The Hittites appear to have been an Indo-European people who moved into Anatolia around 2000 BC, and entered the territories of the indigenous Hatti. Where exactly the Hittites came from remains unclear; possibilities include the Caucasus and the Balkans. Neither do records survive of how the Hittites rose to dominance. Layers of burned material found in most Hatti settlements suggest at least some degree of violence was involved, but the Hittites also absorbed important elements of Hatti culture, so a more complex interaction may have taken place.

While Hattuşa is by far the most famous, the Hittites actually set up a number of city-states, drawn together during the mid-eighteenth century BC under King Anitta. He transferred his capital from the city of Kushara (possibly modern Alişar) to Nesha (Kültepe), and destroyed Hattuşa, cursing any Hittite king who might attempt to rebuild the place. A century or so later his successor Labarna returned to Hattuşa and did just that. The Hittites came to regard Labarna and his wife Tawannanna as founders of the Hittite kingdom, and their names were adopted as titles by subsequent monarchs.

In 1595 BC, Mursili I succeeded in capturing distant Babylon, but his successor (and assassin) Hantili lost many previous gains. Stability was restored when Tudhaliyas II re-established the Hittite state as an empire, around 1430 BC. An important period of expansion followed under King Suppiluliuma (1380–1315 BC), who secured the northern borders and conquered the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni. This achievement raised the Hittites to superpower status, equal with Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. The Egyptians even asked Suppiluliuma to send one of his sons to marry the widow of Tutankhamun, but the boy was murdered en route, and the union never took place. Hittite expansion continued after Suppiluliuma’s death. In 1286 BC, during the reign of Muwatalli II, a Hittite army defeated the Egyptians, commanded by Ramses II, at the Battle of Kadesh. Events from the battle can be seen carved into the columns at Luxor.

Following the conflict, peace between the two empires was established, cemented by the marriage of one of the daughters of Ramses II to Hattuşiliş III. However, the Hittite Empire had less than a century left. The arrival of the Sea Peoples in Anatolia ushered in a period of instability that was to erode Hittite power, culminating in the destruction of Hattuşa around 1200 BC, at much the same time as the fall of Troy. The Phrygians replaced the Hittites as the dominant power in central Anatolia, taking over the ruins of Hattuşa and other Hittite cities.

Hittite civilization was highly advanced, with a complex social system. While the Hittite kings were absolute rulers, an assembly called the panku appears at times to have wielded considerable influence. The major division in Hittite society was between free citizens – including farmers, artisans and bureaucrats – and slaves, who, while they could be bought and sold, were probably entitled to own property and to marry.

Hittite religion seems to have been adopted from the Hatti, with the weather god Teshuba and the sun goddess Hebut as the two most important deities. As the Hittites were in the habit of incorporating the gods of conquered peoples into their own pantheon, up to a thousand lesser gods also played a role in their beliefs.

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