The Hittities: Quiet Pioneers of Mesopotamia
While its origins remain mysterious even today, the Hittite Empire was one of the most significant of the Mesopotamian kingdoms, powerful enough to bring down the commanding Babylonians and their strict ways of life. The Hittites burst on to the Mesopotamian scene sometime around the late 18th century B.C. At its height, the Hittite Empire covered Anatolia, northern Syria, and the northern regions of Mesopotamia. Its capital was located at Hattusas, in northern Anatolia.
The Hittite people were seemingly enigmas. Their geographic origins are still not completely understood, and their language was obscure and indecipherable for a very long time. Today, though, we know that the language of the Hittites peoples was one from the Indo-European language family, specifically from the Anatolian branch. This language family also includes the Indian languages, Latin, German, Greek, and English. Very little evidence of the language remains, other than in the form of laws and administrative announcements.
When the Hittites invaded Mesopotamia, they adapted many of the ways of life of the Babylonians and even the Sumerians, which had been in place for centuries. Specifically, they adopted the religion of the region, worshipping and embracing the gods of Babylonia and Sumeria as their own. One governmental modification they made was to modify the stringent laws that had been put into place by former kings like Hammurabi. The strictness of the legal system was eased, and far fewer deaths resulted from crimes. The king also became sole owner of all the land in his territory, which was vastly different from empires like the Sumerians, whose king allowed the ownership of private property. Under the Hittites, in order for a person to control (not own) land of any kind, he had to serve in the army of the king.
While much of the history of the Hittites is quite mysterious, we know now that their empire is one of the most important from Mesopotamia. The Hittites were very skillful in the construction of chariots, and were vanguards of the Iron Age. They were among the earliest peoples to produce iron tools and artifacts (as early as the 14th century B.C.), and consequently were able to establish a successful economy of trade and commerce.
The size of the Hittite territory allowed them to trade with peoples throughout the Mediterranean and into Egypt. With this ability to trade also came the exchange and teaching of Mesopotamian ideas, history, politics, and economic and social concepts. Thus, the Hittites were hugely responsible for passing on the thoughts and ideas of all the Mesopotamian people that had come before them, like the Babylonians, the Sumerians, and the Amorites, and enlightening the rest of the world - and history – about them.
The Hittite Empire flourished from around 1600 - 1200 B.C., until the Assyrians came through and took control of Mesopotamia. However, the cities of the HIttites managed to retain some independent control of Mesopotamia, and prosper economically, at least until the Assyrians finally overcame them all by 717 B.C. Though thay are not among the most notorious of the Mesopotamians, the Hittites were certainly among the most influential, revolutionizing ironworking, and educating other civilizations about the Mesopotamian ways of life.