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Hittite War Chariot

Hittite War Chariot

Egyptian Warfare and the Largest Chariot Battle in History

The battle of Megiddo was the first reliably recorded battle, and not long after the battle of Kadesh would claim the title of the largest chariot battle ever, despite chariot warfare persisting for nearly 1,000 more years. To understand the battle of Kadesh it is important to know how the Egyptian army and their chariots operated.

The New Kingdom of Egypt was a military power built on the success of the chariot. The chariot features in ancient warfare as an elite warrior transport, a mobile firing platform, a heavy charging vehicle, and a fast moving platform to cut down loose or fleeing troops. Based on the designs of the Egyptian chariots, that show light and unfortified platforms, they seem to be primarily used as firing platforms.

Chariots were pulled by two horses and usually carried a driver and one or maybe two soldiers. One or two composite bows would be fed by around 100 arrows. Charioteers would also have spears and/or javelins as well as a shield and ax or sword if melee was required. Helmets and other armor were still scarce at this point so the curved sword was a common weapon for riding down the enemy.

It would be unwise to assume that charioteers locked themselves into a single role in a battle, it is more likely that due to their quick response ability, the chariots could switch from firing arrows to throwing javelins as they closed with the enemy and utilizing melee weapons if their chariot failed or if their horse or driver perished. Battle is hardly clean cut and organized enough for archery chariots to remain simply archers through every battle.

A depiction of Rameses charging Nubians. Notice that the Pharaoh’s chariot is very light and agile.

The battle of Kadesh is one of the earliest recorded battles in which we have some record from both sides, though the records for both sides claim they won the battle. The Egyptians under Rameses and the Hittites under king Muwatalli held powerful empires that bordered in the Levant near the city of Kadesh (Qadesh). Around 1274 BCE the two brought their royal armies to fight and may well have agreed upon a battle at the plains near Kadesh as such practices were not uncommon.

Rameses had a large army of around 20,000 including 2,000 chariots (the number of chariots for either side has been heavily debated). Marching in a long line of four distinct divisions to the northwestern plains of Kadesh Rameses received word that Muwatalli’s army was still far away and so Rameses allowed his force to leisurely march forward as the vanguard Amun division set up camp.

Carving that depicts the torturing of the Hittite scouts/spies for information.

Soon Rameses was brought two Hittite scouts who, under torture, revealed that the first two informants were Hittite agents misleading Rameses and that Muwatalli was camped north of Kadesh with a force “more numerous than the sands of the shore”. In reality, Muwatalli did have a large force with nearly twenty different allies committing troops. Muwatalli seemed to have a force of around 40,000 with 3,000 chariots, many being of the three-man variety.

Map by Gianandre – derivative work – CC BY-SA 3.0

Despite learning that the enemy was near, Rameses did not know precisely where and before he could get his marching column into the camp they were attacked by a large chariot force that had crossed the Orontes River and surprised the division. The sights and sounds of the charging chariots quickly scattered the Egyptians and with the remaining marching division still scattered a way to the south the victorious Hittite chariots began raiding the camp established by the Amun division. Though the camp was full of the fresh troops of the Amun division, they had trouble resisting the Hittite troops, suggesting that this force actually represented a significant force of Muwatalli’s chariots.

As portions of the camp fell, Pharaoh Rameses found himself “alone” likely with his core of personal guard. Rameses and his guard led several charges on the Hittites raiding the camp and rallied the routed Ra division and organized the Amun division to launch coordinated assaults and drove the Hittites back south-east towards their original river crossing.

Map by Gianandre – derivative work – CC BY-SA 3.0

In this position the slightly lighter Egyptian chariots seemed to have an advantage as they were able to outmaneuver the heavier Hittite chariots and cause many casualties. King Muwatalli realized the trouble his chariots were in and sent his remaining chariots across the northern ford in order to again flank a pursing column of Egyptians. This second assault met with tremendous success and threatened to push the Egyptians back to their camp once again while allowing the defeated Hittite chariots to cross the river and regroup.

Rameses’ army was saved by the arrival of an allied contingent of Ne’arin. While the origin of these troops is hazy, their name implies that they were the young elite warriors. They seem to have been a garrison force or an allied army from the north that was ordered to meet Rameses at Kadesh for the battle. Upon their arrival they moved southeast around the camp to attack the Hittite’s second assault force. Seeing this, Rameses again rallied his men and attacked northward, flanking and confining the Hittites.

Map by Gianandre – derivative work – CC BY-SA 3.0

Being almost surrounded, the Hittites were forced to abandon their chariots to swim across the river to safety. With a brutal battle just fought, Rameses did not have the resources to maintain a siege of Kadesh and Muwatalli, himself weakened by a great loss of his chariot core, could do little more than hold up inside the city walls.

The battle has been described as an Egyptian victory, a draw, and even as a Hittite victory. What Rameses was able to do was recover from a disastrous position to save his army. Furthermore, despite sections of his army being routed twice and his camp ransacked, Rameses and his army ultimately held the field of battle after all was said and done. To emphasize that this should be considered a slight Egyptian victory is the amount of booty gained in the capture of the Hittite chariots. Ancient battles heavily focused on the amount of plunder the individual and the state could gain. Chariots were status symbols at the time and therefore many of them were ornately decorated and even plated in precious metals. Capturing as many as 1,000 chariots would have been quite the joyous occasion for the Egyptians regardless of whether or not they took Kadesh.

The Egyptians certainly proclaimed the battle as a great victory and Rameses himself would constantly refer back to it as one of his greatest achievements despite orchestrating several other successful campaigns. The attention Rameses gives to this battle above others may suggest that the stories of his personal charges into the fray to rally the troops were more truth than propaganda. The battle surely would have been quite an event to be involved in and it set the stage for the much-storied reign of Rameses the Great.

The Hittite Army

Hittite diplomacy will be dealt with in another article. Here our concern must be with the army which played such a large part in Hittite history. This army, which on occasions numbered up to 30,000 men, consisted of two main arms, infantry and chariots. The infantry had a small core of permanent troops who acted as the king’s personal bodyguard and were responsible for frontier-patrols and the crushing of rebellions. Nothing is known of their recruitment, but they were at times supplemented by foreign mercenary troops. During the campaigning-seasons a larger infantry-force was raised from the local population and if necessary it was further enlarged by contingents from vassal-kingdoms. There were also pioneers for siege-work and messengers who may in some cases have been mounted. Apart from this, the horse was used only to draw the chariot – the principal offensive weapon of the Hittites, as of all other contemporary Near Eastern powers.

The supreme commander was the king himself, and it is clear that Hittite kings took a prominent personal part in any fighting in which their armies were involved. On occasion command could be delegated, if for instance the king were ill, or engaged in a campaign elsewhere, or if his presence were needed for cult-duties at home. In such cases the delegated commander would normally be a member of the royal family, and would bear some high-sounding court-title such as Chief Shepherd or Master of the Wine. In some areas (for instance the northern frontier and the Euphrates-line at Carchemish) special attention was necessary at all times. In such a case a royal prince could be given the title of ‘king’ of the area and granted a more-or-less independent command.

The system of ranks in the Hittite army is difficult to reconstruct, but it seems that minor commands were held by the lesser nobility, and that units were built up as a decimal system with officers in charge of ten, one hundred and one thousand men in a rising hierarchy of command.

Equally little is known about the payment of troops. In many cases military service was a feudal obligation and thus part of a wider system of which more will be said in another chapter. In addition, the Hittites believed in payment by results, and victory in the field was regularly followed by the distribution of booty. The dangers of this system can be seen at the Battle of Qadesh, where an easy Hittite victory was almost turned to defeat by the anxiety of the chariot-troops to plunder the enemy camp before ensuring that the field was fully theirs.

Troops in enemy territory doubtless lived off the land. The garrisons of border fortresses were presumably supported by the local population, and the same may be true of the large contingents which were frequently moved from one end to the other of the Hittite realms. But Hittite armies also had large baggage-trains of donkeys and bullock-carts which must have carried supplies as well as equipment. The principal problem both in Anatolia and in northern Syria must have been that of water-supply, and in many areas the number of routes which could have been used even by small forces is closely limited by the availability of this essential commodity.

Military equipment

In considering the equipment of Hittite armies we may well start from a recent definition of the art of warfare as an attempt ‘to achieve supremacy over the enemy in three fields: mobility, fire-power, security’. In the first field the principal weapon of the Hittites, as of the other powers of the time, was the light horse-drawn chariot. This vehicle was developed, probably in a Hurrian milieu, in the first half of the second millennium, and its use rapidly spread through the Middle East. A fragment of an Old Hittite relief-vessel from Bogazkoy, to be dated to the seventeenth or sixteenth century, shows that by that time it had already reached central Anatolia. The perfected chariot was a remarkably skilful piece of work, light in weight and extremely manoeuvrable at speed. The body consisted of a wooden frame covered with leather. This was mounted on a wide axle on which ran spoked wooden wheels. A pole ran forward from the underside of the body, on either side of which a horse was yoked. The superiority of the Hittites in chariot-warfare lay not in their possession of this weapon (all their enemies had it too) but in their variation of the basic pattern to suit their own purposes. The ultimate problem in chariot-design is to reconcile speed and manoeuvrability with firepower and security. For the former the designer must concentrate on lightness and such problems as the length and position of the axle for the latter he must make his vehicle sufficiently steady for weapons to be used from it, and either give it a body which will afford some kind of protection or evolve some other means by which the warrior can protect himself. In other words, he must recognize that a charioteer has a triple function he has simultaneously to control his chariot, fight an offensive battle, and defend himself. One answer to all this is the method adopted by Egyptian pharaohs. Rameses II at Qadesh, for instance, can be seen clad in a coat of mail for protection, and he has the reins tied round his waist to leave both hands free to operate his bow. A javelin-case is attached to the side of his chariot which, like all Egyptian chariots of the period, has its axle at the rear of the body, a position making for maximum manoeuvrability at speed. Lesser Egyptians did not share the pharaoh’s all-round skill, and the normal Egyptian battle-chariot had a crew of two, a driver and a warrior armed with a bow and javelins. Clearly the Egyptians regarded chariots as highly mobile firing- platforms from which long- and medium-range missiles could be dispatched in a manner which would cause the maximum of confusion in the enemy ranks. The Hittite conception of chariot-warfare was different from this. To them a chariot formation was a heavy-weight assault force which could sweep through and demolish infantry-lines in an organized charge. So we find that in Hittite chariots the principal weapon employed was the stabbing-spear for action at close range, and that the axle was attached to the middle of the body rather than the rear. This meant that their vehicles were more liable to overturn at speed, but the sacrifice in manoeuvrability was more than counterbalanced by the increase in firepower which resulted from it. For, because of the forward mounting of the wheels, the Hittite chariot could carry a crew of three – a driver, a warrior and a soldier who during the charge held a shield to protect the other two. Thus extra weight was given to the charge and extra man-power was available in the hand-to-hand fighting which followed it.

Other Anatolian powers, such as Arzawa, Ahhiyawa and even the Gasga-lands, had their chariot-forces too, but apart from references to them in Hittite texts nothing is known of their composition or armament. Indeed, much of Anatolia is such difficult country that chariots cannot have been of much assistance in battle, and they may have been used mainly for the rapid transport of kings and high- ranking officials – and for their rapid escape after a defeat, if we may judge by the number of Hittite enemies who ‘fled alone’, leaving their troops, and even their wives and children, to the tender mercies of the Great King.

Much less is known about the infantry divisions of the Hittite army. At the Battle of Qadesh they played a very minor part, being used mainly to protect the baggage and equipment against sudden enemy attack. But in the Anatolian hills the infantryman came into his own, and in this type of fighting too, if we can judge from the admittedly biased royal records, the Hittite army had the advantage of its opponents. This advantage seems to have been gained not so much by superior firepower as by better training and discipline, which enabled Hittite generals to move their troops over large distances making full use of the cover of natural features or of darkness, and so to achieve the element of surprise which could be so important in a successful attack. When the attack came, the marching column could quickly be turned into a battle-line which could sweep through an enemy army before it had time to organize itself. Some of the effect of the rapidly advancing Hittite line may be seen in the controlled and sinister movement of the warrior-gods in the sculpture-gallery at Yazihkaya.

The principal offensive weapon of the Hittite infantryman seems to have varied according to the nature of the terrain. In northern Syria, where set battles in open country were a possibility, he was armed with a long spear, the favourite weapon of the phalanx-formation in many periods and areas. In the earlier part of the second millennium the spearhead had been attached to the shaft by a combination of a bent tang (sometimes with a ‘button’ at the end) bound into the shaft, and slots in the blade through which the end of the shaft could be further lashed to the face of the blade. Similar tangs were used in attaching a metal spike to the other end of the spear. The primary function of this was to balance the weapon, but it could also be used in action to pierce an enemy, or it could be stuck into the ground during rest-periods while on the march. Later in the millennium the more efficient form of socketed spearhead was introduced. This was much less likely to come away from the shaft in action.

In the Anatolian hills the Hittite soldier carried the slashing-sword, a vicious-looking weapon shaped like a sickle but with the cutting-edge on the outside of the curved blade. It was not until almost the end of the second millennium that metallurgical techniques proved good enough to provide a long cutting-weapon with a straight blade. This development may have taken place in western Anatolia, if we accept that area as the original homeland of many of the ‘Peoples of the Sea’ who are illustrated with long-swords on Egyptian monuments. Hittite warriors also carried a short stabbing-sword or dagger which can often be seen on the sculptures. This had a hilt which was frequently crescent-shaped or (perhaps only for ceremonial use) elaborately decorated with animal heads. Often this weapon too seems to have been slightly curved, as can be seen both on sculptural reliefs and in actual examples from Bogazkoy and Troy. Straight blades with a wide central flange, a strengthening device much favoured by Anatolian metalsmiths, are also to be found. In the early part of the second millennium the handle was attached to the blade by means of rivets, but later a more advanced form became popular in which the blade and hilt were cast as one piece and an inlay of wood or bone was held in position on either side of the hilt by rivets and flanged edges. In western Anatolia there are naturally signs of Aegean and European influences, for instance in a dagger from Thermi with a leaf-shaped blade and a ‘horned’ hand-guard. The wide central flange of this weapon, however, suggests that it is locally made rather than an import. The eastward spread of similar influences can be seen in the shapes of swords on reliefs at Karabel, east of Izmir, Gavurkalesi near Ankara, and Yazihkaya, and by the early part of the first millennium they had penetrated as far south-east as Sinjerli. Many swords and daggers had pommels of stone, bone or metal, and often these have survived when the weapons themselves have disappeared.

Another weapon carried by the Hittite soldier was the axe. This took two main forms, one with a hole into which the shaft was fixed and the other a flat blade which was inserted into a split shaft and bound in position. The earliest shaft-hole axes in Anatolia are clearly linked to similar weapons in stone, but characteristically metal shapes were soon evolved. Signs of influence from widely separated areas in Anatolian examples serve to emphasize the highly international nature of metal- working in the second millennium, with smiths operating along trade- routes which were little affected by national frontiers. Axes found at Kiiltepe and dated to the earlier part of the millennium show a characteristically Assyrian raising of the blade above the level of the socket, and may well be linked to the presence of Assyrian trading- colonies at that site, but ribbing round the shaft-hole is a feature not only in eastern Anatolia but also in Syria, Iran and the northern Caucasus area, and cannot be directly linked with any particular element in the population. Perhaps the most famous Anatolian shaft- axe is that carried by the figure on the King’s Gate at Bogazkoy. In this sculpture the spikes at the rear of the shaft are really a development of the ribbing mentioned above, as can be seen in a Palestinian example of the fourteenth century from Beth-shan. The blade, however, is of a type which can be paralleled only in the Caucasus region. A curved wooden shaft and a tassel complete a weapon of which no archaeological example has yet been found.

The subject of flat axes without a socket is complicated by the fact that many examples may have been wood- or metalworking tools rather than weapons. However, it is clear that some at least were axes rather than broad chisels or adzes, and no doubt many were used in both peace and war. Such axes normally had projections or lugs on either side of the blade where it was fitted into the shaft, and were widely used in many parts of Anatolia. Towards the end of the Imperial period axes made of iron were beginning to come into use. The bow was also used by Anatolian armies. Sometimes it was carried on the Egyptian pattern by chariot-troops, and it was probably the weapon of the Hittite light infantry, as well as that of the Gasga and other powers.

The bow itself was of the composite type, constructed of a combination of wood and horn glued and bound to form an integrated body of great strength and power. This weapon may have been introduced to Anatolia from Mesopotamia in the Akkadian period, and it can be recognized in sculptures by its characteristic shape, which shows either ends that curve outwards or a triangular form with the bow-string forming its base. Arrowheads were of bronze, attached by a tang to a body made of wood or reed, and in a great many cases with barbs at the rear corners. The quiver was of leather or bark, and probably held twenty to thirty arrows.

For personal defence Hittite soldiers wore helmets, and some at least carried shields. The best representation of a helmet is that worn by the figure on the King’s Gate. It has a pointed top, flaps to cover the cheeks and neck, and a long plume which hangs down the warrior’s back.

Another representation of a helmeted warrior has been found incised into the inside surface of a bowl excavated at Bogazkoy and dated to c. 1400. In this case the helmet has, like that of the King’s Gate figure, cheek- and neck-flaps, but in other ways it is unique in the Hittite area. The horn, crest and flowing ribbons are all to some extent reminiscent of Aegean representations, 50 and it may be that we have here a Hittite picture (the bowl is certainly of local manufacture) of an Aegean or west Anatolian warrior. Perhaps his opponent, whose picture has not been recovered, conformed more to the conventional Hittite type.

In other respects too the picture provides details which cannot at the moment be paralleled. Body-protection is provided by what looks like a sleeveless jacket, perhaps of leather, decorated with patterns of concentric circles and worn over what may be a shirt of scale-armour, with arms finished in a fringe just below the elbow. Examples of bronze armour-scales have recently been excavated at Bogazkoy, and at Korucutepe two small pieces of iron may also be the remains of armour-scales. The King’s Gate figure appears to have a bare chest, although the markings assumed by most people to represent the hair on his chest have also been taken by some as being intended to convey the idea of a mail shirt. The figure also wears a short kilt-like garment, which, if it corresponds to any real battle-equipment, cannot have offered much protection to the wearer. Hittite infantry-troops who are represented in Egyptian pictures of the Battle of Qadesh wear an ankle- length garment which may be ‘tropical kit’ issued for use in the warm south-east, or a sort of ‘great-coat’ to be left with the baggage-train when swift action was intended. But in view of the lack of shields among the infantry it may be that in this case too the garment was in fact a long coat of mail. Hittite shields can be seen in the Egyptian pictures being carried by chariot-troops. They are of figure-of-eight shape, probably made of leather on a wooden frame, and presumably designed (despite their small size on the Egyptian reliefs) for whole- body protection. Towards the end of the millennium round shields were introduced by the Sea Peoples, and they became part of the normal equipment of Neo-Hittite military units.

How did the Hittite war chariot make the Hittites conquerors?

The Egyptian chariot placed the wheels in the back of the box, and only held two men, a charioteer and a warrior. The limitation was weight with the wheels so far back, leverage placed most of the weight on the horses.

The Hittite chariot, in contrast, placed the wheels farther forward under the center of the box, which put the weight of the warriors over the axle and took the strain off of the horses, This allowed three men to ride, the charioteer and two warriors, which in effect doubled the number of fighting men that could be deployed with the same number of chariots.


The Hittite war chariot was made with iron hub wheels this made the Hittite war chariot stronger, faster, and longer lasting. Also, the warriors in the chariot were armed with superior weapons. Their iron tipped arrows had much greater penetrating power that the copper and bronze arrows of the Egyptians, who were the Hittites main rivals. The war chariot was sometimes equipped with iron swords on the hubs to cut opposing infantry units.

The Hittites ruled a large empire for about 500 years, from around 1700 BCE until about 1200 BCE. The empire declined once their monopoly on the secret of making iron was lost. The Hittites were hated for their harsh rule, and when the empire was defeated their capital was razed, buried, and forgotten. All inscriptions and references to the Hittites in Egypt and other countries were erased.

Only the Hebrew scriptures made references to the feared Hittite empire. For this reason most scholars considered the Biblical references to be myths and that the Hittites never existed.

It wasn't until archaeological evidence started to appear in the late 19th century that the ancient Hittite empire became known as fact. The discovery of the Hitttite empire should have increased confidence in the accuracy of the Hebrew scriptures

History: The Hittites

The early origins of the Hittites are not entirely certain, but it is likely the people we call Hittites arrived in Anatolia about 2000BC and came from Europe as part of a broader migration from the Black Sea region and Pontic steppe. In diplomatic correspondence of the Late Bronze Age the realm is the land of Hatti (Khatta in Egyptian).

The Hittites adopted the cuneiform script from the Assyrians, shortly afterwards, and they fought amongst themselves and with their neighbours during the first half of the second millennium down to about 1400BC. In 1531BC a Hittite king even led an army into Mesopotamia and sacked Babylon together with his Kassite allies. From about 1400BC King Tudhaliya established the Hittite Empire, which endured until the infamous Late Bronze Age Collapse from about 1180BC. During these few hundred years the Hittites rose to become one the great powers of the ancient Near East, the rivals and equals of Egypt and masters of the ancient cities of Syria and the upper Mesopotamian region.

A map of the Hittite Empire during the reigns of Suppiluliuma I and Musili II circa 1350-1295 BC at the time of its greatest extent. Hittite tributary lands also encompassed Luwian states in western Anatolia at various times, including Arzawa and Ahhiyawa – which have been given provisional, though likely, locations on this map.

The King of the Hittites was not just a hereditary ruler he was also the chief priest of the Hittite gods and their representative amongst his people. Every year he would tour the various holy sites throughout the kingdom to perform the rituals that would bring prosperity and success. These Kings began to be referred to as ‘My Sun’ – a sort of Hittite equivalent of ‘Your majesty’. King Tudhaliya allied with or absorbed his immediate neighbours, including the great city-state of Aleppo and much of Mitanni to the east, and the various Luwian states including Arzawa to the west. It was the beginnings of Empire!

This picture shows a Hittite chariot as portrayed on an Egyptian relief showing the Battle of Kadesh. These chariots are depicted differently from Egyptian chariots in that they have three crewmen with flowing Hittite locks! Hittite chariots were more heavily built than Egyptian chariots and their crewmen are likely to carry spears and javelins as their primary weapon rather than bows.

Sadly, as tends to be the way with these things, many of the lands conquered by Tudhaliya subsequently fell into the hands of enemies or rebelled, and so had to be conquered all over again by King Suppiluliuma. The chief enemies of the Hittites at this period were the Egyptians and Assyrians, but they also faced rebellious subject states in the Luwian lands to the west and the cities of Syria and the Levant. Another persistent enemy was the Kaska (or Gasgan) hill tribe that lived in the region to the immediate north of the Hittite homeland.

The ruins of Hattusa the Hittite capital in central Anatolia – this is the main gateway to the city, commonly known as The Lion Gate.

The wealth of the great cities of Syria and Canaan was the envy of Egypt, Assyria and the Hittites, and a great deal of the warfare of the period revolves around these ancient super-states’ attempts to take control of this important region. It was the Bronze Age equivalent of the later Silk Road – a region where trade routes converged from east, west and south. Mighty cities such as Aleppo and Carchemish became fabulously rich as a result. Although we call these cities, they were really states in their own right, whose kings sometimes became sufficiently powerful to assert their dominance over their neighbours, but generally sought to make alliances with other powers for their own protection. The Hittites usually absorbed these border areas as subject Kingdoms, rather like feudal Lords, bound to the Hittites King by personal treaties. One of the first duties of these feudal Kings was to provide troops for the Hittite armies, which means that the Hittites could field large forces that contained contingents from all their many clients states. Because the cities of Syria and Canaan were so wealthy they often provided a substantial amount of the Hittite King’s forces when he was fighting in those regions. Other clients from the western states would also send troops, and in their case these would be Luwian or even archaic Greeks – Ahhiyawa is usually assumed to be a Hittite rendering of Homer’s Achaia (Byrce et al), whilst Troy was probably part of a Hittite client state called Wilusa – i.e. Homer’s Ilium.

This famous figure (the original is over 2m high!) is carved into the south gate of Hattusa – the so-called King’s Gate. Despite the name, the figure almost certainly represent a god set to watch out over the King and his army as they march from the city to war.

All this means that for the period of the height of the Hittite Empire we are at liberty to use troops from the Hittite lands themselves – the ‘woman warriors’ as the Egyptian Pharaoh dubbed these long-haired warriors – as well as Syrian and Canaanite troops from cities such as Carchemish and Kadesh. Indeed, Carchemish was such an important city that the Hittite King sent one of his sons to rule over it, the foundation of a Hittite dynasty that would endure into the Iron Age – longer than the Hittite Empire itself!

Anyone wanting to know more about Hittites in the Late Bronze Age would do well to read the books written by Australian academic Trevor Bryce – the leading authority on the history of the Hittites. In particular I would recommend:

  • The Kingdom of the Hittites (1999)
  • Life and Society in the Hittite World (2002)
  • The Trojans and their Neighbours (2006)

The Chariot – history’s first personal transport concept

The two-wheeled horse-drawn chariot was one of the most important inventions in history. It gave humanity its first concept of personal transport, and for two thousand years it was the key technology of war – for most of humanity’s recorded history, the number of chariots signified the strength of an army. It also became the world’s first mass spectator sport phenomenon and measured on a spectator per capita basis, achieved the most prodigious crowd-pulling feats of any sport in history. Remarkably, a set of chariot wheels from 2000BC is set to go under the auction hammer next month … read the remarkable history of the chariot.

The chariot has been one of the great enabling technologies of history. It came into being with the invention of the spoked wheel, which was largely enabled by the metallurgical advances of the bronze age, and it served as the primary means of transport for all civilizations from 2500BC until quite recently in historical terms. Until motorized transport came along 100 years ago, derivatives of the chariot were still very common.

The chariot also gave us the word for its replacement - the word “car” is a derivative of the word chariot, and the chariot was just as prized 2000 years ago as the automobile is today – when important people died, burial with one’s chariot was common.

In terms of personal transport, the era of the motorcar has lasted around 100 years so far. The era of the chariot lasted nearly 4000 years, with a history as rich and global as the automobile.

This map shows the spread of the chariot historically over time – it is worth a ponder – apart from providing an interesting information graphic on how the chariot developed internationally, it also shows how much slower technology was adopted 4000 years ago.

The chariot was absolutely ideal for the battlefield, but its advantage is not as most people think. Many popular historical films have portrayed the chariot as a type of brute force tank, used for crushing the infantry of the opposition. Indeed, the chariot rarely engaged in direct combat, though its waist-high semi-circular shield was very useful in giving protection from axe- and sword-wielding adversaries.

The chariot’s real strength on the battlefield was the raised firing platform it offered to archers – it was the original “artillery platform.” Archers mounted on a chariot were raised above the battlespace and could see what they were firing at. The chariot-mounted, highly mobile and highly accurate archer was both a tactical weapon and one which could offer devastatingly accurate and quite considerable firepower. It doesn’t take many archers to create an unrelenting stream of arrows to defeat or contain an infantry force. Many of histories most famous battles were conceded with greater numbers of soldiers but lesser numbers of chariots.

Accordingly, the chariot became the principle battle strength of every military force from the Egyptians all the way through time to the Romans. Its military value was negated through the invention of the crossbow – smaller and not requiring the stable platform demanded by the longbow, the crossbow also outranged the composite longbow.

In battle, the chariot offered a fast, manoeuvrable mobile platform for archers. It was also safer for the highly trained and hence much more valuable archers than being on foot, and it brought royalty into the contest where they could play a relatively safe and somewhat distant role in the battle with skills honed through the practice opportunities which being royal afforded them. Historically, the spoked wheel and the chariot seem to have sprung up in several places within a short period of time, with accurate carbon dating yet to give us a definitive reading on which civilization was the first to develop the chariot. It is most likely that the first true chariots were developed on the Eurasian steppes, along the now border of Russia and Kazakhstan, though shortly thereafter, they were popular on the plains of Mesopotamia and Anatolia.

As previously mentioned, warriors and kings were buried with their chariot. Sadly, burial also required the lives of the horses that drew the chariot, and the driver too. One wonders at the toll of humans we have squandered through sacrifice over the ages. Getting back to the point though, the adulation humanity has lavished on the automobile in the 20th century clearly has some precedents. The chariot was a gift from the gods

The strength of an army was measured in bodies and chariots. In the Bible, the number of chariots is used numerous times to quantify “power” - Jabin, the king of Canaan, had 900 chariots (Judges 4:3), and the mighty King Saul commanded no less than 30,000 Philistine chariots. Solomon had 1,400 chariots (1 Kings 10:26) and chariot cities were established to store war chariots during peace time (2 Chronicles 1:14). Many were stored in Jerusalem.

As power could be demonstrated by amassing chariots, some impressive collections grew. By the 15th century BC, Pharaoh Tutmoses III had over a thousand chariots at his disposal by 1400 BC the Great King of the Mitanni had amassed several times that number.

Despite being the vehicle of such notable civilizations as the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans, the largest chariot fleet in history most likely belonged to the Chinese who had a standing army of 10,000 chariots before the cross-bow outranged the composite longbow, making chariots instantaneously obsolete around 500 BC. The Chinese even experimented with large cross-bows mounted on chariots but eventually recognized that the age of cavalry had arrived as horses had evolved and were now sufficiently strong enough to carry an armored human.

One particularly fearsome version of the chariot, the scythed chariot, where blades extend horizontally from the axle of the chariot. Introduced by the Persians as a response to fighting against the tight phalanx formations of the Greek heavy infantry sometime between 467 BC and 458 BC, the scythed chariot was pulled by a team of four horses and manned by a crew of up to three men - one driver and two warriors. Theoretically the scythed chariot would plow through infantry lines, cutting enemy combatants in half or at least opening gaps in the line which could be exploited.

The scythed chariot overcame may of the difficult in getting horses to charge into the phalanx formation of the Greek/Macedonian infantry. The scythed chariot avoided this inherent problem for cavalry, by the scythe cutting into the formation, even when the horses avoided the men. A disciplined army could diverge as the chariot approached, and then collapse quickly behind it, allowing the chariot to pass without causing many casualties. War chariots had limited military capabilities. They were strictly an offensive weapon and were best suited against infantry in open flat country where the charioteers had room to maneuver. At a time when cavalry were without stirrups, and probably had neither spurs nor an effective saddle, though they certainly had saddle blankets, scythed chariots added weight to a cavalry attack on infantry.

Like most aspects of military technology which the Chinese turned their hand to, the chariot reached its technological peak under that country’s continuous application of the latest scientific discovery. The balance of the Chinese chariot was much better than its European equivalent, with the harnessing better designed to enable the horses to pull with their shoulders and achieve both greater speed and better maneuverability. Throughout recorded history, the Chinese military generally had a significant technological advantage over all of their contemporaries. We recently wrote about the remarkable Chinese war fleets of the Ming Dynasty here.

The chariot too was unquestionably the vehicle of the conqueror.

The important home-coming of the victorious warrior-kings of history was almost always ceremonially performed by public parade in a chariot because it offered a mobile raised platform that could negotiate crowds and give everyone a chance to get close to the hero of the day.

The chariot was accorded a special place in history, having carried countless notable warriors in their triumph across the ages from Ramesses II to Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar. Whether it was a returning hero or a famous general entering his newly claimed territory, the winner of the battle and the war arrived by chariot, so the chariot added some impressive brand values across two thousand years of bearing the victor – winning was one of them and it carried on to create the most potent spectator sport of all time.

Any cursory glance over historical writings will find many references to chariot racing. Homer’s The Iliad, written in the 8th century BC, refers to a race with five chieftains driving two-horse chariots as the first event in the funeral games in honor of the warrior Patroclus. Chariot races were often held at funeral games and on public holidays related to the relevant chariot-riding Gods.

In the ancient Olympic Games, which ran from 776 BC, the four-horse chariot race was the first and most important of all events.

Chariot racing had all the hallmarks of a perfect spectator sport, and the fans and competitors it drew helped it become the most notoriously corrupt sport in history as well as the most spectacular and highest crowd-pulling form of public entertainment ever known.

Colors throughout history have come to signify different “camps” – originally, racing was originally divided into four camps – signified by the four colors – red, blue, green and white. Quite soon people began barracking for a particular alliance and quite soon a rivalry developed between the factions which was not always healthy. Violence was never far away and as each team attracted enthusiast supporters from all walks of life, the sport readily networked all levels of society and afforded many like-minded but socially unlikely alliances, a goodly proportion of them of doubtful intent. Like modern day motorsport and horse racing events that come under the patronage of royalty, the events became one of the few places where the common man could attend the same place as society’s elite. These events became a social occasion for every member of society, where opposing factions from any walk of life could meet, do business and inevitably settle debts and disputes. Betting also became a massive part of the spectacle, and the Romans had organized public betting at Circus Maximus in biblical times.

Emperor Nero drove his own ten horse chariot in the roman games of 67 AD, falling out of the chariot in what must have been one of history’s most embarrassing moments.

The famous Hippodrome racetrack in Constantinople (now Instanbul) had a direct tunnel running from the adjacent royal palace directly to the Emperor’s private box from which he could watch the races and entertain.

The tunnel had the additional advantage of offering a safe escape from the crowds for the emperor if things should ever turn ugly. On a holiday weekend in January 532AD, they did, and Emperor Justinian used the tunnel to escape the baying mob, then turned a near-bloodless coup against him into a thwarted one, and the ensuing carnage lasted three days and cost 30,000 lives.

Byzantium, nee Constantinople nee Instanbul had been the de facto center of chariot racing for the best part of a thousand years, but nothing it witnessed in that time quite compared with the Nika riots where three days of violence saw more bloodshed than many wars.

Chariot racing’s heritage is alive and well on the horse race tracks of the world – it is part of what has become horse racing’s relationship with power and influence and royalty. In truth, harness racing is much closer to the original sport, but when chariot racing eventually fell from favor and gave way to horse racing as the sport of the socially elite. It remains a potent mix of commercial and political intrigue, influence and power all coming together around a race event.

Everyone in an entire city would attend, from the highest of society, to the lowest. Chariot racing was invariably a free public event as it occurred on public holidays and religious festivals and it no doubt looked very enticing compared to the daily fetch and carry of ancient existence for the common man.

Under the guise of religious festivals, chariot racing became a massive commercial enterprise. On display were the fastest chariots, the best teams, the most skilled charioteers, and with the money and glory came the inevitable betting and corruption.

The best riders were feted, and became incredibly wealthy. Apart from pulling attendances of hundreds of thousands of people, it appears that chariot racing was every bit as colorful as you might expect from the first regularly staged sporting event in history.

Gaius Appuleius Diocles was a famous charioteer of the second century and clearly there was a sophisticated record system of some sort at the time because his career is available in fine detail. He began driving for the Whites at the age of 18 after six years with the Whites, he switched to the Greens for three years, and then drove for a further 15 years for the Reds. Clearly, free agency was practiced in biblical times.

Four-horse races were the modern day equivalent of MotoGP or Formula One – the fastest of all the sport’s variations. Diocles won 1,462 of the 4,257 four-horse races in which he competed which calculates to a winning ratio of 34.34% over a remarkably long career of 24 years.

For the record, Valentino Rossi has a much better 47% win ratio (96 wins from 207 starts) as the best ever in MotoGP, Formula One’s best is Juan Manuel Fangio who won 24 of 51 starts (also 47%) and Michael Schumacher’s F1 career comes in at 91 wins from 248 starts for a win ratio of 36.7%.

Testimony to how good Diocles must have been at his craft, can be drawn from 4,257 races he started – nearly 20 times the number of F1 GPs that Michael Schumacher drove in a long and splendid career – despite all of modern technology’s wonders, Schumacher broke his legs in an accident. One wonders what injuries Diocles had to carry in racing what averages out to be one race every two days for a quarter of a century – a punishing schedule for such a brutal and dangerous sport where death was common, medical assistance was fundamentally primitive, and being trampled and maimed by the other horses and chariots was a daily event.

For those of less-than-noble birth, becoming a top charioteer was one of the only ways to significantly improve one’s lot in life. Just as the charioteer was one of the earliest examples of a warrior elite selected for skill rather than by birth, the sporting charioteer commanded pay commensurate with the best of today’s sporting elite.

Just how much money could a top chariot driver earn?

Diocles career earnings were a matter of public record when he retired - 36 million sesterces. We couldn’t do the math to compare it with Valentino Rossi’s US$34 million income last year. A sesterce had a nominal value of 2.5 asses (2.5 donkeys), so there are no ready conversions to 2008 dollars, but in rough terms, 90 million asses is a considerable fortune. By comparison, the hyper-wealthy general and politician of the late Roman Republic, Crassus (who fought in the war to defeat Spartacus), was said to have had estates worth 200 million sesterces. Diocles retired at 42 in reported ruddy heath having amassed a small fortune. He must have been equally as good as a Rossi or a Schumacher and then some because he performed at the highest level for 24 years and survived, when many famous drivers died very young - Aurelius Mollicius at 20, Fuscus at 24, Crescens at 22. Diocles retired at 42 years of age, unquestionably one of history’s forgotten superstars.

So in terms of career earnings, Diocles seems to have been equally well rewarded as the current master of sporting communication and commercial excellence Valentino Rossi.

In terms of safety, the charioteers would have been perpetually at dire risk. They wore minimal body protection and a light helmet but common agreement was that the most effective method of controlling the horses was wrapping the reins of the four horses around the charioteer’s waist, so he could use body movements to control the horses. This meant that if things did go pear-shaped and the chariot got turned over, the charioteer could easily be dragged behind a team of horses in the direct path of the following horses. Cutting oneself free of the reins in the case of accident was a key survival skill and whatever was required, Diocles seemingly had the lot.

Professional charioteers came from the lower classes, and the winning wreath (a motorsport tradition borrowed from chariot racing) was presented to the winning owner, not the driver. Chariot racing became a dominant theme in Greek art, sculpture, pottery and coins as it did in Roman times. Nearly a thousand years later, many Roman household items depicted famous chariot races of the day –chariot racing was the first and most popular regular sporting event and accumulated several thousand years of history. Most modern sports are less than 200 years old.

There are many references throughout history to elaborate viewing chariot-racing grandstands having been assembled, sometimes two and three tiers high, and often in the most unlikely places, but nothing comes near the purpose-built Circus Maximus in Rome. The building is 620 meters long (678 yards) and there was seating for 150,000 spectators. In biblical times, such crowds were common at chariot racing events – at Circus Maximus, everyone got to see.

We’ve only just scratched the surface of charioteering, as there is so much of its glory lost in history.

The event that catalyzed this story was our discovery that auctioneers Bonhams is selling a set of chariot wheels that last rolled around what is now Iran some 4,000 years ago. They rank among some of the oldest wheels in history and they are a pure reflection of the key technology that enabled them – the metallurgy of the bronze age.

Skewed by the laws of supply and demand, as we so often comment when we write about famous inventions in history, the value exchange for such historical importance always seems to come at a discount.

The 92cm diameter Elamite wheels are expected to fetch between UKP 7,000 and UKP 9,000 when they go under the hammer at Bonhams next Antiquities Sale on October 15.

For those interested in reading more about the chariot, might we suggest the book Chariot: The Astounding Rise and Fall of the World's First War Machine

The Wheels of War: Evolution of the Chariot

For one thousand years, chariots rolled through the Middle East, terrifying armies, destroying infantry lines and changing the face of war. Sumerians used heavy battlewagons with solid wheels drawn by wild asses around 2600 B.C. Until the innovation of spoked wheels, the weight of the battlewagons hindered their utility in war. The domestication of the horse inspired further chariot innovation as horses increased chariot mobility and speed. Drawn by horses, with lighter carts and spoked wheels, chariots gained their status as an elite weapon and transport. Two wheeled war chariots carrying an archer and a driver, combined with the use of the composite bow, fully revamped military tactics around 1700 B.C. Chariots spread to Greece, Asia Minor, Iran, India and China. Chariot use in war declined slowly, beginning around 1000 B.C. With the advent of mounted cavalry however, chariot use ended in the Middle East circa 500 to 300 B.C.

The First Chariots: Battlewagons

The antecedent of the chariot was the ox cart in Mesopotamia, used to transport trade goods and agricultural products. Not long after, Mesopotamians created wagons to carry a ruler and his soldiers to the battlefield. These battlewagons with four solid wheels were heavy, but on the battlefield, they provided a platform from which archers and spearmen could shoot and throw missiles at the enemy. The Standard of Ur shows battlewagons in the War panel. Pulled by wild asses, these battlewagons carried two men, a spear man and a driver. Both dismounted to fight.

Spoked Wheels

Scholars believe that people of the steppes—a wild grassy plain running from Hungary to China through Central Asia—domesticated the horse and created the first spoked-wheel chariot around 2000 B.C. North-south trade routes brought both horses and spoked wheels to the Near East cultures of Mesopotamia, Iran, Syria, Persia and Egypt. Spoked wheels were a major improvement on the heavier solid wheels, allowing a lighter, speedier vehicle.

Uses of Chariots on the Battlefield

Different armies used chariots in a variety of ways. The Hittites, for instance, built heavier chariots that were used to crash into infantry lines. More often, chariots were lighter, created to be a platform for archers. Masses of chariots were then used to get close to the enemy and decimate them with arrows. Egypt’s armies used chariots for speedy transport on the battlefield and as all-purpose war machines. The Persians added the innovation of scythed chariot wheels, long blades that stuck out from the hubs, killing enemy foot soldiers in the hundreds. Rome kept chariots for racing, hunting and ceremonies while India used them as platforms for archers.

The Composite Bow/Chariot Combination

The introduction of the composite bow around 2000 B.C. and its employment by charioteers (1700 B.C.) made the chariot an essential war machine. Composite bows were made by gluing wood, horn and sinew together, creating a vastly superior weapon over the self bow made of wood alone. Archers using composite bows could now fire much faster, with more striking power with at least twice the range of the self bow. Archers mounted on chariots could fire an arrow every six seconds with good accuracy. Formations of chariots carrying bowmen became an army’s deadliest weapon.

The Downside

Chariots, however, were expensive to make and maintain. They required flat ground to be effective, needed constant maintenance and broke down often. Chariot repair teams traveled right with the army, ready to do maintenance when required. The Assyrian army had a special logistical branch just for chariots and cavalry. Men and horses had to be trained in its use, which gave rise to the first warrior elites, the charioteers. These men were the first warriors to be selected for their skills and not by birth.

Warriors of Anatolia: A Concise History of the Hittites

Trevor Bryce has done more to present the history of the Hittites than any scholar. His present book is an effort to present a breezably readable version to the interested public. The I.B. Tauris editor … “said that he’d like a book that offers to students and general readers more than just core information on Hittite history and civilisation … ‘something more daring, less formulaic’ … something to make the book’s readers think ‘in novel and exciting and unexpected ways about the topics addressed.’” The author succeeds. He says that his book is “a bit unconventional and quirky” but also “a reliable introduction to Hittite history and civilization” and “proposes a number of new ideas and approaches to longstanding problems.”(p.3) So we are treated to imagined descriptions of an event or a scene, always historically informed, but of course with the details speculative. Ofttimes he will present a controversial theory and end with “what do you think?” But this is only a small part of the book. Most is an informed narration description. There is little new, other than the informed speculation, that cannot be found in Bryce’s previous and more expensive books: The Kingdom of the Hittites (2nd ed. 2005) and Life and Society in the Hittite World (2002). Another good one volume study of Hittite history is Billie Jean Collins, The Hittites and Their World (2007). All of these update the standard O.R. Gurney, The Hittites (1952, 1981).

Chapter 1 “Rediscovering a lost world” is particularly enjoyable to read. From Classical Antiquity into the nineteenth century AD, the Hittites were known, if at all, as an obscure ethnic group in biblical Palestine. This chapter discusses the subsequent gradual rediscovery of the Great Kingdom of the Hittites. We see not just the succession of brilliant insights of previous scholars who brought the Hittites back to life, but also what eventually proved to be incorrect conclusions by many of these same people. It is also enlightening to see mention of now obscure scholars who got something right, but were ahead of their time and their pioneering insights overlooked then and largely forgotten until now.

Chapters 3- 5, 7-10, 17, 19, 23, 25 go chronologically through political and diplomatic history, from the late Middle Bronze Age until end of the Late Bronze Age. He presents interesting suggestions concerning the death of Hattusili I (p. 39) and the Hittite foreign policy as seen from the Madduwatta letter (pp. 69-72). His theory (chapter 25) concerning Great Kings Suppiluliuma II, Kuruntiya and Hartapus and their probable partial contemporaneity has much to recommend it. I would simply remind all, that Suppiluliuma II’s reign must have lasted some 25 years and that mentions of famine in Hatti date either from several decades before the fall or are from undated texts, and so may or may not be relevant to the destruction of the kingdom.

Interspersed are chapters on aspects of the culture. Chapter 2 is “How do the Hittites Tell Us About Themselves?” Chapter 6 concentrates on geography. Chapter 11 describes the life of a Hittite Great King. He was high-priest and intermediary between the gods and the land and people, chief commander of the army, chief judge and on death was deified. There is also a discussion of what little we know of ordinary people’s beliefs about death and [rather incongrously] a discussion of the other script in use in Hatti-land, the hieroglyphic script used to write the Luwian language. Chapter 13 details the importance of cleanliness, both actual and ritual, at least in proximity to the gods and king. Healing was “holistic,” using both medicines and magic. Chapter 14 cuts through the controversy over ANE “law codes” with a most likely correct understanding: the Hittite laws were non-binding precedents elders and governors judged based on local custom. Compensation was favored over legal retribution. Even male and female slaves could sue and were to be treated fairly by the courts. Chapter 15 concerns sexual intercourse. Chapter 16 tells us that financial arrangement for a marriage included both brideprice and dowry conversely where the woman’s family paid a brideprice for a son-in-law, he became resident with and part of the wife’s family. Women could also initiate a divorce. Slaves could marry free partners, if the proper marriage payments were made. The entire discussion on pp. 151ff. about how to interpret Hoffner’s translation (in Roth, Law Collections, 1995) of Hittite Laws §§ 34 & 36, which Bryce quite correctly finds difficult to understand, would have much benefited from consulting Hoffner’s very different (and opposite) translation in Laws of the Hittites (1997) with its commentary (p.185) and/or the translation and commentary in the Hittite Dictionary of the University of Chicago s.v. parā 6 a 6′ a’ (1995) : the free spouse of a slave may NOT be enslaved. Chapter 18 describes the Hittite military, as well as non-military way of holding the empire together: patient negotiations and mutual defense-treaties with subordinates and equals. Chapter 20 shows the role of Great Queen as chief priestess of the kingdom. She was wife of the king, but held her office for life, sometimes coming into conflict with a new king’s wife. Chapter 21 describes the capital city, Hattusa. Chapter 22 gives an imaginary (though fact based) account of a diplomatic mission from one great king to another. Chapter 24 describes the Hittite gods and their many festivals. Problems:
(16f.) The discussion concerning determinatives is correct but the example is incorrect, since LUGAL “king” is never used as a determinative. Rather, LÚ “man” is used before names of male professions.
(p.17) It should have been pointed out that Ugaritic and Aramaic “alphabets,” unlike the Greek alphabet and its successors, were vowelless. It is debateable whether these vowelless scripts were easier to learn and then read than Hittite syllabic cuneiform. Old Assyrian merchants learned cuneiform. Cuneiform scripts died out when the languages they wrote died out and were replaced by languages writing in different scripts.
(p. 19) While conflagrations certainly help perserve clay tablets (an advantage over papyrus, parchement and paper), unbaked clay tablets can be preserved in the ground and excavated.
(pp.20-21) To the list of types of content found in Hittite texts, one should add magic-rituals, multilingual dictionaries, compendia of omens and collections of oracles (questions to and answers from the gods).
(p.32) Bryce makes the daring suggestion that Hattusili I’s annals cover only 5 years of what was probably a lengthy reign because the original tablets were destroyed in the sack of Hattusa in the time of Tudhaliya son of Arnuwanda I. Subsequently the surviving fragments were pulled out of the rubble and pieced together and copied onto a new tablet. This is ingenious, but the annals of Hattusili I consist of a tablet in Akkadian and a tablet in Hittite, which contain the same episodes. It seems improbable that the original Akkadian version and the Hittite version were broken in the same place and missing the same campaigns.
(p.45) Šauštatar “reduced the former great kingdom [Assyria] to vassel status.” When had it been a great kingdom? It was an appanage state in Šamši-Adad I’s Great Kingdom much earlier, but didn’t become a Great Kingdom until the destruction of Mittanni.
(p.56) Hittite viceregal kingdoms were not generally ruled by the king’s sons. Kargamis and Aleppo were founded for Suppiluliuma’s sons, but were subsequently ruled by descendants of those sons. Hakpis was for Muwattalli II’s brother Tarhuntassa for the Hattusili III’s nephew Isuwa probably for a son-in-law.
(p. 144) The symbols of womanhood are not “a spindle and mirror”. The translation is taken from a 1950 translation. But translations and dictionaries since at least 1976 have understood the symbols to be “distaff and spindle.”
(p. 158ff.) Bryce refers to Abdi-Asirti and Aziru, Kings of Amurru as “terrorists.” This is most inappropriate. A “terrorist” was originally an agent of the French revolutionary state, who terrorized the state’s own population into not resisting the revolution. It now is a non-state actor using acts of terror to destroy the credibility of a state. Neither is true of these Amurrans. No-doubt Abdi-Asirti was duplicitous and a serious danger to his neighbors. But as Bryce elsewhere points out small states need to eat or be eaten. We have no idea if Abdi-Asirti’s ancestors were rulers of some territory up on Mt. Lebanon. It is clear that Abdi-Asirti was agressively expanding his territory at the expense of his neighbors—in other words state formation. Much of what we know of him is from those who would have to make way. It is nowhere pointed out that after Abdi-Asirti’s son Aziru had double-crossed everyone to secure his father’s now sizable kingdom and then joined the Hittites, he remained loyal to them, as did his son and grandson. This is not what should be referred to as “a terrorist clan.”
(p. 172) I know of no evidence in archaeology or Egyptian reliefs for chain-mail, but much evidence for scale-armor, as Bryce mentions several lines earlier.
(p.173) “(Horse) training manual, allegedly the work of a prisoner-of-war brought back … as a deportee from Mittanni.” Kikkuli who wrote a text for training Hittite chariot horses is assumed to be of Mittannian origin because there are a few technical terms in Indic. Whether he was forcibly brought to the Hittites or volunteered is not known. After all, many European Christians, especially cannoneers, volunarily joined the Ottomans. Another purely Hittite horse-training text appears to pre-date Kikkuli’s. Also, ‘Prisoner-of-war’ (Hittite appanza) and “deportee” (Hittite arnuwala-) are different catagories both then and today, one military and the other civilian. Bryce is far from alone in using the term “deportee” for such civilians. As Bryce makes clear, the Hittites wanted people (thus arnuwala- > arnu- “to bring”, so literally “transportee”), while “deport”, as anyone living in Trump’s USA knows, means “to expell foreigners from your country.” When will ANE authors find another term such as CHD’s “person to be resettled.”
(p. 174) I do not know why Bryce says there is no evidence for 3 man Hittite chariots after the battle of Qades. There is no evidence for Hittite chariots after that battle, that I know of. 1st millennium Assyria had 3 and 4 man chariots. Furthermore, the idea of chariots charging infantry at 45km/hr over uneven terrain seems unlikely. According to lectures by and chats with military historian Steven Weingartner, chariots were most likely mobile shooting platforms, ideal for shooting densely packed infantry. Bryce, however, is way ahead in arguing that chariots were transported to battlefields not ridden.
(p.238) Bryce states that “since Hatti’s core region had no sea outlets, its kings would have needed ships supplied by vassal … states with coastal territory and seaports for any Hittite ventures involving naval operations.” Yet on p. 161 we are told that Tarhuntassa, briefly capital of the Hittite empire, lay in western Cilicia. Western (i.e., “Rough Cilicia”) had a seacoast and ports. Further east the Cilician plain had been directly administered Hittite territory since the reign of Arnuwanda I, five generations earlier. Furthermore, we know that the merchants from the Hittite port of Ura were over-thriving in the port of Ugarit, in the King of Ugarit’s opinion. Surely they were not doing all their shipping in Ugaritian ships. It is time to give up the old prejudice that Anatolians couldn’t/wouldn’t sail, and only Levantines and Greeks dared to go to sea. Of course, Ugarit, Siyannu, and Amurru would have added their ships to the Hittite fleet for a campaign against Cyprus.

Many photos are so darkly reproduced as to be worthless e.g. 21.1, 21.8 The lion-gate in 21.7 is unrecognizable since it is the poorly preserved lefthand lion and is poorly reproduced many others are from a movie about the Hittites, which I supposed is justifiable. But why not use the real picture of Puduhepa and Hattusili from the Firaktin relief?

The book should be considered a success as a reliable, readable and affordable introduction to the Hittites for the general reader.

Chapter 1: Rediscovering a Lost World
Chapter 2: How Do The Hittites Tell Us About Themselves?
Chapter 3: The Dawn of the Hittite Era
Chapter 4: The Legacy of an Ailing King
Chapter 5: ‘Now Bloodshed Has Become Common’
Chapter 6: The Setting for an Empire
Chapter 7: Building an Empire
Chapter 8: Lion or Pussycat?
Chapter 9: From Near Extinction to the Threshold of International Supremacy
Chapter 10: The Greatest Kingdom of Them All
Chapter 11: Intermediaries of the Gods: The Great Kings of Hatti
Chapter 12: King by Default
Chapter 13: Health, Hygiene and Healing
Chapter 14: Justice and the Commoner
Chapter 15: No Sex Please, We’re Hittite
Chapter 16: Women, Marriage and Slavery
Chapter 17: War with Egypt
Chapter 18: All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men
Chapter 19: The Man Who Would Be King
Chapter 20: Partners in Power: The Great Queens of Hatti
Chapter 21: City of Temples and Bureaucrats: The Royal Capital
Chapter 22: An Elite Fraternity: the Club of Royal Brothers
Chapter 23: The Empire’s Struggle for Survival
Chapter 24: Hatti’s Divine Overlords
Chapter 25: Death of an Empire
Appendix 1: Rulers of Hatti
Appendix 2: Outline of Main Events in Hittite History

Nov 08, 2018 #1 2018-11-09T01:36

I note that the Hittite Empire list only allows for Light Chariots (except for Anatolian allies).

1. The light chariots should be replaced by heavy chariots from at least Kadesh (1274 BC) onwards
2. There should be a lot more chariots available in 1274 BC, to reflect Kadesh.

1. From 1275 BC, replace all Light Chariots with Heavy Chariots. (Could leave the Anatolian ally as is, to reflect some vassals using older styles?).
Same stats/class as the light chariots except downgrade bows to average and change SSp to LSp. Optional for Devastating Charger.

2. 1274 BC only (Kadesh) variant. Increase number (double? triple?) of heavy chariots, and double/triple minimums. Remove minimums for all infantry. Require ALL sub-generals to be internal or external allies. Allow for one non-Anatolian internal ally.

It is true that light, 2-man, chariots (similar to NKE use) where used by the Hittites (e.g. against Seti I), but the time of Ramesses II (notably at Kadesh), the Hittites had introduced 3-man chariots who's main purpose was as a shock/impact tool, charging into the enemy infantry. They still carried bows but the "long, thrusting spear" was their primary weapon. (See Healy p. 21 especially re: spear). One crew member drove and had a shield, one used the bow, the 3rd used the long, thrusting spear.

Sources: Some sources to provide intelligence/background (though you can pretty much read any modern academic work on Kadesh that discusses the Hittite chariots and they agree on their use as a shock weapon): Spalinger, War in Ancient Egypt, p. 195 Healy, The Warrior Pharaoh, pp. 21 & 39 Lichtheim (trans.), ‘The Poem’, p. 64 Spalinger, ‘Military institutions’, p. 438.

Point 2a - # of chariots:

The ancient sources indicate 3,500 Hittite chariots at Kadesh. 37,000 infantry.

Bryce and others hypothesise that while exaggeration cannot be ruled out, the numbers could be conceivable, given the composition of the army contingents. However, Spalinger’s analysis of the fighting space required for such numbers casts doubt on the plausibility of the number of Hittites (especially chariots) mentioned in Ramesses’ account. Debate in the academic community may never be resolved unless a detailed Hittite account of the battle is discovered in the future, and on balance we can assume for now that there was significant numbers of chariots and infantry present.

Note that the Infantry were present but NOT used at Kadesh (for whatever reason they remained at camp with the Hittite king – why is still debated). So they should be available in army building 1274 BC list but no minimum required.

In summary, much bigger maximums required in the list to allow for Hittite chariots present at Kadesh in 3,500. This is a one off, it appears, so should be a variant list for 1274 BC only.

Sources: Bryce, Kingdom of the Hittites, pp. 235 & 238 Freed, Ramses II, p. 42 Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, p. 262 Healy, The Warrior Pharaoh, p. 8 Lichtheim (trans.), ‘The Poem’, p. 64 Morenz and Popko, ‘The Second Intermediate Period and the New Kingdom’, p. 115 Kitchen, Pharaoh Triumphant, p. 53 Spalinger, War in Ancient Egypt, p. 215.

Point 2b - allied generals

Something from a paper I wrote at uni that captures the essence of why I think a 1274 BC army will be ally heavy:

The extent of the opposition is called out multiple times in Ramesses’ accounts of the battle: [1] “had collected together all the foreign countries as far as the end of the sea” [2] “he left no foreign country not to bring it of every distant land” [3] “exceeding many, without limit the like of them. They covered mountains and valleys and they were like the locust by reason of their multitude” [4] “sent men and horses exceeding many and multitudinous like the sand” [5] and “all foreign countries were combined against me”. [6] Ramesses also places a strong emphasis on the mercenary nature of the Hittite host, rather than on voluntary contributions: [7] “He left no silver in his land, he stripped it of all its possessions and gave them to all the foreign counties in order to bring them with him to fight”. [8]

[1] AEW, doc. 132 Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, p. 262 Goedicke, ‘Considerations’, p. 71 Goetze, ‘The Hittites and Syria’, p. 253 Joyce Tyldesley, Ramesses: Egypt’s Greatest Pharaoh, London, 2001, p. 17 Lichtheim (trans.), ‘The Bulletin’, pp. 60-1 Lichtheim (trans.), ‘The Poem’, p. 64.
[2] AEW, doc. 132 Bryce, Kingdom of the Hittites, p. 235 Goetze, ‘The Hittites and Syria’, p. 253.
[3] AEW, doc. 132.
[4] Bryce, Kingdom of the Hittites, p. 235 Ibid., doc. 132 Lichtheim (trans.), ‘The Poem’, p. 64.
[5] AEW, doc. 132.
[6] Ibid., doc. 132.
[7] Goedicke, ‘Considerations’, p. 72.
[8] AEW, doc. 132 Bryce, Kingdom of the Hittites, p. 235 Healy, The Warrior Pharaoh, p. 21.

FYI: here an images from NKE art showing the Hittite chariots at Kadesh.

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Rebellion in Canaan, Peace With the Hittites

As Ramses and the Egyptians traveled through the cities of Canaan on their return journey home, they were jeered by their imperial subjects. Despite his failure to accomplish any of his goals, the pharaoh still entered Pi- Ramses in great triumph in late June 1274 bc. Trailing behind Ramses was a parade of Hittite captives and plunder taken after the battle to give the people the impression that Egypt was the sole victor of the conflict. The spectacular display may have worked on the Egyptians, but the Canaanite vassals were clearly not impressed by the performance of the Egyptian army at the battlefield near Kadesh. By the time Ramses and his forces had reached the eastern Delta city, rebellion had erupted throughout Canaan and Palestine.

Ramses was not the only one who had major issues to deal with after the battle, for Muwattalli’s success in Upe was followed by an attack from the powerful Assyrian Empire in the east. While Hatti and Egypt were preoccupied fighting each other, the Assyrian ruler Adad-nirari I exploited the vulnerability of the Hittite Empire by conquering its ally Hanigalbat. By doing so, the Assyrians became an even greater threat on the eastern border of Hatti territory.

Despite the revolts that broke out across his subject territories, Ramses began to immediately prepare for the construction of huge monuments to display his great victory at the Battle of Kadesh. Amurru and Kadesh may have remained lost to Egypt, but Ramses was much more concerned with showing his bravery and martial prowess for all to see rather than admitting to his failure. In the end, the pharaoh did his best to make sure that accounts of the confrontation were immortalized, for they were recorded not only on the Ramesseum, but also on the temples of Luxor, Abydos, Karnak, and Abu Simbel. In these impressive images and accompanying literary records, the battle was depicted as a much grander engagement, and the pharaoh’s role in it was exaggerated. In following Ramses’ instructions, the Egyptian accounts implausibly claimed that the pharaoh singlehandedly defeated thousands of Hittite chariots.

Once the construction projects were underway, Ramses spent the next few years of his reign ending the rebellions in the north and reestablishing his rule over Canaan, Palestine, and Syria. After the revolts were put down, the pharaoh moved on to reclaim Kumidi, Damascus, and the province of Upe. Ramses then copied the strategy of Adad-nirari by attacking the Hittites while they were distracted by threats from the Assyrian Empire. By 1269 bc, the pharaoh led his army eastward in a campaign to completely bypass the fortress of Kadesh and then invaded Hittite territory to capture the cities of Dapur and Tunip. With those Hittite lands in his possession, Ramses successfully cut off the city of Kadesh and most of Amurru from the rest of the rival empire. The pharaoh had finally achieved some semblance of the goal he had initially set. The ruler of Egypt may not have reclaimed its lost lands, but he had drastically decreased the importance of those territories.

Dapur and Tunip did not retain their allegiance to Egypt they reverted to the Hittites once Ramses left. The pharaoh may have taken the cities several more times but never managed to keep control of them. For a decade tensions remained high between the Kingdom of Egypt and the Hittite Empire. Despite their mutual animosity, another major confrontation never occurred. The danger of Assyrian invasions and a power struggle over the Hittite throne prevented another major army, such as the one led by Muwattalli, from ever engaging Egyptian forces. As for the Egyptians, they did not have the logistical capabilities to invade and retain any lands in northern Syria.

In the long run, the Hittites could no longer hold up under threats from two fronts therefore, in November 1259 bc, the new ruler of Hittite Empire, Hattusili III, reached out to Ramses, and the two kings formally made peace with a treaty. To strengthen the new alliance, the Hittite king allowed the pharaoh to marry his daughter. Ramses publicly stated how pleased he was with the union, which was a redeeming factor for the pharaoh when peace ultimately meant that he would never emulate his idol, Tuthmosis III, and reclaim the lost lands of Kadesh and Amurru.

List of site sources >>>

Watch the video: The Sound of the Hittite language Vocabulary u0026 Sample Texts (January 2022).