; cuneiform Ḫu-ur-ri
𒄷𒌨𒊑) were a people of the Ancient Near East
, who lived in northern Mesopotamia
and areas to the immediate east and west, beginning approximately 2500 BC
. They probably originated in the Caucasus
and entered from the north, but this is not certain. Their known homeland was centred in Subartu
, the Khabur River
valley, and later they established themselves as rulers of small kingdoms throughout northern Mesopotamia and Syria
. The largest and most influential Hurrian nation was the kingdom of Mitanni
The Hurrians played a substantial part in the History of the Hittites.
The Hurrians inhabited most likely all parts of the Ancient Near East
long before the second millennium BC. The area later occupied by Hurrians was the centre of the Chalcolithic Halaf
culture, and Hurrians are thought to have also been the Khirbet Kerak culture of Syro-Palestine. However, in most parts the Hurrians made up only a minority of the population. A Hurrian population majority existed only in the Khabur River
Valley and in the kingdom of Arrapha
. By the first millennium BC the Hurrians had been assimilated with other peoples, except perhaps in the kingdom of Urartu
. It was generally believed that they came from the Armenian Mountains
The Hurrians spoke an ergative
, conventionally called Hurrian
, unrelated to neighboring Semitic
or Indo-European languages
, but clearly related to Urartian
— a language spoken about a millennium later in northeastern Anatolia
— and possibly, very distantly, to the present-day Northeast Caucasian languages
. Some scholars relate the Hurrian language also to Georgian
and its associated South Caucasian
or Kartvelian languages. Similarities to Hurrian words have also been suggested in neighboring languages such as Armenian
. It is believed by some scholars that the Hurrians arrived in the Caucasus around 2700 BC
The Hurrians adopted the Akkadian cuneiform script for their own language about 2000 BC. This has enabled scholars to read the Hurrian language. Because the number of Hurrian texts discovered is small, and because many Sumerian logograms are used, masking the phonetic shapes of the Hurrian words they represent, understanding of the Hurrian language is far from complete and many words are missing from their vocabulary.
Texts in the Hurrian language have been found at Hattusa, Ugarit (Ras Shamra), as well as 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 Hattusas in 1983.
According to medieval Islamic sources, the language spoken by Hurrian tribes that primarily belonged to the Yazdanism sect of religious belief spoke a Proto-Pehlewani language. The Hurrian influence on the modern Kurdish language is still evident in its ergativic grammatical structure and in its toponyms.
Like most aspects of Hurrian society, their origins are still a mystery. By about 2400 BC
, the Hurrians may have expanded from the foothills of the Caucasus
. In the following centuries, Hurrian names occur sporadically in northern Mesopotamia and the area of Kirkuk
in modern Iraq
. Their presence was attested at Nuzi
and other sites. They eventually infiltrated and occupied a broad arc of fertile farmland stretching from the Khabur River
valley to the foothills of the Zagros Mountains
The city state of Urkesh
The Khabur River valley became the heart of the Hurrian lands for a millennium. The first known Hurrian kingdom up to date emerged around the city of Urkesh
during the third millennium BC, modern Tell Mozan. There is evidence that they were allied with the Akkadian Empire
indicating they had a firm hold on the area already during the reign of the Akkadian king Naram-Sin. This region hosts other rich cultures (see Tell Halaf
and Tell Brak
The city state of Urkesh still had some powerful neighbors, however. At some point in the early second millennium BC the Amorite kingdom of Mari to the south subdued Urkesh into a vassal state. In the continuous power struggle over Mesopotamia another Amorite dynasty made themselves masters over Mari in the eighteenth century BC. The capital of this Old Assyrian kingdom called Shubat-Enlil was founded some distance from Urkesh at another Hurrian settlement in the Khabur River valley, modern Tell Leilan.
The kingdom of Yamhad
The Hurrians also migrated west in this period. By 1725 BC
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 BC. Hurrians also settled in the coastal region of Adaniya in the country of Kizzuwatna
. 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.
The emergence of Mitanni
The Hittites continued expanding south after the defeat of Yamhad. The army of the Hittite king Mursili I made its way down 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 around 1500 BC. Mitanni gradually grew from the region around Khabur valley and became the most powerful kingdom of the Near East in c.1450-1350 BC.
The state of Arrapha
Another Hurrian kingdom also benefited from the demise of Babylonian power in sixteenth century BC. Hurrians had inhabited the region northeast of river Tigris
, around the modern Kirkuk
. This was the kingdom of Arrapha
. Excavations at Yorgan Tepe, ancient Nuzi
, proved 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 BC they had become vassals of the Great King of Mitanni. Arrapha itself was destroyed by the Assyrians
in the fourteenth century BC.
The fall of the Hurrians
By the thirteenth century BC 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 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.
The Indo-Aryan connection
The question of Indo-Aryan
cultural influences, or even a ruling aristocracy, among the Hurrians is an ambiguous issue. Early scholars (Belardi, Burrow, Kammenhuber, Lesný) were convinced the Hurrians were dominated by an elite of foreign rulers. These foreigners spoke an Indo-Iranian language
from Central Asia related to Avestan
and even more closely related to Vedic Sanskrit
(for example, the word for "one" in this language was aika
, similar to Sanskrit eka
vs. Avestan aeva
). The presence of an Indo-Aryan people among the Hurrians was put in doubt by Manfred Mayrhofer (1966), and called in question by Gernot Wilhelm (1982).
They introduced the cremation of their dead, and introduced the use of the horse and chariot in the battlefield — a situation that has obvious similarities to the events in northern India at about the same time. While this foreign aristocracy eventually abandoned their language in favor of that of their Hurrian subjects, they retained Indo-Iranian names, they invoked Vedic gods in some of their treaties, and some words from their Indo-Iranian language survived as loanwords in Hurrian, particularly technical terms related to horses and their training (Mayrhofer, 1974).
Particularly the state of Mitanni, itself believed to be an Indo-Aryan word, was connected with the Indo-Aryan culture. Most rulers of Mitanni seem to have had Indo-Aryan names, and the ruling aristocracy was called maryanni, meaning "young warrior" in Sanskrit marya.
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 Hattusas (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 motives. 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 River
Valley had a central position in the metal trade, and copper, silver and even tin were accessible from the Hurrian-dominated countries Kizzuwatna
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 Hurrians were closely associated with horses. They might actually have introduced the horse into the Near East from Central Asia around 2000 BC. 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.1800 BC. A reconstructed hymn is replayed at the Urkesh webpage
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 weathergod.
- Hebat, Hepa; his wife, the mother goddess, regarded as the Sun goddess among the Hittites.
- 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 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 Yah, known as Yam, God of the Sea and River.
Names of Indo-Aryan gods Mitra and Varuna especially, from the Vedic religion have survived in texts and personal names, but it is not known if any cult or temples actually existed.
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 BC. 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 BC. In the second millennium BC we know a number of Hurrian cities, such as Arrapha
– 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 River
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 dam projects in the Euphrates, Tigris and Khabur river. 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.
Connections and origin theories
I. J. Gelb & E. A. Speiser believed Subarians had been the linguistic and ethnic substratum of northern Mesopotamia since earliest times, while Hurrians were merely late arrivals.
Tolstov identified the Hurrians as the founders of Khwarezmia, which he explained as meaning Hurri-Land.
In the past, Bible scholars sometimes identified them as the Biblical Horites, Hivites and Jebusites, though there is little factual basis for such a connection.
Several other ancient peoples of the region, including the Kesedim, Subarians, Gutians, Kassites and Lullubi have all been described at one time or another as Hurrian peoples. Recently, with the discovery of the Tikunani Prism, there has been growing support for the theory that the Habiru, who were for a time believed to be the ancient Hebrews, may have been Hurrian speakers.
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