The kingdom of Mitanni was a feudal state led by a warrior nobility of Aryan (Indo-Iranian) or Hurrian origin., who entered the Levant region at some point during the 17th century BC, their influence apparent in a linguistic superstrate in Mitanni records. The spread to Syria of a distinct pottery type associated with the Kura-Araxes culture has been connected with this movement, although its date is somewhat too early.
Hittite annals mention a people called Hurri located in north-eastern Syria. A Hittite fragment, probably from the time of Mursili I, mentions a "King of the Hurri," or "Hurrians." The Assyro-Akkadian version of the text renders "Hurri" as Hanigalbat. Tushratta, who styles himself "king of Mitanni" in his Akkadian Amarna letters, refers to his kingdom as Hanigalbat.
Egyptian sources call Mitanni "nhrn," which is usually pronounced as Naharin/Naharina from the Akkadian word for "river", cf. Aram-Naharaim. The name Mitanni is first found in the "memoirs" of the Syrian wars (ca. 1480 BC) of the official astronomer and clockmaker Amememhet, who returned from the "foreign country called Me-ta-ni" at the time of Tutmose I. The expedition to the Naharina announced by Tutmose I at the beginning of his reign may have actually taken place during the long previous reign of Amenhotep I Helck believes that this was the expedition mentioned by Amememhet.
The ethnicity of the people of Mitanni is difficult to ascertain. A treatise on the training of chariot horses contains a number of Indo-Aryan glosses. Kammenhuber (1968) suggested that this vocabulary was derived from the still undivided Indo-Iranian language, but Mayrhofer (1974) has shown that specifically Indo-Aryan features are present.
The names of the Mitanni aristocracy frequently are of Indo-Aryan origin, but it is specifically their deities which show Indo-Aryan roots (Mitra, Varuna, Indra, Nasatya), though some think that they are probably more immediately related to the Kassites. The common peoples' language, the Hurrian language is neither Indo-European nor Semitic. Hurrian, and thus the Hurrians, are relatives of Urartu, both belonging to the North Caucasian language family. It had been held that nothing more can be deduced from current evidence. A Hurrian passage in the Amarna letters - usually composed in Akkadian, the lingua franca of the day - indicates that the royal family of Mitanni was by then speaking Hurrian as well.
Bearers of names in the Hurrian language are attested in wide areas of Syria and the northern Levant that are clearly outside the area of the political entity known to Assyria as Hanilgalbat. There is no indication that these persons owed allegiance to the political entity of Mitanni; although the German term Auslandshurriter ("Hurrian expatriates") has been used by some authors. In the 14th century BC numerous city-states in northern Syria and Canaan were ruled by persons with Hurrian and some Indo-Aryan names. If this can be taken to mean that the population of these states was Hurrian as well, then it is possible that these entities were a part of a larger polity with a shared Hurrian identity. This is often assumed, but without a critical examination of the sources. Differences in dialect and regionally different pantheons (Hepat/Shawushka, Sharruma/Tilla etc.) point to the existence of several groups of Hurrian speakers.
No native sources for the history of Mitanni (i.e. Hanilgalbat) have been found so far. The account is mainly based on Assyrian, Hittite and Egyptian sources, as well as inscriptions from nearby places in Syria. Often it is not even possible to establish synchronicity between the rulers of different countries and cities, let alone give uncontested absolute dates. The definition and history of Mitanni is further beset by a lack of differentiation between linguistic, ethnic and political groups.
It is believed that the warring Hurrian tribes and city states became united under one dynasty after the collapse of Babylon due to the Hittite sack by Mursili I and the Kassite invasion. The Hittite conquest of Aleppo (Yamhad), the weak middle Assyrian kings, and the internal strifes of the Hittites had created a power vacuum in upper Mesopotamia. This led to the formation of the kingdom of Mitanni.
King Barattarna of Mitanni expanded the kingdom west to Halab (Aleppo) and made Idrimi of Alalakh his vassal. The state of Kizzuwatna in the west also shifted its allegiance to Mitanni and Arrapha and Assyria in the east had become Mitannian vassal states by the mid 15th century BC. The nation grew stronger during the reign of Shaushtatar but the Hurrians were keen to keep the Hittites inside the Anatolian highland. Kizzuwatna in the west and Ishuwa in the north were important allies against the hostile Hittites.
After a few clashes with the Pharaohs over the control of Syria Mitanni sought peace with Egypt and an alliance was formed. During the reign of Shuttarna in the early 14th century BC the relationship was very amicable, and he sent his daughter Gilu-Hepa to Egypt for a marriage with Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Mitanni was now at its peak of power.
At the death of Shuttarna, Mitanni was ravaged by a war of succession. Eventually Tushratta, a son of Shuttarna, ascended the throne, but the kingdom had been Mitanni weakened considerably and both the Hittite and Assyrian threats increased. At the same time, the diplomatic relationship with Egypt went cold. The Hittite king Suppiluliuma I invaded the Mitanni vassal states in northern Syria and replaced them with loyal subjects.
In the capital Washukanni a new power struggle broke out. The Hittites and the Assyrians supported different pretenders to the throne. Finally a Hittite army conquered the capital Washukkanni and installed Shattiwaza, the son of Tushratta, as their vassal king of Mitanni in the late 14th century BC. The kingdom had by now been reduced to the Khabur river valley. The Assyrians had not given up their claim on Mitanni, and Shalmaneser I in the 13th century BC annexed the kingdom.
As early as Akkadian times, Hurrians (Nairi) are known to have lived east of the river Tigris on the northern rim of Mesopotamia, and in the Khabur valley. The group which became Mitanni gradually moved south into Mesopotami sometime before the 17th century BC.
Hurrians are mentioned in the private Nuzi texts, in Ugarit, and the Hittite archives in Hattushsha (Boğazköy). Cuneiform texts from Mari mention rulers of city-states in upper Mesopotamia with both Amurru (Amorite) and Hurrian names. Rulers with Hurrian names are also attested for Urshum and Hashshum, and tablets from Alalakh (layer VII, from the later part of the old-Babylonian period) mention people with Hurrian names at the mouth of the Orontes. There is no evidence for any invasion from the North-east. Generally, these onomastic sources have been taken as evidence for a Hurrian expansion to the South and the West.
A Hittite fragment, probably from the time of Mursili I, mentions a "King of the Hurrians" (LUGAL ERÍN.MEŠ Hurri). This terminology was last used for King Tushratta of Mitanni, in a letter in the Amarna archives. The normal title of the king was 'King of the Hurri-men' (without the determinative KUR indicating a country).
It is believed that the warring Hurrian tribes and city states became united under one dynasty after the collapse of Babylon due to the Hittite sack by Mursili I and the Kassite invasion. The Hittite conquest of Aleppo (Yamkhad), the weak middle Assyrian kings, and the internal strifes of the Hittites had created a power vacuum in upper Mesopotamia. This led to the formation of the kingdom of Mitanni. The legendary founder of the Mitannian dynasty was a king called Kirta, who was followed by a king Shuttarna. Nothing is known about these early kings.
Under the rule of Thutmose III, Egyptian troops crossed the Euphrates and entered the core lands of Mitanni. At Megiddo, he fought an alliance of 330 Mitanni princes and tribal leaders under the ruler of Kadesh. See Battle of Megiddo (15th century BC). Mitanni had sent troops as well. Whether this was done because of existing treaties, or only in reaction to a common threat, remains open to debate. The Egyptian victory opened the way north.
Thutmose III again waged war in Mitanni in the 33rd year of his rule. The Egyptian army crossed the Euphrates at Carchemish and reached a town called Iryn (maybe present day Erin, 20 km northwest of Aleppo.) They sailed down the Euphrates to Emar (Meskene) and then returned home via Mitanni. A hunt for elephants at Lake Nija was important enough to be included in the annals. This was impressive PR, but did not lead to any permanent rule. Only the area at the middle Orontes and Phoenicia became part of Egyptian territory.
Victories over Mitanni are recorded from the Egyptian campaigns in Nuhashshe (middle part of Syria). Again, this did not lead to permanent territorial gains. Barattarna or his son Shaushtatar controlled the North Mitanni interior up to Nuhashshe, and the coastal territories from Kizzuwatna to Alalakh in the kingdom of Muksih at the mouth of the Orontes. Idrimi of Alalakh, returning from Egyptian exile, could only ascend his throne with Barattarna's consent. While he got to rule Mukish and Ama'u, Aleppo remained with Mitanni.
Shaushtatar, king of Mitanni, sacked Assur some time in the 15th century, and took the silver and golden doors of the royal palace to Washshukanni. This is known from a later Hittite document, the Suppililiuma-Shattiwaza treaty. After the sack of Assur, Assyria may have paid tribute to Mitanni up to the time of Ashur-uballit I (1365-1330 BC). There is no trace of that in the Assyrian king lists; therefore it is probable that Assur was ruled by a native Assyrian dynasty owing allegiance to the house of Shaushtatar. While a vassal of Mitanni, the temple of Sin and Shamash was built in Assur.
Aleppo, Nuzi, and Arrapha seem to have been incorporated into Mitanni under Shaushtatar as well. The palace of the crown prince, the governor of Arrapha has been excavated. A letter from Shaushtatar was discovered in the house of Shilwe-Teshup. His seal shows heroes and winged geniuses fighting lions and other animals, as well as a winged sun. This style, with a multitude of figures distributed over the whole of the available space, is taken as typically Hurrian. A second seal, belonging to Shuttarna I, but used by Shaushtatar, found in Alalakh, shows a more traditional Akkadian style.
The military superiority of Mitanni was probably based on the use of two-wheeled war-chariots, driven by the 'Marjannu' people. A text on the training of war-horses, written by a certain "Kikkuli the Mitannian" has been found in the archives recovered at Hattusa. More speculative is the attribution of the introduction of the chariot in Mesopotamia to early Mitanni.
Under the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep II, Mitanni seems to have regained influence in the middle Orontes valley that had been conquered by Thutmose III. Amenhotep fought in Syria in 1425, presumably against Mitanni as well, but did not reach the Euphrates.
Later on, Egypt and Mitanni became allies, and King Shuttarna II himself was received at the Egyptian court. Amicable letters, sumptuous gifts, and letters asking for sumptuous gifts were exchanged. Mitanni was especially interested in Egyptian gold. This culminated in a number of royal marriages: the daughter of King Artatama I was married to Thutmose IV. Kilu-Hepa, or Gilukhipa, the daughter of Shuttarna II, was married to Pharaoh Amenhotep III, who ruled in the early fourteenth century BC. In a later royal marriage Tadu-Hepa, or Tadukhipa, the daughter of Tushratta, was sent to Egypt.
When Amenhotep III fell ill, the king of Mitanni sent him a statue of the goddess Shaushka (Ishtar) of Niniveh that was reputed to cure diseases. A more or less permanent border between Egypt and Mitanni seems to have existed near Qatna on the Orontes River; Ugarit was part of Egyptian territory.
The reason Mitanni sought peace with Egypt may have been trouble with the Hittites. A Hittite ruler called Tudhaliya conducted campaigns against Kizzuwatna, Arzawa, Ishuwa, Aleppo, and maybe against Mitanni itself. Kizzuwatna may have fallen to the Hittites at that time.
Artashumara followed his father Shuttarna II on the throne, but was murdered by a certain UD-hi, or Uthi. It is uncertain what intrigues that followed, but UD-hi then placed Tushratta, another son of Shuttarna, on the throne. Probably, he was quite young at the time and was intended to serve as a figurehead only. However, he managed to dispose of the murderer, possibly with the help of his Egyptian father-in-law, but this is sheer speculation.
The Egyptians may have suspected the mighty days of Mitanni were about to end. In order to protect their Syrian border zone the new Pharaoh Akhenaten instead received envoys from the Hittites and Assyria; the former Mitannian vassal state. From the Amarna letters we know how Tushratta's desperate claim for a gold statue from Akhenaten developed into a major diplomatic crisis.
The unrest weakened the Mitannian control of their vassal states, and Aziru of Amurru seized the opportunity and made a secret deal with the Hittite king Suppiluliuma I. Kizzuwatna, which had seceded from the Hittites, was reconquered by Suppiluliuma. In what has been called his first Syrian campaign, Suppiluliuma then invaded the western Euphrates valley, and conquered the Amurru and Nuhashshe in Mitanni.
According to the later Suppiluliuma-Shattiwaza treaty, Suppiluliuma had made a treaty with Artatama II, a rival of Tushratta. Nothing is known of this Artatama's previous life or connection, if any, to the royal family. He is called "king of the Hurri", while Tushratta went by the title "King of Mitanni". This must have disagreed with Tushratta. Suppiluliuma began to plunder the lands on the west bank of the Euphrates, and annexed Mount Lebanon. Tushratta threatened to raid beyond the Euphrates if even a single lamb or kid was stolen.
Suppiluliuma then recounts how the land of Ishuwa on the upper Euphrates had seceded in the time of his grandfather. Attempts to conquer it had failed. In the time of his father, other cities had rebelled. Suppiluliuma claims to have defeated them, but the survivors had fled to the territory of Ishuwa, that must have been part of Mitanni. A clause to return fugitives is part of many treaties between sovereign states and between rulers and vassal states, so perhaps the harbouring of fugitives by Ishuwa formed the pretext for the Hittite invasion.
A Hittite army crossed the border, entered Ishuwa and returned the fugitives (or deserters or exile governments) to Hittite rule. "I freed the lands that I captured; they dwelt in their places. All the people whom I released rejoined their peoples, and Hatti incorporated their territories."
The Hittite army then marched through various districts towards Washukanni. Suppiluliuma claims to have plundered the area, and to have brought loot, captives, cattle, sheep and horses back to Hatti. He also claims that Tushratta fled, though obviously he failed to capture the capital. While the campaign weakened Mitanni, it did not endanger its existence.
In a second campaign, the Hittites again crossed the Euphrates and subdued Halab, Mukish, Niya, Arahati, Apina, and Qatna, as well as some cities whose names have not been preserved. The booty from Arahati included charioteers, who were brought to Hatti together with all their possessions. While it was common practice to incorporate enemy soldiers in the army, this might point to a Hittite attempt to counter the most potent weapon of Mitanni, the war-chariots, by building up or strengthening their own chariot forces.
All in all, Suppiluliuma claims to have conquered the lands "from Mount Lebanon and from the far bank of the Euphrates". But Hittite governors or vassal rulers are mentioned only for some cities and kingdoms. While the Hittites made some territorial gains in western Syria, it seems unlikely that they established a permanent rule east of the Euphrates.
The fugitive Shattiwaza may have gone to Babylon first, but eventually ended up at the court of the Hittite king, who married him to one of his daughters. The treaty between Suppiluliuma of Hatti and Shattiwaza of Mitanni has been preserved and is one of the main sources on this period. After the conclusion of the Suppiluliuma-Shattiwaza treaty, Piyashshili, a son of Suppiluliuma, led a Hittite army into Mitanni. According to Hittite sources, Piyashshili and Shattiwaza crossed the Euphrates at Carchemish, then marched against Irridu in Hurrite territory. They sent messengers from the west bank of the Euphrates and seemed to have expected a friendly welcome, but the people were loyal to their new ruler, influenced, as Suppiluliuma claims, by the riches of Tushratta. “Why are you coming? If you are coming for battle, come, but you shall not return to the land of the Great King!” they taunted. Shuttarna had sent men to strengthen the troops and chariots of the district of Irridu, but the Hittite army won the battle, and the people of Irridu sued for peace.
Meanwhile, an Assyrian army "led by a single charioteer" marched on Washshukanni. It seems that Shuttarna had sought Assyrian aid in the face of the Hittite threat. Possibly the force sent did not meet his expectations, or he changed his mind. In any case, the Assyrian army was refused entrance, and set instead to besiege the capital. This seems to have turned the mood against Shuttarna; perhaps the majority of the inhabitants of Washshukanni decided they were better off with the Hittite Empire than with their former subjects. Anyway, a messenger was sent to Piyashshili and Shattiwaza at Irridu, who delivered his message in public, at the city gate. Piyashshili and Shattiwaza marched on Washukanni, and the cities of Harran and Pakarripa seem to have surrendered to them.
While at Pakarripa, a desolate country where the troops suffered hunger, they received word of an Assyrian advance, but the enemy never materialised. The allies pursued the retreating Assyrian troops to Nilap_ini but could not force a confrontation. The Assyrians seem to have retreated home in the face of the superior force of the Hittites.
Shattiwaza became king of Mitanni, but after Suppililiuma had taken Carchemish and the land west of the Euphrates, that were governed by his son Piyashshili, Mitanni was restricted to the Khabur river and Balikh River valleys, and became more and more dependent on their allies in Hatti. Some scholars speak of a Hittite puppet kingdom, a buffer-state against Assyria.
Assyria under Ashur-uballit I began to infringe on Mitanni as well. Its vassal state of Nuzi east of the Tigris was conquered and destroyed. According to the Hittitologist Trevor R. Bryce, Mitanni (or Hanigalbat as it was known) was permanently lost to Assyria sometime during the reign of Mursili III of Hatti. Its loss was a major blow to Hittite prestige in the ancient world and undermined the young king's authority over his kingdom.
The Assyrians conquered the royal city of Taidu, and took Washshukannu, Amasakku, Kahat, Shuru, Nabula, Hurra and Shuduhu as well. They conquered Irridu, destroyed it utterly and sowed salt over it. The wife, sons and daughters of Wasashatta were taken to Asshur, together with lots of loot and other prisoners. As Wasashatta himself is not mentioned, he must have escaped capture. There are letters of Wasashatta in the Hittite archives. Some scholars think he became ruler of a reduced Mitanni state called Shubria.
While Adad-nirari I conquered the Mitanni heartland between the Balikh and the Khabur, he does not seem to have crossed the Euphrates, and Carchemish remained part of the Hittite kingdom. With his victory over Mitanni, Adad-nirari claimed the title of Great King (sharru rabû) in letters to the Hittite rulers, who still did not consider him as an equal.
Nevertheless, Shalmaneser won a crushing victory. He claims to have slain 14,400 men; the rest were blinded and carried away. His inscriptions mention the conquest of nine fortified temples; 180 Hurrian cities were "turned into rubble mounds", and Shalmaneser "…slaughtered like sheep the armies of the Hittites and the Ahlamu his allies…". The cities from Taidu to Irridu were captured, as well as all of mount Kashiar to Eluhat and the fortresses of Sudu and Harranu to Carchemish on the Euphrates. Another inscription mentions the construction of a temple to Adad in Kahat, a city of Mitanni that must have been occupied as well.
Mitanni was now ruled by the Assyrian grand-vizier Ili-ippada, a member of the Royal family, who took the title of king (sharru) of Hanilgalbat. He resided in the newly built Assyrian administrative centre at Tell Sabi Abyad, governed by the Assyrian steward Tammitte. Assyrians maintained not only military and political control, but seem to have dominated trade as well, as no Hurrian names appear in private records of Shalmaneser's time.
Under Tukulti-Ninurta I (c. 1243-1207) there were again numerous deportations from Hanilgalbat (east Mitanni) to Assur, probably in connection with the construction of a new palace. As the royal inscriptions mention an invasion of Hanilgalbat by a Hittite king, there may have been a new rebellion, or at least native support of a Hittite invasion. The Assyrian towns may have been sacked at this time, as destruction levels have been found in some excavations that cannot be dated with precision, however. Tell Sabi Abyad, seat of the Assyrian government in the times of Shalmaneser, was deserted sometime between 1200 and 1150 B.C.
In the time of Ashur-nirari III (ca. 1200 BC, the beginning Bronze Age collapse), the Mushku and other tribes invaded Hanilgalbat and it was lost to Assyrian rule. The Hurrians still held Katmuhu and Paphu. In the transitional period to the Early Iron Age, Mitanni was settled by invading Aramaean tribes.
Another text has babru (babhru, brown), parita (palita, grey), and pinkara (pingala, red). Their chief festival was the celebration of the solstice (vishuva) which was common in most cultures in the ancient world. The Mitanni warriors were called marya, the term for warrior in Sanskrit as well; note mišta-nnu (= miẓḍha,~ Sanskrit mīḍha) "payment (for catching a fugitive)" (Mayrhofer, Etym. Dict. II 358).
Sanskritic interpretations of Mitanni royal names render Artashumara (artaššumara) as Arta-smara "who thinks of Arta/Ṛta" (Mayrhofer II 780), Biridashva (biridašṷa, biriiašṷa) as Prītāśva "whose horse is dear" (Mayrhofer II 182), Priyamazda (priiamazda) as Priyamedha "whose wisdom is dear" (Mayrhofer II 189, II378), Citrarata as citraratha "whose chariot is shining" (Mayrhofer I 553), Indaruda/Endaruta as Indrota "helped by Indra" (Mayrhofer I 134), Shativaza (šattiṷaza) as Sātivāja "winning the race price" (Mayrhofer II 540, 696), Šubandhu as Subandhu 'having good relatives" (a name in Palestine, Mayrhofer II 209, 735), Tushratta (tṷišeratta, tušratta, etc.) as *tṷaiašaratha, Vedic Tveṣaratha "whose chariot is vehement" (Mayrhofer I 686, I 736).
|Kirta||ca. 1500 BC (short)|
|Shuttarna I||Son of Kirta|
|Parshatatar or Parrattarna||Son of Kirta|
|Shaushtatar||Contemporary of Idrimi of Alalakh, Sacks Ashur|
|Artatama I||Treaty with Pharoah Thutmose IV of Egypt, Contemporary of Pharoah Amenhotep II of Egypt|
|Shuttarna II||Daughter marries Pharoah Amenhotep III of Egypt in his year 10|
|Artashumara||Son of Shutarna II, brief reign|
|Tushratta||ca. 1350 BC (short)||Contemporary of Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites and Pharoahs Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV of Egypt, Amarna letters|
|Artatama II||Treaty with Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites, ruled same time as Tushratta|
|Shuttarna III||Contemporary of Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites|
|Shattiwaza||Mitanni becomes vassal of the Hittite Empire|
|Shattuara||Mittani becomes vassal of Assyria under Adad-nirari I|
|Wasashatta||Son of Shattuara|
All dates must be taken with caution since they are worked out only by comparison with the chronology of other ancient Near Eastern nations.