Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Hittites

Back when I was reading Toynbee for the first time ever, in the Army, stationed in Germany, it was difficult for me to look up any of the ancient civilizations Toynbee classified and then viewed from countless angles. A few, of course, like the Greek-Roman, I knew a little about. My current re-reading is aided by a quite magical reference facility, the Internet. Now I read, mark, and then, in the morning I look up the strange old names, see their extents on maps, and can rapidly put them in the time-frame of the centuries, millennia past. The Hittites are one of these. I had no idea where and when they’d lived.

Click to enlarge.
It was instructive for me to discover that the Hittite “empire” occupied parts of what today is a single country, Turkey. Also, to diverge just a little from the narrower topic, that the majority of the civilizations Toynbee discusses were located pretty much over the same regions of Europe, Eurasia, and Northern Africa—a region more or less centered on the Tigris-Euphrates valleys. Not to overstate this, I note that Toynbee does cover all cultures, including, say the Eskimos (to pick a truly Nordic one) and the Incas (to range to the extreme south).  Population density in the extreme past was not what it was today; therefore an “empire” could very well cover but one or two countries, and parts of a few more, to deserve the name.

In naming centuries in the BC scheme, the eighteenth century BC, for example, when the Hittite empire began, started in 1800 BC and ended in 1701 BC. (I keep having to remind myself of this.) Well, the Hittite realm extended from the eighteenth century BC to the year 1178 BC. So it lasted, in round numbers (because we don’t have an exact date for its beginnings), some 622 years. The Hittites are remembered as using horse-drawn chariots as the major “armor” of that time. They were significant producers of bronze goods and early in switching to iron. Indeed, the Age of Iron is dated to about the fall of the Hittite Empire. In the major cultural region of Greece, Turkey, Mesopotamia, and down to Egypt, all culture seemingly went to sleep for a while, an era some call the Greek Dark Ages (roughly 1200-750 BC). Various civilizations came under fierce attack from southern European “People of the Sea” or “Sea People” who arrived in boats, carrying their populations along, and attacked the cities they could reach from the oceans. Sea Peoples? Well, ancient history has its endless mysteries.

It gave me a strong same-old, same-old feeling to learn that the Hittite Empire itself, never mind its people, existed principally by trade. Much of it flowed through what is known as the Cilician Gates, a passage through the Taurus Mountains (link). The pass gave access to Mesopotamia and to Egypt, and from there to the Anatolian Plateau where the Hittites ruled. So what was life like in, say 5600 BC? What will it be like in 5813 AD? It is good to know, in any case, that we can now drive through the Cilician Gates by using a major twentieth-century six-lane freeway. It will last for a while yet.

The picture I am showing, from Wikipedia (link), is of German origin. The blue area, labeled Der Reich der Hethiter, was where the Hittites lived. And the city, Tarsos, on the southern edge, shows the approximate location of the Cilician Gates.

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