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The Hurri or Hurrian Culture (Kingdom Of Mitanni)

Selected Excerpts on the Hurrians and Mitanni

(1) Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (2) The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East

The area is called Khanigalbat in loose geographical terms (Excerpt 23). By about 2400 BC the Hurrians had expanded southward from the highlands of Anatolia. They infiltrated and occupied a broad arc of fertile farmland stretching from the Khabur River Valley to the foothills of the Zagros Mountains (1).

Sites such as Nuzi (Yorghan Tepe) -- Alalakh -- Tell Brak have provided most of our information on the history and archaeology of Mittani and the Hurrians in the second millennium BCE. Washshukkanni, the capital of Mittani, has not yet been positively identified.

The Hurrians established themselves as rulers of small kingdoms in northern Mesopotamia and Syria. They have been identified at ancient Urkesh (Tell Mozan) and other northern sites. Along with sporadic mentions of Hurrians in Sumerian and Akkadian documents, the finds from these sites help us outline the history of the early Hurrians.

From about 1500 BCE the Hurrian Kingdom of Mittani centered around the headwaters of the Habur River was the dominant power among the small states of northern Mesopotamia and Syria. Mittani emerged as a world power and the equal of Egypt and Babylonia.


Political unity does not necessarily entail a corresponding cultural or artistic unity. Particularly in the case of such a state as Mitanni with its highly diverse ethnic components, there arises the problem of whether craftsmen working within its borders were able to develop stylistic tendencies sufficiently independent to bear the name of the political entity in which they arose (2).

Among the states of the Second Millennium B. C. the Kingdom of Mitanni was one of the most artificial and short lived. For a few centuries from approximately 1600 to 1375 B. C. certain areas of northern Syria centering around the Habur valley, which neither before or after enjoyed an independent political union, were wielded into a single unit by a small ruling group, a dynasty of kings with Indo-European names supported by a knightly class. Although the independence of Mitanni was only maintained by adroit manipulation of the unstable balance of power that was characteristic of the Near Eastern world in the latter part of the Second Millennium, this state was yet sometimes powerful enough to extend its influence and hegemony beyond its own frontiers. In addition to the ephemeral character of Mitanni and the well known ethnic diversity of the North Mesopotamian population, there also exists an archaeological gap to increase the difficulty of distinguishing the "Mitannian" material culture. Knowledge of the material culture of northern Mesopotamia during this period is drawn primarily from sites on the fringes of the Mitannian sphere of influence such as Atchana on the Orontes or Nuzi in Assyria. The necessity of distinguishing and collecting Mitannian cultural elements by iconographic or stylistic methods has led to considerably varying opinions as to the identity of Mitannian "art".

In view of such obstacles it becomes almost a matter of wonder that any series of objects can merit the sobriquet of Mitannian. Nevertheless it has been possible to distinguish with certainty a group of Mitannian cylinder seals. In addition sites which are known to have been under Mitannian influence have yielded a characteristic class of pottery and a few small objects as well as some unique murals, all found in levels deposited during the floruit of the Mitannian Kingdom and characterized by the presence of Mitannian seals. The objects in question are decorated with plant ornaments, some of which can be linked with analogous sphragistic designs. These may therefore be considered without question as Mitannian. Those cases which lack parallels on the Mitannian seals are not allied with any other known style and are apparently also products of the same Mitannian tradition. Despite the fact that the different series of objects here discussed under that heading are decorated by designs often differing widely from one another, there exists between them a number of links sufficient in our opinion to indicate that only the accumulation of further materials is needed to prove the existence of a consistent unified cultural tradition in the Kingdom of Mitanni.

(1) Nuzi and the Hurrians: Fragments from a Forgotten Past (The Harvard Semitic Museum)

(2) Plant Ornament in the Ancient Near East Chapter XIV: Mitanni by H. J. Kantor
Copyright 1999 Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium