Although mentioned several times in the Biblical texts, the actual existence of the Hittites was largely forgotten until the late 19th century. With the discovery of Hattusa in 1834, the city that was for many years the capital of the Hittite Empire, the Hittites were finally recognized as one of the Great Superpowers of the ancient Middle East in the Late Bronze Age.
Engraving from a relief at Yazilikaya by French archaeologist Charles Texier (1882). Teshub stands on two deified mountains (depicted as men) alongside his wife Hepatu, who is standing on the back of a panther. Behind her, their son, their daughter and grandchild are respectively carried by a smaller panther and a double-headed eagle.
They populated the broad lands of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) originally occupied by the Hatti and later expanded their territories into northern Syria and as far south as Lebanon. The Hittite language, which was written in both cuneiform script and hieroglyphics, is believed to be the oldest of the Indo-European languages and was deciphered only in 1915. Religion played an important role in Hittite life. The Hittites worshiped so many deities that they referred to them as “the thousand gods of Hatti”. At the center of the Hittite pantheon were the Storm god Teshub and his wife the Sun goddess Hebat.
The Hittite kingdom reached its greatest extent during the mid-14th century BCE under Suppiluliuma I and his son Mursilli II. The collapse of the kingdom around 1200 BCE drove the Hittites south where they created a series of Neo-Hittite city-states north and east of Adana. Some of these lived on into the 8th century BC before vanishing from the pages of history.
The rediscovery of the Hittites has been one of the major achievements of archaeology of the last century. Its capital Hattusa has since been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. An enlarged copy of a cuneiform clay tablet found at Hattusa hangs in the United Nations building in New York. This tablet is a piece treaty signed between between the Hittite and Egyptian Empires in 1258 BCE after the famous Battle of Kadesh. It is the earliest peace treaty whose text is known to have survived.
“Reamasesa-Mai-amana, the great king, the king of the country of Egypt, shall never attack the country of Hatti to take possession of a part (of this country). And Hattusili, the great king, the king of the country of Hatti, shall never attack the country of Egypt to take possession of a part (of that country).“
The Hittite version of the Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty (Treaty of Kadesh), discovered in 1906 at Boğazköy (Turkey), 1259 BCE. (Istanbul Archeology Museum)