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The Hittite Empire and the Battle of Kadesh

Who were the Hittites, and why was iron so important to them? Sal covers the history of the Hittite Empire, a civilization in Asia Minor that was among the first peoples to master ironworking. Iron tools, weapons, and chariots gave the Hittites a decisive advantage in combat, and it enabled them to conquer and hold territory.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] Now going to talk about a people that began to settle and eventually conquer much of Anatolia, modern-day Turkey at the beginning of the second millennium BCE, and these people are known as the Hittites, and the word Hittite is referred to in the Hebrew Bible, in the Old Testament, and it's worth dissecting that word a little bit because the word comes from the idea that this region that they conquer in modern-day Turkey was referred to as Hatti, and Hatti had original inhabitants known as the Hattians, but the Hittites conquer and displace these Hattians, but they are referred to as the Hittites because they settle in Hatti. Now they're considered to be Indo-European people. This is a word that you will hear often in World History, and that's because what linguists have found is that many modern languages seem to have a root in what's called proto-Indo-European language, and I'll do a whole video on it, but looking at linguistic structures, we believe or one model is is that many of the people who speak these Indo-European languages or these ones that are derived from the proto-Indo-European, and that includes languages related to Greek. We're talking about Latin, we're talking about the Germanic languages, including what I'm speaking right now which is English, which is fundamentally a Germanic language with a lot of Latin influence, we're talking about Celtic, but we're also talking about more eastern languages like Persian, and Hindi, and Bengali. All of these have a lot of commonalities to them which we believe gives evidence that, at one point, it was a very closely related group of people who are coming from this Caucasus region, and this map that you see here, this shows one model for how those people spread and eventually broke off into various tribes speaking different, but very related, languages. So the fourth millennium BCE, they were in this region right over here which would be southern Russia, the Caucasus right around there, and then by 2500 BCE, that's this orange area, they had spread even further. And then by 1000 BCE, they had spread even further and the Hittites would have been one of those people because they settle in Anatolia right over here. Now we don't know as much about the Hittites as we know about, say, the ancient Egyptians or the Mesopotamians, but we know that they were a significant civilization. Now if you look at this timeline here, it shows the various civilizations that were emerging around this time. We're now talking about the mid to late second millennium, so this is 1700 BCE, let me write that down just to make sure, we know that's BCE, 1600 BCE, so on and so forth, and I show these various civilizations that existed around that time, and they correspond to this map here. So you have Mycenaean Greece which emerges around 1600 BCE all the way to about 1100 BCE. You have the New kingdom of Egypt, which is from about 1550 BCE to a little bit after 1100 BCE, and we do a whole series of videos on ancient Egypt, and then we talk about the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and of course, the New Kingdom. And the New Kingdom of Egypt is important because they're going to be one of the key rivals for the Hittites in this period. The New Kingdom of Egypt is often referred to as the Egyptian Empire because it was the most powerful time of ancient Egypt, and you see that right over here in this brown color. Now in this purplish-blue color, that is the Hittite civilization, and this map right over here, you can see that they started to really settle and conquer that area at the beginning of the second millennium, and by 1600, you have the Old Hittite kingdom, and then as we get to about 1400 BCE, you have the New Hittite Kingdom, often known as the Hittite Empire, and this is where they really start to flex their muscle. And notice, they're flexing their muscles at roughly the same time as the Egyptians, and so this map right over here, this is in roughly the 14th century, what this area looked like. So we're talking roughly this zone, and you can see there are several civilizations, many of them that were in their peak. You see the Mitanni Kingdom right over here. You see the Middle Assyrian Empire. We talk about them when we talk about Mesopotamia, and you see Kassite Babylonia right over here. The Kassites took over after the Amorites under Hammurabi and his dynasty, and we'll see that they also have a connection to the Hittites. So this will hopefully acquaint you with time. These are Bronze Age civilizations. The state of the art technology for most of them was bronze, which is combining copper and tin, and you can make weapons, and tools, and jewelry with it. Now what's interesting about the Hittites is that they were one of the first to start to use iron. Iron required a little bit more technology. In order to smelt iron, you have to get the furnace to be even hotter, and the Hittites, we know, did make use of iron. Now they are also known as great charioteers. This is an image of what a Hittite chariot would look like, and so with a combination of iron chariots, that's one of the things that helped them establish something of an empire. Now I mentioned that they come into conflict with many other peoples. In fact, they come into conflict with most of the folks that you see on this picture over here. The first time that you really see them in a significant way conquering things is in 1595 BCE, and this would be the Old Hittite Kingdom, but this is what famously ends Hammurabi's dynasty, the Amorite dynasty in Babylon right over here. They go to Babylon in 1595 BCE and they overthrow it. They're not able to maintain rule, they have to go back. There start to be fragmentation dissension at home, but it's the end of the Amorites, and then eventually, another group, the Kassites, take over this region, and you can see them in gray right over here. Now what's also interesting in this timeline that we have, and we're talking about hundreds of years, it's important to keep things in perspective, is that you see that a lot of these civilizations in the Middle East and Mesopotamia, this area's often referred to as the Levant. It's related to the word levante from Italian for "to rise," because for the Romans, for the Europeans, for those in the West, this was where the sun rose, this was the East, it was the Eastern Mediterranean. And so you have all of these civilizations that are in the Levant in the 14th century BCE, in the 13th century BCE, but then they start to decline, and that general period after or around the 12th century BCE is known as the Bronze Age Collapse when a lot of these civilizations become a lot more fragmented. Now I've already alluded to the fact, and I talk about this in a lot of detail in the Ancient Egypt video, that the chief rivals of the Hittites were the Egyptians, and vice versa, and it's particularly the case in the 14th and 13th centuries where both of them were quite powerful empires. You have the Egyptians moving up into this area right over here, modern-day Israel and Lebanon, and you have the Hittites moving down from the north, from Anatolia into modern-day Syria. And there's a whole series of conflicts that emerge in this area, and one of the most famous and one of the most significant happens in 1274 BCE, and that is the Battle of Kadesh. Kadesh is an area that has switched hands multiple times between the Egyptians and the Hittites. At this time, you have Ramses II, considered the greatest Egyptian Pharaoh, he is the Pharaoh, he is the ruler of Egypt, and he wants to recapture Kadesh. And what's significant about the Battle of Kadesh, it's the earliest battle where we have a significant account of the tactics, of the strategy, of the formation of the troops. We know that there were over 50,000 soldiers involved. It's currently believed it might be the largest chariot battle in all of world history that we at least know about, and the actual outcome of the Battle of Kadesh seems to be a stalemate. Our accounts of it come primarily from the Egyptians. We don't have any significant Hittite surviving accounts of the Battle of Kadesh, but it gave us a lot of information. But beyond just the battle itself being significant, because we have this detail about what battles were like at that time period with chariots and the type of tactics that were used, what's also significant is 16 years after the Battle of Kadesh, you have the Egyptian-Hittite Peace Treaty in 1258 BCE. And the reason why this is significant is this is sometimes referred to as the first peace treaty in history. I would qualify a little bit as saying it's the first peace treaty that we know about in this part of the world, and this right over here is the Hittite version of it, and what's especially cool about this peace treaty, and just so you know what these other pictures are, this is a Hittite ramp discovered at the Hittite capital of Hattusa. This is some pictures of the Hittite gods of the underworld. But once again, we don't have as complete of a picture of the Hittite versus, say, the Egyptians, but what's also neat about this treaty, it's sometimes called the Treaty of Kadesh, but it doesn't refer directly to Kadesh. These folks have been in conflict with each other for nearly over 100 years right over here, so this treaty is really to talk about not just Kadesh, and this treaty happened 16 years after the Battle of Kadesh, but to talk about, "Let's just have a permanent peace "between our two great empires," and what's cool about it is we have surviving accounts from the Hittites that were discovered in Hattusa, and we also have a symmetric account that we get from the Egyptians, and so this is the one from the Hittites and this is from the Egyptians. It's written in Acadian, which wasn't their language. Acadian, we talked about, was a Semitic language, and they used cuneiform script, which remember, we get from the Sumerians, but it's cool to get the same treaty written in different scripts from both sides of the conflict. And I'll just read a little bit of it because it's neat to just think about it, and of course they didn't write it in this language, modern English wouldn't show up for many, actually thousands of years from this point, but this is a translation. "Now from the beginning of the limits of eternity, "as for the situation of the Great ruler of Egypt "with the Great Prince of Hatti, the god did not "permit hostility to occur between them, "through a regulation. "But in the time of Muwatallis, the Great Prince of Hatti, "my brother," so this is from the point of view of Hattusilis, who is the Hittite king at the time of the treaty, "he fought with "Ramses Meri-Amon," the Pharaoh Ramses, "the great ruler of Egypt. "But hereafter, from this day, behold Hattusilis, "the Great Prince of Hatti, is under a regulation "in order not to permit hostility to occur "between them forever." Those are big words. "Behold, Hattusilis," sometimes it's spelled Hattusili, "the Great Prince of Hatti, has set himself "in a regulation with User-maat-Re Setep-en-Re," that's sometimes how Ramses is referred to, "the Great ruler of Egypt, beginning from this day, "to cause that good peace and brotherhood "occur between us forever, while he is "in brotherhood with me and he is at peace with me, "and I am in brotherhood with him "and I am in peace with him forever. "Behold, I, as the Great Prince of Hatti, "am with Ramses Meri-Amon, in good peace "and in good brotherhood. "The children of the children of the Great Prince "of Hatti are in brotherhood and peace "with the children of the children of Ramses Meri-Amon, "the Great ruler of Egypt, for they are "in our situation of brotherhood "and our situation of peace. "The land of Egypt, with the land of Hatti, "shall be at peace and in brotherhood "like unto us forever. "Hostilities shall not occur between them forever." So not only are they, and this is just part of the text, it's actually quite interesting, do a web search for the Egyptian-Hittite Treaty text, and you can actually get the whole text, this is just part of an excerpt of it, but they go into much more details about how they might provide aid for each other, how they're not going to have conflict, et cetera, et cetera. So I'll leave you there, but the important thing to take away is some of these modern notions of peace treaties and military tactics, they go deep into history, and this is some of the earliest evidence we find, but I would suspect as we discover more things, we might find even earlier evidence.