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History of the Hurrians and the State of Mitanni

Geographical location

North of the middle course of the Euphrates, in the valley of the Balikha and Khabura rivers, at the beginning of the second millennium BC, the kingdom of Mitanni arose. This area is well-positioned, being a junction of routes from southern Mesopotamia to the mountains of Lebanon and the Phoenician cities, to the Taurus Mountains and southeast Asia Minor. On the other hand, this area connected the city of Assur in the middle Tigris River with its trading colonies in Cappadocia and the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The area occupied by the Mitanni kingdom, unlike the area of Assur, covers a larger area, and therefore its unification was more difficult. In addition, the population here was extremely diverse, as the area lay at the center of the influence of the surrounding countries, and the terrain cut it into isolated parts. All this made it difficult to unite the region of western Mesopotamia into one state.

The natural conditions of Mitanni favored rain-fed (rain-fed) agriculture and, to an even greater extent, cattle breeding. Along with Kassite Babylonia, Mitanni was also the largest horse-breeding power in Front Asia. The presence of many metals in the mountains bordering Mesopotamia from the north provided ample opportunities for the development of Mitanni craft.

Until the end of the third millennium BC, the trade relations of Assur with the Cappadocian colonies were carried out through the intermediary of those tribes through whose territory the caravan routes passed. The merchants of Asshur seem to have made a treaty with the tribal chiefs who were the guides of Assyrian trade. With the movement of trade routes (which is associated with the strengthening of the Phoenician cities), the role of Assyria in western Mesopotamia decreases. It is possible that the emergence of the Mitanni kingdom, which cut off Assur from Asia Minor, was also the reason for the decline of Assyrian trade. We first learn about Mitanni in connection with the campaign of the Hittite king Murshil to Babylon (in 1870 BC), when on the way back the loot he captured in Babylon was taken away by the Mitanni.

Ethnic composition of the Mitanni regions

The population of Mitanni was not homogeneous: it consisted of various tribes that had long lived in Northern Syria in upper Mesopotamia.

Urkesh lion with a Hurrian sign

“Urkesh lion” with a limestone tablet in Hurrian. XXI century BC Found in Urkesh.

According to one hypothesis, the original population of the northern Two Rivers was the Subarean tribes. Early here there are nomadic tribes of Amorites, who move to sedentary life. The Hurrians, one of the peoples of the East Caucasian ethnic community, occupied the mountains to the south and east of Lake Van by the beginning of the third millennium BC. From here, in the first half of the third millennium BC, Hurrian tribes penetrated into Palestine, Zagros and Central Iran, and around the XXII century BC they occupied most of Upper Mesopotamia, establishing a large state there with the center in Urkesh (XXII-XX centuries BC). Apparently, this power, whose kings idolized themselves, was considered by the Hurrians as a model of state-building. In any case, the concept of a Hurrian political unity was later widely adopted among the Hurrians, and their major states adopted the name “Hurri” as a sign of their claims to the practical implementation of such unity. Somewhat retreating to the north under the onslaught of the Amorites, the Hurrians again moved to the countries of the Fertile Crescent in the second half of the XVIII-early XVII centuries BC. At this time, Hurrian tribal groups and dynasties came to power in most of Syria-Palestine, Upper Mesopotamia, Northern Zagros, and Southeastern Asia Minor. For four centuries, within the boundaries of this vast space, a special Hurrian civilization developed, serving as a field for the synthesis and transmission of the influence of the most diverse cultures of the Middle East (especially Mesopotamian).

The chariot armies introduced by the Hurrians gave them an undisputed advantage over their neighbors. The largest Hurrian state of this time was the Upper Mesopotamian Hurri-Hanigalbat, based on the territories taken from the Amorites. The fierce struggle of this political entity with the Ancient Hittite Kingdom (mid — XVII-early XVI centuries BC) exhausted the forces of both sides, and this was taken advantage of by the Indo-Aryan “Manda” tribes, who lived at that time on the southern outskirts of the Armenian highlands. It is possible that the trade routes from the Middle Tigris, through its tributaries Diala and Adem, connected the Front Asia with the Indo-Iranian world, and that eastern tribes related to the Indian tribes penetrated into Mesopotamia along these routes. They seized power in Hurri-Hanigalbat, thus establishing the state of Mitanni (actually Maittanne, ca. 1560-1260 BC), which, however, retained the old names. The capital of Mitanni was located in Vashshukkani (Wassokkanna) – a city in the upper reaches of the Khabur, the location of which is debatable. The indigenous territory of Mitanni covered about 1500 BC. All of Upper Mesopotamia, including the Tur-Abdin Mountains, the Middle Euphrates Valley, and the Middle Tigris region, including Nineveh, then a major Hurrian center.

The Hurrian language spoken by the Mitanni may have continued to contain words of Indian origin. This is reflected in the names of the kings of the ruling dynasty (for example, Tushratta, Artatama, etc.), in some terms related to horse breeding. So, in the famous “Treatise on Horse Breeding” of a certain Kikkuli, the terminology is purely Indian; also, the charioteers who made up the king’s squad are called by the ancient Indian term – “maryanne”. But already in the XIV century BC, the “Marianne” were recruited from among the Hurrians. In the time of Thutmose III, the term “maryanne” refers to the ambassadors of Megiddo, Ascalon, and other cities in Palestine. So they are named in the papyrus of the State Hermitage Museum No. 1116-A on the back of the famous “Teachings of the King of Heracleopolis”. Finally, it should be noted that two texts mention the Indian gods-Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Nasatya. The names of these gods are mentioned in the oath formula and not in the first place. Apparently, these gods were the gods of the royal family.

The diversity of the population of Mitanni increases even with the appearance in northern Syria and western Mesopotamia of the Aramaic tribes of the Achlamites, who roamed in these areas, gradually moving to sedentarism. This language had a distribution outside of Mitanni proper; we find it in Asia Minor, in the documents of Bogazkeoi, as well as in the region of the kingdom of Urartu near Lake Van. Perhaps in Transcaucasia, as the excavations of recent years near Tbilisi show, the features of the Khurian culture have been preserved. Thus, the spread of the Hurrian culture covers the entire territory of northern Front Asia. This can be observed, for example, in religion. The Hurrian god of thunder and storm, Teshup, was worshipped by the Hittites and Urartians (the latter under the name of Teisheba). The Hurrian sun goddess Hepat is also found among the Hittites (for example, in the name of Queen Pudu-hepa, the wife of Hattushil III).

The Hurrians subjugated Syria and Palestine for a time. In the Egyptian language, Syria was even called “Haru”. It is possible that by their movement the Hurrians pushed the Hyksos to invade Egypt. Mitanni names as early as the XV century BC are found in Syria and in Palestine.

History of Mitanni

The ancient period of Mitanni’s history is still poorly understood. We know only a number of royal names in connection with those conquests that extended the border of the state west to Carchemish on the Euphrates, and east to the Tigris. A large part of the territory of the Assyrian kingdom was captured by the Mitanni; even the cities of Nineveh and Assur were in their hands; some areas beyond the Tigris, like Arrapha and the tribes of the Gutei and Lulubei, were completely dependent on the Mitanni.

The capital of Mitanni was the city of Vashshukkani (Wassokkanni), from here the Mitanni sent their troops against Assur and the cities of Syria. On the basis of the preserved images on the stone reliefs, you can get an idea of the organization and technique of military affairs. The army consisted mainly of infantry; in addition, a large role was played by charioteers (“maryanne”, “marianni”), who made up the king’s squad and were recruited from among the Hurrian nobility. Mounted cavalry, horsemen are still almost not found in the images. Apparently, the role of cavalry, as in the Egyptian army, was played by light chariots.

The war with Egypt

In the middle of the XVI century BC, the Egyptian king Thutmose I made his great campaign in Asia, reaching the borders of the Mitanni kingdom on the Euphrates. Here he placed his stele with an inscription establishing the northern border of the possessions of Egypt. This campaign greatly alarmed Mitanni, who saw in the face of Egypt a serious enemy. Another opponent of Mitanni was Assyria, which tried to throw off the yoke of Mitanni. During one campaign in Assyria at the end of the XVI century BC, the Mitanni king Shausshatar (Saussadattar) inflicted a great defeat on Ashur; The city was captured, and the Mitanni took with them a large booty, including doors of gold and silver; the areas beyond the Little Zab, a tributary of the Tigris, were also subdued.

Mitanni Palace

The remains of the Mitanni palace in ancient Nagar (north-east of Syria). Around 1500-1360 BC.

In the western regions, Mitanni power extended as far as Tunip and Qatna in northern Syria. At this time, the beginning of the campaigns of the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III in Palestine and Syria, where he met resistance from the Mitanni. According to his annals, in the 33rd year of his reign (i.e., around 1490 BC), Thutmose, while in the region of the Orontes, invaded the borders of the Mitanni kingdom. The king of Mitanni was forced to flee across the Euphrates, but the Egyptian troops continued to pursue him. Two years later, Thutmose faced the Mitanni again and inflicted a great defeat on them. Despite this, Mitanni continues to challenge Egypt’s authority in the Syrian cities. Already at the end of his long reign, Thutmose, in the battle of Kadesh (on the Orontes River), among other loot, captured up to seven hundred prisoners and about fifty horses from the Mitanni who came to the aid of Kadesh. However, under King Parrattarna (c. 1475 BC), the Mitanni, taking advantage of the temporary weakness of Egypt, conquered the entire Eastern Mediterranean from Cilicia to Central Palestine.

Amenhotep II resumed the struggle with Mitanni, but after the first successes was thrown back to the south, to Palestine, and was forced to conclude an unfavorable peace with Mitanni (c. 1430 BC). Although the inscriptions of the Pharaoh, as usual, present this event as an expression of submission on the part of Mitanni, they emphasize the extraordinary peace agreement of Egypt with this country — “an event unheard of since the time of the gods”. Unable to accept defeat, Amenhotep II, towards the end of his reign, again moved against Mitanni and captured Halpa in Northern Syria.

Alliance with Egypt

After a series of defeats that the Egyptians inflicted on Mitanni, friendly relations are established between them. Egypt was not interested in having an enemy, but an ally on the northern borders of its Asian provinces. Mitanni also seeks support from Egypt against the growing Assyria and Hittites at this time. Thutmose IV was already married to the daughter of Artatama I (Ardadama), the successor of Shausshatar, and Amenhotep III had three Mitanni princesses in his harem. On the occasion of her marriage to one of them, Princess Giluhepa, a scarab was made, noting that she was accompanied by a retinue of 317 courtiers.

Tushratta's letter to Amenhotep III

Tushratta’s letter to Amenhotep III

At the same time, the Mitanni king Tushratta (the second half of the XV century BC) asks the king of Egypt to send him gold, which seemed to be as much in Egypt as sand. He is offended when the Pharaoh sends him not gold, but wooden gilded statues. Tushratta sends Amenhotep III, when he fell ill at the end of his reign, a miraculous statue of the goddess Ishtar of Nineveh (Nineveh was then under the rule of Mitanni) and writes at the same time: “I’m sending it to you, it’s gone. Even in the days of my father, the lady went to this land, and as she was then honored, so may my brother now honor her tenfold more, and may he send her away and bring her back in joy.” The letters preserved in the palace archives of Tell Amarna show the friendly relations established between the heads of the two great powers. From these same letters we learn that Tushratta, relying on the alliance with Egypt, decides to openly oppose the Hittites.

Relations with the Hittites

The Hittite king was at that time a cunning politician of Suppilulium. In letters to Amenhotep III, the Mitanni king reports his victories over Suppiluliuma. The reign of Tushratta (about 1380-1355 BC) was a time of great prosperity of the Mitanni kingdom –

  • Assyria was conquered;
  • Babylonia was too weak to actively participate in North Mesopotamian politics, and remains aloof;
  • Egypt is on friendly terms with Mitanni;
  • the Hittites were defeated.

Tushratta was able to start a large construction activity. He built a magnificent palace, which was luxuriously furnished. But this heyday did not last long.

The first onslaught of the Hittite king Suppiluliuma was mostly repulsed by Tushratta, who resumed friendly relations with Egypt. At the same time, it turns out that Amenhotep III maintained friendly relations not only with Mitanni, but also with Assyria, where, apparently, Ashuruballit was already reigning. The king of Egypt sends 20 talents of gold to Assyria and thereby gains her friendship. Apparently, the strengthening of Mitanni threatened Egypt in its northern provinces. However, later, as a result of Tushratta’s quarrel with Akhenaten, which resulted in a successful Mitanni campaign against the Egyptian possessions in Southern Syria, Mitanni was again isolated and was immediately defeated in the second campaign of Suppiluliuma, who forever recaptured Mitanni’s Syrian possessions.

The shattered friendship with Egypt and the wars with the Hittites led Mitanni to a temporary decline.

Palace coup

The weakening of Tushratta’s power led to a palace plot, in which Tushratta was killed by one of his sons. The documents of the Boghazkeoi archive report that at this time the Assyrians invaded the borders of Mitanni: “… the country of Mitanni completely perished, the Assyrians and the Alshe (Alshe – in the upper reaches of the Tigris) divided it among themselves.” Mitanni was forced to return to Assyria the loot captured by Shaushshatar, including a door made of gold and silver.

The Mitanni Seal is a cylindrical seal with a winged spirit. Between 1500 and 1300 BC.

The Mitanni Seal
is a cylindrical seal with a winged spirit. Between 1500 and 1300 BC.

The rightful heir to the throne, Mattivaza (Sattivasa), the son of Tushratta, almost died during these palace troubles, but in time managed to escape under the protection of Suppiluliuma. The latter took advantage of the court turmoil in Mitanni, as well as the struggle that took place among the Mitanni nobility, partly oriented to Assyria, and partly to the Hittites. A text from Bogazkeoi on this occasion reports how Suppiluliuma ” took Mattivaza, the son of King Tushratta, by the hand and raised him to the throne. In order that the country of Mitanni, the great country, might not perish, the great king called it to life for the sake of his daughter. Mattiwazu took him by the hand and gave him my daughter to marry.”

Thus, occupying the territory that was the object of disputes between Assyria, the Hittites and Egypt, Mitanni fell into complete dependence on the Hittites. Assyria freed itself from Mitanni rule and expanded its territory. The Hittites, represented by Suppiluliuma, spread to the Euphrates and exerted direct pressure on the Amorite cities of Syria, contesting power here from Egypt, which was not able to protect its interests, going through a difficult time of Akhenaten’s reforms.

The decline of Mitanni

Since that time, Mitanni has been steadily declining, existing as a state dependent on the Hittites. At the end of the XIV century BC, the Mitanni king Shattuara I tried to go on the offensive against Assyria,but was defeated and captured. Another attempt made by his son was also unsuccessful. The Hittites, on whose help he counted, did not help, and the Assyrians captured the capital of the Mitanni kingdom of Vashshukkani and a number of other cities as far as Carchemish on the Euphrates. Heavy construction work was imposed on a part of the population, and the king and his family were taken away in chains to Assur. The last attempt to free Mitanni from the Assyrian yoke was made in the XIII century BC (c. 1260 BC) by Shattuara II, who received support from the Hittite king Hattushil III, a contemporary of the Egyptian Ramesses II.

The Mitanni retreated under the onslaught of the Assyrians deep into the steppes and blocked their further progress into the fertile areas, capturing mountain passes and wells on the caravan routes. But the Assyrian king Shalmaneser I put the Shattuara to flight. According to Assyrian texts, about fifteen thousand Hittites, Arameans, and Mitanni were captured in this process. The Mitanni army of Shattuara was already largely composed of Hittites. After this blow inflicted by the Assyrians, Mitanni could not recover. Mitanni ceases to exist as an independent state and splits into a number of small kingdoms, standing mostly under the rule of Assyria. The commercial importance of Mitanni passed to Assyria.

The further fate of the Hurrians

The migrations of the Aegean-Anatolian tribes to the east (the first half of the XII century BC) and the Arameans to the north (the second half of the XI century BC) sharply reduced the ethnic area of the Hurrians, reducing it to the valleys of the Chorokha and Upper — Middle Tigris rivers. The Hurrians themselves took part in the migration (so, apparently, a certain tribal group of “Habs” advanced along the Tigris and settled along their route in several isolated areas known to the Assyrians under the same name “Habhi”). The last independent state of the Hurrians — ” Shubria “(ie. “Hurri” in Akkadian translation) – was a remnant of the old Alzhe, which survived the upheavals of the XII-XI centuries. (Alzhe adopted the name “Hurri” as a sign of its great-power claims in the middle of the XIII century BC, with the weakening of Mitanni). It was destroyed by the Assyrians in 673 BC. e. The Hurrians, however, remained one of the largest ethnic groups in the Armenian highlands and in the middle — second half of the first millennium BC, were known to their neighbors under the name of “Matiens”, i.e. “Mitanni”.

The social structure of the state

Unfortunately, the documents that we have for the history of Mitanni do not allow us to judge in detail the social structure of this state, which lasted only a few hundred years. Apparently, the dominant stratum in this state was the Hurrians, who held in subjection the tribes of the Amorites, Arameans, and Subareans related to the Hurrians. The Hurrians occupied about the same position here as the Kassites in Babylonia. They were held solely by force of arms.

The country was apparently divided into –

  • the military-bureaucratic elite, or the court (the nobles, i.e., the senior squad; the main serving mass of soldiers- “maryanne”; representatives of the king abroad; vassal lords who were conditionally referred to here on the basis of personal dependence on the king),
  • and the land, i.e. the totality of self-governing communities taxed.

The latter had a single representation throughout the country, partially sharing power with the tsars. This unique feature of the Mitanni political system for the ancient East was probably due to the alien nature of the ruling elite, which caused its relative isolation.

Additional information is provided by the archive of Nusa, one of the fortresses of the peripheral Hurrian kingdom of Arrapha, which was vassalized by Mitanni for a significant part of its history. As it turns out, in the Hurrian countries there were large palace and temple farms. It is characterized by the absence of a significant layer of “royal people” (Helots, serfs):

  • the workers of the royal economy are either palace slaves (usually from among the captives),
  • or free people brought in as part of their duties.

There are known territorial rural communities ” alu “and large-family house communities” dimtu “(literally” towers”, so named after the typical dwelling of each large family). Community land was considered, according to the general rules, as the inalienable property of the community as a whole, and access to it could only be obtained by “adopting” the real buyer of the land by one of the community members. “Dimtu” often specialized in a particular hereditary profession, often related to the craft and trade sector.

In the third quarter of the second millennium BC, property differentiation, usury, and debt bondage led to a significant decomposition of communities while maintaining their external structure. Usurers-creditors in the form of “adoption” penetrated into the communities, separated the land purchased or received for debts from the main community fund, exploited the members of the” adopted ” house community. The members of the royal house (as the wealthiest members of society) were the most widely engaged in such operations in Arrapha; one of them was “adopted” more than a hundred times. Debt slavery is spreading, in particular, loans secured by the identity of certain members of a large family. There are cases of sale and self-sale in perpetuity and long-term (for example, for 50 years) slavery. However, the slaves were not completely disenfranchised and could enter into a variety of legal (including family) relations with the free. The children of slaves, however, were referred to in documents in terms other than the offspring of freemen. Among the palace slaves were those close to the royal family, who received rich gifts from their patrons, held minor positions, etc. Slaves were rented, sold and bought (the price for a slave was about 0.25 kg of silver).

In general, the relative weakness of the Hurrian State and state economy contributed to the rapid development of private exploitation within the communal sector of the economy. Supreme power was exercised by the king and the so-called “sinagila” — “the second after the king” (the position of the heir to the throne-commander-in-chief, who was mixed up by one of the princes). This construction of power reflected, on the one hand, the military, and on the other — the archaic tribal character of the Mitannian statehood. General supervision on the ground was carried out by the regional commanders.

The basis of the military power of Mitanni was the chariot army, staffed by serving warriors – “maryanne”, who were the main force in the Mitanni army. We have references in the sources to the hatred of the people for “Maryanna”. This was the fragility of the state itself, forced to wage a constant struggle not only with external enemies, but also with the subjugated population of its country.

The main sources for the history of Mitanni are the documents of the archives of Tell Amarna, Bogazkeoi and the Assyrian chronicles, which present the history of Mitanni as the history of individual kings, palace intrigues and conquests.

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