We begin our journey in ancient Turkey — or Anatolia and the Hittite Empire 18th C. to 1178 BCE. Above is a Cuneiform Tablet from Anatolia, and an image which designates the area of modern Turkey on a map.
The tablet’s description at The Met reads in part:
When the merchants from Ashur in Assyria came to Anatolia early in the second millennium B.C., they brought with them the writing techniques invented in Mesopotamia: the script known as cuneiform (“wedge-shaped”) and the medium of clay tablets encased in clay envelopes. The merchants also brought their art in the form of cylinder seals, which marked the traded goods, storerooms, and written records. The Assyrian merchants wrote in the Assyrian language, but tablets and cuneiform were later adopted in Anatolia by the Hittites, who wrote their own language with the imported techniques. [x]
This particular tablet is a record of a lawsuit’s court testimony. Cuneiform is particularly interesting when it shows legal records, which gives us a sense of government, structure, and society in the culture.
Anatolia’s Hittite Empire stretched from Central Turkey, Northwestern Syria, and Northeastern Syria and Northern Iraq.
By 1300 the Hittite Empire bordered on Egypt and both powers vied for control of wealthy cities on the Mediterranean coast. This led to the Battle of Kadesh with Rameses II (1274 BC.) On Rameses II’s monuments, the battle was commemorated as a great victory for Egypt, but the Hittite account, found at Hattusas, suggests that the battle was closer fought.
Civil war and rivalling claims to the throne, combined with external threats weakened the Hittites and by 1160 BC, the Empire had collapsed. Hittite culture survived in parts of Syria such as Carchemish which had once been under their power. These Neo-Hittites wrote Luwian, a language related to Hittite, using a hieroglyphic script. Many modern city names in Turkey are derived from their Hittite name, for example Sinop or Adana, showing the impact of Hittite culture in Anatolia. [x]
The Hittites seemed like a good place to start in Western Asia, as they have cuneiform records that we can examine and commanded an Empire. The early development of cuneiform writing in addition to widespread trading and surrounding influences give a key view to the history of Ancient Turkey.