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Friday, July 24, 2009

Book Review: The Kingdom of the Hittites by Trevor Bryce

Neo-Hittite Lion, Ain Dara, SyriaTechnically a "neo-Hittite" lion, but whatever.

Book Review
The Kingdom of the Hittites
by Trevor Bryce
p. 1998

Here's a tip if you are going to delve into non-fiction: "Try not to read crap." Can't over-emphasize that point. People put out a lot of shitty books and non-fiction is not exempt. As in collecting music, the intelligent reader should be cognizant of who is putting out the book. For example, if Oxford University Press puts out a book, I know it won't be filled with crazy bullshit. It may be a little stodgy stylistically, but I don't read non-fiction for style, I read it for facts.

I wanted to do a Friday book review for Kingdom of the Hittites to rave about it, basically. There aren't many books where I read it, put it down and say 'Ah, perfect" but such is the case with The Kingdom of the Hittites by Trevor Bryce. It is possibly the only book anyone should ever have to read about the Hittite empire and yet it packs greater pound-for-pound "wow" punch then any other book I can remember reading.

Perhaps the signal highlight of Kingdom of the Hittites is the Chapter on Troy (fabled local of Homeric myth.) Early on Bryce argues that the Kingdom identified by "Ahhiyawa" was actually the Mycenaean Empire of the pre-Greek bronze age. Later he introduces us to a man named Piyamaradu(Paris???): he's a rogue prince in conflict with both the Hittite King an the Ahhiyawa king, who may or may not be the Homeric Agamemnon.

Ultimately, he sees The Odyssey as a weaving together of several disparate attacks on the city of "Troy" by both Hittites and Mycenaean/Greeks that happened over a lengthy period. It's pretty heady stuff, and in his recent book Travelling Heroes Robin Lane Fox confirmed as much (which is where I read about this book originally.)

Running a close second is his theory that the fall of the Hittite empire was triggered by a drought, and resulted in the migration of several central Indo European/Anatolian peoples to new locations in the Meditteranean basin, perhaps directly spawning the Etruscans in north-central Italy and creating whole tribes of Pirates who show up in Egypt, Crete and Mycenae as the so-called "Sea People."

And it's not a long book- the whole thing wraps up in about 400 pages. And there is nothing to follow up on- every source cited is either in a specialist publication, written in german or written in Turkish.

Finally, the Hittite's are a very important link in the dissemination of cultural ideas from East to West. They were in regular contact with the Mycenaean empire. It's something that is completely at odds with the picture presented by Mycenaean experts, who portray that culture as having little contact with the Anatolian sub-continent.

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