Archaeology Odyssey 6:1, January/February 2003

Origins: History’s History

Learning to distinguish fact from fancy

By Richard H. Beal

Archaeology Odyssey

History, we often say, begins with the written word. What comes before writing is prehistory.

The world’s first historians—that is, people who record actual events in a detailed manner—were the Hittites, a kingdom that controlled much of Anatolia in the second millennium B.C. The earliest Hittite inscription is by a king named Anitta, who was approximately contemporary with Shamshi-Adad I of Assyria (1813–1781 B.C.) and Hammurabi of Babylon (1792–1750 B.C.). Anitta tells of his victories over various city-states of the Anatolian plateau—including Hattusa (modern Bogazköy, northeast of Ankara), which was later to become the Hittite capital. Ironically, the only extant copies of Anitta’s inscription were found in the archives of Hattusa, which Anitta had leveled.

Although similar accounts of fantastic events had been written hundreds of years earlier by Mesopotamian kings of Sumer and Akkad, Anitta marks the beginning of Hittite historical writing—a tradition that would surpass all that had been written before in quality and variety, as well as in its dedication to recording what actually happened.

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