Hittite Foreign Policy and Diplomacy

Map of the Hittite Empire (c. 1300 BC)

On a frontier as long and diverse as the one just described no single policy was likely to be applicable to all problems. In an ideal world where resources are plentiful and trade flows freely both producers and consumers realize their mutual dependence, firm agreements are reached, and frontiers virtually cease to exist. But the Anatolian world was far from ideal. All round the Hittite homeland were other powers competing for the same resources, and it was the defence of these resources, or of the routes leading to them, that may be seen to have dictated Hittite policy. Alliances between the great powers were possible only when two of them were faced by a threat from a third (as when Hatti and Egypt united against Assyria). Apart from this, international diplomacy was unlikely to have much success.

In this competitive world the Hittites had the great advantage of being an inland ‘continental’ power. Although they had enemies on all sides, it was unlikely that these enemies would ever act in unison, and in their central position the Hittites could quickly move their armies from one frontier to another as dangerous situations developed. Sometimes attempts were made to solve frontier-problems by conquest (the invasion of Mitanni by Suppiluliumas, and of the Arzawa Lands by Mursilis are cases in point), but on the whole, Hittite kings realized that control of what they had was enough to ensure their superiority. The maintenance of this control depended, on two main policies, diplomatic arrangements with minor buffer-states, and the use of military force.


Western Anatolia is of course no richer in tin-deposits than central Anatolia, and we may also be justified in seeing in Bohemia the ultimate source of the tin that was needed by the kings of Arzawa. It is then a reasonable guess that in conquering Arzawa and forging a link with Wilusa that was to last almost unbroken for hundreds of years, Hattusilis had the same motive as we have ascribed to him when he attacked Alalah and the south- eastern route. In each case the object of his campaign may well have been tin.

A Hurrian counter-attack soon forced Hattusilis to turn eastwards again. The whole of the Land of Hatti, except its capital, fell into their hands, but within a year or two the Hittite king had driven them back through the Taurus passes, and was able to advance to the Euphrates. About this time too the ancient capital of Kussara must have been recaptured, and we also hear of successes on the north-eastern frontier. In this area too metal-supplies may have been the ultimate motive for the king’s interest. Despite these successes, however, Hattusilis was unable to defeat his first opponent, Aleppo, and he may have received a mortal wound while trying to do so.

His death left the final conquest of north Syria to Mursilis, his grandson and successor. It occurred to this monarch that diplomacy might bring success where force had failed, so he applied himself to the problem of disrupting the trade-route to his own advantage. Aleppo at its northern end was still much too strong to succumb to Hittite pressure. Babylon at its southern end was weak, but allied to Aleppo. On the middle Euphrates, however, Mari had now disappeared and the new power in the area was the kingdom of Hana. This state was not under Amorite rule like Babylon and Aleppo, but had recently come under the influence of the Kassites, a foreign people from the Iranian hills. The obvious course was an alliance with Hana to encircle Aleppo, disrupt her trade and reduce her prosperity, and it is probable that this move was made. Wehave few details of what happened, but about 1595 Mursilis descended from Anatolia and succeeded in destroying Aleppo. Thus the south-eastern trade-route came under Hittite control at least as far as the middle Euphrates. Mursilis had gained what he needed, but his allies in Hana were not satisfied, and persuaded him that greater glory was at hand. Thus spurred on, Mursilis swept down the Euphrates and descended on Babylon. The dynasty of Hammurabi was brought to a humiliating end, and the Hittites arrived in force on the international field.

Hittite policy in dealing with the south-west and west.

Here the natural boundary was the western edge of the Konya Plain (the Hittite ‘Lower Land’), and beyond this line lay the Arzawa Lands. Here, as on the Gasgan frontier, a strong fortress-line was necessary, for despite several conquests of Arzawa and the creation of buffer-kingdoms in Hapalla (around Lakes Beysehir and Egridir) and Mira (the Afyon-Kiitahya area) there was no permanent consolidation of Hittite power in the west. Further north lay the second great Hittite lifeline, the route to the Sea of Marmara and the Troad. Along this route a policy of diplomatic tact was usually followed, for on the whole states like Ahhiyawa (the Troad?) and Wilusa (the plain of Eskisehir?) realized that a continuous flow oftrade was to their advantage. What was necessary was the protection of the route from attack by the Arzawa Lands, and it was for this purpose that the Seha River Land (around Bahkesir?) was maintained and given special privileges as a buffer-state against aggression from the south.

To the north of the route lay the lands of the River Hulana (around Beypazan), Kassiya (the valley of the Devrez Cay), and Pala and Tummana (around Kastamonu). It was the policy of Hittite monarchs to maintain these centres as a defence against the peoples further north towards the Black Sea coast. Here the country was really a continuation of the Gasga Lands, and no permanent conquest was ever effected. The kingdoms of Masa (around Bolu) and Arawanna (perhaps Safranbolu) were a constant danger to the more westerly areas, while Tummana and Pala, situated just west of the lower Halys, were an open target for Gasgan attack. As on the rest of the Gasga frontier, the only possible policy was one of constant vigilance and counter-attack.

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