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Ancient Near East - The Old Hittite Kingdom

Updated: Jun 19, 2021


The Old Hittite Kingdom began when the Hittite King Anitta of the neighboring kingdom of Kussara sacked the city of Hattusas in roughly 1700 B.C. Located in the center of the region, in a strategically and well-protected site, thanks to its position on a hilltop, Hattusas had existed as the powerful city of Hati since 2500 B.C. The city had repulsed attacks by Sargon the Great and his grandson, Naram-Sin, but fell to King Anitta who burned the city to the ground. Not long after its destruction, however, another king of Kussara, named Hattusilis I, rebuilt it and made it his capital. The city was in the center of Anatolia, but not at the heart of the Hittite state, which primarily extended south into Syria. Its northern location exposed it to attacks from groups from the Black Sea shores called the Gasga, who at times completely sacked it. Although some later rulers temporarily established capitals further south, Hattusas remained the political and religious center of the Hittite state until the very end of the empire.

Hattusilis I initiated a pattern of southward expansion and eventually established a large state. Internally, however, this state was in disarray. His sons rebelled against him late in his life, and even his nephew, the heir to the throne, turned against him. On his deathbed, Hattusilis I appointed his grandson, Mursilis I, as heir. Not much is known about this new king, but he did sack Babylon and destroy the city of Aleppo, which upset the balance of power in northwest Syria and created space for other entities to develop while establishing a power vacuum in Babylonia. No longer did a set of strong rulers dominate the map. Instead, the entire region was reduced to political fragmentation.

Upon his return home, Mursilis I was assassinated by his brother-in-law, Hantilis, who seized the throne. He ruled as king for about 30 years (1526-1496 B.C.), but seems to have accomplished little in that time. His son-in-law, Zidanta, having grown tired of watching Hantilis enjoy the kingship, assassinated him and murdered his heirs. He would rule for about 10 years until he was assassinated by his son, Ammuna. He, in turn, would rule for 20 years, and in that time, prove a worse king than his three predecessors. This internal instability, along with other assassinations, prevented the Hittites from maintaining control over anything beyond the heartland of their state. The Hittite state would not reemerge as a significant player on the international scene until the fourteenth century.


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