Friday, June 3, 2016

My Visit to See the Hittite Lions - Essay

Archaeological site of Hattusa. Lion Gate at the ruins of the Bronze
Age Citadel of the Ancient Hittites. 
Image from antikcag.tarihi

"...I toured the ancient Hittite archaeological site of Hattusa, near the city of Bogazkale in central Turkey...." (Virginia Billeaud Anderson traveled to the ancient Hittite archaeological site of Hattusa, a Bronze Age citadel and temple complex near the city of Bogazkale in central Turkey, to see the Lion Gate. Read about Hittite imperial rule, chariot design and diplomatic treatises.)

My Visit to See the Hittite Lions

Years back, I toured the ancient Hittite archaeological site of Hattusa, near the city of Bogazkale in central Turkey. Excavations unearthed a double-wall Bronze Age citadel and temple complex. In its "Upper City" section, archaeologists found the ruins of twenty-six temples.

Hattusa 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 a vassal state.

I went to this site particularly to see the citadel's Lion Gate that sits at the southwestern entrance of the Upper City. It has a pair of enormous sculptural lions carved out of limestone. I developed a hankering to see these beasts after I saw the large sculptural lions that decorated the Lion Gate at Mycenae, seven years before. It was, I'll admit, easier to get to Mycenae in the northeast part of the Peloponnese than to get to Hattusa.

Archaeologists found hundreds of cuneiform clay tablets at Hattusa, probably part of a royal archive, with inscriptions that tell us quite a bit about the ancient Hittites. For instance, the Hittites excelled in metal work, and made chariots that were superior to those of their enemies. Hittites in fact innovated a new chariot design with wheels that had fewer spokes and were lighter. The chariots gave these fiercely militaristic people an advantage in battle as they imperialistically clobbered other nations, to expand the Hittite kingdom.

Clay tablets also reveal the Hittites were pioneers in international diplomacy. After Hittite King Hattusili III hammered the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II in the Battle of Kadesh (1259 BC), Hattusili III forced Ramesses II to sign a peace treaty. It is the world’s oldest known peace treaty, recorded on a clay tablet. The treaty clearly annoyed pharaoh Ramesses. His scribes spun the narrative in his favor when they duplicated the treaty on the walls of his mortuary temple in Thebes. 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.

But if Ramesses II slanted the story he put out, he probably learned propaganda from the Hittites. The historian Michael Grant wrote the Hittite monarchs Mursilis II (1339-1306), Hattusilus III (1275-1250) and Telepinus (c. 1100) showed the first real awareness of writing down history, and doctoring it to suit their own point of view. 

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

Hittite Lion Image  from Antiktarih
Sphinx Gate Hattusa. Image from antikcag.tarihi
Sphinx Gate Hattusa. Image from antikcag.tarihi
Lion Gate Hattusa. Image by Bernard Gagnon

For nearly 500 years the Hittites controlled wide expanses of territory. Yet, by 1176 BC the Bronze Age kingdom had vanished. Archaeological evidence indicates parts of the capital such as the Citadel were destroyed, and that other parts were simply abandoned, probably because of economic collapse. After the Hittite kingdom vanished, its social, religious, literary and artistic traditions lived on in certain respects in later Greek and Near Eastern kingdoms. An example is the monumental carved basalt Neo-Hittite Lion statue found in 1955 near the Temple of Ain Dara in Syria. The neo-Hittite Lion dates from the 10th to 8th century BCE, after the Hittites ceased to exist.

Neo-Hittite Lion found near the Temple of
Ain Dara in Syria. 10th to 8th century BCE. Image from antikcag.tarihi

After climbing on Hittite ruins, I drank some wine and shopped in a tiny market near the archaeological site, where I bought a small statuette of a Hittite lion. I'm not sure what kind of stone my lion was carved from, its green tone suggests nephrite or jadeite. The little Hittite lion is one of my favorite possessions.

Hittite Lion Statuette bought in a market near the 
archaeological site of Hattusa

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