Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2019.08.57 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2019.08.57

Tayfun Bilgin, Officials and Administration in the Hittite World. Studies in Ancient Near Eastern records, Volume 21.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2018.  Pp. xv, 507.  ISBN 9781501516627.  €94,95.  

Reviewed by Trevor Bryce, University of Queensland (

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This monumental work of Hittite scholarship has evolved out of a PhD dissertation by its author, Tayfun Bilgin, on the topic of bureaucracy in the administration of the Hittite world. Bilgin’s primary objective in the current book is a comprehensive investigation of the administrative organization of the Hittite state throughout its 500-year history. He seeks to achieve this through an analysis of the most important offices of the Hittite administration by means of a prosopographical examination of their incumbents, and linked with this, an overall evaluation of the state’s administrative structure. As he notes in his Introduction, a number of studies have already been devoted to the high offices of the Hittite state and their occupants, but his is the first that undertakes so comprehensive a study of the state’s administrative organization, as well as providing some important updating of the data, especially textual data, and scholarship on which the earlier studies were based. Textual sources are used from all periods of Hittite history, with particular emphasis on (but by no means confined to) those of direct relevance to various groups of officials, offices, and titles, and the roles and responsibilities assigned to the office-bearers. An analysis of the social structure of the state lies outside the scope of this study, as does a discussion of the Hittite vassal system.

After setting out in his Introduction the book’s chief parameters, the methodologies which are used, a brief survey of the source material on which the study is based, and the period encompassed by the study, Bilgin divides his book into six chapters. Confusingly for the reader, the chapter numbers are misaligned with their titles. For example, ‘Chapter 2’ on p. 9 should read ‘Chapter 1’ and for ‘the sixth chapter’ on p, 10, read ‘the fifth chapter’. All chapter numbers referred to in the Introduction should thus be shifted up one. I have done this in the discussion that follows. A brief Chapter 6, ‘Summary Conclusions’ should be added to Bilgin’s list. (All chapter numbers and titles are correctly aligned in the Table of Contents and in the main body of the text.)

Chapter 1 discusses, briefly, the role of the royal family within the state’s administrative structure. The main intention of this chapter is to pave the way for the officials of the state dealt with in Chapter 2. Discussion in Chapter 1 is restricted to the King, Queen, and Crown Prince. Chapter 2 deals with the state’s provincial system, beginning with an account of the rulers of the ‘Appanage Kingdoms’. Defined as several regions bordering the central territory of the state, each of these kingdoms was ruled by a member of the royal family, bearing the title ‘king’ and typically a son of the Great King. The second half of the chapter is devoted to officials defined as Governors of the Hittite administration. These were officials who were assigned authority over administrative units within the central territory. Both parts of the chapter are rounded off with tables providing summary lists of the attested officials.

Chapter 3 discusses the ‘Top-level Offices of the Hittite State Administration’, in a roughly hierarchical order, beginning with the extremely important office of GAL.MEŠEDI. An account of all known holders of the offices is followed by a general discussion of the offices. The chapter ends with a study of Hittite military commanders, through the Old Hittite, Early Empire, and Empire periods. As Bilgin notes, ‘Warfare being an integral aspect of not only the Hittite state but of most of the political entities of the second millennium BCE, it is not surprising that the military positions are the most prominent offices within the administrative system’ (p. 345).

Chapter 4 is devoted to a study of the state’s administrative documents, divided into Old Hittite and Empire period texts. The content of each text is summarized, with attention focused on its purpose and significance, including, for example, the different types of information the texts provide about how state officials conduct, or should conduct, their portfolios. Among the best known texts of the Old Hittite period texts are the Palace Chronicle (CTH 8-9),1 the Telipinu Edict (CTH19), and the Instructions for the Royal Bodyguard (CTH 262). A discussion of the substantially more numerous Empire Period texts follows. These include a range of oaths and instructions for various officials. The chapter concludes with a treatment of the often very instructive Land Donation Texts (CTH 222) and a group of Inventory Documents (CTH 240- 250).

Chapter 5, ‘A Collective Analysis of the Offices and Officials’, brings together the results of the analyses in the previous chapters. It deals first with the ‘Dual Offices’, i.e. the attestation of a number of offices in pairs, which Bilgin notes was a feature of the administrative organization that seems to have appeared in the late Old Kingdom. This section is followed by one on Continuity and Discontinuity in Hittite Offices, an account of changes that took place in the Hittite state as the administrative structure developed and grew substantially beyond the confines of the Old Kingdom administration. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the evolving hierarchy of the Hittite court, and Hittite administration as a patrimonial organization.

Chapter 6 provides three pages of Summary Conclusions.

Of a total of five Appendices, all in Table form, three provide Witness Lists derived from texts discussed by Bilgin, one a Tribute List from the city of Ugarit, and one a list of frequently mentioned titles/designations of office-bearers. These tables supplement the thirty which appear throughout the book, listing for the most part various officials and title-holders. The nine Figures itemized at the beginning of the book include seal impressions, family trees, and a map of Hittite geography.

This meticulously researched study, greatly aided by Bilgin’s access to the Chicago Hittite Dictionary catalog, provides an extremely useful research tool for all subsequent studies not only of the bureaucratic structure of the Hittite state, but, more indirectly, of Hittite political and social studies in general. While acknowledging earlier accounts of Hittite officialdom and the state bureaucracy, Bilgin rightly claims that his new book is much more comprehensive than these, and frequently provides important updates to data on which they are based. He does not underestimate the complexities of his task, particularly with regard to establishing the extent to which certain offices were tied to specific periods and the difficulty in establishing for many offices any form of diachronic patterns. The lack of a firm dating system for Hittite chronology is obviously a core problem for comprehensive studies of the Hittite world.

This last point needs to be stressed to any scholars for whom Hittite studies is peripheral to their main field of research. Several chronological systems have been proposed for Hittite history,2 and the absolute dates given by Bilgin throughout his book reflect but one of these (the so-called Middle Chronology), albeit the most commonly accepted one. This will be obvious to Hittite scholars. However, a short section on the problems of Hittite chronology would be useful for non-specialists – especially those who may attempt to align the dates in the book with the chronologies of other Bronze Age civilizations.

The range of dates suggested by palaeographic analysis are, as Bilgin states, often very broad and still open to debate. These frequently lead to problems in the dating of the script of texts, and thus the texts themselves and the information they contain.3 There is also the problem of homonyms, which crop up many times in the texts. With a number of these homonyms and without secure dating in many cases, we often cannot be sure whether repeated attestations of a particular homonym reflect multiple references to a particular individual, or separate references to two or more individuals, perhaps of different periods. Bilgin is well aware of this problem and discusses each case as it arises. To make a general point here, Bilgin’s book goes much further than merely recording information. Wherever appropriate, he engages in a balanced debate on alternative opinions on a particular problem before reaching a conclusion of his own.

The name Kuruntiya provides one of the most problematic instances of determining whether two or more persons shared a particular homonym. The name appears in the Annals of the Hittite king Mursili II, in the so-called Tawagalawa letter, and in various documents relating to Tarhuntašša and the reign of Tudhaliya IV. Bilgin in his treatment of the persons so called (pp. 58-62) settles for two Kuruntiyas. The first he identifies as the man referred to in Mursili’s Annals, and all other references he ascribes to a second Kuruntiya, treaty partner of Tudhaliya IV and ruler of Tarhuntašša. The correct attribution of all references, from the Tawagalawa letter on, to one Kuruntiya obviously depends on the time gap between the letter and the later references to Kuruntiya. If Muwattalli rather than Hattusili (III) was the author of the letter, as Oliver Gurney has argued (contra general scholarly consensus),4 it is more likely that the Kuruntiya referred to in it was the same person mentioned in Mursili II’s Annals rather than the later appanage ruler. We might also note that as an alternative to the common view that Kuruntiya’s ‘Great King’ inscription at Hatip, and in three seal impressions found in Hattuša, indicate a rebellion by Kuruntiya against the Hittite Great King (p. 61), Itamar Singer5 suggests that Kuruntiya’s apparent use of the title of Great Kingship indicates a power-sharing arrangement, a kind of diarchy, between himself and Tudhaliya.

The book contains only one, very basic, map of Hittite political geography (Fig 1, p. 37). Much more useful would have been a small series of maps illustrating various stages in the Hittite world’s development from a small kingdom to an empire, which at its peak extended from Anatolia’s west coast through northern Syria to the Euphrates. These could have been inserted at appropriate places within the text, with different regions of the administrative system distinguished from each other by lighter and darker shades of grey or by various hatch patterns. Depending on the periods to which they are dated, the maps in question would cover Hittite home territory, the larger territories bordering on it (e.g. the Upper Land), the smaller border territories (e.g. Tapikka), the appanage kingdoms, the vassal states, including those that shifted into and out of Hittite control and influence, the independent Anatolian territories, and the foreign powers whose rulers were of equal status with the Hittite Great King.

Tayfun Bilgin’s book makes an impressive contribution to scholarship on the Hittite world, as studies of this important Near Eastern Bronze Age civilization enter their second century. It should become a well-used reference tool by all students and scholars of Hittite history – social and political as well as purely administrative. In broader terms, it provides a valuable source of reference for all students and scholars engaged in comparative studies of the Bronze Age Near Eastern world.


1.   E. Laroche, Catalogue des textes hittites. Paris, 1966.
2.   For a concise account of Hittite chronology, see T. R. Bryce, The Kingdom of the Hittites, Oxford, 2005, 375-82.
3.   On the basis of changing palaeographic data, Hittite texts are divided into Old, Middle and New Scripts. See Th. van den Hout, ‘A Century of Hittite Text Dating and the Origins of the Hittite Script’, Incontri Linguistici 32, 2009, 11-35.
4.   O. R. Gurney, ‘The Authorship of the Tawagalawas Letter’, Silva Anatolica. Anatolian Studies Presented to Macief Popko on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, ed. P. Taracha, Warsaw, Agade, 2002, 133-41. Note that Bilgin’s reference to Gurney’s article (p. 59, n. 149 and p. 473 in the Bibliography) is wrong, and needs to be corrected as in my reference here.
5.   I. Singer, ‘Great Kings of Tarhuntašša’, Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici 38, 1996, 63-71.

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