Friday, June 3, 2016

A Few Thoughts about the Hittite Lion - Essay

Archaeological site of Hattusha. Lion Gate at the ruins of the Bronze
Age Citadel of the Ancient Hittites

"...I toured the ancient Hittite archaeological site of Hattusha, not far from the city of Bogazkale in central Turkey...."

A Few Thoughts about the Hittite Lion

In 1999, I toured the ancient Hittite archaeological site of Hattusha, not far from the city of Bogazkale in central Turkey.  Excavations at Hattusha unearthed a double-wall Bronze Age citadel and temple complex.  In its "Upper City" section archaeologists found the ruins of twenty-six temples.  Hattusha is considered the largest Bronze Age fortified settlement in the Near East.  Its structures, sculptural carvings and inscribed tablets provided historians with a wealth of knowledge about the Hittite kingdom, which at its most powerful spread across most of Anatolia, Upper Mesopotamia (Iraq), Syria and Lebanon.  The Hittites battled Greece and at one point made Egypt one of its vassal states.
My main reason for going there was to see the famous Hittite lions, a pair of enormous sculptural lions that decorate the citadel’s gate, known as the Lion Gate.  Carved out of limestone, the lions framed the southwestern entrance of the Upper City.  I'd had a hankering to see those beasts ever since I saw the large sculptural lions that decorated the Lion Gate at Mycenae seven years before, although I'll admit it was less convenient to go to Hattusha than it was to go to Mycenae in the northeast part of the Peloponnese.

We know a lot about the Hittites from inscriptions on cuneiform clay tablets.  There were hundreds of these tablets found at Hattusha, probably part of a royal archive.  They reveal the Hittites excelled in metal work and made chariots that were superior to those of their enemies.  The Hittites actually innovated a new chariot design with wheels that had fewer spokes and were lighter.  This kind of advantage was greatly needed, because Hittites were fiercely militaristic.  

Further, the Hittites were pioneers in international diplomacy.  In fact, clay tablets record the world’s oldest known peace treaty between the Hittite King Hattusili III and the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses, whom King Hattusili conquered.  It must have annoyed Ramesses to have a treaty forced upon him by the Hittites after he lost the Battle of Kadesh in 1259 BC., because the Pharaoh had his scribes duplicate the treaty on the walls of his mortuary temple in Thebes, but twisted the narrative.  Ramesses' propaganda hieroglyphics depict Egyptian chariots running over Hittite soldiers’ bodies.

Historians believe the Battle of Kadesh was the largest chariot battle ever fought, and may have included 5000 chariots.

Image from antikcag.tarihi Instagram
King's Gate
This Hittite Lion (2800 B.C.) was excavated from the
Hittite Tel Tayinat Tumulus in Antakya. Image
from arkeoveyasam Instagram.

There's nothing like climbing all over archaeological ruins to make you want booze.  So I had a few glasses of wine.  Feeling restored I went to a tiny market near the ruins and bought a small statuette of a Hittite lion.  It is one of my favorite possessions.  I'm not sure what kind of stone my Hittite Lion is carved from, it might be nephrite or jadeite.

Hittite Lion Statuette

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