrians under his son-in-law, and he defeated Carchemish, another Amorite city-state.
After Šuppiluliuma I, and a very brief reign by his eldest son, another son, Mursili II became king (c. 1330 BC). Having inherited a position of strength in the east, Mursili was able to turn his attention to the west, where he attacked Arzawa and a city known as Millawanda (Miletus), which was under the control of Ahhiyawa.
Hittite prosperity was mostly dependent on control of the trade routes and metal sources. Because of the importance of Northern Syria to the vital routes linking the Cilician gates with Mesopotamia, defense of this area was crucial and was soon put to the test by Egyptian expansion under Pharaoh Ramesses II. The outcome of the battle is uncertain, though it seems that the timely arrival of Egyptian reinforcements prevented total Hittite victory. The Egyptians forced the Hittites to take refuge in the fortress of Kadesh, but their own losses prevented them from sustaining a siege. This battle took place in the 5th year of Ramesses (c. 1274 BC by the most commonly used chronology).
After this date, the power of both the Hittites and Egyptians began to decline yet again because of the power of the Assyrians. The Assyrian king Shalmaneser I had seized the opportunity to vanquish Hurria and Mitanni, occupy their lands, and expand up to the head of the Euphrates in Anatolia and into Babylonia, Ancient Iran, Aram (Syria), Canaan (Palestine), and Phoenicia, while Muwatalli was preoccupied with the Egyptians. The Hittites had vainly tried to preserve the Mitanni kingdom with military support. Assyria now posed just as great a threat to Hittite trade routes as Egypt ever had. Muwatalli's son, Urhi-Teshub, took the throne and ruled as king for seven years as Mursili III before being ousted by his uncle, Hattusili III after a brief civil war. In response to increasing Assyrian annexation of Hittite territory, he concluded a peace and alliance with Ramesses II (also fearful of Assyria), presenting his daughter's hand in marriage to the Pharaoh. The "Treaty of Kadesh", one of the oldest completely surviving treaties in history, fixed their mutual boundaries in southern Canaan, and was signed in the 21st year of Rameses (c. 1258 BC). The terms of this treaty included the marriage of one of the Hittite princesses to Ramesses.
Hattusili's son, Tudhaliya IV, was the last strong Hittite king able to keep the Assyrians out of the Hittite heartland to some degree at least, though he too lost much territory to them, and was heavily defeated by Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria in the Battle of Nihriya. He even temporarily annexed the Greek island of Cyprus, before that too fell to Assyria.
But the Assyrians, under Ashur-resh-ishi I had by this time annexed much Hittite territory in Asia Minor and Syria, driving out and defeating the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar I in the process, who also had eyes on Hittite lands. The Sea Peoples had already begun their push down the Mediterranean coastline, starting from the Aegean, and continuing all the way to Canaan, founding the state of Philistia—taking Cilicia and Cyprus away from the Hittites en route and cutting off their coveted trade routes. This left the Hittite homelands vulnerable to attack from all directions, and Hattusa was burnt to the ground sometime around 1180 BC following a combined onslaught from new waves of invaders: the Kaskas, Phrygians and Bryges. The Hittite Kingdom thus vanished from historical records, much of the territory being seized by Assyria. Alongside these attacks, many internal issues also led to the end of the Hittite kingdom. The end of the kingdom was part of the larger Bronze Age Collapse.