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One of the many peoples of North-Western Asia, styled Hittim in the Hebrew Bible, Khuti or Kheta on the Egyptian monuments, and Hatti in the cuneiform documents. For many centuries the existence of the Hethites was known only from scanty allusions in the Bible. Egyptian and Assyrian documents revealed to the scholars of the latter part of the nineteenth century the power of the Hethite empire, and discoveries now pursued at the very home of this long-forgotten people almost daily supply important new information concerning it, whetting the interest of scholars, and fostering the hope that before long Hethite history will be as well known as that of Egypt and Assyria. In the latter part of the eighteenth century a German traveller had noticed two figures carved on a rock near Ibreez, in the territory of the ancient Lycaonia. Major Fischer rediscovered them in 1838, and made a drawing of the figures and a copy of the two short inscriptions in strange-looking characters which accompanied these figures. But what they were no one could tell at the time. In his travels along the Orontes (1812) Burckhardt had likewise noticed at Hamah, the site of the ancient city of Hamath, a block covered with what appeared to be an inscription, although the characters were unknown. He mentioned this discovery in his "Travels in Syria" (p. 146), without, however, attracting the attention of travellers and Orientalists. Almost sixty years later three other slabs of the same description were found in the same place by Johnson and Jessup; and in 1872 Dr. W. Wright had the stones removed to the Imperial Museum of Constantinople. The characters carved in relief on the stones were long designated as "Hamathite writing", although as early as 1874 Dr. Wright had suggested that they were of Hethite origin. Comparing the inscriptions of Ibreez with those from Hamah, E. J. Davis noticed that the former were also in the "Hamathite writing". Soon new texts were discovered at Aleppo, Jerabûls, Ninive, Ghiaur-ka-lessi, Boghaz-Keui, Mount Sipylus, the Pass of Karabel: all presented the same strange hieroglyphic characters, engraved in relief and in boustrophedon fashion. When figures accompanied the inscriptions, they likewise bore a striking resemblance to one another: all were clad in a tunic reaching to the knees, were shod with boots with turned-up ends, and wore a high peaked cap. It became certain that these monuments belonged to the Hethite population located by Egyptian and Assyrian inscriptions in the east of Asia Minor. The true home of the Hethite monuments, indeed, extends from the Euphrates to the Halys River; monuments found beyond these limits either mark the site of eccentric colonies, or are memorials of military conquests. This geographical distribution, as well as some of the features noticeable in the figures carved on these monuments, makes it clear that the Hethites must have been originally inhabitants of a cold and mountainous region, and that the high plateaux of Cappadocia should be regarded as their primeval home. Both their own and the Egyptian monuments describe them as ugly in appearance with yellow skins, black hair, receding foreheads, oblique eyes, and protruding upper jaws. The type may still be found in Cappadocia.
As to their language, it may be said, despite the researches of Conder, Sayce, and others, to have so far challenged the patience and genius of Orientalists. The first Hethite texts known were all written in the so-called Hamathite characters; the royal archives discovered since 1905 at Boghaz-Keui, under the auspices of the "Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft", contain many Hethite texts written in cuneiform characters. It is to be hoped that this will enable scholars to detect the secret of that old language which still lingered in Lycaonia at the time of St. Paul's missionary journeys in these regions. Little likewise is known of the Hethite religion. The special difficulty here arises partly from the syncretic tendencies manifest in the religious development of the ancient peoples in the East, and partly from the scarcity of information bearing on distinctly Hethite worship. Lucian's description of the great temple of Mabog and its worship may contain some features of the worship going on in the older city of Carchemish; but it seems to be a hopeless task to try to trace back these features over a gap of some ten centuries. Owing to the permanence of popular customs in remote country places, and particularly in mountainous regions, less accessible to foreign influence, there is perhaps more reliable information to gather on the primitive Hethite worship from Strabo's description of Cappadocian religious solemnities in classical times (Strabo, XII, ii, 3, 6, 7). The Hethite pantheon is known, however, to a certain extent, from the proper names which quite frequently contain as a constitutive element the title of some deity. Among the divine names most usually employed may be mentioned here: Tarqû, Rho, Sandan, Kheba, Tishûbû, Ma, and Hattû. The compact entered upon by Ramses II and Hattusil suggests the idea that heaven, earth, rivers, mountains, lands, cities, had each its male or female Sutekh, a kind of genius loci, like the Aramæan Ba‘al or Ba‘alath. A treaty between the same Hattusil and the ruler of Mitanni mentioning first deities of Babylonian origin, then others of a more distinctly Hethite character, and lastly some Indo-Persian gods, witnesses to the syncretic character of the Hethite religion as early as the fourteenth century B.C. Thanks to the Egyptian and Assyrian documents we are in possession of more details concerning the history of the Hethites. At an early date some of their tribes forced their way through the defiles of the Taurus range into Northern Syria and established themselves in the valley of the Orontes: Hamath and Cades (A. V. Kadesh) were very early Hethite cities. Some bands, pursuing their march southwards, settled in the hilly region of Southern Palestine, where they intermingled with the Amorrhites, then in possession of the land. Ezechiel, stating that the mother of Jerusalem was a Hethite (an Hittite—A. V., xvi, 3, 45; D. V.: Cethite), very likely refers to an old tradition concerning the origin of the city. At all events, when Abraham came to Chanaan he found a Hethite colony clustered around Hebron (Genesis 23:3; 26:34, etc.). The bulk of the nation established itself in the Naharina (comp. Hebr.: Aram Naharaim), between the River Balikh and the Orontes, on the slopes of the Amanus range and in the Cilician plains. This position, between the two foremost empires of the ancient world, namely Chaldee and Egypt, made the territory occupied by the Hethites, on the road followed by the merchants of both nations, one of the richest commercial countries in the East.
But the population was perhaps still more inclined to war than to commerce, and local monuments, no less than Egyptian records, bear witness to the military conquests and the power of the Hethites in the distant regions of Western and Southern Asia Minor. There are some grounds for the belief that certain traditions lingering on in those regions centuries later (origin of the Lydian dynasty, legend of the Amazons) originated in the Hethite conquests, and that we may recognize the swarthy Cappadocian warriors in the Kéteioi mentioned in Odyss., XI, 516-521. Certain it is, at any rate, that the Troad, Lydia, and the shores of the Cilician Sea acknowledged the Hethite supremacy at the beginning of the eighteenth century B.C.
The Hethites first appear in historical documents at the time of the eighteenth Egyptian dynasty (about 1550 B.C.). Thothmes I, in the first year of his reign, carried his arms to N. Syria and set up his trophies on the banks of the Euphrates, perhaps near Carchemish. His grandson, Thothmes III, was a great warrior. Twice, he tells us, in 1470 and 1463 B.C., the king of the land of the Hethites, "the Greater", paid him tribute. After a signal victory at Megiddo, and the taking of this city, which was the key to the Syrian valleys, Thothmes III repeatedly seized Cades and Carchemish and invaded the Naharina. At his death the Egyptian empire bordered on the land of the Hethites. The successes of the Egyptian armies did not dishearten their sturdy neighbours. Their restless enterprises forced Ramman-Nirari, King of Assyria, to invoke the aid of Thothmes IV against the Hethites of Mer’ash; and the help was apparently given, for an inscription tells us that the first campaign of the Egyptian prince was directed against the Khetas. These, however, with their allies the Minni, the Amurru, the Kasi, and the King of Zinzar, did not cease to press southwards, thereby causing serious alarm to the Egyptian governors. Held in check until the death of Amenhotep III by the King of Mitanni, Dushratti, who had made alliance with the King of Egypt, the Hethites resumed the offensive during the reign of Amenhotep IV. They were led by Etaqqama, son of Sutarna, Prince of Cades, who had formerly warred against them, had been made captive, and, although professing to be still acting on behalf of the pharaoh, had become their warm supporter. Before Etaqqama, Teuwaatti, Arzawyia, and Dasa, one by one the Syrian cities and the Egyptian strongholds fell, and Cades on the Orontes, conquered, became for centuries a strong centre of Hethite power. Subbiluliuma, during whose reign the Hethite empire won, by its military successes, a place of prominence in the Eastern world, is the first great Hethite sovereign named in inscriptions: Carchemish, Tunip, Nii, Hamath, Cades, are mentioned among the principal cities of his empire; the Mitanni, the Arzapi, and other principalities along the Euphrates acknowledged his suzerainty; and Troad, Cilicia, and Lydia owned his sway.
The successors of Amenhotep IV, hampered by the trouble and disorder prevailing at home, were no match for such a powerful neighbour; Ramses I, the founder of the nineteenth dynasty, after an attack, the success of which seems to have been doubtful, was compelled to conclude with Subbiluliuma a treaty which left the Hethites their entire freedom of action. His son and successor, Seti I, attempted to reconquer Syria. At first he was victorious. Marching his armies through Syria as far as the Orontes, he fell suddenly upon Cades which he wrested from the hands of Muttalu. The success of this campaign was, however, by no means decisive, and an honourable peace was concluded with the Hethite ruler, Mursil.
The epoch of Seti's death was one of revolution in the Hethite Government. Muttallu, the son of Mursil, having been murdered, his brother Hattusil was called to the throne (about 1343 B.C.). He at once mustered all his forces against Egypt. The encounter took place near the city of Cades: in a hard-fought battle in which the Egyptian king, surprised from an ambush, hardly escaped, the northern confederacy was defeated and the Hethite ruler sued for peace. The treaty then concluded was, however, but a short truce, and only sixteen years later, the twenty-first year of Ramses, on the twenty-first day of the month Tybi, was peace finally signed between the Egyptian ruler and "the great king of the Hethites". The treaty, the Egyptian text of which has long been known in full, and of which a Babylonian minute was found in 1906 at Boghaz-Keui, was a compact of offensive and defensive alliance between the two powers thus put on a par; this treaty, as well as the marriage of Hattusil's daughter to Ramses in the thirty-fourth year of the latter's reign, shows forcibly the position then attained by the Hethite empire. So powerful a prince indeed was Hattusil that he pretended to interfere in Babylonian politics. An alliance had been entered upon between him and Katachman-Turgu, King of Babylon. At the latter's death Hattusil threatened to sever the alliance if the son of the deceased prince was not given the crown. The peaceful relations of the Hethite empire with its southern neighbour continued during the reign of Ramses' son, Mineptah, the pharaoh of the Exodus; this prince, indeed, soon after his accession, sent corn to the Hethites at a time when Syria was devastated by famine. It is true that Egypt had to repel on its own shores an invasion of the Libyans and other peoples of Asia Minor; but although these peoples seem to have been vassals to the Hethites, nothing indicates that the latter had any interest in the enterprise. Such was not the case under Ramses III. A formidable confederacy of the nations of the coast and of the islands of the Ægean Sea swept N.-W. Asia, conquered the Hethites and other inland peoples and, swollen by the troops of the conquered kingdoms, fell upon the shores of Egypt. The invading army met with a complete disaster, and, among other details, Ramses III records that the King of the Hethites was captured in the battle. The Hethite empire was no longer a political unity, but had been split into independent states: perhaps some tribes in the far west and the south of Asia Minor had shaken off the Hethite allegiance; however, we learn from Theglathphalasar I (A. V. Tiglath-pileser) that, towards the end of the twelfth century, the "land of the Hatti" still extended from the Lebanon to the Euphrates and the Black Sea. As early as the close of the fourteenth century B.C., Hattusil had showed good political foresight in warning the Babylonian king against the progress of Assyria. It was indeed at the hands of the Assyrians that the Hethites were to meet their doom. The first dated mention of the latter in the Assyrian documents is found in the annals of Theglathphalasar I (about 1110 B.C.). In various expeditions against the land of Kummukh (Commagene), he penetrated farther and farther into the Hethite country; but he never succeeded in forcing his way across the fords of the Euphrates: the city of Carchemish, commanding them, compelled his respect.
The two hundred years which followed the death of Theglathphalasar I were for the Assyrian empire a period of decay. The relations of the Hethites with the Israelite kingdom, which, under David and Solomon, rose then to prominence, seem to have been few. David, we are told, had Hethites in his army and in his bodyguard (1 Samuel 26:6; 2 Samuel 11:6, etc.); these were possibly descendants of the Hethites settled in S. Palestine. Bethsabee, Solomon's mother, perhaps belonged to their race. At any rate, it seems that Adarezer, King of Soba, was endeavouring to extend his possessions at the expense of the Hethites' Syrian dominion (2 Samuel 8:3) when he was smitten by David. It is known also from 2 Samuel 24:6, that the officers of David went as far as Cades on the Orontes (Hebrew text to be corrected) when they were sent to take the census of Israel. The text of 1 Kings 10:28 sq., adds that in Solomon's time Israelite merchants bought horses in Egypt and from the Syrian and Hethite princes. What Adarezer could not effect the rulers of Damascus succeeded in doing; they built up their power partly out of the empire of Solomon and partly out of the Hethite dominion, which betokens that the once unshaken supremacy of Carchemish was apparently on the wane. Of this the inscriptions of Assurnasirpal (885-860) leave no doubt. Renewing the campaigns of Theglathphalasar I against the Eastern Hethite tribes, he succeeded in crossing the Euphrates; Carchemish escaped assault at the hands of the Assyrian conqueror by buying him off at a tremendous price. Continuing his raid westwards, Assurnasirpal appeared before the capital of the Kattinians: like Carchemish, the city bribed him away and induced him to turn towards the Phœnician cities. A few centuries of profitable commercial operations had, it seems, altogether changed the warlike spirit of the once aggressive Hethite race. Year after year Shalmaneser II (860-825)—D. V. Salmanasar—led his armies against the various Hethite states, with the purpose of possessing himself of the high road between Phœnicia and Ninive. The overthrow of the Khattinians finally aroused once more the warlike spirit of the Hethite princes; a league was formed under the leadership of Sangara of Carchemish; but the degenerate Hethites, unable to withstand the Assyrian onslaught, were compelled to purchase peace by the payment of a heavy tribute (855). This victory, breaking the power of the Hethites of Syria, and reducing them to the rank of tributaries, opened to the Assyrians the way to Phœnicia and Palestine. The very next year Shalmaneser came into contact with Damascus and Israel. Carchemish, however, was still in the hands of the Hethites. A period of decadence for the Assyrian empire followed Shalmaneser's death; during this period the mutual relations of the two nations appear to have remained unaltered. But new enemies from the East were pressing close on the land of the Hethites. Vannic inscriptions record the raids of Menuas, King of Dushpas, against the cities of Surisilis and Tarkhigamas, in the territory of the Hethite prince Skadahalis. In another expedition Menuas defeated the King of Gupas and overran the Hethite country as far as Malatiyeh. Menuas's son, Argistis I, again marched his armies in the same direction, conquering the country along the banks of the Euphrates from Palu to Malatiyeh. The accession of Theglathphalasar III (745) put a stop to the conquests of the Vannic kings; but this meant no respite for the much weakened Hethites; their country indeed was soon again visited by the Assyrian troops, and, in 739, King Pisiris of Carchemish had to pay tribute to the Ninivite ruler. Profiting, it seems, by the political troubles which marked the close of the reign of Shalmaneser IV, Pisiris, with the help of some neighbouring chieftains, declared himself independent. It was, however, of no avail; in 717 Carchemish fell before Sargon, its king was made a prisoner, and its wealth and trade passed into the hands of the Assyrian colonists established there by the conqueror. The fall of the great Hethite capital resounded through the whole Eastern world and found an echo in the prophetical utterances of Isaias (10:9); it marked indeed the final doom of a once powerful empire. Henceforth the Hethites, driven back to their original home in the fastnesses of the Taurus, ceased to be reckoned among the peoples worth retaining the attention of historians.
SAYCE, The Hamathite Inscriptions in Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archæology, V, p. 27-29; IDEM, The Monuments of the Hittites, ibid., VII, pp. 251, 284; IDEM, The Hittites. The Story of a Forgotten Empire (3rd ed., London, 1903); WRIGHT, The Empire of the Hittites (London, 1884); CONDER, Heth and Moab (London, 1889); IDEM, Altaic Hieroglyphs and Hittite Inscriptions (London, 1887); IDEM, The Hittites and their language (London, 1898); MASPERO, Histoire ancienne des peuples de l'Orient classique, II (Paris, 1897); DE LANTSHEERE, De la race et de la langue des Hittites in Compte rendu du congrés scientifique international des catholiques (1891); IDEM, Hittites et Omorites (Brussels, 1887); HALÉVY, La langue des Hittites d'après les textes assyriens in Recherches Bibliques, pp. 270-288; VIGOUROUX, Les Héthéens de la Bible, leur histoire et leurs monuments in Mélanges bibliques, (2nd ed., Paris, 1889); JENSEN, Hittiter und Armenien (Strasburg, 1898); WINCKLER, Die im Sommer 1906 in Kleinasien ausgeführten Ausgrabungen in Orientalistische Litteratur-Zeitung (15 Dec., 1906); IDEM in Mitteilungen der Orient-Gesellschaft (Dec., 1907).
APA citation. (1910). Hethites. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07305a.htm
MLA citation. "Hethites." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07305a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to Fr. John Hilkert and St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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