Book Review: The Hittites

The Hitties, by A.E. Cowley

For a variety of reasons I have long been interested in the Hittite Empire and its history [1].  That said, the Hittites as a nation were largely unknown before the 19th century, when archaeological digs in Syria and Anatolia found unknown texts and the ruins of great cities that indicated that the great empire that had been spoken of in the Bible actually existed.  To be sure, many historians of the Hittite Empire wrestle with the question of the biblical account, many of them somewhat dismissively, and this particular book does its best not to give credit to the Bible for having been write when so many scholars doubted and were thus wrong.  This book, though, does not show the latest knowledge about the empire but rather what was known about the empire a century ago, when the language had not properly been deciphered and much was still unknown about it.  Admittedly, the author of these three lectures chose to give three lectures on the subject of the Hittite Empire and still write material that is worthwhile today, but not as cutting edge research but more a reminder of how Hittite studies began.

The three lectures of this book total around 100 pages or so if one includes the preface.  The first lecture discusses the history of the Hittites.  This not only includes the period of the Hittite Empire as well as an account of how the Hittites became known to history through the Hamath stones as well as the excavation of the main Hittite capital during its imperial phase, but also a discussion of the neo-Hittite states that were eventually conquered by the Assyrians (1).  The second lecture discusses the characteristics of race and language for the Hittites, featuring the author’s doubts about whether the Hittite language could be considered a Semitic language, an Indo-European language, or an unknown one, as well as the worship systems and art that we know of from the Hittites thanks to surviving artifacts that have mercifully escaped destruction by various looters throughout history.  The third and final lecture discusses some notes on the decipherment of the hieroglyphic inscriptions, which is the most obsolete of the lectures given the progress that has been made in this field over the last century with the definitive understanding of Hittite as an Indo-European language.

What sort of things make the Hittite Empire important?  For one, the empire itself and its successor states appeared in the Bible, and for many of us that is reason enough to pay attention to it.  Otherwise, the empire possessed an interesting language, was a diplomatic partner of Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, and for while Mittani in a complex concert of nations.  For those who are interested in linguistic studies, Hittite and Luwian present challenges as languages and a lot of texts to work out one’s theories about the meaning of texts and how Hittite was pronounced as an obscure member of an extinct branch of the Indo-European family of languages with a lot of influence from other related languages like Sumerian.  Then, of course, there is the mystery of the ending of the Hittite Empire and what happened to its population afterwards.  Did they move to other regions?  These mysteries are well worth pondering over as well when we reflect upon the way that the Hittites themselves once ruled over a large state spanning nearly the entire area of modern Turkey and parts of Syria, Lebanon, and even Israel, before collapsing to foreign attacks and becoming forgotten and neglected.  The same fate is always possible for our societies as well.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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