Informal Bibliography: Nonfiction Books about Troy and the Hittites

book cover image The Hittites and Their World Billie Jean CollinsThe Hittites and Their World by Billie Jean Collins
At only 218 pages and yet covering all the basics about Hittites politically, socially and religiously, this is the best book to begin learning about the Hittites. Collins is a first rate historian with the needed depth of knowledge about the subject but also the skill as a thinker and writer to present the big picture for the non-scholar. She includes plenty of specifics and detail to be engaging and informative. A must read for everyone intrigued by the ancient Anatolian world and the Hittite empire.

book cover Trevor Bryce The Trojans and Their Neighborsbook cover Trevor Bryce The Trojans and Their Neighbors

The Trojans and Their Neighbors by Trevor Bryce
For anyone interested in the historical Troy, this is the best single book to read. It’s up to date and written by one one of the foremost historians writing about ancient Troy, the Hittites and surrounding peoples. He examines Troy in the context of the Homeric poems and in relation to the rest of the Near Eastern and Aegean world.

book cover Trevor Bryce Hittite Warrior

Hittite Warrior by Trevor Bryce

Part picture book, part history book, this is an excellent introduction to Hittite weapons and warfare for those interested in this aspect of the ancient world. Trevor Bryce is one of the leading historians of the Hittites, so despite being a book pitched to a younger crowd, the information is first rate and reliable.

book cover Trevor Bryce Life and Society in the Hittite World
Life and Society in the Hittite World by Trevor Bryce

As the title indicates, this is the book to read if you want to learn about Hittite daily life as differentiated from political history. Bryce has chapters on Hittite kings, farmers, scribes, merchants, curers of disease, marriage, festivals and rituals, among others. This book integrates a huge range of material into a readable, highly respected volume. The final chapter addresses the links between the Hittite and Greek world of the Late Bronze Age.

book cover Harry Hoffner Hittite Myths
Hittite Myths by Harry Hoffner, Jr.

This slender volume, part of the excellent Writings from the Ancient World Series, contains translations of most (perhaps all) of the currently available Hittite myths. Hoffner is immensely knowledgeable on the subject. He is the editor of the Oriental Institute’s Chicago Hittite Dictionary and the preeminent Hittite philologist.

The myths exist on clay tablets written in cuneiform. Hoffner’s translations indicate breaks or unreadable portions throughout and he strives for literal, scholarly translations. This is certainly not an easy book to digest, but is an excellent entrance into Hittite culture and way of thinking. His brief introductions to each myth provide an essential framework for understanding these challenging primary sources.

book cover image Letters from the Hittite Kingdom Harry Hoffner Jr.
Letters from the Hittite Kingdom by Harry Hoffner, Jr.

Hoffner’s Letters from the Hittite Kingdom is a scholarly but approachable collection of translations and commentary on an extensive corpus of letters from the Hittite capital of Hattusa as well as other provincial centers from 1600 to 1200 BCE . Hoffner begins with a thorough introduction to ancient Near Eastern letter writing. He summarizes his book in this manner:

“It will be the purpose of this book to acquaint the wider public to the rich epistolary documentation of the ancient Hittite kingdom. The approach will be as follows. First, the subject of letter writing will be explored as it manifests itself in all the major kingdoms of the ancient Hear East (Egypt, Syro-Palestine, Anatolia, Assyria, and Babylonia). Secondly, the practice of writing, sending, receiving, and storing of letters in the Hittite kingdom itself will be outlined. This will provide the necessary background for the understanding of the present letter corpus, which forms the third major division.”

Hoffner’s first two sections are invaluable for anyone wishing to understand how the Hittite king maintained communications throughout his empire. No personal letters have survived, only official mail either between the king or queen and others, or between governmental or military officials.

The letters themselves tantalize the lay reader with glimpses into this complex empire, but they will also frustrate at times since too often the clay tablet is broken off or illegible just at the place where the key information was originally written down. Additionally, the translation of the Hittite language is still a work in progress and, while Hoffner is one of the very foremost scholars of Hittite philology, the meaning of some words in these letters remains to be unlocked. Do not expect to read long, flowing discourses. Instead the reader gains insight in starts and stops as the vagaries of current knowledge and clay tablet survival permit.

At times the voice of the writer (or more often person dictating the letter to a scribe) comes through vividly, as in a letter from the Hittite king (either Muwattalli II or Mursili III) to King Adad-nirari I of Assyria. The Assyrian king has committed the apparently unforgiveable gaff of addressing the Hittite king as “Brother,” the standard term of address between the Great Kings, such as the Egyptian pharaoh and the Hittite king. At this point in time the Assyrian king is not included in this exclusive club of equals.

“So you’ve become a “Great King,” have you? But why do you continue to speak about “brotherhood” and about coming to Mt. Ammana? What is this, (this) “brotherhood”? … For what reason should I call you my “brother”? (From page 323)

At other times the letters sound more like a conversation on a bad cell-phone connection—disconnected words that never quite form sense.

“Because I deferred (lit., “rose”) to Your Majesty, … to Your Majesty, …to Your Majesty, my lord, a finished word…across the…not yet anywhere…I will take the matter in hand, and will look the matters over…, and will write it to the (regional?) palace… the princess of Babylonia not yet…will come down quickly.” ( from page 346)

Read cover to cover, Letters from the Hittite Kingdom will give the dedicated reader a much deeper sense of the Hittite world than secondary sources alone can provide. To hear through these letters the actual voices of Hittite kings, queens, and officials from 1600 to 1200 BCE is an awe-inspiring experience.

book cover image The Trojan War A Very Short History by Eric Cline Poisoned PenEric Cline has done all Trojan War enthusiasts a favor by writing The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction, part of an excellent series by Oxford University Press. This little book is an up to date (2013) summary of the evidence for a Trojan War. Cline opens with the story as we received it from Homer and the Epic Cycle. Then he examines the literary evidence, delving into the question of historical accuracy in Homer, and perhaps more importantly, discussing the extant references in the Hittite texts of anything relevant to Troy. I’d read all these references in Hittite letters and treaties before, but this compact presentation gave these complicated sources a refreshing clarity. Cline’s appraisal will be very welcome to the general reader of history who doesn’t want to sort out all those obscure sources but really wants to know what we have in the record. Cline’s third part reviews the archaeological evidence from Schliemann’s early work through the contemporary finds under Korfmann and those carrying on at Troy today. There’s also an excellent bibliography.

So was there indeed a Trojan War? Well, a few wars suggest themselves as possible candidates. Unfortunately for the romantics among Homer fans, the literary and physical evidence don’t align to confirm any one historically identifiable event as “The Trojan War.” We’re left remembering that there were oral bards involved in the transmission of the Iliadic tradition and their goal was not history but storytelling. Be glad historians are confirming the reality of so much of what we treasure. Yes, the world of Homer is a reflection of a real place and time, just don’t take it too literally. And read wonderful historians like Eric Cline. This is a great read for anyone interested in Troy.


Informal Bibliography: Nonfiction Books about Troy and the Hittites — 6 Comments

  1. Dear Judith,

    A good book that I missed on your list is ‘Troy and Homer’ by Joachim Latacz (OUP 2004). It makes it very clear that Troy was a one-time Hittite dependancy. Remarkably, however, it fails to take up a major point of the Treaty of Alaksandu (under Muwattalli II, c. 1290-1272 BC), which is that Troy was ruled by someone who clearly was called Alexander, much like Homer’s
    Paris. The obvious implication here is that there was a Greek (‘Mycenean’) ruling class in Troy at the time. The presence of one Pijamaradu as a contemporary thorn in the Hittite side looks like further corroboration: though somewhat garbled, it is reminiscent of the name of Priamos.

    • I like Latacz’s book and considered his analysis as I formed my own view of Troy. I hadn’t included it because it’s quite dense and scholarly, but you’re the second person to suggest it, so I will add it in. I have on my giant list of jobs to do, revise my bibliography. I added to it without trying to be comprehensive and I ought to add in several books. I think the evidence is overwhelming these days that Troy was culturally Anatolian not Greek, so in that regard I have to disagree with you. The name on the treaty that you are translating Alexander is not necessarily Greek nor does the adoption of a name from another culture, if you do see it as a Greek name, mean the city was Greek. This is a region at the intersection of so many cultures and there are borrowings all over, but predominantly it conforms to the other cities we find throughout Anatolia.

      • Dear Judith,

        Well, I suppose we ‘ll have to agree to disagree. To my mind, the name Alaksandu + Troy makes a reading of ‘Alexander’ almost inescapable, since on Homer’s authority this was a Trojan name and belonged to Paris. Also, I should like to point out that Hittites used cuneiform, which is a syllabic writing system. It was imperfectly geared to their own language and the same holds good for Greek. I bet that if you were to ask a Hittitologist (or whatever such a person is called) to transpose ‘Alexander’ along cuneiform lines he would come up with the name that we have.

        As for Troy as a Greek city – no, I don’t think it was, either. But its rulers (vide Alexander) were,
        just as may hold good for other Mycenean places and islands. Crete is a good example.

        Keep up the good work.

      • Actually you’ve just made a great case for the name Alexander being a Hittite name 🙂 But I’ll happily agree to disagree. There are so few Mycenaean artifacts and so many Anatolian ones coming from the relevant layers of Troy that I find it hard to believe that it was run by the Mycenaeans, but you may be right. Crete certainly is an example of a place conquered by the Mycenaeans and you can find abundant evidence of their presence starting at a quite clear date and going forward–all of which is missing from Troy. Archaeology never supplies sharply definitive answers so there will always be a great deal of debate.

  2. Once again I must disagree. Alexander is a thoroughly Greek name, approximately meaning ‘protector of men’, from Proto-Indo-European ‘alek’ (protector) and Greek ‘andros’, a variant of ‘aner’ (man). To my knowledge, Hittite has no such equivalents. In other words, you are mistaken. It cannot have been a Hittite name and accordingly suggests that the possibility of a Greek ruling class in Troy is something to be seriously entertained (compare the Norman settlement of England or the Middle East during the Crusades when small bands of conquerors held sway over towns and large tracts of countryside from fortified positions) and not just a notion to be laughed off. Also, you could do worse than consult Wikipedia on the origins of the name Alexander. I just did so myself and it is entirely supportive of what I have been saying.


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