The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Eric 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.