Did the Hittites have iron weapons?

Gordon Doherty

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I've written this blog article examining the commonly-held belief that, during the Bronze Age, the Hittites were armed with superior iron weapons:
Bronze Age lightsabers: did the Hittites have iron weapons?

I'm coming from a largely layman point of view - I'm certainly not a metallurgist, though I've learned a lot in that field over the last few years. Overall, it seems to me that while the Hittites did appear to be involved in advanced experimentation with ironworking during the Late Bronze Age, they never fully mastered the art (e.g. to the extent that they could furnish their armies with iron weapons).

Anyway, interested to hear what people's opinions are on the matter.

essensword_orig.png

A Hittite sword housed at the Essen Museum. A rare specimen for it is fashioned with a bronze handle... and an iron blade!
 

BAYLOR

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Yes , they did and it enable them to challenge Egypt.
 

Parson

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I agree the Hittites had iron weapons. Or at least that's what we were taught in Biblical history. And what the Bible Commentaries I've read all assume.
 

Gordon Doherty

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Yes , they did and it enable them to challenge Egypt.
What evidence are you basing this on, @BAYLOR ?

I agree the Hittites had iron weapons. Or at least that's what we were taught in Biblical history. And what the Bible Commentaries I've read all assume.
In the biblical era (early iron age) the neo-Hittites and most other states would have had iron weapons. However, my post and blog article concerns the much earlier and much greater Hittite Empire of the Late Bronze Age (circa 1300 BC, several centuries before the biblical epoch) when the secrets of ironworking were only just beginning to emerge.
 

Venusian Broon

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Hi Gordon,

I am assuming you are talking about the 'first' Hittite empire. (It is also my understanding that the Hittites mentioned in the Bible are probably not the Hittites of the archeological record - but the name was appropriated from the Bible to name this mysterious new people that was discovered in the 1900s.)

Anyway, I agree in general with the jist of your blog - meteorite iron had been worked since at least 5000 years ago, hence very rare. And that getting hold of Earth iron would have involved a leap forward in furnace technology.

The points I'd like to make do point to the important of bronze for weapons. I believe we have discovered 'treasure pits' of copper where Hittite soldiers, during the time of the Bronze age collapse (so ~1200BCE?), had been sent to Cyprus with a mission that looks like was to ensure supplies of copper - perhaps (very likely!) because trade networks had broken down. Copper, I believe, was not a luxury commodity at the time, like lapis, gold, silver etc... but more for practical bronze implements like weapons. So these soliders/traders likely had to leave in a hurry, thus buried their copper so that they could return and pick it up later.

Also bronze weapons, in some senses, are superior to iron weapons. The metal is generally harder and being a more established technology would probably have cut through the first iron weapons. On the downside bronze weapons are harder to repair.

But I think the main reason Iron eventually took over was really down to economics. Iron ore is plentiful. When the secrets of getting iron out of it was cracked iron weapons could be produced in vast quantities. Tin is relatively rare and very few peoples had a source within their own territory. Even if bronze weapons had an edge at first (gettit!) I think they would slowly be phased out, becoming 'elite' weapons, until better iron-working techniques making higher quality iron alloys and iron's ability to be repaired removed this advantage.

Of course bronze would still be sought after for weapons in the future. Bronze doesn't corrode like iron, so it perfect for cannons.
 

BAYLOR

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What evidence are you basing this on, @BAYLOR ?


In the biblical era (early iron age) the neo-Hittites and most other states would have had iron weapons. However, my post and blog article concerns the much earlier and much greater Hittite Empire of the Late Bronze Age (circa 1300 BC, several centuries before the biblical epoch) when the secrets of ironworking were only just beginning to emerge.

The Hittites and Ancient Anatolia Khan Academy. You might find this to be of interest.
 

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(circa 1300 BC, several centuries before the biblical epoch)
Of course this depends on how you date the exodus. Those who go for an earlier more traditional date of circa1450 BC, put the Biblical record within sight of the circa 1300 BC date of the late bronze age. That date would certainly be close enough to be potential source material.
 

Gordon Doherty

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Of course this depends on how you date the exodus. Those who go for an earlier more traditional date of circa1450 BC, put the Biblical record within sight of the circa 1300 BC date of the late bronze age. That date would certainly be close enough to be potential source material.
Ah, yes, In my thinking I am assuming the exodus occured during Ramesses II's reign (13th c B.C.)
So the earlier dating (which I must confess I'm not familiar with) would probably mean the Hittites of the Bible were actually empire era Hittites - with the viceroyalties at Carchemish and Aleppo and the vassal states of Amurru and Kadesh lying north of Canaanite lands? Interesting. My gut is trying to debunk that theory, but failing to! Will be a fun bit of research to look into it further :)
 

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Of course this depends on how you date the exodus. Those who go for an earlier more traditional date of circa1450 BC, put the Biblical record within sight of the circa 1300 BC date of the late bronze age. That date would certainly be close enough to be potential source material.

I think the earlier date for the Exodus is not the traditional one, but a contested one put forward by David Rohl and his New Chronology. By dating the Exodus to the Middle Bronze Age he claims it fits with such events as the fall of Jericho, a rich Israelite kingdom of the late Bronze Age which the archeology backs up. In the traditional dating for the Exodus ie late Bronze Age there is no evidence of a rich Israelite kingdom of the Early Iron Age and Jericho destroyed by 1300BC. It is an intriguing and much debated subject.
 

Gordon Doherty

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I think the earlier date for the Exodus is not the traditional one, but a contested one put forward by David Rohl and his New Chronology. By dating the Exodus to the Middle Bronze Age he claims it fits with such events as the fall of Jericho, a rich Israelite kingdom of the late Bronze Age which the archeology backs up. In the traditional dating for the Exodus ie late Bronze Age there is no evidence of a rich Israelite kingdom of the Early Iron Age and Jericho destroyed by 1300BC. It is an intriguing and much debated subject.
Ah, Rohl's theory? Yes, I am familiar with that (including the Semites = the Sumerians part of it). I did find his book (Legend?) compelling in many parts. I wonder, could escaping slavery in Egypt have been confused with breaking vassalage between Canaan and their Bronze Age Egyptian masters? Dunno, but it is very thought provoking as you say.
 

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I like that hypothesis about Canaan breaking from the Egyptians. Also if I recall a Semite tribe was partly responsible for the ultimate fall of the Sumerians. One of their last kings built a wall between the Euphrates and Tigris to keep them out. But like all such walls it failed in it's task. Maybe this is where Rohl is drawing his theory about Semites =Sumerians from. It is many years since I read him do my memory is hazy. I did find his dating for David and Solomon's Kingdom quite compelling though.

What are thoughts Wilusa= Troy and Hittite influence there and a possible involvement in the fall of that city. I am referring again to a hazy memory of about letters written to/about rulers of that city whose names bare a semblance to Priam and Alexandria(Paris).
 

Gordon Doherty

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I like that hypothesis about Canaan breaking from the Egyptians. Also if I recall a Semite tribe was partly responsible for the ultimate fall of the Sumerians. One of their last kings built a wall between the Euphrates and Tigris to keep them out. But like all such walls it failed in it's task. Maybe this is where Rohl is drawing his theory about Semites =Sumerians from. It is many years since I read him do my memory is hazy. I did find his dating for David and Solomon's Kingdom quite compelling though.

What are thoughts Wilusa= Troy and Hittite influence there and a possible involvement in the fall of that city. I am referring again to a hazy memory of about letters written to/about rulers of that city whose names bare a semblance to Priam and Alexandria(Paris).
Wilusa/Troy and the Hittites?
:censored:I'm desperate to mention my new book (out next week) which strikes right on that subject, but I know @Brian G Turner will give me a telling off if I do ;)
In essence though, I'm utterly convinced that the Hittite vassal land of Wilusa = Homer's Ilios, and the main city of Wilusa named Tariusa = Homer's Troy. The letters you refer to leave no doubt that Troy was a medium sized vassal on the western limits of Hittite lands, and that there was at least one war between the Greeks/Achaeans (or Ahhiyawans as the Hittites knew them) and Troy during the Late Bronze Age - effectively a Greek-Hittite war.

This raises the obvious question: if Troy was under the protection of the mighty Hittite Empire, then where were the Hittites and their mighty armies during the Trojan War? They could have brought as many as twenty thousand soldiers to Troy's aid and surely steamrollered the Greeks. Yet there isn't one mention of them in the Epic Cycle books. Some argue that the HE had fallen by the time of the Trojan War, but this sits awkwardly with the archaeological indications that the Greek kingdoms of Mycenae etc had fallen before or at the same time as the HE.

Anyway, I'm having kittens trying not to say too much more about my own theory :censored::LOL:
 
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svalbard

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I look forward to the book Gordon.

Is it the Milawatta Letter? The name has just come to mind.
 

Venusian Broon

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Wilusa/Troy and the Hittites?
:censored:I'm desperate to mention my new book (out next week) which strikes right on that subject, but I know @Brian G Turner will give me a telling off if I do ;)
In essence though, I'm utterly convinced that the Hittite vassal land of Wilusa = Homer's Ilios, and the main city of Wilusa named Tariusa = Homer's Troy. The letters you refer to leave no doubt that Troy was a medium sized vassal on the western limits of Hittite lands, and that there was at least one war between the Greeks/Achaeans (or Ahhiyawans as the Hittites knew them) and Troy during the Late Bronze Age - effectively a Greek-Hittite war.

This raises the obvious question: if Troy was under the protection of the mighty Hittite Empire, then where were the Hittites and their mighty armies during the Trojan War? They could have brought as many as twenty thousand soldiers to Troy's aid and surely steamrollered the Greeks. Yet there isn't one mention of them in the Epic Cycle books. Some argue that the HE had fallen by the time of the Trojan War, but this sits awkwardly with the archaeological indications that the Greek kingdoms of Mycenae etc had fallen before or at the same time as the HE.

Anyway, I'm having kittens trying not to say too much more about my own theory :censored::LOL:

First of all, good luck on your book! It's a fascinating period of history. Mmmmm, I forget the rules on self-promotion on this site, but if you want to PM me on info the book, I shan't complain. ;)

Anyway....


...I guess, :), you are not going to change your opinion (given your book is written!)... but I'm just going to chew the fat here.

Based on the evidence that I know, was Troy that integrated into the Hittite empire? Or was it an autonomous state with a strong royal dynasty, allied to the Hittites that prospered pre-Bronze age collapse? And essentially the Hittite empire was way to the east and couldn't rush troops up (even if they heard in time what was happening?).

I say rush. Of course the mythology is that the siege took ten years. Yes, some ancient seiges took extraordinary long periods of time, but perhaps that's poetic licence?
 

svalbard

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First of all, good luck on your book! It's a fascinating period of history. Mmmmm, I forget the rules on self-promotion on this site, but if you want to PM me on info the book, I shan't complain. ;)

Anyway....


...I guess, :), you are not going to change your opinion (given your book is written!)... but I'm just going to chew the fat here.

Based on the evidence that I know, was Troy that integrated into the Hittite empire? Or was it an autonomous state with a strong royal dynasty, allied to the Hittites that prospered pre-Bronze age collapse? And essentially the Hittite empire was way to the east and couldn't rush troops up (even if they heard in time what was happening?).

I say rush. Of course the mythology is that the siege took ten years. Yes, some ancient seiges took extraordinary long periods of time, but perhaps that's poetic licence?

I was always of the opinion, and it is a layman's one, is that the fall of Troy could be interpreted as part of the collapse of the Bronze Age and feel that it's destruction was part of the Sea-People's depredations on that area. Or in part it could be a consequence of pressure from the Sea People's on other areas.

PS I do not mind if want to PM me with info on your new book. I will get it anyway but a taste would be nice.
 

Venusian Broon

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I was always of the opinion, and it is a layman's one, is that the fall of Troy could be interpreted as part of the collapse of the Bronze Age and feel that it's destruction was part of the Sea-People's depredations on that area. Or in part it could be a consequence of pressure from the Sea People's on other areas.

Have you seen Micheal Wood's TV series on Troy? "In Search of the Trojan War" - first broadcast in 1985. (It's on Youtube if you haven't!) It has a lot of answers....and questions :) . I'm not involved in the area of mythology/archaeology, other than being an interested layman, so I don't know if it still holds up.

Anyhow given the above, I do think the Iliad is a long memory of event around the time before the chaos of the bronze age collapse, a sort of 'golden age'.
 

Parson

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hose who go for an earlier more traditional date of circa1450 BC, put the Biblical record within sight of the circa 1300 BC date of the late bronze age. That date would certainly be close enough to be potential source material.
I think the earlier date for the Exodus is not the traditional one, but a contested one put forward by David Rohl and his New Chronology.

I was taught the earlier date before David Rohl published by more than a decade, so my education had no relation to that. It is the traditional date if you rely strongly on the Biblical witness. A key verse is 1 Kings 6:1.

1King 6:1 And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth
year after the children of Israel had come out of the
land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign
over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second
month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.


(If Solomon is historical, the archeological evidence is not overwhelming) Solomon's rule is thought to begin about 960 BC so the Exodus story is thought to look back to roughly 1450 BC. It wasn't until the last century or two that anyone seriously doubted this chronology so the more ancient dating has to be considered the "traditional" chronology.

If it is historically correct or the writing has any connection to those early dates is a completely other debate. I was raised in conservative Christian theology and so am a bit prejudiced toward the earlier and more Biblical dating schemes. The title of David Rohl's "New Chronology" assumes that the critical consensus is that the "traditional" dating is staggeringly unbelievable and he wants to challenge the critical consensus of the 19th and 20th centuries.
 

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