Hittite’s Self-Image Characterized by Grandeur


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Hittite’s Self-Image Characterized by Grandeur


The Hittite empire, like many others of the Bronze Age, arose at a time when new tactics and implements for fighting were being developed in abundance. Like many other empires of that time, the Hittites recognized the importance of protecting their lands and acquiring new ones. As the size and influence of the Hittite empire grew, it sometimes formed peaceful agreements with foreign lands. These agreements, however, primarily served their own interests. Evidence of the behavior of the Hittites found in primary documents reveals that they treated civilizations other than their own as their inferiors.

Religion was central to the Hittite’s culture and they considered their devotion to it to be one of their primary strengths. The upkeep of Hittite religious institutions and their functionaries was a primary obligation of the commander of the Hittite border guards. A document containing instructions for that commander explains these responsibilities: “In the town through which the commander [passes]… he shall attend to the necessary provisions for town-elders, priests, ‘anointed’ (and) mothers-of-god.” (par. 1) It was important to the Hittite king (also called the Sun) that all cities in the empire contain adequate sites for worship of the Hittite gods. This suggests that they believed paying tribute to the gods ensured them some sort of security or protection.

In that same document it was stated, “The commander of the border guards shall make an inventory of the god’s utensils and send it before the Sun.” (par. 3) ‘Utensils’ probably refers to the possessions of the gods, perhaps including their temples, servants, and any commodities held in their name. A list of them was most likely held by the king so that what the Hittites had given to their gods was on record. The magnitude of religion in this civilization and the closeness of it to the military reveal that the favor of and protection from its gods gave its people a perceived power and authority that other civilizations lacked.

Religion was also directly connected to imperial Hittite rule through the king. In a treaty between Mursilis, Sun of the Hittites, and Duppi-Tessub, king of Amurru, the preamble mentions that Mursilis was the “favorite of the Storm-god.

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” In the article about the border guards’ commander, that god was identified as the one deserving the most praise. (par. 2) Correspondingly, he must have been the most important to the Hittite army and probably to the empire as well. Also, in the “Historical Introduction” to the treaty, the death of Mursilis’ father, the former Hittite king, was described as when he “became god.” (par. 3) This does not necessarily mean that the king became a god after death, but there is an implicit divinity of the king that we derive from the statement. He was probably the individual who was closest to the gods themselves, and it is therefore not surprising that an inventory of each god’s utensils was compiled by the border guard commander and sent to him. If the king was pleased with the inventories, then the empire could be confident that everything had been done to each god’s satisfaction. Having a king of divine origin convinced the Hittites both that they ruled themselves expertly and that other cultures were not as powerful or deserving of riches or resources as they were.

The Hittites also drew upon historical precedents and lessons to improve the integrity of their empire. The treaty between Mursilis and Duppi-Tessub was an instance of a ruler applying the success of a former king to the present. Despite that historical basis, the treaty bound only its signatories and not successive kings on either side. Its title explained that the treaty was formed “between Mursilis and Duppi-Tessub of Amurru.” The basis for entering in to it was that a treaty should be attractive to both kings due to the success that their fathers experienced under a treaty. Both the former and the new treaty contained clauses stating that if either signatory died, then the other would continue to act in accordance with treaty provisions with his successor until he should die (the other signatory, not the successor).

In the treaty’s “Historical Information,” we learn that Mursilis’ father died before Aziras, the king of the Amorites in the previous treaty. Nevertheless, “Aziras behaved toward me [Mursilis] just as he had behaved toward my father.” (par. 3) Treaties of this kind have distinct advantages over others that encompass several generations of rulers: if the conditions proved to be mutually beneficial, then that was a strong basis to reinstate them in a later treaty. Otherwise the treaty could have been altered before it was rewritten or allowed to end. As the clauses of the more recent of the two treaties indicate, the Hittites used it very much to their advantage and at the Amorite’s expense.

Another factor that contributed to the Hittite’s self-image was the extent to which their culture emphasized justice. The commander of the border guards had the responsibility to settle any legal issues that were within his ability and authority to do so. In summary of the method with which he should conduct his suits, the instructions tell, “He must not make a just case unjust; he must not make an unjust case just. Whatever is right, that shall he do.” We find that even at this lower level of legal dispute justice was mandated in the process by which problems should be resolved.

On a more general scale, the Hittites also described their past treatment of the Amorites as just. We find, however, that in this instance justice does not have quite the same meaning as it does in the Hittite legal sense. The treaty explains, “My father was loyal toward Aziras and his country; he did not undertake any unjust action against him or incite his or his country’s anger in any way.” (par. 2) The idea that Mursilis implied here was that his father had been just to Aziras because his father had not acted unjustly toward him. What we learn from the treaty, however, is that the Hittite empire was not truly just with Amurru; rather, the Hittites expected it to show its subordination at all times in addition to paying tributes and, in return, sought mutual protection for both empires.

The treaty between Mursilis and Duppi-Tessub embodies the Hittite’s policy to look out for the good of their empire foremost. This was displayed fairly consistently throughout the treaty. Of particular importance, however, is that every military clause and every provision for dealing with foreigners ends with the conditions that Duppi-Tessub had to meet to not violate the treaty. The first military clause was general and established that Amurru was expected to be confident in the Hittite’s power and that of its allies, and that Amurru had to protect Hatti from foreign attack when the king was not present. (par. 9) Mursilis also specified that it was the responsibility of Duppi-Tessub to take his foot soldiers and charioteers with him to Hatti if he heard a rumor of any impending attack on the Hittite empire. (par. 10)

The majority of the treaty’s clauses do not specify, as those did not, any counterpart responsibility of the Hittite king to Duppi-Tessub. It is clear that Mursilis would have given the Amorites protection if they were attacked, but without conditions explicitly written for Mursilis, the Hittite king could have been flexible about how he handled any problem that arose. In the way that the treaty was written, Amurru was treated like a vassal of the Hittite empire rather than an equal. This is evident even in clauses where Amurru’s privileges are explained as well.

In the event that Amurru was attacked by a hostile force, for example, its king could request help. To do so, however, he had to go through a somewhat lengthy process. The treaty explained, “…write to the king of the Hatti land…” The clause continued, however: “…and [if] the king of the Hatti land dispatches foot soldiers and charioteers to your aid–<if you treat them in an unfair manner>, you act in disregard of the gods of the oath.” (par. 11) In the sections of the treaty that specified when Duppi-Tessub was to send his soldiers to help the Hittite empire, there was no mention of how the soldiers would be treated while they were under Mursilis’ command. Mursilis made sure, however, that his soldiers would have been treated respectfully by Duppi-Tessub. Thus, while both empires received protection from each other, the terms governing Amorite behavior when they had additional forces were stricter than those for the Hittites.

Another clause of the treaty similarly illustrates that Mursilis individually is treated superior to Duppi-Tessub. We learn that Mursilis was allowed to give secret orders to the Amorite king and that Duppi-Tessub was granted no analogous power in the treaty. If he felt that the order he was given could not be fulfilled, he was required to tell Mursilis immediately upon its receipt. “…if the Sun gives you an order in secrecy (saying): ‘Do this or that!’ (if) that order cannot be executed, petition about it on the spot… and the king will reconsider it then and there.” (par. 14) While the issuance of secret orders was mentioned only regarding Mursilis, it is more important to note that if they were petitioned, there was no guarantee that they would be reversed or changed. Whether or not a change was made depended on if Mursilis felt that the original order could be fulfilled and other subjective responses. Duppi-Tessub’s petition, therefore, was of questionable value except most likely when an order could be shown to clearly go beyond his and his people’s abilities.

Throughout the “Treaty Between Mursilis and Duppi-Tessub of Amurru,” evidence shows that the provisions it contained were made primarily for the benefit of the Hittite empire. Although there is no explicit evidence that suggests Amurru was a vassal of the Hittites, Mursilis’ terms of the treaty are very condescending compared to Duppi-Tessub’s and it is possible that the Amorites entered this agreement as an empire controlled by the Hittites. Beyond the scope of this treaty, we can infer that the Hittite empire was authoritative and manipulated other people for its own advantage. In so doing, the Hittites gave consideration to its subjects only in the interest of protecting them as economical and political investments.


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