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Hittites (hĭtˈīts), ancient people of Asia Minor and Syria, who flourished from 1600 to 1200 B.C. The Hittites, a people of Indo-European connection, were supposed to have entered Cappadocia c.1800 B.C. To the southwest, in the Taurus and Cilicia, were the Luites, relatives of the Hittites; to the southeast, in the Upper Euphrates, the Hurrians (Khurrites). In the country the Hittites then occupied, the aboriginal inhabitants were apparently the Khatti, or Hatti. Hittite names appear c.1800 B.C. on the tablets written by Assyrian colonists (see Assyria) at Kültepe (Kanesh) in Cappadocia. However, real evidence of Hittite existence does not occur until the Old Hittite Kingdom (1600–1400 B.C.). This kingdom, which was centered in Cappadocia, was opposed by the Syrians. The Hittites tried to invade Babylonia but were halted by Egypt and Mitanni.

The Hittite Empire that followed the Old Kingdom, with its capital at Boğazköy (also called Hattusas), was the chief power and cultural force in W Asia from 1400 to 1200 B.C. The famous Hittite rulers date from this period. Among these are Supiluliumash (fl. 1380 B.C.), who is mentioned in the Tell el Amarna letters; Mursilish II (fl. 1335 B.C.); and Hattusilish III (fl. 1300 B.C.). The Hittite Empire was a loose confederation that broke up under the invasions of the Thracians, Phrygians, and Assyrians c.1200 B.C. Several small states arose, with Carchemish becoming an outstanding city. The Neo-Hittite kingdom (c.1050–c.700 B.C.) was conquered by the Assyrians, who installed Hittite princes as vassals to their throne.

The artistic work of the Hittites, as in reliefs, round sculptures, and seals, shows a high state of culture and considerable Babylonian and Assyrian influence. A great number of inscriptions have been uncovered in the Hittite area; these are for the most part in cuneiform. Besides the Babylonian inscriptions, there are many in Hittite hieroglyphs, or Kanesian. The Hittite language is Indo-European. There are several other languages meagerly represented in the Hittite archives: the so-called Luwian (similar to Hittite), and Khattian and Hurrian (both non–Indo-European and apparently unrelated to one another). There is also a hieroglyphic alphabet (or syllabary) liberally represented; the deciphering of this script was aided by the bilingual texts found at Karatepe and was published by H. T. Bossert. The Hittite civilization clearly had many foreign elements, notably from Mesopotamia; its pantheism borrowed most of its concepts from Babylonian, Assyrian, and Hurrian sources. The Hittite law codes are interesting partly because they are to some extent independent of the Babylonian. The Hittites were one of the first peoples to smelt iron successfully.


See D. G. Hogarth, Hittite Seals (1920); E. H. Sturtevant, Comparative Grammar of Hittite (2d ed. 1951); J. Garstang, The Hittite Empire (1929, repr. 1976); O. R. Gurney, The Hittites (rev. ed. 1961); E. Akurgal, The Art of the Hittites (tr. 1962); H. S. Maine, Sr., Ancient Law (1987).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a people who lived in the central part of the Hittite empire.

There are various hypotheses regarding how the Hittites migrated to Asia Minor. According to the western hypothesis, the Hittites came by way of the Balkans, and according to the eastern hypothesis, by way of the Caucasus. According to still another hypothesis, they were among the most ancient peoples of Asia Minor. Judging from the borrowings from the Hittite language and the proper names appearing in documents written in the Old Assyrian dialect of Akkadian that were found in Anatolia in trading centers with colonies of Assyrian merchants, the Hittites were already living in Asia Minor by the beginning of the second millennium B.C. Hittite works of art from the second millennium B.C. clearly show that physically the Hittites were of the Caucasoid anthropological type. Hittite culture shows influences of both the Hattian and Hurrian cultures. From the 14th to early 12th centuries B.C. (New Kingdom) the Hittites were no longer the predominant ethnic group, although the Hittite language, with some Luwian elements, remained the major language of official documents. Bearers of the late Hittite culture in southeastern Asia Minor and northern Syria, who are often referred to as Hittites in foreign texts, in particular, the Old Testament, were Luwians linguistically.

Hittite art is associated with the artistic traditions of earlier peoples of Asia Minor. The proto-Hittite period was characterized by gold, bronze, and copper standards and emblems, by animal figurines (bulls and deer), executed in a generalized style and frequently decorated with incised geometric designs (second half of the third millennium B.C.), and by monochrome black polished pottery (pitchers resembling teapots and jugs with a long, narrow neck). It was also characterized by polychrome pottery, called Cappadocian pottery, decorated with designs of wavy lines and depictions of animals, similar to the articles of Cyprus; such pottery was found at Alişar Hüyük (Alacahöyök), Hattusas, and Kültepe (late third to early second millennia B.C.). During the second millennium B.C., Hittite art, while retaining its originality, absorbed influences of the ancient Egyptian and Sumero-Babylo-nian cultures and itself, in turn, exerted an influence on Syrian and Assyrian art.

In the second millennium B.C., the open settlements, with round or rectangular clay dwellings on stone foundations, were replaced by fortress refuges and fortress settlements, such as Samal, which were round in layout and had complex systems of fortifications made of stone monoliths. Stone foundations, stone socles, and wooden and stone free-standing supports are characteristic of Hittite buildings. Dwellings, sometimes two-storied, usually had a flat roof and an open court in front. The bit-hilani, a widely used style of building for houses, palaces, and temples, had a porticoed entrance hall on the longitudinal side framed with rectangular towers. The lower parts of the external walls of such buildings were often faced with slabs having bas-reliefs (orthostats). The sculptures in the round and reliefs developed by the Hittites were, as a rule, subordinate to the rock slab, such as the massive figures of lions and sphinxes half-protruding from stone blocks framing the gates of the external wall in Hattusas (15th to 12th centuries B.C.) and the massive statues of gods. Bas-reliefs on buildings and stelae depicting sacred animals, gods, kings praying, and scenes from court life, executed in a generalized style and having poorly delineated forms, are noted for their monumentality and static quality and the austere power of the images. Similar to Assyrian reliefs, they differ, however, in their comparatively greater freedom of composition, poses, and movements. More canonical are the sacred rock reliefs at the Yazili-kaya sanctuary near Hattusas, depicting two converging processions of gods (end of the second millennium B.C). Hittite art of the mid-ninth to sixth centuries B.C. had lost its originality owing to increased Assyrian and Aramaic influences (the stelae with reliefs at Samal and Sakce Gozu).


Giorgadze, G. G. “‘Tekst Anitty’ i nekotorye voprosy rannei istorii khettov.” Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1965, no. 4 (94).
Sommer, F. Hethiter und Hethitisch. Stuttgart, 1947.
Pottier, E. L’Art hittite, fascs. 1–2. Paris, 1926–31.
Gurney, O. R. The Hittites. London, 1961.
Akurgal, E. The Art of the Hittites. Photographs by M. Hirmer. London, 1962.
Schaeuble, J. “Zur Anthropologie der Hethiter.” Mitteilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien, 1957, vol. 87.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.