I’m starting off my research of the Hittites with my Folio Society edition of The Hittites by Oliver Gurney. This was largely because it was one of the only books on the Hittites that I had on hand right when I decided to write about them and also because it’s a really good excuse to read a Folio Society book. While the original book was written quite a few decades ago, it was revised in the 1980s and the bibliography also includes material from the late 1990s so the work isn’t completely outdated. Because it was a Folio Society edition that I read, I’ll start off by saying that the quality is amazing in this publisher with a nice cover (slipcase as well), high-end paper, and lots of color plate pages. It also had a really extensive bibliography and the author used true footnotes with the notes being on the same page as the in-text citation.
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Alright, now that we got that out of the way let’s move to some of the problems of the book. First of all, I like my nonfiction works to be wrapped in some way in some form of a conclusion that ties everything together or reflects on the topic as a whole or something similar. This book finishes with a chapter on Hittite art and then has a two paragraph epilogue. It’s as if you are reading about Hittite art and then all of sudden the book is over. To me, it just seemed a little strange. Most of the chapters in the book are essentially stand alone, but some of them were quite dry and esoteric. In particular, the chapter on ancient Hittite and Anatolian languages was one such chapter as it described each of the languages spoken or written during Hittite times.
However, many of the chapters were also well written. While perhaps not riveting or breaking new ground, most of them were solid overviews of the topic at hand. I did like how the political narrative used in this book covered the entire spectrum of Hittite history (from the Land of Hatti’s first mentioning down through the end of the Neo-Hittite kingdoms) and not just the Hittite Empire. This allows for a broader context of the Hittites in ancient Anatolia and the ancient near east as a whole. There were quite a few Hittite sources translated and incorporated into the book, some of them of quite a substantial length. This is usually a plus for nonfiction works to use primary source material in the text, even more so with topics such as the Hittites where translations of primary sources are not always readily available. Lastly, I thought that Gurney’s chapter and discussion on Hittite law and justice was the highlight of the book. He explains the contrasts and similarities of the Hittites with other contemporary peoples to show where the Hittites stood out in the realm of justice at the time. He also goes through some of the individual laws of the legal codes as well as primary source material to demonstrate what the Hittites themselves valued in society and in their legal system.
Overall, The Hittites by Oliver Gurney is a solid introduction to this Bronze Age people. The Folio Society edition just made it even better. Most of the scholarship is clear and concise making for a fairly quick read.
4 out of 5 stars.