' CHAPTER 5
' SINGLE AND MULTIETHNIC NATIONALITIES IN THE
' ANCIENT MEDITERRANEAN
' SECTION A
“Clearly, the reality of cultural evolution is no longer questioned. An issue that for so long divided and
bedeviled anthropology has finally been laid to rest.”
- Robert L. Carneiro, 1987
"…there’s something strange about the mixture of open markets and personal freedom that
accrues under constitutional government… once the Greeks figured out that a person had a right to
private property and there would be an open market, and there’s a word, -kerdos, profit, and a person
was able to profit from his work and toil in this free environment, then obviously there were to emerge
people who had leisure and freedom in a way that had not been seen under tribalism, under monarchies,
under autocratic governments in Egypt. And there’s a literature that reflects the problems with that: the
decadence. We see it in 4th century Athenian oratory. We see it in the great Roman literature of the
- Victor Davis Hanson, 2005, "A World Wonder: A Speech Given to the Woodrow Wilson Center
' As mentioned in the previous chapter, the Later Bronze Age Near East was an increasingly
cosmopolitan and international era. Marc Van de Mieroop points out that, from the mid-second
millennium BCE, this regional context and frequent communication between ruling elites stretched from
Elam and Babylonia in the east, to Mycenae and Egypt in the west. “Just as the end of these states was
precipitated by the disappearance of the system that tied them together, their rise was conditioned by the
growth of the system” (2004, 125). In the second millennium, states and empires rose and fell together.
The “rulers of the Near Eastern states were fully aware that they all belonged to a common system….
characterized by an enormous discrepancy in access to wealth… [and] an international elite class” that
addressed only each other as “brothers”, engaged in “an unprecedented accumulation and display of
wealth, and simultaneously distanced themselves” from the people” (Van de Mieroop, 137; 126).
' In this chapter, we shall briefly revisit this theme with the Indo-European Hittites and the iron
weapons that they would eventually popularize, before taking up the regional story again- after a so-
called Dark Ages of several centuries- with the iron (and alphabet)-age Greeks and Romans.
' THE HITTITES
“Before Greece the domain of intellect belonged to the priests. They were the intellectual class of Egypt.
Their power was tremendous. Kings were subject to it. Great men must have built up that mighty
organization, great minds, keen intellects, but what they learned of old truth and what they discovered of
new truth was valued as it increased the prestige of the organization…. all they knew must be kept
jealously within the organization. To teach the people so that they would begin to think for themselves,
would be to destroy the surest prop of their power. No one except themselves must have knowledge, for
to be ignorant is to be afraid, and in the dark mystery of the unknown a man cannot find his way alone.
He must have guides to speak to him with authority. Ignorance was the foundation upon which the priest-
power rested. In truth, the two, the mystery and those who dealt in it, reinforced each other in such sort
that each appears both the cause and the effect of the other”
- Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way, 1930
' Among the Hittites of Anatolia (c.1800-12th century BCE) both territorial and charismatic bases of
identity were apparent, but evidence for a preceding basis of identity based on kinship is almost entirely
lacking. The Hittites, as relative newcomers to the region (c.2000), blended their ancestral and religious
identities, even their language to some degree, with those of neighboring people at a quite early date.
Their language, however, does suggest that they may once have born an identity based on
` Most agree that the language of the Hittites was of Indo-European heritage (Klengel, 2002, 101-
102). It was from a different family of languages than that of the non Indo-European Hattians, whose
territory the Hittities- probably coming from north of the Caucasus- made the base of their empire.
Hittitologist Trevor Bryce notes that records kept by Assyrian merchants at Nesa (also called Kanes) in
eastern Anatolia show that the locals with whom they dealt bore Indo-European as opposed to Hattian
names in a ratio of about six to one. It is significant also that the Hittites made their language, Nesite,
official for their empire, although they called the territorial base of their empire “Land of Hatti” and
themselves “people of the Land of Hatti” (Bryce, 1998, 10, 14, 16, 19; Gurney, 1961, 68-69).
` What does the Indo-European language of the Hittites tell us as to their probable point of origin?
Chiefly it seems to point north, although other points of the compass have advocates as well. As the
name Indo-European suggests, those languages came to predominate in an arc from northern India
through Europe. There is not a consensus among scholars as to which specific part of that arc was most
likely to have been native habitat to the largest number of Hittite forbears, although the shortest distance
to eastern and central Anatolia was simply from the northern side of the Black Sea and the southern
Caucasus mountains. Others, however, have argued for northern Mesopotamia, the Balkans, and even a
central European point of origin (Bryce, 1998, 10). All of these areas were of course populated for
millennia prior to the actual rise of Hittite kingdoms, and one need not presume a single point of origin.
Indeed there is not even reason to “assume that speakers of Indo-European languages were not always
present in Anatolia” (Van de Mieroop, 113), particularly the eastern region, just south of the Caucasus
mountains. What is important is that the Hittites and their language- if not constituting the proto-Indo-
European (PIE) homeland itself- was probably the earliest branch of the PIE language to brachiate from
the what is presumed to be the largest group of PIE speakers on the Eurasian steppe (Fortson, 2004, 9-
` David Christian, writing about Russia, Central Asia, and Mongolia, argues that late in the fourth
millennium, increasing aridity in central Asia reduced good pasture land. This, he continues, forced
massive migrations by nomadic pastoral people in that area. In this period, he states, “Inner Eurasian
pastoralists invaded parts of Outer Eurasia from Mesopotamia to northern India…“ (Christian, 1998, 93).
Christian believes that these migrations were “warlike,” as “during this phase pastoralists may have been
organized in large tribal associations under powerful leaders… the similarity of the cultures of different
pastoralist groups suggests frequent exchanges and, perhaps, a widespread sense of identity over large
areas of the Inner Eurasian steppes” (93). Experts on early Anatolia, on the other hand, assert in
uncharacteristic agreement that there is no archaeological evidence there of the massive destruction
which usually accompanies large-scale alien invasion (Bryce, 1998, 7, 13-14; Macqueen, 1975, 31-32).
Any influx of Indo-European pastoralists, they argue, must have been peaceful. This suggests that
nomadic pastoralists may have moved into Anatolia in relatively small groups made up primarily of related
families, as is usual among pastoral nomads. If in fact they arrived in relatively small groups, they may
well have taken up residence without violent disruption of the communities already in the area. If this
hypothesis is valid, then it is quite likely that the groups of pastoral immigrants whose descendants
became the Hittities were organized at first on a kinship basis, as opposed to the charismatic-authority
basis typically required for a large invasion force.
Territorial Identity Among the Hittites
' To comprehend the formation of territorial groups in ancient Anatolia, it is important to view both the
geographic and economic backgrounds. Geographically, Anatolia consists of a semi-arid central plateau,
between northern and southern ranges of mountains. The Black Sea is to the north; the Aegean and the
Mediterranean to the west and south. There are few rivers of any size, and none navigable. At the
beginning of the second millennium BCE, the northern areas were forested; and southern areas had
sufficient rainfall for herding livestock- at least until overgrazed by goats. The principal natural wealth of
the area was in metals; some silver and gold, but chiefly copper. Copper, when combined with lesser
amounts of tin, made bronze, then the basic material for tools and weapons. Anatolia, however, was
deficient in tin. On the other hand, Assyria, Anatolia’s neighbor to the southeast, was deficient in copper,
but had abundant tin. Consequently, Assyrian merchants eager to acquire Anatolian metals set up
trading posts in Anatolia from about 1940 BCE (Bryce, 2002, 88; Bryce, 1998, 8, 19, 25, 27, 33; Gurney,
1961, 80; Macqueen, 1996, 1085, 1087-1088; Macqueen, 1975, 17; Macqueen, 1986, 15-18,
' Meanwhile speakers of Nesite (Hittite) had settled at a place called Kussara. Kussara was in the
eastern half of Anatolia, probably near or on a main trade route to Syria, but it has never been located
precisely. By the 18th century BCE, Kussaran kings had captured a major center for Assyrian-Anatolian
trade- Nesa (Kanesh) which- as the name suggests- also spoke Nesite. The Kussaran king Pithana
famously stated that he did no harm to the Nesites, but rather “’made them his mothers and fathers’”…
an kinship identity sounding statement ”unique in cuneiform literature…. If taken literally, it might indicate
actual ethnic links between the Kussaran dynasts and the predominantly Indo-European population of
Nesa, or more generally close ethnic affinities” (Bryce, 2005, 36). However, despite the conqueror
wishing the Nesites “to see themselves as his kinfolk, rather than as the subjects of an alien despot…The
image belongs to the language of diplomacy... not literal truth. We have no firm grounds for assuming
that Pithana sought to… champion…an Indo-European ethnic group” (36). Indeed by “the early second
millennium, after several or more centuries of Indo-European settlement in Anatolia and intermingling with
other groups, consciousness of ethnic differences may have largely disappeared- at least in a socio-
political sense” (2005, 36).
' Nonetheless after basing themselves at Nesa during subsequent (unsuccessful) attempts to build a
mini-empire in eastern Anatolia, these Nesite speaking precursors of the Hittite Empire destroyed the
Hattian capital of (non-IE language) Hattusa around 1700 BCE, even erecting an inscribed curse upon
the burnt and ruined city: “On this site I sowed weeds. May the Storm God strike down anyone who
becomes king after me and resettles Hattusa” (Bryce, 2005, 38). This original push by the Nesites, under
Pithana’s (apparently more belligerent) son Anitta, would burn at least one other city (Salatiwara) before
failing in the face of an alliance.
' Bryce reminds us that an “almost impenetrable veil hangs over the decades that followed the end
of Anitta’s reign” and the loss of Assyrian merchant colonies (2005, 61). For nearly a half century in
between the demise of Anitta’s kingdom (c.1700) and the rise of Hattusili, or Labarna II, (c.1650) “written
records cease” and archaeological information, too, is “almost non-existent” (61). According to
archaeologist James Mellaart, by the time the new dynasty finally emerged, what it inherited was “no
longer a prosperous country, but a scarred and ravaged land filled with the ruins of fire-blackened
palaces” (Bryce, 62). While that is perhaps a hyperbolous picture, it is clear that “very few of the major
Anatolian cities and states of the earlier part of the second millennium retained any importance in later
years” (62). Although the human political situation was certainly bellicose on its own accord in early 17th
century Anatolia, the turbulence may have been exacerbated by the eruption of Mount Thera, c.1660-
1613 BCE (see chapter 4) (Balter, 2006).
' In any event, “when the veil begins to lift, it does so on a new era in the history and civilization of
Anatolia” (Bryce, 62)- the Late Bronze Age. A king who was apparently both “man of the Kushara” and
“man of Hattusa”- king Hattusili (r.c.1650-20)- chose the old hilltop city of Hattusa (apparently post-curse)
to build what would be known for most of the next five centuries as the Hittite capital. Hattusili (Labarna
II), whose anonymous predecessors are unknown to history, seems to have changed his name to
correlate with that of the new home (Bryce, 1998, 34-42; Macqueen, 1986, 21, 36), indicating a shift in
group identity from kinship to territorial.
' Up to the 17th century BCE, the early Hittites can appear to have had perhaps as much of a kinship-
ethnic basis of identity as territorial- at least in reference to their distinctive language. Recent authorities
on their history, however- in another rare display of unity- insist that the Hittites known to history were
always a blend of various ethnic identities. There were no identifying physical characteristics common to
them (Gurney, 1973, 231, 252; Houwink Ten Cate, 1995, 264 ff; Macqueen, 1986, 52). Ancestrally they
appeared to blend Hattian, Hurrian, and numerous other ethnic identities (Bryce, 2002, 3-5).
Furthermore they brought back prisoners from their various foreign conquests to perform sundry forms
of labor, thus increasing still more their ethnic diversity (Bryce, 2002, 100). In religion, they shared their
belief in a weather god with a wide array of other Near Eastern peoples (Klengel, 2002, 104). Even in
language it appears likely that the people of their capital city, as well as those elsewhere in the empire,
spoke a number of different languages (Bryce, 2002, 5). Thus it appears firmly established from the
earliest written evidence that the Hittites bore a group identity which was certainly not exclusively ethnic
' Hittite religious vocabulary was often borrowed from- as well as written in- (non-IE) Hurrian and
Hattic languages; while Mesopotamian/Hittite gods, unlike those of Greece and Rome, often represented
morality and justice. In fact, “Any god could be invoked as a defender of justice and punisher of wrong
doing” (Bryce, 2002, 140). Hititte prayers, Bryce reminds us, often had “the character of a defense made
before a judge in a lawcourt, a concept common to many religious systems both ancient and modern…
the most frequent type of prayer was the arkuwar (cognate with English ‘argument’ from the Latin
argumentum)…” (2002, 140). Furthermore, in their foreign conquests they often- perhaps even more so
than later Romans- took over worship of the numerous deities of conquered people and performed the
required rituals assiduously (McMahon, 1991, 212).
' But was Hittite identity based on territorial residence? It is tempting to answer yes, but, as with the
Egyptians, charismatic dependence began early to compete with territorial identity. From the earliest
writings, ancient Anatolia abounded in small, highly competitive city-states (Klengel, 2002, 104; Bryce,
2002, 98 ff). Such entities- as among the earlier Sumerians, or medieval Venice- usually manifest a high
degree of territorial loyalty. Most such entities in Anatolia were based on heavily fortified “capitals” of a
few acres, surrounded by a dependent hinterland of limited extent (Macqueen, 1995, 1085). Like
Sumeria, each had its own deities, who were assumed to look out for the welfare of the territory
(McMahon, 1991, 211). Each sought opportunity to engage in trade, but also to plunder its neighbors.
' The Hittite cities were often more successful than others in doing this, but one portion or another of
Anatolia always remained beyond their grasp and quite capable of inflicting injury upon them (Houwink
Ten Cate, 1995, 260). It is revealing as well that when the Hittites conquered an area, they invariably
added its deities to their pantheon (see below), but they rarely tried to incorporate conquered areas into
their political system. Instead they usually allowed conquered territories great autonomy under a vassal
ruler, in a system that some have compared to medieval feudalism. Such vassal states revolted often,
and sometimes successfully, against their foreign rulers (Gurney, 1961, 132; Beckman, 1995, 542). As
Edward Shills observed, “distant authority is alien authority” (Shils, 1960, 340). Thus it seems reasonable
to conclude that a territorial basis of identity remained significant not only among the early city-states of
Anatolia, but also (perhaps to a lesser extent) within the Hittite empire itself.
From Territorial Identity to Charismatic Authority (CHA) & Dependence (CHD)
' Prolonged exposure to conditions of extreme danger, prerequisite, as we see it, for the
development of relationships of charismatic dependence, surely existed among the Hittites and their
neighbors. The question becomes how and when did the preceding charismatic authority (internal stress)
combine with various external stressors (climate, trophic, military) to become sufficiently severe to make
charismatic dependence (CHD) prevalent?
' Natural (in addition to human/political) disasters, as we have observed with reference to both the
Sumerians and the Egyptians, can predispose people to embrace charismatic dependence. The history
of the Hittite empire seems both to have begun and ended with natural disasters. The mid/late 17th
century BCE massive volcanic eruption of Mount Thera on Santorini island, not far from Crete, coincided
roughly with the current best estimates of the beginning of the Hittite empire. The resulting cloud of
ashes blowing over Anatolia devastated grain crops and induced one of the earliest Hittite kings to lead
an invasion into Syria and Babylonia in search of grain (Broad, 2003). The efforts were successful and
may well have conditioned later efforts at empire-building for the purposes of plunder and exaction of
' No such dramatic event presaged the downfall of the Hittite empire, but another pervasive and
widespread desiccation of the area preceding 1200 BCE seems to have contributed to it, and perhaps to
have caused it. Climatologist Arie Issar and archeaologist Zohar Mattanyah remind us first that Anatolia
was not an exception to the Mesopotamian and Egyptian drying trends mentioned in the preceding
chapter. “Evidence gathered from all over the northern hemisphere of the world shows that the climate
became warmer on a global scale” towards the end of the 3rd millennium BCE, to the general benefit of
temperate zones; beginning- in the Near East- “a period of about three to four centuries of climatic
setbacks starting around 2400” (2004, 131). Once the desiccation “nadir and the depression following
these events” had ended around 1800 BCE, societies in the Near East “underwent profound changes
and [were] forced to invent new methods” (Issar & Zohar, 132). After this “more humid period” of more
permanent settlements in the mid 2nd millennium, the next few centuries, from 1200-900, appear to have
turned warmer and drier (Issar, 2003, 23).
' Although such changes may not mean so much in modern times, archaeologist Rhys Carpenter
noted (a half century ago) the fragility of ancient agricultural societies in the region, observing that the
prolonged droughts that had recently effected modern Greece in the 1950s would have been sufficient to
have caused the late Bronze Age collapse, c.1200- as many rural folk, motivated by hunger, abandoned
their homes and coalesced in order to attain the stores of cities (Carpenter, 1966). Bryce also reminds
us that, not unlike more recent famines, “such shortages may have been due largely to human factors,
such as the disruption of grain supply routes” (1998, 375). If such kingdoms were “becoming increasingly
dependent on importation of grain supplies, even temporary shortfalls in local grain production caused
by drought would have given an increased urgency”, no doubt exacerbating any preexisting political
instability (375). The basic geography of Anatolia was also less securable and more inviting of attack
from neighboring peoples than were other empires like Egypt.
' In any case, crop failures again caused widespread hunger and presumably some starvation.
Hittites tried to combat the food shortages by importing grain from their ruling class brethren in Egypt, but
with less than total success. It is significant in this respect that, in the downfall of the Hittites, their capital-
more of a fortified residence and cult center than a city (Klengel, 2002, 103)- was not captured, but
simply abandoned, as were Indus Valley cities some 3200 kilometers to the east. This period of
desiccation, deforestation, drought and fires was also that of the migrations of the so-called “Sea
Peoples1” (c.1250-c.1180), which ushered in what are sometimes called the "Greek" Dark Ages (c.1200-
c.800)- a period when civilization “regressed almost everywhere” throughout the eastern Mediterranean
and Near East- prior to the rise of the civilization of ancient Greece (Issar, 2003, 23; Bryce, 1998, 369-
371, 374, 382; Bryce, 2002, 255; Klengel, 2002, 108-109; Macqueen, 1975, 97; Macqueen, 1986, 50;
Macqueen, 1995, 1094-1100). Thus natural disasters, or the fear of them and their consequences, may
well have provided empires throughout the Near East- and the Hittites in particular- with reason for
apprehension. Generally, the “establishment of small states2 characterized the end of the Late Bronze
Age and the beginning of the Iron Age”- while more specifically in the Levant (see chapter 4), a “new
ethnic-political structure” was beginning to form (Issar, 2003, 23).
' Among sources of anxiety for the Hittites, surely one of the most serious was the prospect of military
defeat by a group of outsiders. As we have seen, violent conflict among the early city-states of Anatolia
was incessant, and even in Anatolia itself the Hittites never succeeded in conquering all their enemies at
one time. Even at its greatest extent, the Hittite empire was the target of military action, whether by mere
brigands, by unconquered neighbors, or by the revolt of previously subjugated vassals and peoples.
Almost every spring the Hittites set out on expeditions aimed at plunder, conquest, and the establishment
of more tribute-paying vassal states. Its neighbors were no less ruthless, only less successful.
' The most persistent of all these enemies were the semi-nomadic Kaska tribes of the northeastern
mountains. Their raids into Hittite territory were frequently devastating. It was they who either sacked or
occupied the (abandoned) hilltop capital of Hattusa on at least three different occasions between 1350-
1200. To put such sources of apprehension into perspective, one should remember that when one group
conquered another in the Near East during this period, death was the usual fate of all the adult males of
a defeated group. Women and children of the defeated group were marched off, sometimes great
distances, into slavery. Thus Hittites who plundered, killed, and enslaved rivals must have lived with
considerable apprehension that they themselves might experience a similar fate.
' Of course, a state of charismatic dependence is very difficult to reach without first establishing the
dominance of charismatic authority. Hittite society, despite its predominantly territorial/city-state origins
(as opposed to ethnicist) seems always- like most all of its contemporaries- to have had charismatic/
authoritarian institutions at the core of its social foundations.
' Marc Van de Mieroop reminds us that a number of territorial states and prospective empires
developed throughout the Near East in the mid-second millennium, “where there had been a multitude of
small states before” (2004, 126). Most of the region was “sandwiched between competing territorial
states: first Egypt and Mittani, latter Egypt and Hatti, with Assyria lurking… Only the rulers of the territorial
states regarded themselves as equals and addressed each other as 'brothers', while those of the
[smaller] Syro-Palestinian states were of lower rank and were addressed as 'servants'… forced to pledge
allegiance to one of the neighboring overlords, switching that allegiance to the stronger power as
needed” (126). After the Hittites supplanted the Hatti as the nascent empire of Anatolia in the 17th
century BCE, their “sphere of influence” gradually expanded until, by 1300, they had “extended their
system of vassal states as far south as Qadesh” in Syria (Van de Mieroop, 136). The political structure of
the Hittite state is often compared to that of medieval western European vassalage, as “vassals were
locals who swore allegiance” to the Great King personally, but “could switch it to other powers” (152).
Thus the people of areas like “northern Syria were… able to maintain their local cultures and political
hierarchies” regardless of official vassalage (152)- which would prove quite useful when the entire Late
Bronze Age edifice of rival empires collapsed, in the half-century around 1200.
' Prior to the collapse into charismatic dependency, the imperial texts reveal a strict social hierarchy,
involving “two sectors of the society: the palace dependents and the free population in village
communities” (Van de Meiroop, 139). The “palace sector” had the greatest social stratification, including
serfs who worked the agricultural estates. Generally, “the more specialized skills bestowed a higher
status,” with military elites such as charioteers at the top. Within the new capital cities, “a new
bureaucracy was created, one of men who were fully dependent on the king…. These cities, palaces,
and temples were all extensively decorated… requests for gold… were inspired by the need for
conspicuous display… [as] rulers may have tried to outdo one another… [in] what has sometimes been
called an ‘international’ style” of high culture (138). This taste for luxury was no small beer, as many
authorities suspect that control of trade routes was a primary issue in many Hittite conflicts (Macqueen,
1986, 52; Macqueen, 1995, 1087; Bryce, 1998, 86, 21-33; Klengel, 2002, 103-104). The Great King’s
“supreme status was beyond doubt” (Van de Meiroop, 152). [pers.th.note]
' An inevitable consequence of this steep political hierarchy was dynastic intrigue (see chapter 2), as
the Hittites experienced “repeated problems with royal succession” (152)- the general bane of all
charismatic-authoritarian societies. The process of choosing leaders must also have engendered some
measure of anxiety among members of the Hittites elite. Throughout the existence of their empire they
invariably chose leaders from those to whom they were related- either ancestrally or by marriage to one
family or clan. Which member of that family or clan was worthy of succession was often determined by
which one outdid the other claimants in arranging the murder of his rivals. Such a pattern evolved
apparently from tanistry- the pattern among a number of Indo-European and other peoples in which
followers ‘elected’ the most promising member of the family to succeed an expired or expiring leader.
Procedures in actual practice, however, were more clearly authoritarian. Sometimes the succession
followed the wishes of the preceding ruler. Sometimes it involved scheming and murder by one claimant
against another. The resultant dynastic “ebb and flow produced a country that was only rarely unified
and then only for relatively short periods…. a national security problem not dissimilar to those of
Germany and Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries. When weak, Hatti was subject to invasion and civil
insurrection [CHD]. When strong [CHA], it continually pressed outward against its neighbors…” (Gabriel,
' Religion is typically tied closely to charismatic authority, rarely more so than with the Hittites. Gods,
the Hittites believed, were everywhere- in rocks, mountains, streams, etc. (Bryce, 2002, 147). And the
gods were not only ubiquitous; they were also irascible. Dire consequences were to be anticipated from
failure to perform customary rituals or observe ceremonies (Gurney, 1990, 5, 53). From the earliest
evidence available, it appears that the king of the Hittites was both chief priest and the earthly agent of
the principal deity- the storm god (Bryce, 2002, 18, 143; Beckman, 1995, 529-30). Each local community
also had its own tutelary or protective deity, in addition to a pantheon of gods with wider jurisdiction.
Gregory McMahon asserted that “maintaining the state’s relationship with the divine” was of central
importance to the Hittites. A great share of their agricultural production, he added, went into offerings at
state festivals and other ceremonies. “Much of Hittite official life revolved around the cult, the system of
state-sponsored festivals designed to ensure regular and appropriate offerings to the gods.” What
happened to the goods and products so dedicated, assuming that they exceeded the amount required to
maintain the temple staff, is not clearly evident. Beckman does indicate, however, that the state did
attempt “redistributive” functions with revenue from other sources (Beckman, 1995, 539).
' Hittites, like some other peoples of the ancient Near East, “accepted any new deity they
encountered“ in their conquests. They even subsequently “maintained... a vital interest in localized
deities and their individual cults.” Few other states “fostered and recorded… these local traditions as
assiduously as the Hittites” (McMahon ,1991, 1, 212). Under such circumstances, it is not at all surprising
that the royal archives consisted largely of religious texts (Gurney, 1977, 25). Nor is it surprising that
Hittites perceived their kings as stewards of the principal deity, and as authorities to be obeyed-
religiously. From the earliest available evidence, Hittite kings were perceived as the principal agent of the
gods and as such all-powerful and not to be resisted- charismatic authority personified. Only after his
death, however, was a king deified- another precursor to later Roman practices (Gurney, 1958, 121;
Beckman, 1995, 531). Moreover, the new ruler was assumed, as indicated above, to be the earthly
steward of the (Hittite’s own) storm god, who claimed ownership of all land3 (Gabriel, 2002, 72-73)- a
classic definition of absolutism.
' Charismatic authority may also be presumed from the relative absence of both kinship-ethnic and
territorial-civic factors. Although the elite was clannish- the king’s family and kinsmen constituted the
“Great Family” and “held the highest offices4” of state (Gabriel, 2002, 72)- there is little evidence of this
clannishness filtering down to the masses, as most Hittite communities were famously polyglot. Although
originally “military and governmental positions had been reserved for the king’s blood kin… as the Hittites
expanded their authority… and acquired territories in Syria and the Upper Euphrates, these
appointments were made increasingly on the basis of proven competence to men bound by oaths of
fealty… Gradually a governing aristocracy emerged” (72). Non-centralized states, such as the Gasga
people, were “portrayed as aggressive and wild tribesmen” (Van de Meiroop, 151)- an example of the
ethnic-barbarian “other”; whereas the rulers of fellow empires, such as Egypt, were brethren. The birth
names of Hittite kings were often of non-Hittite origin, which is not surprising given the fact that at least
half a dozen different languages have been excavated from the Hittite chancery archives at Hattusa (Van
de Mieroop, 152-53). Moreover, untranslated “original Hittite material seems to have been rare… [while]
literary texts from Mesopotamia were imported wholesale… or somewhat adapted to local tastes” (153).
Unlike Mesopotamia, there have been no reports or claims of any Hittite democratic institutions (or even
signs of debate); while, as in both Sumeria and Egypt, class divergence and social hierarchies did not
permit development of the prerequisite egalitarianism and solidarity associated with civicness.
' Thus the Hittites, like the Sumerians and the Egyptians before them, at the time of their conquest by
outsiders clearly manifested an identity (or perhaps it is better to say a lack of identity) characterized as
one of charismatic dependence (the weaker state of the CHA/CHD cycle), having diluted from an earlier
norm/ideal of charismatic authority. The Anatolian city-states from which the Hittites arose, however,
appear- at least in the earlier centuries- to have felt strong territorial identities. A widespread kinship or
ethnic basis of identity among the Hittites (apart from the ruling elite of earlier centuries) cannot be
established from existing historical or archaeological evidence. Perhaps, however, one may infer that the
pastoral nomads who first brought the proto-Indo-European language of the Hittites into Anatolia (around
the turn of the 2nd millennium BCE) had a predominantly kinship identity before urbanizing.
1 “…probably part of a great migration of displaced
people. The migration may well have been the result of
widespread crop failures and famine relating to the
climatic change occurring at the time. They were,
however, an efficient military force: aggressive, well-armed
and ruthless raiders. Their successful progress appears to
have focused on attacking capitals and cities important to
administration... while leaving residential areas and the
surrounding countryside untouched. They appear to have
first destroyed Mycenae, and then moved on to Troy, which
they laid waste around 1250 BC. They then moved into the
Levant and on to Egypt…. they were probably the founders
of the Philistine and Phoenician civilizations…. In any
case, if they were driven by climatic events, it is hardly
accurate to attribute their behavior to implicit bellicosity.
Whatever the driving forces, it was centuries before the
economic activities in the region returned to a level that
matched..’ the development prior to the mid-13th century
(Burroughs, 1997, 258).
2 The dissemination of iron weapons technology during
the 13th century- enabling mass armies such as the ‘Sea
Peoples’- has been widely remarked upon. Less renown but
concurrent invention was the cistern (“an underground
storage chamber, excavated into impervious layers or
caulked to prevent loss by seepage, and natuarally roofed
to prevent evaporation” (Issar, 2003, 32)- enabling
settlements in the mountains of Canaan, far from the
traditional population centers. “The settlement in the
mountains at the end of the 13th century BC seems to have
been partly the result… [as] The new water system enabled
the establishment of small independent settlements… not
limited by the number and location of springs” (23). This
was surely an innovation of considerable importance
around the turn of the 12th century BC, as the “important
cities in Canaan, such as Hazor, Lachish, Beit Shean,
Megiddo, Afek, Beit Shemesh, Gezer, Tel Beit Mirsim and
others, were destroyed” c1200 (Issar, 23).
3 Military historian Richard Gabriel explains: “The ‘man of
the weapon’ received his land from his lord or king on
specific conditions of military service. Interestingly, this did
not free him from the additional levy of civilian corvee
labor. The soldier’s family retained no title to the land in
the event of the soldier’s death. Instead, the land reverted to
the king, who might bestow it upon another family- even a
foreign captive- who then became a ‘man of the weapon’. It
is not clear if such ‘weapon men’ were true professionals or
only semiprofessional militia, but the latter seems more
likely… the Hittites… imposed themselves on the native
peoples of Anatolia by force of arms and maintained
themselves in the same manner…. One result was a
constant squabbling and frequent civil war over
succession…” (Gabriel, 72-73).
4 everything from chief of bodyguard and chief of treasures,
to chief of wine-pourers (Gabriel, 72).
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' text copyright 2008 Philip L. White and Michael L. White