Friday, June 3, 2016

My Visit to See the Hittite Lions - 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...."

(Virginia Billeaud Anderson - writes about visiting the ancient Hittite archaeological site of Hattusha, near the city of Bogakale in central Turkey, wanting to see the carved lion sculptures known as the Hittite Lions. And discusses the ancient Hittite's imperial rule, chariot design and diplomatic treatises.)

My Visit to See the Hittite Lions

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 easier to get to Mycenae in the northeast part of the Peloponnese than to get to Hattusha.

Inscriptions on cuneiform clay tablets reveal a lot about the ancient Hittites. Hundreds of these tablets were found at Hattusha, probably part of a royal archive. The tablets reveal 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 innovative design gave the fiercely militaristic Hittites an advantage in battle. By imperialistically clobbering other nations, the Hittite kingdom spread.

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 the pharaoh. When his scribes duplicated the treaty on the walls of his mortuary temple in Thebes, he made them twist the narrative so the Egyptians didn't look like loosers. 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.

Hittite Lion Image by Antiktarih

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 inhabitants abandoned the parts that were not destroyed, which might be due to economic collapse. Even if the Hittite kingdom vanished, its social, religious, literary and artistic traditions impacted later Greek and near Eastern kingdoms.

After climbing all over the citadel's ruins, I needed booze. So I drank some wine, then went to a tiny market near the ruins and bought a small statuette of a Hittite lion. I'm not sure what kind of stone my Hittite Lion is carved from, it might be nephrite or jadeite, but the little lion is one of my favorite possessions. My lion represents a fun trip and exciting ancient history. I photographed it below.

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

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