Damien Stone, The Hittites
Damien Stone's The Hittites is the latest in Reaktion's Lost Civilizations series, which aims to 'explore the rise and fall of the great civilizations and peoples of the ancient world'. Through examination of the documents and material remains of the civilization, the book discusses the Hittites' military and political history, their religion, society and culture in a concise and accessible format.
The Hittites is very much an introductory text, condensing significant amounts of scholarly and archaeological research into a little over 150 pages. However, considering the size of the book, it is amazing how much information has been elbowed in. Following the civilization from its rise in the eighteenth century BCE'Before common era', the non-religious way of saying 'BC' (which means 'before Christ'). to its demise as part of the general Bronze AgeThe Bronze Age was a time between the Neolithic and the Iron Age, which is characterised by the use of the alloy bronze. In Britain it lasted from about 2500BCE until about 800BCE. collapse during the twelfth century BCE, Stone thematically covers all of the major bases and significant personalities known to us, complemented with a number of photographic illustrations that provide depth and literal colour to the text.
Given the nature and format of the book, it should not be surprising that The Hittites is heavy on facts and somewhat light on analysis. Nor should it be surprising that the text is a little dense and dry in places – a reflection on necessity rather than on the author's style, which does nevertheless occasionally find room to shine. First and foremost, this book is intended as an overview, something that provides enough tantalizing snippets to encourage the reader to find out more. It is, perhaps, something akin to a cruise: sightseers receive a whistle-stop tour at the various destinations but they can't possibly hope to immerse themselves fully in the place they visit – this has to be reserved for another time. Stone is, however, an excellent tour guide: showing the main highlights, providing the odd anecdote and expertly explaining the nuances of the material culture, while tempting visitors to return for a longer sojourn in the land of the Hatti. From ritualized cheese fights to a legal system based on compensation rather than retribution (I'm happy to leave out the puppies cut in half), Stone has shown this largely forgotten civilization to be worthy of attention. And what is more, in discussing their language – which is the first known Indo-European example of such – and the world's first known peace treaty (a replicaan exact copy of something. of which hangs at the UN headquarters) and trade embargo, Stone has proven that the Hittites are still relevant and important today. Stone has, then, fulfilled his task admirably and provided a solid contribution to the Lost Civilizations series.