The Hittites

by O.R. Gurney

Hardcover, 2001



Call number




The Folio Society (2001), Hardcover


The rediscovery of the ancient empire of the Hittites has been a major achievement of the last hundred years. Known from the Old Testament as one of the tribes occupying the Promised Land, the Hittites were in reality a powerful neighbouring kingdom: highly advanced in political organization, administration of justice and military genius; with a literature inscribed in cuneiform writing on clay tablets; and with a rugged and individual figurative art, to be seen on stone monuments and on scattered rock faces in isolated areas. This classic account reconstructs, in fascinating detail, a complete and balanced picture of Hittite civilization, using both established and more recent sources.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Gold_Gato
Until I read this book, I only had a very vague idea of the Hittites. I guess I got my "ites" mixed up, because I didn't realize they were one of the major ancient civilizations lost to history until the discovery of the Aleppo Stone in the 19th century. The Stone had all but been rubbed away by
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local inhabitants because they thought it was a cure for diseased eyes. A strange way to re-discover Asia Minor's most formidable people.

Mighty builders of empire and the most formidable foe of Ramesses II, the Hittites dominated Asia Minor for hundreds of years...and then vanished. Was it war? Fire? Famine? Disease? Did the Four Horsemen all visit at once?

What is this, O gods, that you have done? You have let in a plague and the Land of Hatti, all of it, is dying...

I believe the Hittites are connected to the Trojans. At the very least, Homer must have heard about their great debacle and used it for his Iliad. Were the Trojans actually the Hittites themselves? Or were they the next generation? So many questions, so few answers, as much is lost.

This is the Folio Society edition, which means I was scared to touch it. Gorgeous imprinted cover, drop-dead gorgeous typesetting, and color photographs that make the reader yearn for a little expedition to modern-day Turkey.

Book Season = Summer (but not for the beach)
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LibraryThing member P_S_Patrick
The Hittites were once a great people, centred on the mountainous region in Anatolia and spreading out at the height of their strength through a large proportion of modern day Turkey and East through Syria. Their Empire once rivaled the Egyptian in power, and they were in contact with the
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neighbouring Mycenaean Greeks, though their lasting cultural influence has not matched either of these. Most of what was known of the Hittites prior to the archeological work done over the last 150 years is from references to them in the Bible and records of their contact kept by other peoples. From translations of the Hittite cuneiform, it is now thought that the Hittite power stretched between 1700 and 1200 BC, after which they declined and became absorbed by adjacent regions.

This is a readable and comprehensive introduction to the Hittites, covering most aspects of their culture. Separate chapters on their history, state, society, laws, language, life, economy, warfare, religion, myth, and art, provide good overviews of the evidence of their activities and achievements in each of these areas. Though their art has much in common with the neighbouring Near Eastern cultures of the time, such as their sphinxes and winged bulls showing strong influences from the Mesopotamian statuary, the Hittites were quite distinctive from other contemporary cultures in their laws, ethics, and society. They used cuneiform writing like the neighbouring Assyrians and Babylonians, however they used this script to write their own separate Hittite language, which is linguistically distinct from that of the other dominant cuneiform-writing peoples being of Indo-European origin.

There are some good illustrations in this volume, despite them being in black and white, which show some of the artifacts that have been discovered and give a good idea of the style of their visual culture – the carved rock faces, statues, and their seals.

For anyone interested in learning more about the Hittes, or with a general interest in the ancient Near East, then this is a good introduction to this extinct civilisation.
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LibraryThing member keylawk
Homeric Achaeans, and even particular Trojan personalities, were found in the Hittite tablets by E. Forrer. Gurney concedes that a "composite picture" was made, but denies that it is "history". His own argument is couched and academic: "Phonetically none of these equations is altogether impossible,
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provided we are willing to accept the hypothetical...and provided also the name Alexander is regarded as a Grecized form of the Anatolian Alaksandus...".[57] And "a full discussion of all the possibilities which present themselves would be beyond the scope of this book." And "...that the place was somewhere in the vicinity of the Troad is therefore highly probable." [57]This may in some way be "accurate" but it is not helpful language.

The Hittites appear in the Bible as a Palestinian tribe. In fact, however, the author points out that their homeland has been discovered in the heart of the Anatolian plateau. [59] Esau was said to have Hittite wives [59; Gen.xxvi.34, xxxvi.1-3) and the passage in Numbers xiii.29 is difficult to explain. The Bible clearly describes Hittites in the hill country near Hebron [Joshua i.2-4], which makes no sense if the Hebrews are camped in the plains of Moab.
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LibraryThing member BenjaminHahn
I have never read a book about the Hittite civilization before so its somewhat hard for me to compare this to any other popular history regarding the subject. That being said, I enjoyed this quick read and found it to be perfect for getting a good overall view of what we know about the ancient
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Hittite civilization. The chapters are arranged by subject: general history, state and society, life and economy, warfare, languages, races, religion, literature, art. Each chapter succinctly frames what archaeology and cuniform translations can tell us about this rugged mountain culture. I deeply appreciated the author's attention to skepticism regarding theories of dubious nature. He did a good job of laying out the various perspectives and historiography of each era of discovery regarding Hittite dig sites.
My favorite part of the book deals with burial rites. Some of the cuneiform tablets uncovered at the Boghazkoy site relate very specific funeral protocols that mirror in many ways the funeral of Patrocilus in the Illiad. These sorts of details lend credence to the accuracy of the Homeric cycle. Unfortunately, the Hittites have not left behind any evidence to suggest a rich literary culture, not even an oral tradition like that of the ancient Greeks.
They were however, apparently handy with the chariots though. Some technical cuneiform tablets show that the Hittite chariot was possibly four wheeled and slow but also could handle three riders: one driver, one defender, and one spearman. In open pitched battle, their chariot formations dominated the field of war.
Another interesting part of the book deals with Hittite myth, only two of which are really flushed out. One being the storm god defeating the dragon and the other being a take on the disappearing god myth. In the disappearing god myth, the god of growth and/or fertility goes missing, and all things fail to reproduce. Only once awakened by a bee sting does he rouse, but he's really grumpy and destroys half the world in his temper tantrum. Once he is appeased does nature start to get back on track. Climate change comes to mind for some reason.
I look forward to discovering more about the Hittites, although the bibliography Gurney provides looks very academic and intimidating. Perhaps I will find a more expansive general history of the culture. Until then, its off to learn about the Sumerians.
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Original publication date


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The Folio Society Special Edition
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