Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Neo-Hittites

Late Assyrian texts referred to the peoples in what is now northern Syria as “Hittites”, which has led to these peoples being referred to by archaeologists as the Neo-Hittites, even though there seems to have been little relationship between the earlier Hittite empire and the Neo-Hittites[1].

The Neo-Hittites lived in the area surrounding Carchemish in the ninth to seventh centuries B. C. Their art was influenced by contemporary Assyrian art, which is hardly surprising since the Assyrian Kings conducted military campaigns in this area. From the reign of Tiglathpileser III onwards, the artist of northern Syria not only used Assyrian motifs, but they executed those motifs in an Assyrian manner[2].

Neo-Hittite cities were generally circular in plan and protected by two walls, one around the whole city and a second one protecting the citadel. The “palace” had a portico with wooden columns in front of its entrance[3]. Orthostats, which are carved stone blocks used as the base of a wall, are commonly found in museums. One of these objects, originally from Tell Halaf but now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is shown here. It shows two human headed bulls standing under a winged sun disc and in front of a seated man who holds what looks like a flower up to his nose. The rather crude workmanship is typical of Neo-Hittite art. Another orthostat from Tell Halaf shows the two human headed bulls actually supporting the winged sun disc[4]. An excellent drawing of the citadel at Zinjirli in Frankfort’s book (p. 335) shows how these orthostats were used in constructing the walls of the fortress.

Another commonly found architectural element in Neo-Hittite building is the “guardian statue” which commonly flanked doorways in the “palaces” of the period. This type of sculpture is common in Assyrian buildings and also occurs at Bogazkoy (in what is now Turkey) when it was the capital of the “real” Hittite empire many years earlier. An interesting example of this type of sculpture is the so-called “scorpion man”. The body of the sculpture is a feathered scorpion with wings. The scorpion has a human head which has elaborately curled hair both on its scalp and on its beard[5].

The history of the Neo-Hittites is mostly one of trying to keep the Assyrians at bay. By 894 the ruler of Tell Halaf, Guzana, paid tribute to Adadnirari II of Assyria. During the regency in Assyria of Semiramis, Guzana made an attempt to shake off the Assyrian yoke, but failed. Tell Halaf was burned by the Assyrian army and became the seat of an Assyrian governor. Other Neo-Hittite cities continued the struggle, but all eventually were incorporated into the Assyrian empire.

[1] Bryce, Trevor. The Kingdom of the Hittites, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 385.

[2] Frankfort, Henri. The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, New York: Penguin Books, 1970, p. 281.

[3] Roux, Georges. Ancient Iraq, New York: Penguin Books, 3rd Ed., 1992, pp. 272 – 3.

[4] Frankfort, p. 345 (photo).

[5] Frankfort, p. 342 (photo)

No comments:

Post a Comment