Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Rethinking the Hittite System of Subordinate Countries from the Legal Point of View

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Rethinking the Hittite System of Subordinate Countries from the Legal Point of View

Article excerpt

The Hittite system of subordinate countries is better known to us than any other similar system that existed in the ancient Near East. Thanks to the relatively rich corpus of Hittite subordination treaties and related documents, we have a fairly good general picture of the rights and obligations of vassal kings toward their Hittite overlords and vice versa. (1) This picture also discloses significant differences among these vassal kings (2) in terms of rights and obligations, suggesting different levels of subordination. There are, however, still some serious gaps in this picture, and the available data allow only a partial reconstruction of the Hittite system of grading the subordinate countries. Many questions pertaining to the differences in the legal status of these countries are still unanswered, either because of the lack of sufficient relevant cases or because almost all the treaties available are copies made on clay tablets that have reached us in various states of preservation. These lacunae in our knowledge can for the time being only be filled to a certain extent by logical reasoning. The present paper presents a summary of what is known or may be assumed, and of what is still unknown, and suggests some criteria for grading the Hittite subordinate countries, as well as definitions of their legal status. (3)


On the basis of the available Hittite vassal treaties and related documents, (4) as well as on what is known about the circumstances of their subjugation, the Hittite vassal countries may preliminarily be sorted into two basic categories: (5) self-subjugated countries (6) and conquered countries. (7) Conquered countries may be further divided into three sub-groups: countries annexed and turned into provinces ruled by royal officials as part of the Hittite homeland, (8) appanage and granted countries, (9) and rebellious countries that had been re-subjugated by force. (10) Differences in the terms of subjugation of self-subjugated countries, and differences in the manner in which the circumstances of their subjugation are presented in the prologues of the treaties drawn up for them, also suggest a further differentiation within this group. The Hittites seem to have distinguished between countries that had been fully sovereign before subjugation, (11) and those that had previously been subject to another overlord. (12) Before discussing the legal differences among these groups, further elaboration substantiating these distinctions is needed.

1. Self-Subjugated versus Conquered

The fact that the Hittites indeed distinguished between these two categories of country comes out clearly in the prologue of the treaty drawn up by the Hittite king Tudhaliya IV for Sausgamuwa, king of Amurru (CTH 105). (13) The historical review of relations between Hatti and Amurru opens with the origins of Hittite suzerainty over Amurru, four generations earlier (A i 13-21): (14)

  [Formerly] the land of Amurru had not been defeated by the arms of
  Hatti. Wh[en Aziru] came to the (great-)grandfather of the Sun, [(to)
  Suppilu]liuma, in Hatti, the lands of Amurru were still [hostile].
  They [were] subordinates (IR.MES) of the king of Hurri and to him (the
  Hurrian king) (also) Aziru in the same manner was subject. (15) But he
  (Suppiluliuma) did [not def]eat him (Aziru) by arms. And Aziru, your
  (great-great-)grandfather, protected [Suppi]luliuma as overlord, (16)
  (and) he protected [the land of Ha]tti (as well), (and) afterward he
  protected also Mursili as overlord, and he protected the land of
  Hatti, and against the land of Hatti no offense did he commit.

The prologue starts with the emphatic declaration that Amurru before the rebellion of Bentesina, Sausgamuwa's father, had never been conquered by force. This is immediately followed by reference to the voluntary submission of Aziru, the great-great-grandfather of Sausgamuwa, to Suppiluliuma I, the great-grandfather of Tudhaliya IV ("Aziru came to . …

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