Scientists from the USA and Great Britain have discovered the mysterious city of Tarhuntassa, mentioned in the documents of the Hittite Empire, which mysteriously disappeared. If the hypothesis is confirmed, it will become the largest archaeological discovery that will help understand the disappeared people’s fate.
Who are the Hittites?
This is an Indo-European people of the Bronze Age who lived in Asia Minor, where they founded the Hittite kingdom (Hatti). It competed on equal terms with Egypt and Babylon.
Another feature: their language. When the archives were found and deciphered, it turned out that these documents’ language is completely new for these places. Hittite is the first written Indo-European language. And the Hittites themselves are the first known representatives of this family of peoples. In Syria and Asia Minor, they turned out to be aliens.
They reached the greatest power in Asia Minor. In the 18th century BC. e. the first unified state, founded by King Anitta, appears. From this time begins the history of one of the most powerful empires of antiquity. Three periods are distinguished: ancient, middle, and new.
Where the Hittites came from is not exactly known. Two hypotheses are currently the most popular:
- from the Balkan Peninsula, in the west;
- from the Armenian Highlands, in the east.
Some features of their social structure are exciting. Nowhere in the ancient world did women enjoy freedom and equality as in the Hittite kingdom, where queens ruled on an equal footing with kings. There were significant elements of democracy in the state structure, which were later taken up and developed by the Greeks.
In the last centuries of their existence, the Hittites created the powerful New Hittite state, which under Suppilulium, significantly expanded its influence in the Middle East.
What is known about the city of Tarhuntassa?
In the Bronze Age, the central part of modern Turkey was occupied by the Hittite kingdom – a great empire equal to Ancient Egypt and Assyria. Its capital, Hattusu, located in the country’s heart, was protected from the north by the Black Sea. From there, the kings decided the fate of the subordinate peoples, determining domestic and foreign policies.
For the first time, Tarhuntassa is mentioned in Hittite documents during the reign of Muwatalli II (about 1295-1272 BC), who transferred the royal court there from the former capital, the city of Hattusa. Perhaps this move was related to tactical considerations, since at that time Hattusa was threatened by invading helmets from the north, and also with the fact that Tarhuntassa was removed from Syria, where the main fighting was taking place at the time. Perhaps, considerations of a religious nature played a role since the personal deity of Muwatalli was the god of thunder and lightning, who at the same time patronized Tarhuntasse.
At the beginning of the XIII century BC, the Hittite kingdom reached the pinnacle of power, actively expanding to the south, east, and west. As it became known from the documents that have come down to us, in about 1280, the ruler of Muwatalli II moved the capital from Hattusa to Tarhuntassa, to the recently annexed “lower lands.”
The king’s decision was criticized, and after three decades, the court, ruled by the eldest son of Muvatalli Mursili III, returned. The reasons for the sudden and strange movements of the capital are still not known. There is a hint of religious background in the texts: Hattusa was considered a cursed place. Perhaps political and strategic considerations played a role – all in a complex.
Hartapu is a mysterious character for historians. Judging by the inscriptions, he could have ruled at the beginning of the XII century BC, when the Hittite kingdom was rolling into decline. The throne name Mursili speaks of belonging to the Hittite royal dynasty. However, on the bas-relief, he is depicted in the guise of the New Assyrian king, which indicates the 8th century BC. Osborne and his colleagues are inclined towards this date, given the peculiarities of the writing on the found stele. The name of the country over which Hartapu ruled is not mentioned anywhere. But in one of the rock texts, there is a hieroglyph denoting the god of thunder Tarkhunt, the patron saint of Tarkhuntassa.
Why did the Hittites disappear?
At the beginning of the Iron Age, the Hittite Empire literally disappeared. This time is called the bronze collapse. The crisis began throughout the Middle East. The peoples were removed from their homes in search of a better life. The rulers with their retinue left Hattusa, taking the most valuable. Soon the Sea Peoples appeared, plundered, and set fire to the empty city.
Scientists believe that the Hittite kingdom suffered from hunger in the last decades of its existence. We know that the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah (1213–1203 BC) sent grain to the Hittite king “to support the land of Hatti.” Tudhaliya himself sent an urgent letter to King Ugarit with a request to send 450 tons of grain. Simultaneously, the letter ends with an exhortation to Tudhaliya that this is a matter of life or death.
The annual Hittite military campaigns took all non-disabled young people from the domestic labor force and the farm. Because of this, there was simply no one to work in the fields.
The Hittites became increasingly dependent on external sources of grain supplied by vassal states in northern Syria and elsewhere. When imports were stable, there was enough grain to compensate for the deficit. Still, the situation changed dramatically when trade routes were threatened – the sea at that time was almost completely controlled by pirates, who also inflicted significant attacks on land.
Most likely, the Hittites fled to northern Syria. In any case, three “dark ages” after the empire’s disappearance, kingdoms were formed there, whose population called themselves Hittites and wrote in Luwian hieroglyphs. From this point of view, the excavations of Tarhuntassa – apparently the capital of some Luwian internal state – are exciting.
Maria Molina, Hittite language specialist, an employee of the Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences
In the next seasons, archaeologists plan to conduct geophysical scanning and drilling of the Turkmen-Karaguyuk mound to more accurately assess the size of the city and its structure and outline the site for future excavations.