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Ancient Near East - The New Hittite Kingdom

Updated: Jun 19, 2021


The road to recovery was led by a number of rulers whose histories are still vague, including two with the name Tudhaliya. They reaffirmed Hittite dominance over central and southern Anatolia, which caused Egypt and Mittani to cease their hostilities amongst each other and become allies in order to face the growing threat. To add to this, the Gasga attacked and perhaps even destroyed Hattusas, and a vassal of the west, Madduwattas, conquered southwest Anatolia and Cyprus in the mid-fourteenth century.

These setbacks were reversed by Suppiluliuma I who consolidated the Hittite homeland and improved the defenses of Hattusa. He reduced the vast kingdom of Mittani to a Hittite vassal state and the fertile Levant region, including important port cities like Byblos, were taken from the Egyptians, his main competitor at the time. Egypt was currently less attentive to its Asiatic territories, and no direct clash between the two powers ensued until after the death of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. His widow, Ankhesenamun, did the unthinkable and contacted Suppiluliuma I asking for his son, Zananza, to become her husband. This union would have made the Hittites the strongest empire the world had yet seen. However, this never happened, as his son was murdered by the Egyptian army before he crossed the Egyptian border. Ankhesenamun was forced to marry Pharaoh Kheperkheperure Ay and she disappeared from history shortly thereafter, most likely murdered.

With the death of the crown prince, Suppiluliuma I declared war and attacked the borderlands of Egypt thus conquering the remainder of the Levant. The Egyptian captives he brought back as slaves most likely carried a plague with them to Hattusas. This spread across the region in 1322 B.C. and eventually killed Suppiluliuma I and his son and successor, Arnuwandas II. This left the throne to Mursilis II, who had little experience and was regarded as no more than a child when he took the throne in 1321 B.C.

Mursilis II not only maintained control over Syria, but he conquered Arzawa in the west and attacked the Gasga in the north. After a reign of 25 years (1321-1295 B.C.), he died and left the throne to his son, Muwatallis II (1295-1272 B.C.). During his reign, Hatti's involvement in Syria led to the loss of control over its hinterland by leaving its northern flank open to attack. The Gasga took advantage of this weakness and sacked the capital. Muwatillis II continued his obsession with Syria and moved the Hittite capital to a previously obscure city in a southern region of Anatolia, Tarhuntassa. The exact location remains unknown.

The reemergence of Egypt under the 19th Dynasty, and the rise of Ramesses the Great, led to the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 B.C. This event was given enormous attention by the Egyptians, which was detailed during episode 19 of our Ancient Egypt series. The battle ended in a stalemate, and Ramesses II was forced to return to Egypt. Because he was unable to place a siege against the walled city of Kadesh, the Hittites were able to resume control over southern Syria and further expand their control in the region.

Muwatallis II left his brother, the future king Hattusilis III, in charge of the northern areas, where he successfully reconquered Hattusas from the Gasga. When Muwatallis II was succeeded by his son, Mursillis III, Hattusilis III used the north as a power base from which to undermine the young king. He eventually succeeded in removing him in 1267 B.C. and remained king for another 30 years.

The peace treaty with Egypt was the major accomplishment of his reign. In 1259 B.C., fifteen years after the battle of Kadesh, the two states concluded a detailed arrangement to end hostilities. The threat of Assyria, now in full control over much of the Mitanni area, became a strong motivator for this idea of peace. Together they created the world's first recorded peace treaty, known as the Treaty of Kadesh. Ramesses II carved his version on the walls of Karnak, and Hattusilis III kept his version on a cuneiform tablet which was recovered by archaeologists during the excavation of Hattusas. An enlarged copy of this tablet would later hang on the wall of the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Terms of this treaty included the marriage of one of the Hittite princesses to Ramesses II.

Hatti declined rapidly after the death of Hattusilis III. His son, Tudhaliya IV, was the last Hittite king who was able to keep the Assyrians out of the Hittite heartland, although he too lost much territory to them after he was 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 the Assyrians.

When Suppiluliuma II came to the throne in 1207 B.C., the fall of Hatti became imminent. He was the last great king of