The Hurrians (cuneiform: 𒄷𒌨𒊑; transliteration: Ḫu-ur-ri) were a people of the Bronze Age Near East. They spoke a Hurro-Urartian language called Hurrian, and lived in Anatolia and Northern Mesopotamia. The largest and most influential Hurrian nation was the multi-ethnic kingdom of Mitanni, the Mitanni being perhaps an Indo-European-speaking people who formed a ruling class over the Hurrians. The population of the Indo-European-speaking Hittite Empire in Anatolia included a large population of Hurrians, and there is significant Hurrian influence in Hittite mythology. By the Early Iron Age, the Hurrians had been assimilated with other peoples, except perhaps in the kingdom of Urartu. According to a hypothesis by I.M. Diakonoff and S. Starostin, the Hurrian and Urartian languages are related to the Northeast Caucasian languages.
- 1 Language
- 2 History
- 3 Culture and society
- 4 Archaeology
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 External links
The Iron Age Urartian language is closely related to or a direct descendant of Hurrian. Several notable Russian linguists, such as S. A. Starostin and V. V. Ivanov, have claimed that Hurrian and Hattic were related to the Northeast Caucasian languages.
From the 21st century BC to the late 18th century BC, Assyria controlled colonies in Anatolia, and the Hurrians, like the Hattians, adopted the Assyrian Akkadian cuneiform script for their own language about 2000 BCE. Texts in the Hurrian language in cuneiform have been found at Hattusa, Ugarit (Ras Shamra), as well as in one of the longest of the Amarna letters, written by King Tushratta of Mitanni to Pharaoh Amenhotep III. It was the only long Hurrian text known until a multi-tablet collection of literature in Hurrian with a Hittite translation was discovered at Hattusa in 1983.
Middle Bronze Age
Hurrian names occur sporadically in northwestern Mesopotamia and the area of Kirkuk in modern Iraq by the Middle Bronze Age. Their presence was attested at Nuzi, Urkesh and other sites. They eventually infiltrated and occupied a broad arc of fertile farmland stretching from the Khabur River valley in the west to the foothills of the Zagros Mountains in the east. I. J. Gelb and E. A. Speiser believed Semitic Subarians had been the linguistic and ethnic substratum of northern Mesopotamia since earliest times, while Hurrians were merely late arrivals.
The Khabur River valley became the heart of the Hurrian lands for a millennium. The first known Hurrian kingdom emerged around the city of Urkesh (modern Tell Mozan) during the third millennium BCE. There is evidence that they were allied with the Akkadian Empire, indicating they had a firm hold on the area by the reign of Naram-Sin of Akkad (ca. 2254–2218 BCE). This region hosted other rich cultures (see Tell Halaf and Tell Brak). The city-state of Urkesh had some powerful neighbors. At some point in the early second millennium BCE, the Amorite kingdom of Mari to the south subdued Urkesh and made it a vassal state. In the continuous power struggles over Mesopotamia, another Amorite dynasty made themselves masters over Mari in the eighteenth century BCE. Shubat-Enlil (modern Tell Leilan), the capital of this Old Assyrian kingdom, was founded some distance from Urkesh at another Hurrian settlement in the Khabur River valley.
The Hurrians also migrated further west in this period. By 1725 BCE they are found also in parts of northern Syria, such as Alalakh. The Amoritic-Hurrian kingdom of Yamhad is recorded as struggling for this area with the early Hittite king Hattusilis I around 1600 BCE. Hurrians also settled in the coastal region of Adaniya in the country of Kizzuwatna, southern Anatolia. Yamhad eventually weakened to the powerful Hittites, but this also opened Anatolia for Hurrian cultural influences. The Hittites were influenced by the Hurrian culture over the course of several centuries.
Late Bronze Age
The Hittites continued expanding south after the defeat of Yamhad. The army of the Hittite king Mursili I made its way to Babylon and sacked the city. The destruction of the Babylonian kingdom, as well as the kingdom of Yamhad, helped the rise of another Hurrian dynasty. The first ruler was a legendary king called Kirta who founded the kingdom of Mitanni (known also as Hanigalbat/Ḫanigalbat, and to the Egyptians as nhrn) around 1500 BCE. Mitanni gradually grew from the region around the Khabur valley and was the most powerful kingdom of the Near East in c. 1450–1350 BCE.
Some theonyms, proper names and other terminology of the Mitanni exhibit an Indo-Aryan superstrate, suggesting that an Indo-Aryan elite imposed itself over the Hurrian population in the course of the Indo-Aryan expansion. (See Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni)
Another Hurrian kingdom also benefited from the demise of Babylonian power in the sixteenth century BCE. Hurrians had inhabited the region northeast of the river Tigris, around the modern Kirkuk. This was the kingdom of Arrapha. Excavations at Yorgan Tepe, ancient Nuzi, proved this to be one of the most important sites for our knowledge about the Hurrians. Hurrian kings such as Ithi-Teshup and Ithiya ruled over Arrapha, yet by the mid-fifteenth century BCE they had become vassals of the Great King of Mitanni. Arrapha itself was destroyed by the Assyrians in the fourteenth century BCE.
Bronze Age collapse
By the thirteenth century BCE all of the Hurrian states had been vanquished by other peoples. The heart of the Hurrian lands, the Khabur river valley, became an Assyrian province. It is not clear what happened to the Hurrian people at the end of the Bronze Age. Some scholars have suggested that Hurrians lived on in the country of Subartu north of Assyria during the early Iron Age. The Hurrian population of Syria in the following centuries seems to have given up their language in favor of the Assyrian dialect of Akkadian or, more likely, Aramaic. This was around the same time that an aristocracy speaking Urartian, similar to old Hurrian, seems to have first imposed itself on the population around Lake Van, and formed the Kingdom of Urartu.
Culture and society
Knowledge of Hurrian culture relies on archaeological excavations at sites such as Nuzi and Alalakh as well as on cuneiform tablets, primarily from Hattusa (Boghazköy), the capital of the Hittites, whose civilization was greatly influenced by the Hurrians. Tablets from Nuzi, Alalakh, and other cities with Hurrian populations (as shown by personal names) reveal Hurrian cultural features even though they were written in Akkadian. Hurrian cylinder seals were carefully carved and often portrayed mythological motifs. They are a key to the understanding of Hurrian culture and history.
The Hurrians were masterful ceramists. Their pottery is commonly found in Mesopotamia and in the lands west of the Euphrates; it was highly valued in distant Egypt, by the time of the New Kingdom. Archaeologists use the terms Khabur ware and Nuzi ware for two types of wheel-made pottery used by the Hurrians. Khabur ware is characterized by reddish painted lines with a geometric triangular pattern and dots, while Nuzi ware has very distinctive forms, and are painted in brown or black.
The Hurrians had a reputation in metallurgy. The Sumerians borrowed their copper terminology from the Hurrian vocabulary. Copper was traded south to Mesopotamia from the highlands of Anatolia. The Khabur Valley had a central position in the metal trade, and copper, silver and even tin were accessible from the Hurrian-dominated countries Kizzuwatna and Ishuwa situated in the Anatolian highland. Gold was in short supply, and the Amarna letters inform us that it was acquired from Egypt. Not many examples of Hurrian metal work have survived, except from the later Urartu. Some small fine bronze lion figurines were discovered at Urkesh.
The Mitanni were closely associated with horses. The name of the country of Ishuwa, which might have had a substantial Hurrian population, meant “horse-land”. A famous text discovered at Hattusa deals with the training of horses. The man who was responsible for the horse-training was a Hurrian called Kikkuli. The terminology used in connection with horses contains many Indo-Aryan loan-words (Mayrhofer, 1974).
Among the Hurrian texts from Ugarit are the oldest known instances of written music, dating from c. 1400 BCE. Amongst these fragments are found the names of four Hurrian composers, Tapšiẖuni, Puẖiya(na), Urẖiya, and Ammiya.
The Hurrian culture made a great impact on the religion of the Hittites. From the Hurrian cult centre at Kummanni in Kizzuwatna Hurrian religion spread to the Hittite people. Syncretism merged the Old Hittite and Hurrian religions. Hurrian religion spread to Syria, where Baal became the counterpart of Teshub. The later kingdom of Urartu also venerated gods of Hurrian origin. The Hurrian religion, in different forms, influenced the entire ancient Near East, except ancient Egypt and southern Mesopotamia.
The main gods in the Hurrian pantheon were:
- Teshub, Teshup; the mighty weather god.
- Hebat, Hepa; his wife, the mother goddess, regarded as the Sun goddess among the Hittites. Drawn from the Sumerian goddess Kubau, known as Hawwah, the biblical חוה, also known as Eve amongst the Aramaeans and some others.
- Sharruma, or Sarruma, Šarruma; their son.
- Kumarbi; the ancient father of Teshub; his home as described in mythology is the city of Urkesh.
- Shaushka, or Shawushka, Šauska; was the Hurrian counterpart of Assyrian Ishtar, and a goddess of fertility, war and healing.
- Shimegi, Šimegi; the sun god.
- Kushuh, Kušuh; the moon god. Symbols of the sun and the crescent moon appear joined together in the Hurrian iconography.
- Nergal; a Babylonian deity of the netherworld, whose Hurrian name is unknown.
- Ea; was also Babylonian in origin, and may have influenced Canaanite El, and also ים Yam, God of the Sea and River.
Hurrian cylinder seals often depict mythological creatures such as winged humans or animals, dragons and other monsters. The interpretation of these depictions of gods and demons is uncertain. They may have been both protective and evil spirits. Some is reminiscent of the Assyrian shedu.
The Hurrian gods do not appear to have had particular "home temples", like in the Mesopotamian religion or Ancient Egyptian religion. Some important cult centres were Kummanni in Kizzuwatna, and Hittite Yazilikaya. Harran was at least later a religious centre for the moon god, and Shauskha had an important temple in Nineve, when the city was under Hurrian rule. A temple of Nergal was built in Urkesh in the late third millennium BCE. The town of Kahat was a religious centre in the kingdom of Mitanni.
The Hurrian myth “The Songs of Ullikummi”, preserved among the Hittites, is a parallel to Hesiod's Theogony; the castration of Uranus by Cronus may be derived from the castration of Anu by Kumarbi, while Zeus's overthrow of Cronus and Cronus's regurgitation of the swallowed gods is like the Hurrian myth of Teshub and Kumarbi. It has been argued that the worship of Attis drew on Hurrian myth. The Phrygian goddess Cybele would then be the counterpart of the Hurrian goddess Hebat.
The Hurrian urban culture was not represented by a large number of cities. Urkesh was the only Hurrian city in the third millennium BCE. In the second millennium BCE we know a number of Hurrian cities, such as Arrapha, Harran, Kahat, Nuzi, Taidu and Washukanni – the capital of Mitanni. Although the site of Washukanni, alleged to be at Tell Fakhariya, is not known for certain, no tell (city mound) in the Khabur Valley much exceeds the size of 1 square kilometer (250 acres), and the majority of sites are much smaller. The Hurrian urban culture appears to have been quite different from the centralized state administrations of Assyria and ancient Egypt. An explanation could be that the feudal organization of the Hurrian kingdoms did not allow large palace or temple estates to develop.
Hurrian settlements are distributed over three modern countries, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The heart of the Hurrian world is dissected by the modern border between Syria and Turkey. Several sites are situated within the border zone, making access for excavations problematic. A threat to the ancient sites are the many dam projects in the Euphrates, Tigris and Khabur valleys. Several rescue operations have already been undertaken when the construction of dams put entire river valleys under water.
The first major excavations of Hurrian sites in Iraq and Syria began in the 1920s and 1930s. They were led by the American archaeologist Edward Chiera at Yorghan Tepe (Nuzi), and the British archaeologist Max Mallowan at Chagar Bazar and Tell Brak. Recent excavations and surveys in progress are conducted by American, Belgian, Danish, Dutch, French, German and Italian teams of archaeologists, with international participants, in cooperation with the Syrian Department of Antiquities. The tells, or city mounds, often reveal a long occupation beginning in the Neolithic and ending in the Roman period or later. The characteristic Hurrian pottery, the Khabur ware, is helpful in determining the different strata of occupation within the mounds. The Hurrian settlements are usually identified from the Middle Bronze Age to the end of the Late Bronze Age, with Tell Mozan (Urkesh) being the main exception.
The list includes some important ancient sites from the area dominated by the Hurrians. Excavation reports and images are found at the websites linked. As noted above, important discoveries of Hurrian culture and history were also made at Alalakh, Amarna, Hattusa and Ugarit.
- Tell Mozan (ancient Urkesh)
- Yorghan Tepe (ancient Nuzi)
- Tell Brak (ancient Nagar)
- Tell Leilan (ancient Shehna and Shubat-Enlil)
- Tell Barri (ancient Kahat)
- Tell Beydar (ancient Nabada)
- Kenan Tepe
- Tell Tuneinir
- Umm el-Marra (ancient Tuba?)
- Tell Chuera
- Hammam al Turkman (ancient Zalpa?)
- Tell Sabi Abyad
- Chagar Bazar
- Tell el Fakhariya / Ras el Ayn (ancient Washukanni?)
- Tell Hamidiya (ancient Taidu?)
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- Gelb, Ignace J.(1963), "The History of Writing" (University of Chicago Press)
- Manfred Mayrhofer, 'Welches Material aus dem Indo-arischen von Mitanni verbleibt für eine selektive Darstellung?' In: E. Neu (Hrsh.), Investigationes philologicae et comparativae: Gedenkschrift für Heinz Kronasser (Wiesbaden, O. Harrassowitz 1982), 72-90. Paul Thieme, The 'Aryan Gods' of the Mitanni Treaties, Journal of the American Oriental Society 80, 301-317 (1960).
- A reconstruction by Marcelle Duchesne-Guillemin of the only substantially complete hymn may be heard at the Urkesh webpage, though this is only one of at least five "rival decipherments of the notation, each yielding entirely different results". West 1994, 161. In addition to West and Duchesne-Guillemin (1975, 1977, 1980, & 1984), competitors include Anne Draffkorn Kilmer (1965, 1971, 1974, 1976, & 1984), David Wulstan (1968), and Raoul Vitale (1982).
- West 1994, 171.
- Güterbock, Hans Gustav: "Hittite Religion"; in Forgotten Religions: Including Some Living Primitive Religions (ed. Vergilius Ferm) (NY, Philosophical Library, 1950), pp. 88–89, 103–104
- Suggested by Jane Lightfoot in the Times Literary Supplement 22 July 2005 p 27, in her account of Philippe Borgeaud, Mother of the Gods: from Cybele to the Virgin Mary, Johns Hopkins 2005 ISBN 0-8018-7985-X.
- Urkesh an overview
- The Semitic Museum: Nuzi and the Hurrians
- Tell Brak Learning Sites
- Yale Tell Leilan Project
- Missione Italiana archaeologica a Tell Barri
- ESE Tell Beydar
- Upper Tigris Archaeological Research Project
- Tell Tuneinir St. Louis Archaeological Expeditions
- The Johns Hopkins/University of Amsterdam Joint Expedition to Tell Umm el-Marra
- Grabung Tell Chuera
- Excavation Hammam al Turkman, Leiden University
- Dutch Excavation at Tell Sabi Abyad
- The Hamoukar Expedition University of Chicago
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- Diakonov, Igor M., and Sergei Starostin. Hurro-Urartian as an Eastern Caucasian Language. Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft. Munich: R. Kitzinger, 1986. ISBN 3-920645-39-1
- Duchesne-Guillemin, Marcelle. A Hurrian Musical Score from Ugarit: The Discovery of Mesopotamian Music. Sources from the ancient near east, vol. 2, fasc. 2. Malibu, CA: Undena Publications, 1984. ISBN 0-89003-158-4
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- Kilmer, Anne Draffkorn. "The Discovery of an Ancient Mesopotamian Theory of Music". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association 115, no. 2 (April 1971): 131–49.
- Kilmer, Anne Draffkorn. "The Cult Song with Music from Ancient Ugarit: Another Interpretation". Revue d'Assyriologie 68 (1974): 69–82.
- Kilmer, Anne Draffkorn, Richard L. Crocker, and Robert R. Brown. Sounds from Silence: Recent Discoveries in Ancient Near Eastern Music. Berkeley: Bit Enki Publications, 1976. (booklet and LP record, Bit Enki Records BTNK 101, reissued [s.d.] with CD).
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- Movsisyan, Artak Erjaniki. The Sacred Highlands: Armenia in the Spiritual Geography of the Ancient Near East. Yerevan: Yerevan University Publishers, 2004. ISBN 5-8084-0586-6
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- Vitale, Raoul. "La Musique suméro-accadienne: gamme et notation musicale". Ugarit-Forschungen 14 (1982): 241–63.
- Wilhelm, Gernot. The Hurrians. Aris & Philips Warminster, 1989.
- Wilhelm, Gernot (ed.). Nuzi at seventy-five (Studies in the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi and the Hurrians). Bethesda: Capital Decisions, Ltd., 1999.
- Wegner, Ilse. Einführung in die hurritische Sprache, 2. überarbeitete Aufl. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2007. ISBN 3-447-05394-1
- West, M[artin] L[itchfield]. "The Babylonian Musical Notation and the Hurrian Melodic Texts". Music and Letters 75, no. 2 (May 1994): 161–79.
- Wulstan, David. "The Tuning of the Babylonian Harp", Iraq 30 (1968): 215–28.
- Vyacheslav V. Ivanov, "Comparative Notes on Hurro-Urartian, Indo-European, and Northern Caucasian" discusses the difficulties and disagreements faced by linguists working in this area, the term Alarodian being created especially for the Hurro-Urartian-Nakh-Avar languages as a family.
- The Indo-European Elements in Hurrian
- A bibliography on Hurrian
- A bibliography on Urartian
- The Rise of the Hurrians (full text by Robert Antonio)
- The Hurrians and the Ancient Near East History (full text by Jeremiah Genest)
- Vahan Kurkjian, "History of Armenia", Michigan, 1968, "The Hurri-Mitanni kingdom of Armenia"