The kingdom of Mitanni – ancient torkey

The kingdom of Mitanni

The kingdom of Mitanni was a feudal state led by a warrior nobility of Aryan or Hurrian origin. Frequently horses were bred on their large landed estates. Documents and contract agreements in Syria often mention a chariot-warrior caste that also constituted the social upper class in the cities.

Below: The Hittites Kingdom at it’s height

The aristocratic families usually received their landed property as an inalienable fief. Consequently, no documents on the selling of landed property are to be found in the great archives of Akkadian documents and letters discovered in Nuzi, near Kirkuk. The prohibition against selling landed property was often dodged, however, with a stratagem: the previous owner “adopted” a willing buyer against an appropriate sum of money. The wealthy lord Tehiptilla was “adopted” almost 200 times, acquiring tremendous holdings of landed property in this way without interference by the local governmental authorities. He had gained his wealth through trade and commerce and through a productive two-field system of agriculture (in which each field was cultivated only once in two years). For a long time, Prince Shilwa-Teshub was in charge of the royal governmental administration in the district capital. Sheep breeding was the basis for a woolen industry, and textiles collected by the palace were exported on a large scale. Society was highly structured in classes, ranks, and professions. The judiciary, patterned after the Babylonian model, was well organized; the documents place heavy emphasis on correct procedure.

Native sources on the religion of the Hurrians of the Mitanni kingdom are limited; about their mythology, however, much is known from related Hittite and Ugaritic myths. Like the other peoples of the ancient Middle East, the Hurrians worshiped gods of various origins. The king of the gods was the weather god Teshub. According to the myths, he violently deposed his father Kumarbi; in this respect he resembled the Greek god Zeus, who deposed his father Kronos. The war chariot of Teshub was drawn by the bull gods Seris (“Day”) and Hurris (“Night”). Major sanctuaries of Teshub were located at Arrapkha (modern Kirkuk) and at Halab (modern Aleppo) in Syria. In the east his consort was the goddess of love and war Shaushka, and in the west the goddess Hebat (Hepat); both were similar to the Ishtar-Astarte of the Semites.

The sun god Shimegi and the moon god Kushuh, whose consort was Nikkal, the Ningal of the Sumerians, were of lesser rank. More important was the position of the Babylonian god of war and the underworld, Nergal. In northern Syria the god of war Astapi and the goddess of oaths Ishara are attested as early as the 3rd millennium BC.

Below: The Hittites were some of the first warriors to use the chariot.

In addition, a considerable importance was attributed to impersonal numina such as heaven and earth as well as to deities of mountains and rivers. In the myths the terrible aspect of the gods often prevails over indications of a benevolent attitude. The cults of sacrifices and other rites are similar to those known from the neighbouring countries; many Hurrian rituals were found in Hittite Anatolia. There is abundant evidence for magic and oracles.

Temple monuments of modest dimensions have been unearthed; in all probability, specific local traditions were a factor in their design. The dead were probably buried outside the settlement. Small artifacts, particularly seals, show a peculiar continuation of Babylonian and Assyrian traditions in their preference for the naturalistic representation of figures. There were painted ceramics with finely drawn decorations (white on a dark background). The strong position of the royal house was evident in the large palaces, existing even in district capitals. The palaces were decorated with frescoes. Because only a few Mitanni settlements have been unearthed in Mesopotamia, knowledge of Mitanni arts and culture is as yet insufficient.

Ancient Torkey Language


In earlier stages of research, the terms Mitanni language and Subarian were used as designations for Hurrian. In Hittite cuneiform texts, hurlili “language of the Hurrian” is used. In the last centuries of the 3rd millennium BC, Hurrians were already present in the Mardin region, which, from a geographical point of view, belongs to the North Mesopotamian plain. In Mesopotamian texts (from the time of the Akkad dynasty) some Hurrian personal names and glosses have been found. The customary assumption is that this non-Semitic and also non-Indo-European ethnic group had come from the Armenian mountains. During the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, the Hurrians apparently spread over larger parts of southeast Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia.

Still later, during the intermediary “Dark Age,” they are supposed to have infiltrated into Cilicia and the adjacent Taurus and Antitaurus regions (Kizzuwatna in 2nd millennium texts). Before the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, an Indo-Aryan ruling caste wielded some type of authority over parts of Hurrian territory. Some names and words in ancient Near Eastern texts bear witness to their presence. Among these words are a group of technical terms related to the training of horses that found its way into Hittite treatises on that subject; they are most important from a historical point of view. After Sumerian, Akkadian, Hattic, Palaic, and Luwian, Hurrian and these Indo-Aryan glosses constitute the sixth and seventh additional languages of the Hittite archives.

Below, the ruins of mount Nemrud. In 62 BC, King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene built on the mountain top a tomb-sanctuary flanked by huge statues

Hurrian texts have been found in Urkish (Mardin region, c. 2300 BC), Mari (on the middle Euphrates, 18th century BC), Amarna (Egypt, c. 1400 BC), Bogazköy-Hattusa (Empire period), and Ugarit (on the coastline of northern Syria, 14th century). Amarna yielded the most important Hurrian document, a political letter sent to Pharaoh Amenhotep III. From Mari came a small number of religious texts; from Bogazköy-Hattusa, literary and religious texts; and from Ugarit, vocabularies belonging to the more “scholarly literature” described above and Hurrian religious texts in Ugaritic alphabetic script. Hurrian personal names, found in texts from many sites (Bogazköy-Hattusa, Alalakh, Ugarit, and especially Nuzu), constitute a second linguistic source of major importance.

The Hurrians – History of Ancient Torkey


The Hurrians enter the orbit of ancient Middle Eastern civilization toward the end of the 3rd millennium BC. They arrived in Mesopotamia from the north or the east, but it is not known how long they had lived in the peripheral regions.

Ruins of the Hittite capitol of Hattusa

There is a brief inscription in Hurrian language from the end of the period of Akkad, while that of King Arishen (or Atalshen) of Urkish and Nawar is written in Akkadian. The language of the Hurrians must have belonged to a widespread group of ancient Middle Eastern languages. The relationship between Hurrian and Subarean has already been mentioned, and the language of the Urartians, who played an important role from the end of the 2nd millennium to the 8th century BC, is likewise closely related to Hurrian. According to the Soviet scholars Igor M. Diakonov and Sergei A. Starostin, the Eastern Caucasian languages are an offshoot of the Hurrian-Urartian group.

It is not known whether the migrations of the Hurrians ever took the form of aggressive invasion; 18th-century-BC texts from Mari speak of battles with the Hurrian tribe of Turukku south of Lake Urmia (some 150 miles from the Caspian Sea’s southwest corner), but these were mountain campaigns, not the warding off of an offensive. Proper names in cuneiform texts, their frequency increasing in the period of Ur III, constitute the chief evidence for the presence of Hurrians. Nevertheless, there is no clear indication that the Hurrians had already advanced west of the Tigris at that time. An entirely different picture results from the 18th-century palace archives of Mari and from texts originating near the upper Khabur River. Northern Mesopotamia, west of the Tigris, and Syria appear settled by a population that is mainly Amorite and Hurrian; and the latter had already reached the Mediterranean littoral, as shown by texts from Alalakh on the Orontes. In Mari, literary texts in Hurrian also have been found, indicating that Hurrian had by then become a fully developed written language as well.

Another depiction of Hittite warriors

The high point of the Hurrian period was not reached until about the middle of the 2nd millennium. In the 15th century, Alalakh was heavily Hurrianized; and in the empire of Mitanni the Hurrians represented the leading and perhaps the most numerous population group.

The Hurrians were one of a people important in the history and culture of the Middle East during the 2nd millennium BC. The earliest recorded presence of Hurrian personal and place names is in Mesopotamian records of the late 3rd millennium; these point to the area east of the Tigris River and the mountain region of Zagros as the Hurrian habitat. From then on, and especially during the early 2nd millennium, there is scattered evidence of a westward spread of Hurrians. An even greater westward migration, probably set in motion by the intrusion of Indo-Iranians from the north, seems to have taken place after 1700 BC, apparently issuing from the area between Lake Van and the Zagros. Evidence indicates that the Hurrians overthrew the Assyrian rulers and subsequently dominated the area. East of the Tigris the flourishing commercial centre of Nuzu was a basically Hurrian community, and Hurrian influence prevailed in many communities of Syria. Hurrians likewise occupied large sections of eastern Anatolia, thereby becoming eastern neighbours and, later, partial dependents of the Hittites.

Yet the Hurrian heartland during this period was northern Mesopotamia, the country then known as Hurri, where the political units were dominated by dynasts of Indo-Iranian origin. In the 15th century BC the Hurrian area ranging from the Iranian mountains to Syria was united into a state called Mitanni. In the middle of the 14th century, the resurgent Hittite Empire under Suppiluliumas I defeated Mitanni and reduced its king, Mattiwaza, to vassalage, while Assyria seized the opportunity to reassert its independence.

Below: The lion gate at Hattusa, the Hittite capitol

Despite political subjection, the continued Hurrian ethnic and cultural presence in Syria and the Cilician region (Kizzuwadna) strongly influenced the Hittites. The carvings at Yazlkaya, for instance, suggest that the official pantheon of the Hittite Empire was thoroughly Hurrianized; Hittite queens had Hurrian names; and Hurrian mythology appears in Hittite epic poems.Except for the principality of Hayasha in the Armenian mountains, the Hurrians appear to have lost all ethnic identity by the last part of the 2nd millennium BC.

The Hittites – Ancient Torkey

History of Ancient Turkey

Roaring into history from mysterious origins, the Hittites would rule a great empire that stretched from Mesopotamia to Syria and Palestine. The Hittites are shrouded in fog and mystery; we don’t where they came from, and for a long time the language they spoke was undecipherable. In the end, it turns out they were Indo-European, that is, they spoke a language from the Indo-European language family, which includes English, German, Greek, Latin, Persian, and the languages of India.

An early Hittite Stela showing a warrior with spear and shield

Their invasion spelled the end of the Old Babylonian empire in Mesopotamia (1900-1600 BC), and like so many others before them, the invaders adopted the ways of the conquered; after the conquest of Mesopotamia, the Hittites adopted the laws, religion, and the literature of the Old Babylonians thus continuing the long heritage of Sumerian culture.

Their empire was at its greatest from 1600-1200 BC, and even after the Assyrians gained control of Mesopotamia after 1300 BC, the Hittite cities and territories thrived independently until 717 BC, when the territories were finally conquered by Assyrians and others.

The Hebrew scriptures have little to say about the Hittites, and the Egyptians regarded them as barbarians. In fact, from 1300-1200 BC, the Hittites waged a war against Egypt that drained both empires tragically. The Hittites themselves seem to have left few accounts of their history, so until this century no-one really knew their culture or the greatness of their political ascendacy

Above: The Hittites from an egyptian relief

But the Hittites are perhaps one of the most significant peoples in Mesopotamian history. Because their empire was so large and because their primary activity was commerce, trading with all the civilizations and peoples of the Mediterranean, the Hittites were the people primarily responsible for transmitting Mesopotamian thought, law, political structure, economic structure, and ideas around the Mediterranean, from Egypt to Greece. So the Hittites are the great traders in the culture built by the Sumerians and adopted and modified by later peoples. Because of the Hittites, when the Hebrews migrated to Canaan under Moses they found a people, the Canaanites, who were, culturally speaking, Mesopotamian