The Hittite Empire dominated ancient Anatolia for over five centuries. If a neighbouring kingdom attacked, the Hittites crushed the offending state and made them vassals. When the great contemporary empires of Egypt or Assyria encroached, the Hittites called upon their mighty army and the subjugated vassals and marched to war - usually sending Pharaoh or the Kings of Ashur home, humbled. But there was one danger that came not in the form of a rival empire or a plucky kingdom. This threat was constant and simply could not be crushed or envassalled.
The Kaskans - also known as the Kaska, Gagsa and Kaskia - were a Bronze Age people indigenous to northern Turkey. Hardy and ferocious, they lived in the Pontic Mountains (or 'The Soaring Mountains' in Empires of Bronze), a long and rocky sierra overlooking the Hittite heartlands. They had no king as such, but they were populous and grouped in twelve tribes (possibly more), each living in a ramshackle wooden settlement where they alternated between farming pigs and descending into the Hittite lands to rob, raze and loot. Whenever the Hittite Labarna tried to tackle them, they would melt away into their mountain retreats again. Then, when the Labarna and his imperial armies were absent on campaigns far from the heartlands, they would raid across Hittite lands all over again.
Around 1400 BC, the Kaskans descended from their mountain homes and overran the Hittite territories lying north of the range, all the way to the Upper Sea (modern Black Sea) coast, toppling the sacred Hittite cities of Nerik, Zalpa and Hakmis along the way. With that northern land lost, the Hittite Kings built a chain of forts and towers along the mountain range's southern edge to contain this Kaskan uprising. Yet it was only partially effective - Kaskan raiding parties broke through the defences multiple times, bringing fire and fury upon the Hittite heartlands.
Small-medium scale raids were doubtless costly and troubling, but on the rare occasions when the many Kaskan tribes set aside their rivalries and united against the Hittites - along with
support from nearby Hayasa-Azzi and Isuwa peoples - the threat became critical. Indeed, on more than one occasion, these northern hordes swept southwards, all the way to the Hittite capital of Hattusa, burning the city to the ground. More than once the Hittite throne had to be relocated further the south for fear of the Kaskan threat.
Over the years of constant struggle, the Hittites learned that the Kaskans would never be conquered. However, around 1300 BC, Hattusilis III (our Prince Hattu in Empires of Bronze) did manage to reclaim the 'lost north', and also pioneered the enlistment of Kaskan troops into the Hittite Army - something that must have helped relations between the two peoples.
Still, it must have been a truly tense co-existence, I'm sure you'll agree!
Thanks for reading! You can find out much more about the Kaskans and the Hitittes in Empires of Bronze: Son of Ishtar
Gordon Doherty: writer, history fan, explorer.
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