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The ancient Hittite tablet features cuneiform text in both Hittite and Hurrian languages, with the Hittite inscription recounting the onset of war and the Hurrian inscription constituting a prayer for victory.	Source: Kimiyoshi Matsumura/Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology

Clay Tablet From 3,300-Years Ago Tells Story of the Siege and Plunder of Four Hittite Cities

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A 3,300-year-old clay tablet unearthed in central Turkey has painted a tale of a devastating foreign invasion of the Hittite Empire during a period of internal strife and civil war. As the civil war played out, the invasion allegedly supported one of the warring factions, as deciphered from the tablet's cuneiform script. Discovered in summer 2023, the palm-sized tablet was found amidst the ruins of Büklükale, situated approximately 37 miles (60km) southeast of Ankara, Turkey's capital.

A Clay Tablet Indicating Royalty and Sacred Rites

Previously, only broken clay tablets and the like were unearthed at Büklükale, but this is the first complete tablet in near perfect condition. It had been discovered by archaeologist Kimiyoshi Matsumura of the Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology in May 2023. The Hittite utilization of the Hurrian language in religious contexts suggests that the tablet serves as a historical record documenting a sacred rite performed by the Hittite monarch, reports Live Science.

Büklükale was thought to be a major Hittite city by archaeologists, but with this new discovery, potentially a royal residence on par with the Hittite capital, Hattusa, located some 70 miles (112km) to the northeast.

As per the translation by Mark Weeden, an associate professor specializing in ancient Middle Eastern languages at University College London, the initial six lines of cuneiform text on the tablet, inscribed in the Hittite language, lament the dire state of "four cities, including the capital, Hattusa," indicating a calamitous event. The subsequent 64 lines are composed in the Hurrian language, constituting a prayer seeking divine assistance for victory.

"The find of the Hurrian tablet means that the religious ritual at Büklükale was performed by the Hittite king," Weeden told  Live Science. "It indicates that, at the least, the Hittite king came to Büklükale … and performed the ritual."

The Hurrian language, originally associated with the Mitanni kingdom in the region, eventually became utilized by the Hittite Empire in some sort of a subordinate capacity. Despite ongoing scholarly efforts, Hurrian remains a language of which we have limited understanding. Matsumura explained that experts have dedicated several months to deciphering the inscription's meaning.

Büklükale, located approximately 37 miles (60km) southeast of modern Ankara, is believed by archaeologists to have been a significant city within the Hittite Empire over 3,000 years ago. (Kimiyoshi Matsumura/Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology)

Büklükale, located approximately 37 miles (60km) southeast of modern Ankara, is believed by archaeologists to have been a significant city within the Hittite Empire over 3,000 years ago. (Kimiyoshi Matsumura/Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology)

A Bronze Age Empire, a Deciphered Tablet, and a Massive Collapse

The origins of the Hittite kingdoms trace back to approximately 2100 BC in central Anatolia, present-day Turkey. By 1450 BC, they had risen to prominence as a significant regional power, reports Arkeonews. References to the Hittites are found in the Hebrew Bible, while ancient Egyptian inscriptions document their conflict with the Hittite Empire in 1274 BC at the Battle of Kadesh, located near modern-day Homs, Syria, marking one of antiquity's earliest recorded battles.

For the past 15 years, Matsumura and his team have conducted excavations at the Büklükale site. The deciphered Hurrian text is revealed to be a prayer directed to Teššob (also spelled Teshub), the Hurrian storm god who held prominence in both Hittite and Hurrian religious beliefs.

A general view of Büklükale, which comprises of two archaeological zones known as the "Lower City" and the "Upper City. (Kimiyoshi Matsumura/Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology)

A general view of Büklükale, which comprises of two archaeological zones known as the "Lower City" and the "Upper City. (Kimiyoshi Matsumura/Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology)

“It praises the god and his divine ancestors, and it repeatedly mentions communication problems between the gods and humans. The prayer then lists several individuals who seem to have been enemy kings and concludes with a plea for divine advice,” Matsumura said.

The prayer extols the virtues of the deity and their divine lineage, highlighting recurring themes of communication challenges between gods and mortals. The prayer also lists several individuals identified as enemy kings, culminating in an entreaty for divine guidance and counsel, explained Matsumura.

The disappearance of the Hittite Empire from historical records occurred at the onset of the 12th century BC, coinciding with the widespread upheaval known as the Late Bronze Age collapse, during which numerous ancient civilizations across the Mediterranean region were plunged into turmoil.

This major upheaval occurred around the Eastern Mediterranean region and adjacent areas during the late 13th and early 12th centuries BC, marking an end of the Bronze Age, and leading to the collapse or severe disruption of several ancient civilizations and societies in the region. Some of the key civilizations affected by this collapse include the Hittites, Mycenaeans, Minoans, Canaanites, and ancient Egypt's New Kingdom.

The factors for the collapse have been the subject of numerous studies and extensive research, with invasions, migrations, drought, internal instability and strife, worsening of economic conditions, and several technological and cultural changes all identified as culprits.

Historian Eric Cline, in his book "1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed" (Princeton University Press, 2014), acknowledges the uncertainty surrounding the causes of this collapse, suggesting factors such as famines triggered by shifts in climate patterns. However, the invasion chronicled in the recently discovered tablet appears to be unrelated to this larger historical event.

The tablet "seems to come from a period of civil war which we know about from other [Hittite] texts," he said. "During this time, the Hittite heartland was invaded from many different directions at once … and many cities were temporarily destroyed."

According to Matsumura, the tablet is dated to the reign of Hittite King Tudhaliya II, reigning approximately between 1380 and 1370 BC, which places it roughly two centuries or 200 years prior to the onset of the Late Bronze Age collapse. This suggests that the tablet's account pertains to a distinct period of Hittite history, separate from the broader collapse of civilizations during the 12th century BC.

Top image: The ancient Hittite tablet features cuneiform text in both Hittite and Hurrian languages, with the Hittite inscription recounting the onset of war and the Hurrian inscription constituting a prayer for victory. Source: Kimiyoshi Matsumura/Japanese Institute of Anatolian Archaeology

By Sahir Pandey

References

Altuntas, L. 2024.  A 3,300-year-old tablet found at Büklükale from Hittite Empire describes catastrophic invasion of four cities. Available at: https://arkeonews.net/a-3300-year-old-tablet-found-at-buklukale-from-hittite-empire-describes-catastrophic-invasion-of-four-cities/.

Metcalfe, T. 2024.  3,300-year-old tablet from mysterious Hittite Empire describes catastrophic invasion of four cities. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/archaeology/3300-year-old-tablet-from-mysterious-hittite-empire-describes-catastrophic-invasion-of-four-cities.

 
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Sahir

I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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