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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Hittites: Story of A Forgotten Empire by Archibald Sayce

This is a map of the Ancient Near East and it shows where the Hittites, Egyptians, Babylonians and Assyrians  during the 16th 14th century BC.

The Hittites: Story of A Forgotten Empire
by Archibald Sayce
p. 1890

    It's a cliche that the internet makes everything available to everyone for free but this certainly is NOT true for graduate level monographs dealing with subjects in the humanities.  You need to subscribe to JSTOR to access papers and most advanced subjects in history or english are super expensive on Amazon whether in Ebook or print format.

The Hittite Swastika was the most "western" of the Ancient Eastern uses of the symbol. I would argue that the transmission represents a shared Indo European cultural contact since the Indian Swastika is of Sanskritic vintage.  If you look at the map above it's easy to see how both the Hittites and the Indo-Iranian speakers would have both come from "the north"

  Thus, if you are a lay person who, say, wants to learn about the Ancient Near East, there are a finite number of books on the subject that you can obtain without plunking down serious coin.  Most of those are texts which have been used by college courses in the subject or older books that have been around long enough for the price to drop through multiple print editions.  For example, the primary text that a curious reader can obtain on the Hittites is Trevor Bryce's The Kingdom of the Hittites from 1998.  That's about it.

Hittite Warriors from the Battle of Kadesh (1300 BC) between the Hittites and the Egyptians in Syria/Palestine.  It's important to understand the role that the centuries long conflict between Egypt and the Hittites played in allowing the Hebrews to settle in Palestine after their migration out of Egypt- Palestine was a war torn desiccated landscape with no central power.

 One of the other interesting aspects of the Hittite story (besides status as a bridge culture between Mesopotamia/Babylonia/Assyria and Greece) is the fact that the Hittites were only rediscovered in the mid 1870s by the author of The Hittites: Story of A Forgotten Empire, Archibald Sayce.  This book is also the only free book on Hittite history that you can pick up on Amazon,

   The story of the rediscovery of the Hittites is one that parallels the more well known story of Egypt and the discovery of the Rosetta stone that allowed Victorian scholars to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics.   Sayce did manage to unravel the secret of the written Hittite language, but only had a few texts to work with- like single digits.  Compare that state of affairs to what Bryce had to say circa 1998:

  "Some 5000 or more clay tablets impressed with the cuneiform script have been unearthed in the Hittite capital Hattusa this century, in perhaps as many as 30,000 fragments."  - Bryce, The Kingdom of the Hittites, Appendix 2, Sources For Hittite History: An Overview.

Hittite Ritual Axe:  The Hittites were known for their Iron weapons and their knowledge of how to make steel.  They were also known for their horses, and their chariot building- all classically Indo-European skills:  Chariots, Horses, Warriors.

   Sooo...Sayce just didn't have as much information but he did actually, concretely discover an ancient civilization, and a crucial one in terms of understanding how the Greeks became civilized and many of the forces that shaped immigration in and around the Mediterranean before the advent of the "Classical" World.

  One major distinction that Sayce was writing too early to understand is the distinction between the original Hittite and the later Neo-Hittites- the difference between 1900-1800 BC and 1600-15000 BC.  One of the most interesting things about the history of the Ancient Near East is that there are another 2000 years of written history BEFORE the Christian era begins.  That's as much as we have on the other side.

  Most of what Sayce knows about the Hittites is based on his personal "adventures" looking at remote archeological sites and then the rest is what he can glean from contemporary sources: The Bible, Babylonian and Assyrian written history and of course the Egyptians.

    Sayce actually went on after discovering the Hittites to become an Egyptologist so he was on it in terms of looking at newly translated Egyptian texts that referenced the Hittites in terms that can be described as 'Ancient Near Eastern Power Politics': Wars between nations, blood shed, elaborate diplomatic treaties, dynastic marriages.  Sayce argues from this that the Hittites were the second major "Northern" power during the spercific period he was describing, but they were also pushed around by powers to the east: Assyria to be specific.


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