Mitanni Kingdom Flourishes in Upper Mesopotamia Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In the Late Bronze Age, the Hurrians established Mitanni, an empire of confederated states in upper Mesopotamia, and enjoyed diplomatic ties with Egypt, providing a glimpse into the complex interchange among states of the period.

Summary of Event

Mitanni was a kingdom in upper Mesopotamia and Syria carved from territories controlled at various times by the Hittites to its north, the Babylonians to its southeast, and Egyptians to its southwest during the sixteenth through fourteenth centuries b.c.e. The kingdom was known to its neighbors by several names including: Hurri, Hanigalbat and, to the Egyptians, Naharina. Paratarna Saustatar I Tushratta Suppiluliumas I

It was sometime during the third millenium b.c.e. that an Indo-European speaking group of people called Hurrians first migrated into northern Mesopotamia and Syria. Their presence in the region became significant by the early centuries of the second millenium b.c.e., as the increasing number of Hurrian names in the archives of Mari, Ebla, Ugarit, and Carchemish attest. Eventually, the Hurrians established their own capital called Washukkanni in a location that has yet to be identified somewhere between the northern reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. From c. 1620 to 1590 b.c.e., Hurrian Mitanni succeeded in maintaining a tenuous independence while the Hittite kings Hattusilis I and his adopted son, Mursilis I, engaged in the conquest of Syria and northern Mesopotamia. However, the Hittite conquest of the region ended suddenly in 1590 b.c.e. when Mursilis was assassinated by a rival while attending to affairs in the Hittite capital, Hattusas. This sudden reversal of fortune allowed Mitanni to step into the political void created by the assassination and to establish its own domination of northern Mesopotamia and Syria.

The Mitannians’ subjugation of states in Syria brought them into direct competition with Egypt for control of the territory. The Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh Thutmose I had previously conducted a campaign in the area and erected a victory stela on the upper reaches of the Euphrates River c. 1500 b.c.e.

However, during the subsequent reign of Queen Hatshepsut (r. c. 1503-1482 b.c.e.), Egyptian interests in Syria waned, allowing Mitanni to expand its domination in Syria by incorporating other states once aligned with the Hittites into its own system of confederated vassal states. The kingdom of Mitanni extended its domination over its Syrian neighbors by establishing treaties with them, subjecting them to vassal status and using their indigenous kings as agents of the king of Mitanni. This was the arrangement contracted, for example, by the Mitannian king Paratarna, who settled a disputed succession in Aleppo by installing Idrimi as its king (an event known from two inscriptions: one on a statue of Idrimi found at Alalah and the other a tablet found at the ancient site of Nuzi near Kirkuk).

Through similar arrangements, the kings of Mitanni expanded their rule over such principal Mesopotamian and Syrian cities as Carchemish and Kadesh. Further, all indications point to a Mitannian overlordship of Assyria between the years of 1500 and 1360 b.c.e. Indeed, there remains a record of an invasion of Assyria by Saustatar I, king in Mitanni, that was launched to put down an Assyrian revolt. Assyria had attempted to support its revolt against its Mitannian overlords by seeking an alliance with Egypt. In response, Saustatar I invaded Assyria and looted Ashur, carrying a door made of silver and gold back to Washukkanni as a prize.

When Thutmose III (r. c. 1504-1450 b.c.e.) resumed Egypt’s campaigns into the Levant, ultimately extending Egyptian domination throughout Palestine, Lebanon, and into Syria, Mitanni engaged in a struggle to retain control over its confederation. Mitannian opposition against Egypt continued until c. 1420 b.c.e. when a diplomatic accord was reached between Artatarma I of Mitanni and Thutmose IV of Egypt (c. r. 1419-1386 b.c.e.), which Artatarma subsequently sealed by sending his daughter, Kilu-Hepa, to be married to the Egyptian pharaoh. As part of that alliance, the two powers established a border that allowed Egypt to retain Kadesh and Ugarit while conceding territories in the north to Mitanni.

xlink:href="Mitanni_Kings.tif"

alt-version="no"

position="float"

xlink:type="simple"/>

Close diplomatic relations with Egypt were maintained until the reign of Tushratta, who contracted yet another marriage between his daughter, Tadu-Hepa, and the wealthy pharaoh, Amenhotep III (r. 1386-1349 b.c.e.). Nevertheless, this latest marriage alliance was not able to secure the kingdom of Mitanni from destructive forces from both within and without. First, Mitanni was weakened by internal disputes over the issue of Tushratta’s succession. Tushratta’s brother, another Artatarma, proclaimed himself “king of Hurri” and attempted to advance his claim to the Mitannian throne by seeking support from the Assyrian king, Ashur-uballit I. Second, the kingdom became prey to a resurgent Hittite empire led by the energetic Hittite king Suppiluliumas I. Despite Mitanni’s excellent ties with the Egyptian pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty, attested by numerous correspondences with Amenhotep III, Queen Tiy, and the enigmatic Akhenaton found among his archives at Amarna, the new Hittite king was equally careful to forge good relations with Egypt in advance of his conquest of Mitanni. Using the occasion of Tushratta’s attack on Nuhasse, a country in Syria aligned with the Hittites, Suppiluliumas swept south of the Taurus Mountains to capture Washukkanni and deprived the Mitannians of all of their holdings except the city of Carchemish. He did so while taking great care to avoid molesting states aligned with Egypt (with the singular exception of Kadesh, which had marched out against Suppiluliumas while he campaigned in Syria). Suppiluliumas commemorated the victory against Mitanni with this statement: “Because of the hostility of Tushratta, the king, I plundered these lands all in a single year, and conveyed them to the Land of Hatti.”

Carchemish also fell to the Hittites under Suppiluliumas in a second campaign conducted c. 1350 b.c.e. Although Tushratta escaped from this defeat as well, he was assassinated in a conspiracy that included his own son, Sattiwaza. Having finally subjugated Mitanni, Suppiluliumas installed his sons as viceroys in the several states that had once been part of Mitanni in order to maintain Hittite control of the region.

Significance

The kingdom of Mitanni was only one of several kingdoms that held portions of Mesopotamia and Syria under its domination during the second millennium b.c.e. Nevertheless, its presence during the sixteenth through fourteenth centuries b.c.e. provides a glimpse into the complex nature of the relationships that were contracted among the (at times) greater powers of Egypt and the Hittites. Indeed, the military and diplomatic interchanges in which Mitanni engaged, attested in numerous inscriptions, reveals how volatile and precarious the fortunes of all the kingdoms in the region were. Further, the discovery of the archives at Amarna, site of the ancient capital of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaton, has yielded numerous letters written between the Mitannian kings and the Egyptian pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty, which provide an intimate glimpse of the ancient Near East in politically turbulent times.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bryce, Trevor. The Kingdom of the Hittites. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. An authoritative treatment of the history of the Hittites, which includes discussions of the many military contests waged between the Hittites and Mitannians.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Moran, William. The Amarna Letters. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992. An excellent collection of the correspondence (in translation) found in the archives of the heretic pharaoh, Akhenaton, at Amarna. Included among the correspondence are letters written between Tushratta and Akhenaton.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Roux, Georges. Ancient Iraq. 3d ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1992. A treatment of the full sweep of history in ancient Mesopotamia, which places the rise and fall of Mitanni in its fuller historical context.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: Ancient World</i>

Akhenaton; Amenhotep III; Thutmose III. Mitanni kingdom

Categories: History Content