Hattusilis I Establishes the Old Hittite Kingdom Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Hattusilis I established the Old Hittite Kingdom in Central Anatolia (now Turkey) and laid the foundations for the development of the Hittite Empire of the Late Bronze Age.

Summary of Event

During the Late Bronze Age (second millennium-c. 1200 b.c.e.), the Anatolian plateau (now in Turkey) was dominated by confederate tribes known as Hattians, ruling what they called the land of Hatti. Late nineteenth century European scholars who encountered their archaeological remains erroneously designated them “Hittites,” from references to Hittites in the Old Testament. Scholars of Hattian history, art, and culture are known as Hittitologists. Hattusilis I

It is assumed that the Hattians/Hittites entered Anatolia from the Eurasian steppe zone, overcoming and assimilating the indigenous population. For most of their history, their capital was located at Hattusas (modern Boghazköy). The Hittite language was one of a group of early Indo-European languages found in Anatolia that included Luvian, Lycian, Lydian, and more distantly, Hurrian and Urartian. It was written in what are known as Hittite hieroglyphics, as well as in Akkadian cuneiform. Approximately twenty-five thousand tablets or fragments have been excavated from Hattusas, as well as other sites.

Hittitologists divide Hittite history into three periods: the Old Kingdom, from Labarnas I to Telipinus (c. 1700-c. 1500 b.c.e.); the Middle Kingdom, from Alluwamnas to Muwatallis (c. 1500-c. 1400 b.c.e.); and the Empire, from Tudhaliyas I to Suppiluliumas II (c. 1400-c. 1200 b.c.e.), with a postimperial Neo-Hittite period (c. 1200-c. 700 b.c.e.), associated with Carchemish and other Hittite successor-states between the Taurus Mountains and the Euphrates River.

Before the establishment of the Old Kingdom by Hattusilis I, earlier attempts at state-formation in the Hittite lands remain obscure, but there are hints of conflicts among small regional kingdoms such as Kanesh/Nesha (modern Kültepe), Hattusas, Zalpa (on the Black Sea coast near modern Bafra), and Mama (perhaps modern Elbistan). Eventually, a father-son team of state-builders emerged who, some time after 1800 b.c.e., united much of central Anatolia. Their original home was Kushshar, an unidentified city located southeast of the Kizil River basin at Shar. From here, the father, Pitkhana, acquired a block of territory, including Kanesh, which he made his capital. His son Anittas, who took the title of Great King, continued his expansionist policies by annexing land north of the Kizil River (later regarded as the Hittite heartland), and what came to be known as the Low Land, the country between the Kizil River and the Salt Lake. When Hattusas rebelled, he captured it and razed it to the ground, laying a curse on whomsoever should rebuild it.

The end of Anittas’s career is uncertain, but he had brought under his rule the Kizil River basin, the Pontic coastal region of Zalpa, and the Lower Land south of the Salt Lake. In so doing, he defined the core territories of future Hittite kingdoms. No later Hittite kings claimed descent from Anittas, and it is not clear whether, when Hattusilis I undertook the task of creating an extensive kingdom located in the same general area, the memory of Anittas’s conquest lived on, but it may have. Certainly, Hattusilis I, like Anittas, came from Kushshar and it is not impossible that there was a kinship tie, perhaps a very remote one, between them.

Hattusilis’s grandfather, Labarnas I, is described in a bilingual inscription found in Hattusas in 1957, as also coming from Kushshar. According to this inscription, Labarnas I set out to subdue his neighbors, thereafter sending his sons to govern his conquests, and in later times, Labarnas I and his wife, Tawanannas, enjoyed such prestige that their names, like Caesar’s, were used as royal titles. Thus, when he mounted the throne in 1650 b.c.e., Hattusilis I had before him the precedent of his grandfather’s consolidation of the Hittite territory and perhaps a memory of Anittas’s more distant conquests. During his thirty-year reign, Hattusilis established a kingdom stretching from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

Having consolidated his grandfather’s legacy, Hattusilis led an army southeast into Syria, entering Cilicia, where Tarsus and Mersin may have been occupied, and crossed the Amanus range. He reached Alalakh (now Tell-Atçana). Excavators of that site believe that the destruction that marks the end of Level VII at this site confirms the Hittite conquest. On his return northward, he sacked Urshu and two other unidentified cities upstream from Carchemish, but he avoided the powerful city-state of Halab (modern Aleppo).

In the following year, he marched west into the region known as Arzawa (the Lydia, Lycia, and Pamphylia of Roman times), perhaps aiming for the Aegean Sea, with its vigorous commercial life. During his absence, disturbances occurred on his eastern frontier associated with the Hurrians of Hanigalbat east of the Euphrates. Forced to call off his western campaigning, he spent the next years restoring his prestige in both the heartland and the southeast. Subsequently, he attacked the Hurrian power of Hashshu, which probably lay east of the Euphrates and which may have been involved in raiding Hittite territories several years previously. Hashshu then allied itself with Halab, but it seems that Hattusilis failed to conquer this latter kingdom, the capture of which was to be the achievement of his grandson, Mursilis I. Hattusilis himself may have been mortally wounded in the struggle against Halab.





Earlier, Hattusilis had rebuilt Hattusas, disregarding Anittas’s ancient curse; indeed, his name means “the man from Hattusas.” In his Testament, one of the most personal documents to emanate from the Bronze Age, he relates how he had intended to nominate as his heir an unnamed sister’s son, but after observing this nephew’s behavior, he concluded that he had been badly brought up by his sister. The flaws of character in the nephew caused the old king, to the fury of his sister, to put him aside, nominating instead his grandson Mursilis I (r. 1620-1590 b.c.e.), who proved a worthy successor. Mursilis destroyed the city of Halab, led his victorious forces into Mesopotamia, and in c. 1595 b.c.e. sacked Babylon itself, hitherto the capital of Hammurabi’s First Babylonian Dynasty (1894-1595 b.c.e.). However, on his return to Hattusas, Mursilis was assassinated by a would-be usurper, and the Hittite Old Kingdom experienced half a century of decline before its fortunes revived under Telipinus (r. 1525-1500 b.c.e.).

There is no reason to suppose that the military forces with which Hattusilis laid the foundation of the Old Kingdom differed from those of the Empire period (c. 1400-c. 1200 b.c.e.), as shown in both Hittite and Egyptian bas-reliefs. Spear-carrying infantry, who made up the bulk of the king’s forces, were recruited from the adult male population, stiffened by levies from the vassal kingdoms. The elite shock-troops consisted of chariots with a driver and one (sometimes two) fighting men recruited from the ranks of young aristocratic warriors.

Knowledge of Hattusilis I’s reign is based primarily on three texts. The first, the Annals of Hattusilis (c. 1650-1620 b.c.e.), records a number of campaigns, although probably not all of them, and the chronology remains extremely vague. The annals are written in the first person, with simple syntax and vocabulary in what would become an established annalistic tradition. The second is the Testament of Hattusilis, which describes his arrangements for the succession. Finally, the Edict of Telepinus (c. 1500 b.c.e.), the last effective ruler of the Old Kingdom, acclaims the former glory of Hatti, includes a king list from the time of Labarnas I, and acknowledges the central role of Hattusilis I. All three texts survive in both Hittite and Akkadian.


Between 1600 b.c.e. and 1200 b.c.e., the Hattians created a powerful kingdom in Anatolia and played a conspicuous role in Late Bronze Age history. Hattusilis I was the founder of that kingdom and defined its institutions and strategic frontiers, laying the ground for future imperial greatness. The texts surviving from his reign, moreover, offer unprecedented insight into the life and politics of Bronze Age Anatolia.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bryce, Trevor. The Kingdom of the Hittites. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1998. An exhaustive account of Hittite history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bryce, Trevor. Life and Society in the Hittite Period. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2002. A sequel to the preceding entry, primarily concerned with social and cultural history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bryce, Trevor. The Major Historical Texts of Early Hittite History. St. Lucia, Brisbane: The University of Queensland Press, 1982. Source material for the period of Hattusilis I.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gurney, O. R. “Anatolia, c. 1750-1600 b.c.” In The Middle East and the Aegean Region, c. 1380-1000 b.c. Volume 2, part 1 of The Cambridge Ancient History, edited by I. E. S. Richards, C. J. Gadd, N. G. L. Hammond, and E. Sollberger. 3d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1973. The definitive account in English of the Hittite Old Kingdom, down to the assassination of Mursilis I.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gurney, O. R. The Hittites. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin, 1990. An authoritative overview, emphasizing the archaeological evidence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Macqueen, J. G. The Hittites and Their Contemporaries in Asia Minor. Rev. ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1986. A very useful introduction to Hittite history and culture.

Categories: History Content