A Forgotten Empire: The Ancient Kingdom of Mitanni
Mitanni was a state that existed between the 16th and 13th centuries BC. This state occupied the land of the Hurrians. This area is located in the upper Tigris-Euphrates basin, and corresponds today with northern Iraq, Syria, and southeastern Turkey. At its greatest extent, the territory controlled by Mitanni extended all the way to the Mediterranean coast on its west, and into Assyria / Mesopotamia on its southeast. The strength and influence of Mitanni was so great that at one time, it was part of the ‘Great Power Club’, which included Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, and the Kingdom of Hatti. Today, however, this powerful kingdom has been reduced to hardly more than a name and a handful of archaeological and linguistic hypotheses, and few had even heard of this ancient kingdom, hence making it a ‘forgotten empire’.
The Rise of Mitanni
It has been suggested that the rise of Mitanni occurred during the time when the Old Babylonian Empire was in decline. The weakening of the latter provided an opportunity for the former to expand its borders. Alternatively, some have said that the Hittite destruction of Alep (Aleppo) and its sack of Babylon allowed new states to emerge in the region, including Mitanni. Nonetheless, little is known about the early kings of Mitanni. This is due to the fact that much of Mitanni’s culture and records would later be destroyed by the Assyrians. However, thanks to correspondence with foreign powers, the names of these early Mitanni rulers have been preserved.
Map of ancient Mitanni ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
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Conflicts with Egypt
Around the end of the 16th century BC, Mitanni (which was then under the rule of Parattarna) took control of Alep, an important Syrian city located halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Euphrates River. The presence of Mitanni in Syria would bring it into conflict with another ancient superpower - Egypt, whose pharaohs, most notably Thutmose III, were also interested in controlling this region. In the middle of the 15th century BC (possibly 1457 BC) Mitanni took part in the famous Battle of Megiddo. During this battle, Mitanni sided with the king of Kadesh, and was defeated by the Egyptians, who were led by Thutmose III.
Famous Battle of Megiddo. ( Historiarex)
Thutmose’s victory at Megiddo allowed the Egyptians to attack Mitanni’s western region. When the Egyptians reached the Euphrates, they built ships, and ravaged towns belonging to Mitanni that were located on the riverbanks from Carchemish to Emar. Whilst the further expansion of Mitanni into Syria was checked for the time being, the Egyptians were not able to gain control of the Syrian interior. Additionally, Thutmose’s campaign did not result in the permanent conquest of this area. Moreover, the power of Mitanni was growing in the east.
The Alliance Between Shaushtatar and Thutmose IV
Towards the end of the 15th century BC, Shaushtatar, the king of Mitanni, sacked the Assyrian capital of Aššur, and humiliated its inhabitants by sending the doors of the city’s famous temple to Waššukanni, the capital of Mitanni. It was also shortly after this that friendly relations were established between Egypt and Mitanni. An alliance was forged between the king of Mitanni, Artatama I (who succeeded Shaushtatar), and the Egyptian pharaoh, Thutmose IV (Thutmose III’s grandson).
Thutmosis IV wearing the khepresh, Musee du Louvre. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
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The Amarna Letters
During the middle of the 14th century BC, Mitanni was at its height of power, and friendly relations with Egypt were maintained. These relations can be seen, for instance, in the one of the Amarna Letters sent from the Mitannian king to the Egyptian pharaoh. For example, in EA 17, one can observe that the king of Mitanni, Tushratta, had married his daughter, Tadu-Heba (also called Tadukhipa), to Amenhotep III. Upon Amenhotep’s death, Tadu-Heba married his son, Amenhotep IV, who is better known as Akhenaten. It has been speculated by some that Tadu-Heba and the famed Nefertiti are actually one and the same person.
Cuneiform tablet containing a letter from Tushratta of Mitanni to Amenhotep III (of 13 letters of King Tushratta). ( CC-Zero)
The End of the Mitanni Kingdom
Despite the cordiality between these two powers, the alliance between Mitanni and Egypt would soon disintegrate with a power struggle that broke out in Mitanni during the reign of Tushratta. Whilst Tushratta was supported by the Egyptians, his rival, Artatama II, who was a relative of the previous king, Shuttarna, was backed by the Hittites. With Egyptian support, Tushratta’s victory was assured.
The Egyptians, however, became wary of the growing power of the Hittites, and decided to withdraw support for their ally. This allowed the Hittite king, Suppiluliuma to do as he pleased without fear of retribution from Egypt. The Hittites attacked and sacked Waššukanni, whilst Tushratta was assassinated by his own son. The Hittites installed Artatama II as a vassal king, and ruled over Mitanni until its fall to the Assyrians.
Mitannian Cylinder Seal with Two Heroes and a Tree. ( Walters Art Museum )
Featured image: Mitanni invaders. Source: John844
Dollinger, A., 2016. The Amarna Letters. [Online]
Available at: http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/amarnaletters.htm
Eduljee, K. E., 2014. Mitanni. [Online]
Available at: http://www.heritageinstitute.com/zoroastrianism/ranghaya/mitanni.htm
Lendering, J., 2015. Mitanni. [Online]
Available at: http://www.livius.org/articles/people/mitanni/
www.historyfiles.co.uk,2015. Hurrian Empire of Mitanni (Naharina / Hanigalbat). [Online]
Available at: http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsMiddEast/AnatoliaHurrianMitanni.htm