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Middle East Andrew Dispatch

Black Magic, Fat Rhymes, and Dead Tongues
February 12, 2000

How would you stave off sickness and drive away baneful deities summoned by sorcerers if YOU were a Hittite living in 1900BCE Central Anatolia?

Wait, let's start slower...

On our way through Ankara, the capital of Turkey, Monica and I stopped at the Museum of Anatolian Civilization. Located inside of an old bedesten (covered bazaar), it houses rare and unique examples of the history of the region. This includes Paleolithic, Neolithic, Hatti, Hittite, Phrygian, Urartian, and Roman examples of culture in the area. Pretty impressive history, I hear you muttering to yourself as you stifle a yawn. Well, in fact, it is. So rich that I will concentrate on one group, chosen purely because the name amuses me more than the others: The Hittites.

The Hittites were not indigenous to the Antatolian region, but rather they emigrated from Central Asia. The Hittites, (that is HIT, as in to hit your sister, and TITES, as in, my pants are too tight) besides having an engaging name, have an impressive history as well.

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If only I could be of the 800 G-D's the Hittites worshipped.
If only I could be of the 800 G-D's the Hittites worshipped.
The Hittites (rhymes with dog bites) arrived on the scene in Central Anatolia around 1900 BCE. At the time, Anatolian civilization was characterized by an impressive level of craftsmanship in working with many types of metals. The people living there at the time, the Hatties (rhymes with fatties, as in corpulent harem women) had already developed their own reading and writing systems, dealt deftly in commerce, public administration, and kept contact with other civilizations in the general region. Though, they were not fully prepared for the prowess of the Hittites (rhymes with cat fights) who were slowly but surely encroaching on their turf. With strategic precision, the Hittites clobbered one Hatti city after another. At first, they conquered the Hatties slowly and in small groups, and then, later, in greater numbers. Without much of a culture of there own to speak of, at least none that we know of, the Hittites managed to cultivate their civilization to such an extent that they became lords of the land. So who were these people?

Until fairly recently, precious little was known about the Hittites save what scant amount one could read in the Old Testament (In fact, the Hittites are mentioned over forty times in the books of the Old testament. Remember Uriah the Hittite?) or whatever snatches of information one collected while mulling over ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Other than that, they remained largely unknown until 1834 when archeological evidence was unearthed in Central Anatolia, and subsequent investigation revealed thousands of cuneiform (big rock) tablets which described much of the Hittite civilization. Rather than have you open a Bible or learn a dead tongue, I will tell you a bit more about these folks.


Indigenous - Native to the area.

Encroaching - Occupying more and more land.

Treason - Crime of betraying one's own country.

Patriarchal - Society where heredity and family lineage is traced through the male side of the family; the opposite of matriarchal.

Propitiate - To stop from being angry

Perhaps the most impressive thing about them was their ability to survive and flourish in a very inhospitable area. They existed in rugged mountains that were not conducive to easy living. Yet they managed to carve out a reasonable existence for themselves and keep control of the region for a good 600 years (that is, about three times as long as the United States has been the United States.) From their capital city, called Hattusas, they governed wisely enough and pragmatically enough to keep their heads for all that time. Some of the laws that they enforced were slightly different than the laws we have today. For example, black magic was illegal. No casting spells on your enemies or turning them into zombies. If you were of a mind to do that, and were caught, you would have to pay some kind of penalty to the victim. There does not seem to have been any jail system- people either were made to make restitution to the victim (or the family of the victim, since murder was not punishable by death) or else, killed by the state.

Crimes meriting capital punishment included treason and mistreating animals.

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One of the many statues that lined the museum
One of the many statues that lined the museum

The most durable reminder of the existence of the Hittites are their enduring rock sculptures. The Hittites made sculptures of their various Gods and of sacred lions and bulls to protect their gateways; these stone tablets are the greatest tools in learning about their culture and civilization. The Hittites spoke what is one of the first recorded Indo-European languages (you are now reading another Indo-European language).

The Museum of Anatolian Civilization itself is a two story building that houses mostly pottery and the aforementioned huge stone tablets. Outside, in the courtyard, there are many headless statues, and, inside, there are many bodiless stone heads. I don't know why they don't acquaint the decapitated heads with the bodies, but, all in all there are some interesting things in that courtyard. You see in these photos that Monica and I attempted to improve a lot of the statues.

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Pondering the lives of the Hittite people…OK really thinking about a cheeseburger with fries but hey it was worth a shot.
Pondering the lives of the Hittite people…OK really thinking about a cheeseburger with fries but hey it was worth a shot.

The Hittites (sit tight!) managed to adapt not only to the indigenous cultures that they subjugated, but also wove many aspects of Hatti (Daddy) culture into their own way of living.

The Hittites were a patriarchal and largely agricultural society. They also did a lot of trading with their neighbors. Because of all of this trade, and because the Hittites were always expanding their empire, many other cultures and languages worked their way into the Hittite culture. This included the very Gods that they worshipped: their own gods were joined by the gods of the old Babylonian and Hurrian deities. And what kind of gods did the Hittites (rhymes with red lights) pray to? Well, there have been at least 800 gods discovered to have been worshipped by the Hittites, but there were probably considerably more.

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Statues are the only remains of the Hittite people.
Statues are the only remains of the Hittite people.
Nothing lasts forever, not the Hittites nor even this dispatch (though it may seem to.) The Hittites were overrun by Greek islanders around 1300 BCE, when the Iron Age was coming to a close. Or maybe they just died out and the Greeks took up residence in the inhospitable Anatolian region. Who knows? They are gone and have left behind a lot of cool rocks and statues.

And as I asked you in the beginning, just how WOULD you stave off sickness and drive away baneful deities in Hittite times? Easy. If sickness ails you, call upon the God Alauwaimis, who, if properly appeased with ritual, wine, and a goat sacrifice, will do your bidding. But play it safe - before you get sick, propitiate the God Tarpatassis, with the same ritual and wine, along with a a male deer. You will save yourself the goat that you would have given Alauwaimis and you won't have to go through being sick at all!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Team - What the Gods Have Joined Man Has Put Asunder: The Ancient City of Miletus
Abeja - The Many Faces of God Here in Ephesus
Jasmine - Walking Through History: A Journey Along the Turquoise Coast
Monica - Now, THAT's Old! Remains of the City of Çatalhöyük
Kavi Gets MAD With Art

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