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The approximate area of Hurrian settlement in the Middle Bronze Age is shown in purple.

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Hurrian · Hittite

The Hurrians (also Khurrites;[1] cuneiform Ḫu-ur-ri 𒄷𒌨𒊑) were a people of the Ancient Near East who lived in Northern Mesopotamia nd ajacent regions during the Bronze Age. The largest and most influential Hurrian nation was the kingdom of Mitanni. The population of the Hittite Empire in Anatolia to a large part consisted 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.


The Hurrians spoke an ergative-agglutinative language, conventionally called Hurrian, unrelated to neighboring Semitic or Indo-European languages. The Iron Age Urartian language is closely related to or a direct descendant of Hurrian.

The Hurrians adopted the Akkadian cuneiform script for their own language about 2000 BC. 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.


Middle Bronze Age

Hurrian names occur sporadically in northern 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 to the foothills of the Zagros Mountains.

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.


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 BC. 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-Suen of Akkad. 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 BC, the Amorite kingdom of Mari to the south subdued Urkesh into a vassal state. In the continuous power struggles 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.

Late Bronze Age


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 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.

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.[2]


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.

Bronze Age collapse

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.

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 motifs. They are a key to the understanding of Hurrian culture and history.

Ceramic ware

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 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 horse

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.1800 BC. 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".[3] Amongst these fragments are found the names of four Hurrian composers, Tapšiẖuni, Puẖiya(na), Urẖiya, and Ammiya.[4]


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 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 religious centers 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.[5] It has been argued that the worship of Attis drew on Hurrian myth.[6] 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, 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 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.

Important sites

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.

See also


  1. Hittites on Bartleby.
  2. 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).
  3. 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).
  4. West 1994, 171. In addition to
  5. 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
  6. 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.


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Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Hurrians. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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