Traditionally based in the Central Anatolian city of Hattusha the Hittite Royal Family served as the core of the kingdom’s government.
The Hittite King was the military, religious and judicial leader of the Hittite people. The coronation ceremony involved a ritual purification process that saw the king enter the world of the sacred. The king was not thought of as a living god but the Hittite king was assumed to become deified upon death. While living he was the foremost agent of all the gods and in particular was seen as the deputy of the Storm God, Teshshup and also on behalf of the Sun Goddess, Arinna, the king was seen as the “Shepherd of all Humankind.”
The King’s insignia of office
Hittite kings are recognizable in ancient carvings and stone reliefs by their long robes and curved staff known as the kalmus. The robes represent the king’s role as high priest and the staff is a stylized shepherd’s crook which represents his legal authority on behalf of the sun goddess. Thousands of years later the use of a shepherds crook as a symbol of authority continued in the Roman Catholic Church with the use of the crosier by popes until the early years of the twentieth century.
In addition to his regalia a Hittite king also bore a royal seal which would be used to stamp his badge of authenticity on royal documents. The power of Hittite queens is expressed by the fact that they shared their husbands seal.
The second two most powerful persons in the kingdom were also members of the royal family. The Hittites only acknowledged one wife of the first rank as queen and she ruled as the Tawannawa. The Tawannawa was primarily a religious post that designated the queen as high priestess. The power of the office is shown by the tradition which saw queens continue in the role as Tawannawa after their husband’s death.
The crown prince known as the tuhkanti rounded out the immediate royal family’s direct control over the kingdom by operating as a military commander. The tuhkanti was not necessarily the eldest son. A document known as the “Proclamation of Telipinu” spelled out the order of royal succession and was in for nearly four hundred years.
“Let a prince – a son of the first rank only be installed as king!
If a prince of the first rank does not exist, [then] let he who is
a son of second rank become king. But if there is no prince, no
male issue, [then] let them take an antiyant-husband (son-in-law of the king)
for she who is a first rank daughter, and let him become king.”
After the conquests of King Suppililiuma during the 14th century BCE the Hittite empire grew to include two vice- regal positions in Syria. For several generations Hittite Kings placed their closest relatives as viceroys to theses posts and in turn they proved to be the Hittite King’s primary supporters.
The Hittite Kingdom was throughout its history built upon the strength of its army and the Hittite king made sure that his most trusted relatives occupied the top commands.
The foremost rank was the GAL MESHEDI – Chief of the Royal Bodyguard. It was vital that someone fully trustworthy occupy this post and so it was often filled by the king’s brother. The GAL MESHEDI oversaw the king’s personal security thereby controlling access to the king. The GAL MESHEDI also commanded the king’s personal troops on the battlefield making certain no enemies ever got within striking distance.
Although the numbers of the royal bodyguard – the MESHEDI, were likely rather small they were stationed at the royal strongholds were the king was likely to visit and they occupied the royal acropolis of the Hittite capital of Hattusha. The GAL MESHEDI is also known to have commanded or co-commanded much larger forces as part of invasions so it seems the posts powers were expansive.
There were a number of other top commanders who each answered directly to the king and were also likely to be his relatives. Each of these posts oversaw at least one thousand soldiers; Chief of the Chariot Warriors of the Right, Chief of the Chariot Warriors of the Left, Chief of the Standing Troops right and left and Chief of the Shepherds right and left.
The next tier of military command was the Overseers of the Military Heralds followed by the members of what can be described as a military aristocracy known as the, Dignitaries and Gentlemen. Lower ranking officers commanded units with as few as 10 men.
Many officers owned land that was used to support the war machine. These officers were given land in turn for military service and with the understanding that a set percentage of the land yield would go to support the army. The core of the army was professional full time and some men joined to make a career out of military service although many were conscripted. In addition to allotments of land soldiers were paid a salary and were given a share of any plundered goods.
The Hittites had a scribal bureaucracy similar to other Near Eastern kingdoms of the Bronze Age. At the top of this structure was the Chief of the Wine Stewards who could also be given military commands as the king needed. Other close advisers to the king held such titles as Chief of Scribes or Royal cup-bearer. These men along with other members of the palace staff, such as heralds and bodyguards, formed an assembly called the panku. Originally this body was given extensive powers even over members of the royal family. By the later centuries of Hittite history the panku had no real power but still offered a level of exclusivity and access to the royal family.
Outside of the few large cities, which were usually controlled by royal family members, Hittite towns were governed by local councils. Theses local councils were responsible for enforcing royal law as well as adjudicating any legal cases in their domain. Legal cases involving serious offenses were sent to the king for judgment. The councils were also responsible for the safety of sanctioned travelers, such as messengers and merchants, while they were within a certain radius (likely only a few miles) from the town center. Beyond the bounds of the local councils much of the Hittite kingdom was a lawless wilderness.