[Chapters are listed below.]
Trevor Bryce has done more to present the history of the Hittites than any scholar. His present book is an effort to present a breezably readable version to the interested public. The I.B. Tauris editor … “said that he’d like a book that offers to students and general readers more than just core information on Hittite history and civilisation … ‘something more daring, less formulaic’ … something to make the book’s readers think ‘in novel and exciting and unexpected ways about the topics addressed.’” The author succeeds. He says that his book is “a bit unconventional and quirky” but also “a reliable introduction to Hittite history and civilization” and “proposes a number of new ideas and approaches to longstanding problems.”(p.3) So we are treated to imagined descriptions of an event or a scene, always historically informed, but of course with the details speculative. Ofttimes he will present a controversial theory and end with “what do you think?” But this is only a small part of the book. Most is an informed narration description. There is little new, other than the informed speculation, that cannot be found in Bryce’s previous and more expensive books: The Kingdom of the Hittites (2nd ed. 2005) and Life and Society in the Hittite World (2002). Another good one volume study of Hittite history is Billie Jean Collins, The Hittites and Their World (2007). All of these update the standard O.R. Gurney, The Hittites (1952, 1981).
Chapter 1 “Rediscovering a lost world” is particularly enjoyable to read. From Classical Antiquity into the nineteenth century AD, the Hittites were known, if at all, as an obscure ethnic group in biblical Palestine. This chapter discusses the subsequent gradual rediscovery of the Great Kingdom of the Hittites. We see not just the succession of brilliant insights of previous scholars who brought the Hittites back to life, but also what eventually proved to be incorrect conclusions by many of these same people. It is also enlightening to see mention of now obscure scholars who got something right, but were ahead of their time and their pioneering insights overlooked then and largely forgotten until now.
Chapters 3- 5, 7-10, 17, 19, 23, 25 go chronologically through political and diplomatic history, from the late Middle Bronze Age until end of the Late Bronze Age. He presents interesting suggestions concerning the death of Hattusili I (p. 39) and the Hittite foreign policy as seen from the Madduwatta letter (pp. 69-72). His theory (chapter 25) concerning Great Kings Suppiluliuma II, Kuruntiya and Hartapus and their probable partial contemporaneity has much to recommend it. I would simply remind all, that Suppiluliuma II’s reign must have lasted some 25 years and that mentions of famine in Hatti date either from several decades before the fall or are from undated texts, and so may or may not be relevant to the destruction of the kingdom.
Interspersed are chapters on aspects of the culture. Chapter 2 is “How do the Hittites Tell Us About Themselves?” Chapter 6 concentrates on geography. Chapter 11 describes the life of a Hittite Great King. He was high-priest and intermediary between the gods and the land and people, chief commander of the army, chief judge and on death was deified. There is also a discussion of what little we know of ordinary people’s beliefs about death and [rather incongrously] a discussion of the other script in use in Hatti-land, the hieroglyphic script used to write the Luwian language. Chapter 13 details the importance of cleanliness, both actual and ritual, at least in proximity to the gods and king. Healing was “holistic,” using both medicines and magic. Chapter 14 cuts through the controversy over ANE “law codes” with a most likely correct understanding: the Hittite laws were non-binding precedents; elders and governors judged based on local custom. Compensation was favored over legal retribution. Even male and female slaves could sue and were to be treated fairly by the courts. Chapter 15 concerns sexual intercourse. Chapter 16 tells us that financial arrangement for a marriage included both brideprice and dowry; conversely where the woman’s family paid a brideprice for a son-in-law, he became resident with and part of the wife’s family. Women could also initiate a divorce. Slaves could marry free partners, if the proper marriage payments were made. The entire discussion on pp. 151ff. about how to interpret Hoffner’s translation (in Roth, Law Collections, 1995) of Hittite Laws §§ 34 & 36, which Bryce quite correctly finds difficult to understand, would have much benefited from consulting Hoffner’s very different (and opposite) translation in Laws of the Hittites (1997) with its commentary (p.185) and/or the translation and commentary in the Hittite Dictionary of the University of Chicago s.v. parā 6 a 6′ a’ (1995) : the free spouse of a slave may NOT be enslaved. Chapter 18 describes the Hittite military, as well as non-military way of holding the empire together: patient negotiations and mutual defense-treaties with subordinates and equals. Chapter 20 shows the role of Great Queen as chief priestess of the kingdom. She was wife of the king, but held her office for life, sometimes coming into conflict with a new king’s wife. Chapter 21 describes the capital city, Hattusa. Chapter 22 gives an imaginary (though fact based) account of a diplomatic mission from one great king to another. Chapter 24 describes the Hittite gods and their many festivals. Problems:
(16f.) The discussion concerning determinatives is correct but the example is incorrect, since LUGAL “king” is never used as a determinative. Rather, LÚ “man” is used before names of male professions.
(p.17) It should have been pointed out that Ugaritic and Aramaic “alphabets,” unlike the Greek alphabet and its successors, were vowelless. It is debateable whether these vowelless scripts were easier to learn and then read than Hittite syllabic cuneiform. Old Assyrian merchants learned cuneiform. Cuneiform scripts died out when the languages they wrote died out and were replaced by languages writing in different scripts.
(p. 19) While conflagrations certainly help perserve clay tablets (an advantage over papyrus, parchement and paper), unbaked clay tablets can be preserved in the ground and excavated.
(pp.20-21) To the list of types of content found in Hittite texts, one should add magic-rituals, multilingual dictionaries, compendia of omens and collections of oracles (questions to and answers from the gods).
(p.32) Bryce makes the daring suggestion that Hattusili I’s annals cover only 5 years of what was probably a lengthy reign because the original tablets were destroyed in the sack of Hattusa in the time of Tudhaliya son of Arnuwanda I. Subsequently the surviving fragments were pulled out of the rubble and pieced together and copied onto a new tablet. This is ingenious, but the annals of Hattusili I consist of a tablet in Akkadian and a tablet in Hittite, which contain the same episodes. It seems improbable that the original Akkadian version and the Hittite version were broken in the same place and missing the same campaigns.
(p.45) Šauštatar “reduced the former great kingdom [Assyria] to vassel status.” When had it been a great kingdom? It was an appanage state in Šamši-Adad I’s Great Kingdom much earlier, but didn’t become a Great Kingdom until the destruction of Mittanni.
(p.56) Hittite viceregal kingdoms were not generally ruled by the king’s sons. Kargamis and Aleppo were founded for Suppiluliuma’s sons, but were subsequently ruled by descendants of those sons. Hakpis was for Muwattalli II’s brother; Tarhuntassa for the Hattusili III’s nephew; Isuwa probably for a son-in-law.
(p. 144) The symbols of womanhood are not “a spindle and mirror”. The translation is taken from a 1950 translation. But translations and dictionaries since at least 1976 have understood the symbols to be “distaff and spindle.”
(p. 158ff.) Bryce refers to Abdi-Asirti and Aziru, Kings of Amurru as “terrorists.” This is most inappropriate. A “terrorist” was originally an agent of the French revolutionary state, who terrorized the state’s own population into not resisting the revolution. It now is a non-state actor using acts of terror to destroy the credibility of a state. Neither is true of these Amurrans. No-doubt Abdi-Asirti was duplicitous and a serious danger to his neighbors. But as Bryce elsewhere points out small states need to eat or be eaten. We have no idea if Abdi-Asirti’s ancestors were rulers of some territory up on Mt. Lebanon. It is clear that Abdi-Asirti was agressively expanding his territory at the expense of his neighbors—in other words state formation. Much of what we know of him is from those who would have to make way. It is nowhere pointed out that after Abdi-Asirti’s son Aziru had double-crossed everyone to secure his father’s now sizable kingdom and then joined the Hittites, he remained loyal to them, as did his son and grandson. This is not what should be referred to as “a terrorist clan.”
(p. 172) I know of no evidence in archaeology or Egyptian reliefs for chain-mail, but much evidence for scale-armor, as Bryce mentions several lines earlier.
(p.173) “(Horse) training manual, allegedly the work of a prisoner-of-war brought back … as a deportee from Mittanni.” Kikkuli who wrote a text for training Hittite chariot horses is assumed to be of Mittannian origin because there are a few technical terms in Indic. Whether he was forcibly brought to the Hittites or volunteered is not known. After all, many European Christians, especially cannoneers, volunarily joined the Ottomans. Another purely Hittite horse-training text appears to pre-date Kikkuli’s. Also, ‘Prisoner-of-war’ (Hittite appanza) and “deportee” (Hittite arnuwala-) are different catagories both then and today, one military and the other civilian. Bryce is far from alone in using the term “deportee” for such civilians. As Bryce makes clear, the Hittites wanted people (thus arnuwala- > arnu- “to bring”, so literally “transportee”), while “deport”, as anyone living in Trump’s USA knows, means “to expell foreigners from your country.” When will ANE authors find another term such as CHD’s “person to be resettled.”
(p. 174) I do not know why Bryce says there is no evidence for 3 man Hittite chariots after the battle of Qades. There is no evidence for Hittite chariots after that battle, that I know of. 1st millennium Assyria had 3 and 4 man chariots. Furthermore, the idea of chariots charging infantry at 45km/hr over uneven terrain seems unlikely. According to lectures by and chats with military historian Steven Weingartner, chariots were most likely mobile shooting platforms, ideal for shooting densely packed infantry. Bryce, however, is way ahead in arguing that chariots were transported to battlefields not ridden.
(p.238) Bryce states that “since Hatti’s core region had no sea outlets, its kings would have needed ships supplied by vassal … states with coastal territory and seaports for any Hittite ventures involving naval operations.” Yet on p. 161 we are told that Tarhuntassa, briefly capital of the Hittite empire, lay in western Cilicia. Western (i.e., “Rough Cilicia”) had a seacoast and ports. Further east the Cilician plain had been directly administered Hittite territory since the reign of Arnuwanda I, five generations earlier. Furthermore, we know that the merchants from the Hittite port of Ura were over-thriving in the port of Ugarit, in the King of Ugarit’s opinion. Surely they were not doing all their shipping in Ugaritian ships. It is time to give up the old prejudice that Anatolians couldn’t/wouldn’t sail, and only Levantines and Greeks dared to go to sea. Of course, Ugarit, Siyannu, and Amurru would have added their ships to the Hittite fleet for a campaign against Cyprus.
Many photos are so darkly reproduced as to be worthless e.g. 21.1, 21.8; The lion-gate in 21.7 is unrecognizable since it is the poorly preserved lefthand lion and is poorly reproduced; many others are from a movie about the Hittites, which I supposed is justifiable. But why not use the real picture of Puduhepa and Hattusili from the Firaktin relief?
The book should be considered a success as a reliable, readable and affordable introduction to the Hittites for the general reader.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Rediscovering a Lost World
Chapter 2: How Do The Hittites Tell Us About Themselves?
Chapter 3: The Dawn of the Hittite Era
Chapter 4: The Legacy of an Ailing King
Chapter 5: ‘Now Bloodshed Has Become Common’
Chapter 6: The Setting for an Empire
Chapter 7: Building an Empire
Chapter 8: Lion or Pussycat?
Chapter 9: From Near Extinction to the Threshold of International Supremacy
Chapter 10: The Greatest Kingdom of Them All
Chapter 11: Intermediaries of the Gods: The Great Kings of Hatti
Chapter 12: King by Default
Chapter 13: Health, Hygiene and Healing
Chapter 14: Justice and the Commoner
Chapter 15: No Sex Please, We’re Hittite
Chapter 16: Women, Marriage and Slavery
Chapter 17: War with Egypt
Chapter 18: All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men
Chapter 19: The Man Who Would Be King
Chapter 20: Partners in Power: The Great Queens of Hatti
Chapter 21: City of Temples and Bureaucrats: The Royal Capital
Chapter 22: An Elite Fraternity: the Club of Royal Brothers
Chapter 23: The Empire’s Struggle for Survival
Chapter 24: Hatti’s Divine Overlords
Chapter 25: Death of an Empire
Appendix 1: Rulers of Hatti
Appendix 2: Outline of Main Events in Hittite History