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The Hittites and Sea Peoples

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 3, 2012

The Hittites in Asia Minor

Historians know little about the origin of the Hittites, who settled in present- day Turkey about 2000 BC. Their language belonged to the Indo-European linguistic family, and they appear to have come from the west, from the Balkan region of Europe. They were a herding, horse-breeding tribe.

Hittite culture was highly advanced in some ways. The Hittites used both cuneiform and hieroglyphic writing, and as their empire grew, they both pre- served and shared elements of all the cultures in the region. They developed a law code of their own. Their military was the strongest and most sophisticated of the time; they were the first to create iron weapons and to use iron for their chariot wheels. Eventually, the Bronze Age gave way to the Iron Age, in which all the various cultures acquired the ability to work with iron, but this technology was exclusive to the Hittites for a long time. The use of iron contributed significantly to their agricultural production as well as to their military success.

The Hittites prospered economically for at least three reasons. First, as already noted, they were capable of working with iron before other peoples in the region, which gave them an advantage in making stronger tools and weapons. Second, they controlled many of the Mediterranean trade routes. Third, they had settled in an area that was rich in mineral resources.

Both the Hittites and the Kassites occupied Babylon at different times; these two peoples may have been related. Again, the origins of tribes of this early era of civilization are still obscure, and historians differ in their interpretation of the evidence.

As of about 1400 BC, the Kassite kingdom followed the course of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, reaching as far northwest as the city of Mari on the Euphrates and Sippar on the Tigris. At that time, the Hittites controlled a large area of present-day Turkey north of Cyprus in the Mediterranean. They would soon expand their empire to every part of the Fertile Crescent except the Nile River valley in Egypt.

The zenith of the Hittite Empire was in the early thirteenth century BC under Suppiluliumas, who ruled from 1380 to 1346. Under Suppiluliumas, Hittite influence expanded throughout the Fertile Crescent; his rise to power coincided with a weak Egypt, and he led the Hittites into Syria.

The Hittite Empire faded around 1200 BC, due to attacks from the Assyrians and Phrygians. The Sea Peoples also invaded Hittite strongholds and helped bring the empire to the point of collapse.

The “Sea Peoples”

Historians have given the name Sea Peoples to a variety of belligerent tribes that roamed the eastern Mediterranean throughout the early twelfth century BC. The Sea Peoples were wholly or partly responsible for the destruction of the Hittite Empire; they attacked and destroyed various cities in the region, particularly along the Syrian coast. The invasion of the Sea Peoples also coincided with the fall of the Mycenaean civilization.

The Sea Peoples attacked Egypt twice but were defeated on both occasions. Some of them settled in Egypt, assimilating with the local population.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

The New Kingdom of Egypt and the Fall of Babylon Practice Test

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