Hurrians (/ˈhʊəriənz/; cuneiform: 𒄷𒌨𒊑;
transliteration: Ḫu-ur-ri; also called Hari, Khurrites, Hourri,
Churri, Hurri or Hurriter) were a people of the
Bronze Age Near East.
They spoke a
Hurro-Urartian language called
Hurrian and lived in
Anatolia and Northern Mesopotamia. The largest and most influential
Hurrian nation was the kingdom of Mitanni, the
Mitanni perhaps being
Indo-Iranian speakers who formed a ruling class over the Hurrians. The
population of the Indo-European-speaking
Hittite Empire in Anatolia
included a large population of Hurrians, and there is significant
Hurrian influence in Hittite mythology. By the Early Iron Age, the
Hurrians had been assimilated with other peoples. Their remnants were
subdued by a related people that formed the state of Urartu. According
to a hypothesis by I.M. Diakonoff and S. Starostin, the
Urartian languages shared a common ancestor and were related to the
Northeast Caucasian languages. The present-day
Armenians are an
amalgam of the Indo-European groups with the
2.1 Middle Bronze Age
2.2 Late Bronze Age
Bronze Age collapse
3 Culture and society
3.1 Ceramic ware
3.3 Horse culture
4.1 Important sites
5 See also
8 External links
The Louvre lion and accompanying stone tablet bearing the earliest
known text in Hurrian
Hurrians spoke an ergative, agglutinative language conventionally
called Hurrian, which is unrelated to neighbouring Semitic or
Indo-European languages, and may have been a language isolate.
The Iron Age
Urartian language is closely related to or a direct
descendant of Hurrian. Several notable Russian linguists, such as S.
A. Starostin and V. V. Ivanov, have claimed that
Hurrian and Hattic
were related to the Northeast Caucasian languages.
From the 21st century BCE to the late 18th century BCE, Assyria
controlled colonies in Anatolia, and the Hurrians, like the Hattians,
adopted the Assyrian Akkadian cuneiform script for their own language
about 2000 BCE. Texts in the
Hurrian language in cuneiform have been
found at Hattusa,
Ugarit (Ras Shamra), as well as in one of the
longest of the Amarna letters, written by King
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
Hattusa in 1983.
Middle Bronze Age
Hurrian names occur sporadically in northwestern
Mesopotamia and the
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 in the west to the foothills of the
Zagros Mountains in the east.
I. J. Gelb and
E. A. Speiser
E. A. Speiser believed
East Semitic speaking Assyrians/
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 BCE. There is
evidence that they were initially allied with the east Semitic
Akkadian Empire of Mesopotamia, indicating they had a firm hold on the
area by the reign of
Naram-Sin of Akkad
Naram-Sin of Akkad (c. 2254–2218 BCE). This
region hosted other rich cultures (see
Tell Halaf and Tell Brak). The
Urkesh had some powerful neighbors. At some point in the
early second millennium BCE, the
Northwest Semitic speaking Amorite
kingdom of Mari to the south subdued
Urkesh and made it a vassal
state. In the continuous power struggles over Mesopotamia, another
Amorite dynasty had usurped the throne of the Old Assyrian Empire,
which had controlled colonies in Hurrian, Hattian and Hittite regions
Anatolia since the 21st century BCE. The Assyrians then
made themselves masters over Mari and much of north east Amurru
(Syria) in the late 19th and early 18th centuries BCE. Shubat-Enlil
(modern Tell Leilan), was made the capital of this Old Assyrian empire
Shamshi Adad I
Shamshi Adad I at the expense of the earlier capital of Assur.
Hurrians also migrated further west in this period. By 1725 BCE
they are found also in parts of northern Syria, such as Alalakh. The
Hurrian kingdom of
Yamhad is recorded as struggling
for this area with the early Hittite king
Hattusilis I around 1600
Hurrians also settled in the coastal region of
Adaniya in the
country of Kizzuwatna, southern Anatolia.
Yamhad eventually weakened
vis-a-vis the powerful Hittites, but this also opened
Hurrian cultural influences. The
Hittites were influenced by both the
Hurrian and Hattian cultures over the course of several centuries.
Late Bronze Age
Main article: Mitanni
Hittites continued expanding south after the defeat
of Yamhad. The army of the Hittite king
Mursili I made its way to
Babylon (by then a weak and minor state) and sacked the city. The
destruction of the Babylonian kingdom, the presence of unambitious or
isolationist kings in Assyria, as well as the destruction of the
kingdom of Yamhad, helped the rise of another
Hurrian dynasty. The
first ruler was a legendary king called
Kirta who founded the kingdom
Mitanni (known also as Hanigalbat/Ḫanigalbat by the Assyrians,
and to the
Egyptians as nhrn) around 1500 BCE.
Mitanni gradually grew
from the region around the Khabur valley and was perhaps the most
powerful kingdom of the Near East in c. 1475–1365 BCE, after which
it was eclipsed and eventually destroyed by the Middle Assyrian
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. (See Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni)
Hurrian kingdom also benefited from the demise of Babylonian
power in the sixteenth century BCE.
Hurrians had inhabited the region
northeast of the river Tigris, around the modern Kirkuk. This was the
kingdom of Arrapha. Excavations at Yorgan Tepe, ancient Nuzi, proved
this to be one of the most important sites for our knowledge about the
Hurrian kings such as Ithi-Teshup and Ithiya ruled over
Arrapha, yet by the mid-fifteenth century BCE they had become vassals
of the Great King of Mitanni. The kingdom of
Arrapha itself was
destroyed by the Assyrians in the mid 14th century BCE and thereafter
became an Assyrian city.
Bronze Age collapse
By the 13th century BCE all of the
Hurrian states had been vanquished
by other peoples, with the
Mitanni kingdom destroyed by Assyria. The
heartlands of the Hurrians, the Khabur river valley and south eastern
Anatolia, became provinces of the
Middle Assyrian Empire
Middle Assyrian Empire (1366 - 1020
BCE) which came to rule much of the Near East and Asia Minor. It is
not clear what happened to these early
Hurrian people at the end of
the Bronze Age. Some scholars have suggested that
Hurrians lived on in
the country of
Nairi north of
Assyria during the early Iron Age,
before this too was conquered by Assyria. The
Hurrian population of
Syria in the following centuries seems to have given up their
language in favor of the Assyrian dialect of Akkadian, and later,
However, a power vacuum was to allow a new and powerful
whose rulers spoke Urartian, similar to old Hurrian, to arise. The
Middle Assyrian Empire, after destroying the Hurri-
Mitanni Empire, the
Hittite Empire, defeating the
Phrygians and Elamites, conquering
Arameans of Syria, northern
Ancient Iran and
Egyptians out of much of the near east, itself went into a
century of relative decline from the latter part of the 11th century
Urartians were thus able to impose themselves around Lake Van
and Mount Ararat, forming the powerful Kingdom of Urartu. During the
11th and 10th centuries BCE, the kingdom eventually encompassed a
region stretching from the
Caucasus Mountains in the north, to the
borders of northern
Assyria and northern
Ancient Iran in the south,
and controlled much of eastern Anatolia.
Assyria began to once more expand from circa. 935 BCE, and
Assyria became fierce rivals.
Urartu successfully repelled Assyrian
expansionism for a time, however from the 9th to 7th century BCE it
progressively lost territory to Assyria. It was to survive until the
7th century BCE, by which time it was conquered fully into the Neo
Assyrian Empire (911–605 BCE).
The Assyrian Empire collapsed from 620 to 605 BCE, after a series of
brutal internal civil wars weakened it to such an extent that a
coalition of its former vassals; the Medes, Persians, Babylonians,
Cimmerians were able to attack and gradually
Urartu was ravaged by marauding Indo-European speaking
Scythian and Cimmerian raiders during this time, with its vassal king
(together with the king of neighbouring Lydia) vainly pleading with
the beleaguered Assyrian king for help. After the fall of Assyria,
Urartu came under the control of the
Median Empire and then its
Persian Empire during the 6th century BCE. During the 2nd
millennium BC a new wave of Indo-European speakers migrated over the
Caucasus into Urartian lands, these being the Armenians. It is argued
on linguistic evidence that proto-Armenian came in contact with
Urartian at an early date (2nd millennium BC), before the formation of
the Urartian kingdom. In the 6th century BCE the region became part of
the Armenian Orontid Dynasty. The Hurri-
Urartians seem to have
disappeared from history after this, almost certainly being absorbed
into the Indo-European Armenian population.
Culture and society
Hurrian culture relies on archaeological excavations at
sites such as
Alalakh as well as on cuneiform tablets,
Hattusa (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
Hurrian culture and history.
Hurrians were masterful ceramists. Their pottery is commonly found
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.
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
Valley had a central position in the metal trade, and copper, silver
and even tin were accessible from the Hurrian-dominated countries
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.
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 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
Hurrian texts from
Ugarit are the oldest known instances of
written music, dating from c. 1400 BCE. Among these fragments are
found the names of four
Hurrian composers, Tapšiẖuni, Puẖiya(na),
Urẖiya, and Ammiya.
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 religion spread to Syria,
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.
Hurrian incense container
The main gods in the
Hurrian pantheon were:
Teshub, Teshup; the mighty weather god.
Hebat, Hepa; his wife, the mother goddess, regarded as the Sun goddess
among the Hittites, drawn from the deified Sumerian queen Kubaba.
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 fertility, war and healing.
Shimegi, Šimegi; the sun god.
Kushuh, Kušuh; the moon god. Symbols of the sun and the crescent moon
appear joined together in the
Nergal; a Babylonian deity of the netherworld, whose
Hurrian name is
Ea; was also Babylonian in origin, and may have influenced Canaanite
El, and also ים Yam, God of the Sea and River.
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.
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
Harran was at least later a religious centre for the moon
god, and Shauskha had an important temple in Nineve, when the city was
Hurrian rule. A temple of
Nergal was built in
Urkesh in the late
third millennium BCE. The town of Kahat was a religious centre in the
kingdom of Mitanni.
Hurrian myth "The Songs of Ullikummi", preserved among the
Hittites, is a parallel to Hesiod's Theogony; the castration of Uranus
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. It has been
argued that the worship of
Attis drew on
Hurrian myth. The Phrygian
Cybele would then be the counterpart of the
Hurrian urban culture was not represented by a large number of
Urkesh was the only
Hurrian city in the third millennium BCE.
In the second millennium BCE 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 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
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 bisected 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 many dam projects in the
Tigris and Khabur valleys. 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
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.
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
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,
Tell Mozan (ancient Urkesh)
Yorghan Tepe (ancient Nuzi)
Tell Brak (ancient Nagar)
Tell Leilan (ancient Shehna and Shubat-Enlil)
Tell Barri (ancient Kahat)
Tell Beydar (ancient Nabada)
Kenan Tepe 
Umm el-Marra (ancient Tuba?)
Hammam al Turkman (ancient Zalpa?)
Tell Sabi Abyad
Tell el Fakhariya / Ras el Ayn (ancient Washukanni?)
Tell Hamidiya (ancient Taidu?)
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hurrians.
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Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Fitzroy Dearborn.
^ Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens: A Handbook.
^ Gelb, Ignace J.(1963), The History of Writing (University of Chicago
^ Manfred Mayrhofer, 'Welches Material aus dem Indo-arischen von
Mitanni verbleibt für eine selektive Darstellung?' In: E. Neu
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^ 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". West 1994, 161.
In addition to West and Duchesne-Guillemin (1975, 1977, 1980, and
1984), competitors include Anne Draffkorn Kilmer (1965, 1971, 1974,
1976, & 1984), David Wulstan (1968), and Raoul Vitale (1982).
^ West 1994, 171.
^ 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
^ Suggested by Jane Lightfoot in the Times Literary Supplement 22 July
2005 p 27, in her account of Philippe Borgeaud, Mother of the Gods:
Cybele to the Virgin Mary, Johns Hopkins 2005
Urkesh an overview
^ The Semitic Museum:
Nuzi and the
Hurrians Archived 10 May 2008 at
the Wayback Machine.
^ Tell Brak Learning Sites
Tell Leilan Project Archived 18 February 2006 at the Wayback
^ Missione Italiana archaeologica a
Tell Barri Archived 14 July 2011
at the Wayback Machine.
Tell Beydar Archived 9 January 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Dodd, Lynn & Parker, Bradley J. (Jan 23, 2014). "The Upper
Tigris Archaeological Research Project (UTARP): Research at Kenan Tepe
during 2003 (draft)". Research Gate. Retrieved 2018-02-06. CS1
maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
Tell Tuneinir St. Louis Archaeological Expeditions
^ The Johns Hopkins/University of Amsterdam Joint Expedition to Tell
^ Grabung Tell Chuera
^ Excavation Hammam al Turkman, Leiden University
^ Dutch Excavation at Tell Sabi Abyad
Hamoukar Expedition University of Chicago
^ For the results of the Swiss excavations at Tell al-Hamidiya see
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