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The Hurrians were a people of the Ancient Near East, who apparently originated in the Caucasus and entered Mesopotamia from the north approximately 2500 BC. Their known homeland was centred in the Khabur River valley, and later they established themselves as rulers of small kingdoms throughout northern Mesopotamia and Syria. The largest and most influential Hurrian nation was the kingdom of Mitanni, which lasted from ca. 1450 BC until its destruction by Assyria in ca. 1270 BC.



Like most aspects of Hurrian society, their origins are still a mystery. The Hurrians spoke an agglutinative language, conventionally called Hurrian, unrelated to neighboring Semitic or Indo-European languages, but clearly related to Urartian — a language spoken about a millennium later in northeastern Anatolia — and possibly, very distantly, to the present-day Northeast Caucasian languages.

By about 2400 BC, the Hurrians had expanded, perhaps southward from the Zagros Mountains, or from the highlands of Anatolia. In the following centuries, Hurrian names occur sporadically in northern Mesopotamia and the area of Kirkuk in modern Iraq. 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.

Around 1775 BC, in the reign of Hammurabi, Hurrians are recorded as entering the Babylonian Empire in the region of Chagar Bazar. By 1725 BC they are found also in parts of northern Syria, such as Alalakh. The Hurrian city-state of Yamkhad (Aleppo) is recorded as struggling for this area with the early Hittite king Hattusilis I around 1650 BC; and around 1590 BC, Hurrians seized the coastal region of Adaniya from the Hittites and renamed it Kizzuwadna (later known as Cilicia).

The Hurrian states apparently became a more politically prominent after being dominated by an elite of foreign rulers. These foreigners spoke either Avestan, Vedic Sanskrit, or a closely-related precursor of those languages from Central Asia. They cremated their dead, and introduced the use of the horse and chariot in the battlefield — a situation that has obvious similarities to the events in northern India at about the same time. While this foreign aristocracy eventually abandoned their language in favor of those of their Hurrian subjects, they retained Indo-European names, complete with references to Vedic gods.

Under these "foreign" rulers, the Hurrians expanded considerably towards the south and west. There was no single Hurrian Empire, but by 1540-1520 BC a number of Hurrian-dominated states had been established in northern Mesopotamia, centered on the upper Tigris River to the north of Assyria. By 1530 BC the state of Mitanni, still with a mostly-Hurrian population and foreign-named aristocracy, was founded between the Euphrates and Balikh rivers with its capital at Washshukanni (thought to have been in northern Syria). Mitanni rapidly became the centre of Hurrian power and culture, and soon dominated central Mesopotamia and the Upper Tigris, including Assyria. Following pressures from Hittites and other Anatolians, this kingdom collapsed and fell to Assyria around 1270 BC.

The Hurrian population of Syria in the following century seems to have begun speaking a dialect of Assyrian Akkadian language that developed into Aramaic. Interestingly enough, it is around this same time that an aristocracy speaking Urartian, similar to old Hurrian, seems to have first imposed itself on the native Indo-European speaking population around lake Van, and formed the Kingdom of Urartu - much as the Indo-European Mitanni, probably also from the Van region, had apparently done to the Hurrians centuries earlier.

Archaeological knowledge of the Hurrians is still fairly scanty, relying mostly on cuneiform tablets from Hattusas, the capital of the Hittites, whose civilisation was greatly influenced by the Hurrians. Thousands more Hurrian tablets have been found at Nuzi, BoghazkŲy, Ras Shamra, and Alalakh.

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.

Material culture

The Hurrians were masterful ceramists; their pottery is a common find in Mesopotamia and in the lands west of the Euphrates, and was appreciated in distant Egypt, by the time of the New Kingdom.


Hurrian speakers formed the majority population of the kingdom of Mitanni, though they appear to have been governed by a class of foreign nobility. Their literature had a deep influence on the Hittites, and the Indo-European Hittite language exhibits many Hurrian loanwords, including most of the religious vocabulary.

Two episodes from Hesiod's Theogony may be derived from Hurrian myths: 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 Kumarbi1.

Connections and origin theories

It is believed by some scholars that the Hurrians mixed with their neighbors, such as the Armenians after arriving in the Caucasus around 2700 BC from an unknown place. Another theory is that the Armenians came to the Caucasus with the Hurrans from the Indo-European homeland.

Tolstov identified the Hurrians as the founders of Khwarezmia, which he explained as meaning Hurri-Land.

Bible scholars often identify them as the biblical Horites, Hivites and Jebusites, though there is little factual basis for such a connection. Ironically, there is much more evidence for the Hurrian origin of Biblical Hebrew culture (but not the Hebrew language) which is otherwise at odds with its linguistically related Canaanite surroundings.

Several other ancient peoples of the region, including the Kesedim, Subarians, Gutians, Kassites and Lullubi have all been described at one time or another as Hurrian peoples. Recently (and especially after the discovery of the Tikunani Prism) there has been growing support for the theory that the Habiru, who were for a time believed to be the ancient Hebrews, may have been a Hurrian people, too.

See also


Note 1: GŁterbock, Hans Gustav: "Hittite Religion"; in Forgotten Religions: Including Some Living Primitive Religions (ed. Vergilius Ferm) (NY, Philosophical Library, 1950), pp. 88–89, 103–104


  • Ignace J. Gelb, 1944, Hurrians and Subarians, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization No. 22, Illinois, University of Chicago Press.

External links

de:Hurriter fr:Hourrites no:Hurritter pl:Huryci sv:Hurriter


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