Hatti's heirs: Kummuhi and the other Neo-Hittite kingdoms

Centuries after the collapse of the Hittite empire in the 12th century BC, the rulers of several small kingdoms in northern Syria and southeastern Turkey cast themselves as the heirs of the Great Kings of Hatti.

The heirs of the Hittite empire

The seal of Kuzi-Tešub, "Great King, Hero of Carchemish", son of Talmi-Tešub and a great-great-great-grandson of Šuppiluliuma I of Hatti. Kuzi-Tešub's descendants also ruled in the kingdom of Melid. Drawing of an impression on a clay sealing excavated at Lidar Höyük by J. D. Hawkins in M. Liverani (ed.), Neo-Assyrian Geography, Rome: Università di Roma 'La Sapienza', 1995, pl. I: fig. c. View large image.

The kings of Carchemish PGP  and Melid PGP  (corresponding to the site of Arslantepe near Malatya) could proudly trace back their lineage to these prestigious ancestors while the kings of Kummuhi PGP , the region between Carchemish and Melid known in classical times as Commagene, prominently signalled their connection by taking the names of some of the most famous rulers of the Hittite imperial period, Šuppiluliuma, Hattušili and Muwattalli.

In these three kingdoms on the Euphrates, as well as in their western neighbour states of Arpadda PGP , Hamat PGP , Unqu (with its capital Kullania PGP ), Gurgum (with its capital Marqasa PGP ) and Que PGP , gods such as the storm-god Tarhunzas and the goddess Kubaba who had been part of the imperial Hittite pantheon continued to be worshipped; the Luwian language of the Anatolian sub-group of the Indo-European language family and the "hieroglyphic" writing system attested since the days of the Hittite empire continued to be used; and ancient cultural traditions such as augury, the art of predicting the future by studying the behaviour of birds in the sky, continued to be practised in the region.

By the first millennium BC, the population of these kingdoms was quite heterogenous, despite the prominence of the Hittite heritage. In most of these states the Aramaean, or in the coastal regions the Phoenician, languages and alphabetic scripts were used prominently, even for official monuments, highlighting the cultural and political influence of West Semitic population groups. But the Hittite traditions of old served to create a shared identity for all inhabitants of these states that transcended even state boundaries. This was so evident to the Assyrians that they used the group designation of Hatti for all these states, mirrored by the use of the term "Neo-Hittite" in modern scholarship. Rulers of these states who proved disloyal to Assyria are habitually called "evil Hittites" in the Assyrian royal inscriptions, such as for example the last independent kings of Melid, Kummuhi and Hamat - Tarhunazi, Muwatalli and Yau-bi'di respectively - in the annals of Sargon II (721-705 BC).

A trusted ally of Assyria

This boundary stele was found at the village of Kızkapanlı but is known as the Pazarcık Stele, after the dam during whose construction works it was recovered. It marks the border between the Neo-Hittite kingdoms of Kummuhi and Gurgum as established by Adad-nerari III of Assyria in 705 BC and confirmed by his successor Shalmaneser IV in 773 BC. The inscription on the front of the stele is that of Adad-nerari, while Shalmaneser added his own on the back. The stele shows a standard bearing a crescent, the symbol of the moon-god who was one of the main deities of the region, with his most important shrine at nearby Harran. Archaeological Museum of Kahramanmaraş. Photo from V. Donbaz, 'Two Neo-Assyrian Stelae in the Antakya and Kahramanmaraş Museums', Annual Review of the Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia Project 8, 1990, 15 fig. 7. View large image.

The kingdom of Kummuhi is situated just north of the modern border between Turkey and Syria, encircled to the east by the curve of the Euphrates and separated from its northern neighbour Melidu by a sizeable mountain range. Its history is relatively well documented from the 9th century BC onwards, this despite the fact that its capital city of the same name, Samsat Höyük (classical Samosata), was flooded in 1989 following the construction of the Atatürk Dam before any significant archaeological layers from the early first millennium BC could be recovered. The remains dating to the later kingdom of Commagene (163 BC-72 AD) are much better known and add to the information gained from other sources, most prominently the spectacular ruins of the mountain-top sanctuary of Nemrud Dag.

Hattušili (Qatazili to the Assyrians) of Kummuhi was allied with Assurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) and Shalmaneser III (858-824 BC) of Assyria, an important strategic partnership that enabled the Assyrian army to campaign in northern Syria without fear of an attack from the north. Close relations continued into the time of Adad-nerari III (810-783 BC) who in 805 BC intervened on behalf of his ally Šuppiluliuma (Ušpilulume to the Assyrians) of Kummuhi when a coalition led by his southern neighbour Atar-šumki, king of Arpad, threatened his borders. The Assyrian intercession led to the establishment of new boundaries in the region, commemorated by a number of boundary stones commissioned by the Assyrian ruler. The monument erected at the modern village of Kızkapanlı on the border between Kummuhi and its western neighbour Gurgum survived for at least 32 years as Adad-nerari's successor Shalmaneser IV (782-773 BC) confirmed the boundary in person in 773 BC and subsequently added his own inscription to the old monument - king Šuppiluliuma of Kummuhi, who is therein mentioned by name, was still in power.

With Assyria and Kummuhi so closely allied, the two states also routinely exchanged knowledge and expertise. From the reign of Adad-nerari III onwards, administrative texts from Kalhu show ritual experts in the ancient Anatolian art of augury from Kummuhi active at the Assyrian royal court where they conducted rituals on behalf of the Assyrian king. Their activities at Kalhu are attested also under Aššur-nerari V (754-745 BC) and Tiglath-pileser III (744-727 BC). Cultural transfer also took place in the other direction, with the rock relief accompanying the Luwian inscription of an official of Šuppiluliuma's son and successor, another Hattušili, at Malpınarı executed in Assyrian style: evidence for Assyrian stone masons, or at least their influence, in Kummuhi.

8th century BC Luwian inscription and rock relief at Malpınarı, near the village of Firlaz (Ilicak) by the Goksu river, some 35 km from Adıyaman, from the reign of Hattušili king of Kummuhi. The male figure's hair, beard and style of dress closely resemble contemporary Assyrian depictions. Drawing by J. D. Hawkins. From J. D. Hawkins, Corpus of Hieroglyphic Luwian Inscriptions 1, Berlin & New York: de Gruyter, 2000, pl. 168. More information about and pictures of Tayfun Bilgin's Monuments of the Hittites [http://www.hittitemonuments.com/malpinari/]. View large image.

Kummuhi between Assyria and Urartu

In the 740s the Assyrian army under its new king Tiglath-pileser III fought an alliance of Neo-Hittite states, led by Mati'-il king of Arpadda and backed by Urartu, whose ruler Sarduri had campaigned in the region a decade earlier and had forced Kuštašpi king of Kummuhi to accept his hegemony, as we know from the inscription at the Urartian capital Turušpa (Van Kalesı):

"Sarduri says: Kuštašpili king of Qumaha (= Assyrian Kuštašpi king of Kummuhi) was a rebel and had not submitted to any king (of Urartu). ... I marched against the country of Qumaha. I captured the royal fortess of Uita in battle, I conquered the royal city of Halpa (= Assyrian Halpi), which is situated on a lake (= probably Lake Gölbaşı), I besieged the royal city of Parala. He (= Kuštašpili) came before me and submitted to me. I confirmed him in (his) post and he gave me as tribute 40 minas of pure gold, 800 minas of silver, 3,000 garments, 2,000 bronze shields and 1,535 bronze cauldrons." (Sarduri's Annals at Hazine Kapısı, Van Kalesı)

But in the war against the Neo-Hittite alliance Kuštašpi proved himself a loyal ally of Assyria despite the fact that some of his territories, the districts of Kištan and Halpi, joined the enemy side which included the immediate neighbour states Gurgum and Melid, as described in the inscription of Tiglath-pileser's Iran Stele [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/rinap/rinap1/Q003448/html]. That Kuštašpi had previously sworn allegiance to Sarduri of Urartu was apparently forgiven and his support proved instrumental when the victorious Assyrian army drove the defeated Urartian forces through Kummuhi back into Urartu and even pursued them to their capital Turušpa. Subsequently, during the decades of Tiglath-pileser's conquest of Syria, Kummuhean troops fought as part of the Assyrian army. Much later, after Damascus had been established as an Assyrian province in 732 BC, its governor mentions 2,000 warriors of the king of Kummuhi as part of the Assyrian armed forces in his province (NL 88 = ND 2495 = SAA 19 170).

The close relations between Assyria and Kummuhi continued into the reign of Sargon II. After Sargon annexed Kummuhi's neighbours to the south and west, Carchemish and Gurgum, as Assyrian provinces in 717 and 711 BC respectively, Kummuhi was the only remaining buffer state between Assyria and Urartu on the western front. Sargon put so much trust in his ally Muwattalli (Mutallu to the Assyrians) of Kummuhi that he even added the territories of the northern neighbour state of Melid to his holdings in 712 BC, when its dealings with Urartu caused the Assyrians to invade and conquer this kingdom. But this mutually beneficial partnership ended abruptly and brutally when Muwattalli withheld tribute from the empire in 709 BC while Sargon was campaigning in Babylonia and allied himself with Urartu.

View over Samsat Höyük, the site of the city of Kummuhi (classical Samosata). Photo taken in 1985 before the region was flooded following the construction of the Atatürk Dam in 1989. From J. Wagner (ed.), Gottkönige am Euphrat: Neue Ausgrabungen und Forschungen in Kommagene, Mainz: Zabern, 2000, 74 fig. 99. View large image.

What prompted Muwattalli to break with his long-term ally Sargon is unclear, but his actions resulted in an Assyrian invasion in 708 BC. Kummuhi ceased to exist as an independent state and was transformed into the border march of the General of the Left (turtānu šumēlu), with the frontier to Urartu protected by a substantial standing army of 150 chariots, 1,500 cavalry, 20,000 archers and 10,000 armoured infantry (literally "carriers of shields and spears"). The enormous costs associated with maintaining a standing army of that size highlight the benefits of outsourcing the protection of the Urartian front to the allied Kummuhi - clearly a far more cost-effective strategy but not at all viable if Kummuhi could not be depended on. The region remained under direct Assyrian control until 607 BC when the city of Kummuhi was conquered by the Babylonian army under crown prince Nebuchadnezzar II who stationed a garrison there. That it took the Egyptian army four months to take back the city is a testament to Kummuhi's favourable location. This siege marked the beginning of the long bloody war between the Saite kings of Egypt and the budding Babylonian empire for control over Assyria's western territories.

More than a century before these events, back in 709 BC, king Muwatalli managed to flee to an unknown destination; that he sought refuge in Urartu is most likely. But members of his family and royal court were captured by the Assyrians and taken as hostages to Kalhu. We can assume that although the advisers to the last ruler of Kummuhi were a highly welcome addition to the entourage of the Assyrian king, the fact that their erstwhile master was still alive must have posed a serious risk to their loyalty. A letter to Sargon (SAA 5 163) illustrates how a group of augurs travelling with the Assyrian army was kept under close watch; their strategic importance, however, guaranteed them a comfortable living standard and an influential social position.

Further reading:

Bryce, 'The World of the Neo-Hittite Kingdoms', 2012.
Frame, 'A new cylinder inscription of Sargon II of Assyria from Melid', 2009.
Hawkins, 'The political geography of North Syria and South-East Anatolia', 1995.
Radner, 'The Assyrian king and his scholars: the Syro-Anatolian and the Egyptian schools', 2009.

Content last modified: 5 Nov 2012.

Karen Radner

Karen Radner, 'Hatti's heirs: Kummuhi and the other Neo-Hittite kingdoms', Assyrian empire builders, University College London, 2012 [http://www.ucl.ac.uk/sargon/essentials/countries/hatti/]

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