The Hittite Empire, c. 1300 BC (shown in blue)

The Hittites (/ˈhɪtaɪts/) were an Ancient Anatolian people who established an empire centered on Hattusa in north-central Anatolia around 1600 BC. This empire reached its height during the mid-14th century BC under Suppiluliuma I, when it encompassed an area that included most of Anatolia as well as parts of the northern Levant and Upper Mesopotamia. Between the 15th and 13th centuries BC the Hittite Empire came into conflict with the Egyptian Empire, Middle Assyrian Empire and the empire of the Mitanni for control of the Near East. The Assyrians eventually emerged as the dominant power and annexed much of the Hittite empire, while the remainder was sacked by Phrygian newcomers to the region. After c. 1180 BC, during the Bronze Age collapse, the Hittites splintered into several independent "Neo-Hittite" city-states, some of which survived until the 8th century BC before succumbing to the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

History[edit | edit source]

Biblical History[edit | edit source]

The Hittites, also spelled Hethites, were a group of people mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Under the names בני-חת (bny-ḥt "children of Heth") and חתי (ḥty "native of Heth") they are mentioned several times as living in or near Canaan since the time of Abraham (estimated to be between 2000 BC and 1500 BC) to the time of Ezra after the return from the Babylonian exile (around 450 BC). Their ancestor Heth (Hebrew: חֵת‬, Modern H̱et, Tiberian Ḥēṯ, ḥt in the consonant-only Hebrew script) is said in Genesis to be a son of Canaan, who was a son of Ham, thereby making Sidon a great grandson of Noah. (Genesis 10:6,15-20)

In the late 19th century, the biblical Hittites were identified with a newly discovered Indo-European-speaking empire of Anatolia, a major regional power through most of the 2nd millennium BC, who therefore came to be known as the Hittites. This nomenclature is used today as a matter of convention, regardless of debates about possible identities between the Anatolian Hittite Empire and the biblical Hittites.

According to Genesis, in Abraham's days, the Hittite Ephron sold him the cave in Hebron. Later, Esau married wives from the Hittites. In the Book of Joshua 1:4, when the Lord tells Joshua "From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your border", this "land of the Hittites" on Canaan's border is seen to stretch between Lebanon and the Euphrates, and from there toward the setting Sun (i.e., to the west).

According to the Book of Judges 1:26, when the Israelites captured Bethel, they allowed one man to escape, and he went to the "land of the Hittites" where he founded the settlement of Luz. In King Solomon's era moreover the Hittites are depicted in the Old Testament along with Syria as among his powerful neighbors.

From around 1900, archaeologists were aware of a country established in Anatolia and known to Assyrians as "Hatti". Because it was initially assumed that the people of Hatti were identical to the Hetti of the Hebrew Bible, the term Hittite Empire is still today used to describe the Anatolian state. Their language is known to have been a member of the Indo-European family. Because its speakers were originally based in Kanesh, they called their language "Neshili". The former inhabitants of Hatti and Hattusas are now called Hattites; and their Hattic language was not Indo-European, but is of unknown linguistic relationship.

After the fall of the Hittite Empire around 1178 BC, a remnant of them, still using the name "people of Hatti", established some city-states in the region of northern Syria. Therefore these are usually assumed to be the Hittites mentioned in Solomon's time.

References[edit | edit source]

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