Thanks to the shiny new map engine over at arcGIS, I've put together a little overview of the Hittite Empire and an interactive tour of Hattusa. Enjoy :)
Take the tour here
The Hittite civilization lay lost to history for millennia. But the sheer extent of their world and all its achievements are coming to light now thanks to the work of modern archaeologists.
Hattusili III (or Hattu for short) our hero of the Empires of Bronze saga was very much a real, living, factual Hittite, but I had to stitch together the patches of information we have about his life with a thread of fiction. But let's take away the thread for a moment and examine the facts about Hattu. Who was he really?
The tablets unearthed at Hattusa, the Hittite capital, tell of a brilliant but dark and flawed character - brave, shrewd, ambitious, ferocious - who rose to the very pinnacle of power in the Hittite Empire. But where did it all begin, and how did our hero reach such heights?
Hattu was born more than three thousand years ago, in the last decades of the 14th century BC. This was an era known as the Hittite New Kingdom. It was a time of triumph for the Hittites: they drove their age-old adversaries the Mitanni Empire into the ground, marched all the way to and conquered the legendary city of Babylon, and faced off against and almost crushed Pharaoh's Egyptian armies at Kadesh. To put the scale of the Hittite Empire into perspective, consider the Trojan War: the legendary conflict between Troy and the Greeks is far more well-known than the Hittites and anything they ever did, yet King Priam's city was but a vassal of the Hittite throne. Concisely - the Hittites were an absolute superpower.
Back to Hattu: he was the fourth son of King Mursili II and Queen Gassulawiya. It seems that he was a sickly child. He is thought to have suffered some problem with his eyes (hence my speculative depiction of him having odd-coloured eyes - one hazel, one smoky-grey). The tablets go on to tell how Ishtar, the Goddess of Love and War, came to King Mursili in a dream, demanding that she should be named baby Hattu's patron deity to guarantee the child's health. The exact inscription from the Hittite tablets reads:
“The years for your son are short. Give him into my service, and he will live”
We do not know what became of his other two brothers, but Hattu's eldest sibling, Muwatalli (or Muwa for short) was appointed as Tuhkanti - crown prince. Meanwhile, Hattu was put through rigorous training at a military academy near Hattusa by a pair of veteran generals named Kurunta and Nuwanza and a chariot expert from nearby Hurrian lands named Kikkuli (or Colta as that name roughly translates).
I don't know if the real Kurunta was quite as evil as the one I depicted in Son of Ishtar, but whatever his means and methods, he was obviously a master of his craft. I say this because Hattu was still an adolescent when he played a lead role in the campaign to reclaim the Pontic Mountain region - a land lost generations previously to the fierce Kaskan mountain tribes.
After the conquest, he was appointed as Priest of the Storm God in the overgrown ruins of the northern city of Nerik. He set about rebuilding Nerik and the other tumbledown sites of the north, repopulating and reestablishing trade and communications. More, it seems that although he was the conqueror of the Kaksans, he was wise enough to reach a noble truce and understanding with them, for they would play a vital part in his later life…
King Mursili died, possibly of a stroke, when Hattu was a young man. Thus, Muwa became Labarna, and quickly appointed Hattu as his Gal Mesedi - chief of the royal bodyguards and most trusted advisor - and gifted him governorship of the northlands he had won. More, Muwa granted Hattu custody of his second born son - named Kurunta, possibly in honour of the grizzled military trainer (long-dead by this point in time). At the same time, Muwa nominated his eldest son, Urhi-Teshub, as Tuhkanti and heir.
Hattu was clearly a pivotal figure in the Hittite Empire by this point - second only to his brother. When the long-simmering tensions with Egypt boiled over thanks to a dispute about border territories in the modern Levant, it was no surprise that Hattu was at the head of the army that marched to war.
At The Battle of Kadesh, Hattu orchestrated a deft deception, bringing Pharaoh Ramesses II's huge force to within a whisker of defeat. The exact pattern of the battle is chaotic and hard to understand, but it seems that the Egyptians avoided obliteration and fled the fray, ceding the disputed border territories to the Hittite throne.
On his way to or possibly on his return from Kadesh, Hattu met a Priestess of Ishtar named Puduhepa. They were soon married, and she bore him a child, Tudhaliya. Everything seemed set for Hattu. - war hero, general, husband, father.
But around the time when Hattu returned to Hittite lands with his new wife and child, King Muwa died. Muwa's son, Urhi-Teshub, succeeded his father as expected. Hattu had never contested Urhi-Teshub's station as the king-in-waiting, but clearly something went awry after the change of king. Urhi-Teshub apparently stripped Hattu of everything – all his armies, estates and possessions, including the cities of the north of which he had previously been Governor. More, Hattu's long-standing allies were removed from their stations.
Hattu revolted, bringing together his few remaining allies - including the Kaskans he had long-ago won over - and declaring war on his nephew. Urhi-Teshub likewise mobilised the Hittite divisions and the two forces marched to war. This would be an epic struggle for control of the greatest empire of the age.
Empires of Bronze: The Crimson Throne tells the tale of this ancient and cataclysmic clash.
Or start the saga from the very beginning, with the first three books:
In the early years of the 13th century BC, the Hittite Empire had known decades of prosperity, military success and expansion... and most importantly of all harmony in the throne room. This last virtue was thanks to a long-standing tenet of Hittite civilization, written by an old king named Telepinu. The 'Edict of Telepinu' declared that the Labarna (King) was the appointee of the Hittite Gods and that his rule was not to be disputed. More, taking up arms against the current incumbent of the Hittite throne was the darkest of crimes. Yet in 1267 BC, the Hittite Empire turned in upon itself, collapsing into a state of civil war. Why?
The reigning Labarna, Urhi-Teshub, was a young king, not long upon the throne. His uncle, Hattusilis (or Hattu for short), was some twenty years older and for a generation had been held in the highest regard by the Hittite people - as a battle hero, a great priest and a talisman for their civilization. Most vitally, he acted as a strong advisor to his young nephew.
Yet early in Urhi-Teshub's reign, tensions emerged between the pair. The young king began removing old allies of Hattu from the court, and putting in their place men who had clear axes to grind with his uncle. For example, Urhi-Teshub:
Why all this tinkering? It is likely - indeed, quite understandable - that Urhi-Teshub saw Hattu as a potential threat to his throne, given his uncle's status.
The strain may have escalated during one incident of state, specifically an unfortunate and abrasive visit to the Hittite court of an envoy from the neighbouring superpower of Assyria.
The matter was this: vassal raiders from Hittite lands had spilled into Assyrian territory. Adad-Nirari, the Assyrian King of the time, had chased down the raiders, encroaching and camping upon Hittite lands in the process. Now Adad-Nirari was rather brashly suggesting that the encroached-upon territory should remain his.
Even the suggestion must have been a serious affront to Urhi-Teshub's credibility. Might his advisors have been whispering that the Assyrian King would not have dared to insult Hattu, the older, more experienced hand, in this way?
We don’t know exactly how Urhi-Teshub reacted, but we do know the Assyrian envoys were not exactly thanked for their message. One of the tablets uncovered at Hattusa is a copy of that addressed to Adad-Nirari, and mentions that:
“The ambassadors whom you regularly sent here in the time of King Urhi-Teshub often experienced ... aggravation” (Bryce, Letters of the Great Kings).
Once the embassy had left, it appears that Urhi-Teshub turned his unbridled anger upon Hattu. The young king began stripping his uncle of estates, soldiers and titles. One day, he went too far, depriving Hattu of the governorship and priesthood of northern cities that he had fought to capture many years before. This was the breaking point. Hattu, in another tablet, wrote:
"For seven years I submitted. But … Urhi-Teshub sought to destroy me. (Eventually), he took Hakmis and Nerik from me. Now I submitted to him no longer. I made war upon him."
Thus, civil war was afoot. The two factions mustered what support they could. At a time when the Near East world was bruised and battered and still licking its wounds from the Battle of Kadesh in which many troops - men of working age, vital to crop production - had been killed or injured, this new war threatened to upend the already delicate political and economic Bronze Age landscape. It would certainly mean yet more death and destruction... but possibly on a scale that neither aggressor could ever have imagined.
Empires of Bronze: The Crimson Throne will take you back to the distant Bronze Age, right into the heart of this ancient conflict and through all its sharp twists and turns.
A story of bloody and world-shaking revenge
The King of the Hittites has been slain, and a reign of terror begins…
1272 BC: Prince Hattu returns home from the battlefield of Kadesh to find his nephew on the throne, the old king’s blood dripping from his hands. Under Urhi-Teshub’s reign, the Hittite realm has become a land of fear and violent reprisals. Ancient family lines and old ways are being wiped out as the young tyrant strengthens his bronze-fisted grip on power.
Hattu’s loved ones are spared only in return for his absolute obedience. Yet he knows he must choose between his family and his burning need for restitution. The Goddess Ishtar, ever-present in his dreams, assures him that there is only one future.
A war for the throne is coming… and blood will be let.
As competition for the imperial throne intensifies, Constantine and Maxentius realise their childhood friendship cannot last. Each man struggles to control their respective quadrant of empire, battered by currents of politics, religion and personal tragedy, threatened by barbarian forces and enemies within.
With their positions becoming at once stronger and more troubled, the strained threads of their friendship begin to unravel. Unfortunate words and misunderstandings finally sever their ties, leaving them as bitter opponents in the greatest game of all, with the throne of Rome the prize.
It is a matter that can only be settled by outright war...
Praise for Gordon Doherty and Simon Turney:
In the late 3rd century, the Roman Empire was a creaking mess. Riven by endless civil wars, succession struggles and splinter empires, the whole realm looked to be on the brink of disintegration.
Along came Emperor Diocletian, who proposed a new system of rule: The Tetrarchy. Here, the empire would be split into more manageable Eastern and Western halves, with each half having an Augustus (a senior emperor) and a Caesar (a junior emperor). When an Augustus abdicated or died, his Caesar would step into his throne and appoint a Caesar of his own. And so on and so forth. No more wars of succession!
Diocletian's vision was well-intended, but dreadfully executed. At the dawn of the 4th century AD he made one of his biggest mistakes by sponsoring the Great Persecution - a tyrannical pogrom of the empire's many Christians, led by himself and his Eastern Caesar, Galerius.
Diocletian's complaint against the Christians was this: for centuries, the citizens of the Roman Empire had worshipped the old pantheon of Jupiter and the Olympian family. In doing so, they were also acknowledging and paying homage to the emperor himself, venerating him as the embodiment of one of those Gods. Indeed, Diocletian had a penchant for painting himself gold and insisting on being addressed as Jupiter.
Citizens were expected to demonstrate their loyalty to Jupiter and thus to him by sacrificing animals. The Christians, however, did not believe in the sacrifice of any living creature. They also did not believe in worshipping their god 'via' an emperor.
In the eyes of Diocletian, they lived their lives in the Roman Empire, but not as part of it. This would not do, and so the Great Persecution began. What came next was an age of public burnings and peelings, of riots and butchery across the empire's cities.
It must be noted that much of the descriptive that follows comes from the Christian authors writing after this bleak time, and of course they were undoubtedly biased and keen to stress just what horrors their predecessors had been put through.
It all began in a relatively gentle fashion with the legions. Soldiers seen making Christian gestures were blamed for imperial and military failures, and were summarily dismissed, losing their reputations and pensions.
Things became bloody when Diocletian and Galerius were at the city of Antioch to witness a ceremony of sacrifice. The proceedings were interrupted by a loud and grating voice. The Deacon Romanus circled the ceremony over and over, denouncing the act. Diocletian ordered his arrest, first sentenced him to death, then changed his mind and ordered his tongue ripped out first.
Returning to his Tetrarchic seat at the city of Nicomedia, Diocletian then set about formalising his dislike for the Christians. Egged-on by his underling, Galerius, he then issued what has come to be known as the First Edict of Persecution - a call to destroy all Christian buildings and scriptures and seize the faith's property and wealth.
Diocletian recommended this should all be carried out without bloodshed. However, in practice - and overseen by Galerius - it was very different.
Etius was one of the first to be martyred. Having torn down a copy of the edict in Nicomedia's forum, he was arrested and burnt alive. Burning happened to be Galerius' favoured way of dealing with the Christians. Indeed, one prominent Christian church in Nicomedia was soon after set ablaze while still packed with worshippers. Bishop Anthimos escaped the flames, only to be captured and beheaded. Shortly after this, the imperial palace caught light and the Christians were blamed. This, in a way, legitamised Galerius' brutality and so many more Christians were now hunted down, beaten and, yep, burned alive.
In order to weed out hiding Christians, the tests of sacrifice were became mandatory and took place all across the Eastern Empire. After refusing to comply, Diocletian's butler, Peter, was hung by his wrists and had the skin peeled from his body. If that wasn't enough he was then "roasted on a gridiron".
Countless burnings, peelings, beheadings and more followed. These atrocities threw the empire into chaos: widescale riots and protests against the persecutions only led to retaliatory mob attacks on the rioters and further edicts that intensified the brutality.
Into this bloody and fiery world, Constantine the Great was born. Sons of Rome tells the story of his rise during the days of the Persecution and of the Tetrarchy, and his days of friendship with Maxentius, son of a Western Augustus. A friendship that was not to last...
The Rise of Emperors trilogy tells the story of the Roman Emperors Constantine the Great and his bitter rival, Maxentius. I'll leave the books to recount the epic tale of their struggle, but in this blog I wanted to look at the life and legacy of the first of those characters - to understand not Constantine the Great, but Constantine the man. His nuances and quirks, his values and beliefs, his weaknesses and strengths.
Let's just quickly summarise what history tells us at a glance: Constantine united a crumbling Roman Empire, fighting a legendary battle at the Milvian Bridge along the way - before which he was inspired by a sign from God in the sky, and after which he ended the oppression of the Christians. Right? Well, sort of. That is the distilled version of Constantine that comes down to us from the ancient texts. Many of these were penned by Christian authors writing about him after his wars and even long after his life. They absolutely venerated him. Some talked of him as a saint, the bringer of Christianity, even the Thirteenth Apostle. But these writings do not tell the whole story, for they largely obscured other writers (notably by Zosimus & Eunapius) who cast Constantine as a bit of a monster - politically ambitious, ruthless and manipulative. Such extremes!
When reading into any part of history and the associated debate, I always seek some level of plausibility and balance - I like to finish my studying sessions feeling that I have understood the past as it might have been. So the commonly polarised caricatures of Constantine - which remain with us to this day - always leave me feeling dissatisfied, incomplete.
So take away the tug-of-war panegyrics and invectives, the grand orations and the legends. How much do we really know about the man?
The answer is short: very little. But here are a few scraps of information and anecdotes that may colour in the grey areas and raise an eyebrow or two...
Rise to Military Prominence
Battle for the Empire and Beyond
As soon as Constantine became emperor in his father's place, the cracks began to appear in the Tetrarchic system. Galerius raged against his accession, and jealousies began to arise elsewhere. His opponents questioned him at every turn: was he a senior Augustus or merely a junior Caesar? Emperor of all the West or just the northern part? Who ruled Italy and Africa? More importantly, who ruled the ancient capital of Rome - currently occupied by Maxentius? Tensions rose and rose and eventually boiled over.
What followed was an epic cycle of battles against Maxentius for complete control of the Western Roman Empire - a struggle that changed the course of European and world history.
Considering the guiding figures in his life - his mother Helena, his first wife Minervina, his tutor Lactantius - Constantine must have been intimately familiar with Christianity. Perhaps he was spiritually open to it also. Or was he only interested in creating a religious harmony through which he could further his ambitions? As the historian David Potter muses: "Constantine didn’t mind if his subjects were not Christian. More important that they were his subjects." However, particularly because of his telling decision to spurn Galerius' daughter in favour of Minervina - a choice that both forewent personal gain and invited danger - I suspect there was more than naked ambition behind his bond with the religion.
Conversely, given his years of warmaking and the blood-curdling rumours of his second wife's demise, it is hard to uphold any view of him as a gentle, tolerant figure. Tens of thousands of men must have died on the ends of his legions' swords. Thus I suspect that - like most people - he found his way to his faith gradually, perhaps guided there by some of the terrible events he witnessed… and some that he created.
The Empires of Bronze series is a tale of the late Bronze Age and pivots around the Hittite Empire. But one of the most crucial characters comes not from the realm of the Hittites, nor any of the other three 'great powers' (Assyria, Egypt and Ahhiyawa/Mycenaean Greece), but from an island on the periphery of that world. The island... of the Sherden.
In book 1, Son of Ishtar, Volca the Sherden mercenary arrives in Hittite lands and kneels before King Mursili, claiming he has sailed from the distant western island, seeking to find and serve the Hittite court. What a nice guy, eh? Well, we soon discover that he is anything but a noble adventurer, and he comes to be known throughout Dawn of War and Thunder at Kadesh as 'Volca, the bastard Sherden'. I won't say any more lest I spoil anything for readers just beginning the series, but I do think that Volca's origins deserve a little bit of exploration. Who were the Sherden, and where exactly did they come from?
Who Were the Sherden?
The Sherden first rear their head from the mists of history in 1386 BC in the so-called 'Amarna Letters' - tablets exchanged between Egypt's Pharaoh and his vassals in Canaan and Amurru. Written in cuneiform script (wedge-shaped markings from the Latin cuneus = wedge) using the Akkadian language, these texts describe Pharaoh installing the Sherden as a garrison in the vassal city of Gubla (modern Byblos, Lebanon).
Subsequent tablets, papyruses, monumental temple reliefs and stele show them marching with Egypt's armies as a mercenary wing. In this role they soon acquired a fearsome military reputation. By the time of the Battle of Kadesh (1274 BC) a select group had even risen to serve Pharaoh as a royal bodyguard corps. Reliefs attest to their gruesome role during that battle - serving as runners alongside the Egyptian chariots, tasked with hacking the hands from any dead or injured Hittites.
A Sherden warrior would typically be equipped with:
You'll notice the leftmost man in the image above carries a trident instead of a spear. The thinking here is that he is their leader, and that the trident symbolises the seafaring roots of his tribe. That brings us to our second question: the Sherden voyaged across the sea to come to Egyptian and Hittite lands, but from where exactly?
The Lost Island of the Sherden
Okay, so it's a cool-sounding subheading, but the Island of the Sherden is not really lost. It's right here, red-ringed in this map of the Near East during the Late Bronze Age (roughly the 13th century BC).
"Hold on," I hear you cry, "that's not the Island of the Sherden, that's Sardinia!"
Yes it is Sardinia, but yes it was also the Island of the Sherden. How do we know that? Well, onomastic study deals with mining information from place names and how they have changed over time. A slippery business, certainly. But often, the ancient root in the name of a landmark or city echoes and persists for many millennia, through manifold conquests, culture-shifts, population-influx, devastation, natural disaster and abandonment: think of Britain - the name stems from Roman Britannia, which itself came from the original Celtic term Pretanī; or the city of Trier in modern Germany, founded by the Celtic Treveri tribe in the 4th c BC, conquered by the Romans 300 years later and renamed Augusta Treverorum, then battered from every angle through the many centuries of the Dark and Middle Ages by migrating peoples and roving armies as Europe was carved up time and time again. In both instances, we can still see a plausible link between the original and current place names, and recorded history allows us to confirm the timeline.
So it is with the Island of the Sherden -> Sardinia. Likewise with its southern Bronze Age neighbour, the Island of the Shekelesh... now known as Sicily (Not convinced? Say Sicily with the Latin 'hard c' to hear how close it sounds).
However, debate continues as to whether the Sherden (and indeed the Shekelesh) inhabited their island before or after the period described in Empires of Bronze. Did they sail from the west to enter the politics of the Great Powers, or did they originate in the Near East and later voyage to and claim the island as their new home? We simply do not know for certain, as we don't have clear attestations that allow us to confirm either way. There is evidence and theory supporting both views. The Sardinian origin theory is supported by archaeological finds such as the Sherden-style sword discovered on Sardinia and dating from 1650 BC (several centuries pre-Empires of Bronze). The Sardinian destination theory is based on other plausible and closer (to the Near East) origins for the Sherden, such as Sardis on modern Turkey's Ionian coast - this fits in with an Egyptian record stating that the Sherden 'came from the north' and there is an onomastic link there too (Sardis->Sherden).
The debate will continue to sway back and forth I have no doubt, and to be honest, that's half the fun of it all!
I hope that was a thought-provoking and entertaining read for you. You can read all about the Sherden in my Empires of Bronze series. Book 3 'Thunder at Kadesh' is out now!
Gordon Doherty, writer, history fan, explorer.
Empires of Bronze: The Shadow of Troy - a blistering new take on the legendary war from the dawn of history.