(In Search of Wassukkani – Capital of Pre-Vedic Aryan Kingdom of Mitannis from 1500 BC to 1200 BC in Upper Mesopotamia)
During the 1993 Navruj (spring) cease-fire by Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan's PKK, then fighting a savage war since 1984 against cultural discrimination in south-east Turkey, I decided to renew my knowledge of the region, known as Mesopotamia, Assyria, the Fertile Crescent in history. Home of over 40 civilizations, known as Asia minor and Anatolia in the past, Turkey has more Greek sites than Greece and more Roman monuments than Italy.
From its capital Ankara I made my night halt 700 kms away in S at Antakya (Antioch), capital of Selucus Nikator's empire, Alexander's infantry commander against Porus in India, but when he tried to reclaim Alexander's domains he was defeated and fobbed off with 500 elephants by Chandra Gupta Maurya. Next day I reached Urfa 300 kms east, where and at nearby Harran in the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, Patriarch Abraham had halted on his way from Ur (in Iraq) to Hebron in Canaan (Palestine). Local legend has it that he was born here making it a centre of pilgrimage.
Located at a strategic pass linking Anatolia to Mesopotamia, this ancient city was renamed Edessa by the Macedonians on way to Gaugamela where Alexander inflicted the final defeat on Darius III in 331 BC, terminating the Persian Achaemenean Empire.
Edessa, along with Antioch was one of the first major centers of Christianity, latter going over to the Monophysite heresy. Persecuted by Western Christians and then Muslim Arabs and Persians, many migrations took place from Edessa and the region to the Malabar coast specially in 4th, 5th and 9th centuries AD spreading the Christain Orthodox Church in Kerala. The relationship, though complicated by the arrival of the Portuguese, Dutch and the British, still continues between Kerala and east of Edessa in the Tur Abdin region, with Mardin, Midyat and Cizre dotted with old Churches and monasteries where Suryani, akin to Aramaic spoken by Jesus Christ, is still being taught . But now in the grip of Kurdish Turkish strife the numbers of Christians is fast dwindling. For centuries Mar Zaffran near Mardin was the seat of the Orthodox Church, now located in Syria.
In Urfa, ancient works and Greek classics, the basis of Western civilization, were translated into Aramaic and Syriac which when the Arabs came over, were translated into Arabic. After the Crusaders took over the city, they were retranslated and 'recovered' for Europe, where they had been destroyed by barbarian invasions. Edessa survived many rulers and wars but like other cities it never recovered from the Mongol destruction.
Just south of Urfa is Harran of bee-hive houses, centre of the Moon cult, human sacrificing Sabbians and ancient Carrhae, where tablets inscribed with parts of the legends of Gilgamesh were discovered. Nearby the Parthians had captured Roman Emperor Crassus. It was the stomping ground of prophets like Elijah, Job, Shuyab and Jacob with the well where Rebecca gave him water. From Mardin, an ancient city at the edge on the hills one can see the immense Mesopotamian plains spread southwards to the Gulf . A series of hydro-electric projects, on the Euphrates, now under construction in the region will once again bring wealth and prosperity to upper Mesopotamia but the water diversion and implied threat of strategic flooding does not amuse the Syrians.
But I was not looking for Abraham's transit halt, nor Guagamela or even Noah's tomb at Cizre (at the junction of Iran, Iraq and Turkish borders), but Wassukkani which between 1500 BC to 1200 BC was the capital of the Kingdom of Mitannis. They were an Indo-Aryan people, experts in chariot warfare, who worshipped the pre-Vedic Aryan Gods Indra, Natasya, Mitra and Varuna and used pre-Vedic Sanskrit.
Not that I expected to find Wassukkani. That I shall leave to archaeologists and their benefactors, but if it were located and diggings started in my life time, it would be a matter of great satisfaction. For, unfortunately, none of the sites of the Mitanni Kingdom itself has been located and knowledge about them is based on sites in El Amarna Egypt and Bogazkoy in north-west Turkey.
Wassukkanni was once thought to be Rais el Ain in Syria, just 80 kms east across from Harran, nowadays bristling with minefields and hostile sentries. But the Akkadian cuneiform tablets found at Amarna, when subjected to tests did not match. Wassukkanni is now believed to be up north in between Mardin, and 90 km up north from Diyarbakir (ancient Amida) now (culturally) a Kurdish city, an area I travelled up and down.
The upper Mesopotamia region around the middle reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris was rich agriculture land and therefore, much sought after. Throughout history, because of its excellent location, for caravans bringing goods from India and the east, for connecting the Arabian desert to the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, it was much fought over. It is now divided between Turkey, Syria and Iraq with Iran not far away. But during 16th to 13th century BC, the dynasty of Mitannis flourished in the rich grain growing valleys of the rivers Balikh and Khabur, tributaries of the Euphrates, with mostly adversarial relations with Indo-European Hittites in Bogazkoy and generally close relations with the Egyptian Pharaohs. Mitannis perhaps came to this region through the Caucasus and had splintered off in the Eurasian Steppes from the main stream which continued on to Iran and India. They became the ruling aristocracy among the confederation of Hurrian, Hanigalbat and other states of the region which extended from the Zagros mountains in Iran through Assyria, upper Mesopotamia and Syria to the Mediterranean.
Information on Mitannis and their Kingdom first surfaced at the end of the 19th century when letters from the Mitanni King sent to his Pharaoh son-in-law were discovered at El Amarna and deciphered. The Egyptians called the Mitannis Naharinas. The other extensive and important source material was discovered in early 20th century at Bogazkoy 250 Km north east of Ankara, the stronghold of Hittites. Among the documents discovered were treaties between the Hittites and Mitannis in which reference was made to the Indo-Iranian gods Indra, Natasya, Mitra and Varuna and a treatise on horse training and chariotry in Hittite written by Kikkuli, a Mitanni who used ancient Vedic Sanskrit technical terms, thus also confirming Mitannian superiority in matters of horsemanship.
The Egyptian Pharaohs had requested the Mitannis time and again for horses and chariots.
Other places where cuneiform documents in Akkadian and other languages throw light on Mitannis are Arraphka, Nuzi (near Kirkuk), Alalakh, a river port on Orontes (on the Turkish -Syrian border near Antioch), Ugarit (Ras Shamra in Syria) on the Mediterranean, Mari on the river Euphrates. Ugarit was perhaps one of the greatest international sea ports of that time; for, owing to its location, it controlled trade between Syria, its hinterland and the East with the Aegean and the Mediterranean, with merchants and sailors from Egypt, Cyprus, Crete, Mycene and other places mingling here for trade and commerce. Documents from Nuzi describe certain social and religious traditions which are reflected in Hebrew legends recorded in the Old Testament.
The fact that the gods in the Treaties are Hindu Vedic Daivya gods, Indra and Natasya along with Assura Iranian gods Mitra and Varuna, shows that the Aryan division into Iranians and Indians had yet not taken place; later on most of Daivya worshipping Aryans continued on to India and most of Assura worshipping Aryans stayed behind in Iran. Limiting the use of Indo-Aryan gods to the Treaties perhaps indicates that only the rulers were of Indo-Aryan origin. There is also evidence that the Royals were cremated. The chariot riding shock troops were called Marijannina linked with old Indian Vedic i.e. Marya=youngman, old Avestan= a member of a group. Later this land owning aristocratic group became hereditary, i.e. even without chariots. The technical terms used in horse training and chariotry like aika wartanna, navartanna etc (one turn, nine turns ) are like ek vartanam, nava vartanam as in Vedic Sanskrit. A Hurrian text from Yorgan Tepe uses Indo-Aryan words to describe the colour of horses, i.e. babru (brown) parita (grey), pinkara (reddish) etc. The beginnings of the Mitannis arrival are shrouded in mystery, but it seems that they took advantage of the collapse of the Empire established by Hammurabi (who gave the first code in human history, i.e. to protect the weak against the strong). There are reasons to believe that the Kings of the Ashur between 1500 BC to 1360 BC were the vassals of the Mitannis. The Mitannis also crossed the Euphrates and exercised influence over the Amorites and Canaanites in the South.
The first and most important Mitanni king was Saustatar (1450 BC to 1440 BC). The others were Artatama (1440-1420),Vedic rta -dhaman= whose abode is the Rta, Shutarna (1420 to 1395), Artashumara (1395 to 1385), Tushratta = Vedic Tvesh- ratha, one whose chariot moves forward violently and Sattiwaza; in old Indo-Aryan sati-vaja = acquiring booty, old Vedic vaja -sati. While the etymology of names of all Mitanni kings has not been done, they are very different from Hurrian names. Rulers with similar names ruled in South Syria and Palestine.
Shaustatar ruled around the same time as Pharaoh Thuthmosis III. In fact he made Thuthmosis's drive to conquer Syria, by supporting the small states there, very difficult leading to respect for each other. Later the Mitannis signed a peace treaty with the Pharaohs in order to counteract the Hittite threat from the North West . This was cemented with a Mitanni princess being married to a Pharaoh, but only after 7 requests. Shaustatar's son Artatama sent his daughter Mutema as wife to Pharaoh Thuthmosis IV, grandson of Thutmosis III Artatarna's successor Shutarna's daughter Gilukhepa was married to Amun hotep III . She went to her husband in style with 317 Mitannian maidens. Next, Tushratta gave his daughter Tadukhepa to Amun hotep IV, who also married Gilukhepa, youngest in his father's harem.
It is generally believed that Gilukhepa was no other than the beautiful and famous Nefertiti. It is known that Nefertiti fully supported her husband' s efforts to bring in monotheism.
It was from Egypt, where Moses was born and brought up that he led out the Jews with the idea of one God Jehovah.
The last semi-independent King was Mattiuzza, who was installed on the throne following a palace coup after the murder of Tushratha. He became a vassal of the Hittite king Shuppiluliuma who gave his daughter Mursil in marriage to Mattiuza. Thus the Mitanni dynasty came to be connected with both the Pharaohs and the Hittites. But after the alliance with the Hittites, the Mitannis were reduced to a smaller state with limited independence. As the Mitanni power decreased relations with the Pharaohs withered away. Some of its later kings were Shattwara and Wasasatta. Small Mitanni states lingered on for years.
The Assyrians took advantage of the situation to assert their independence. They even raided the Mitanni capital Wassukkanni and took back the golden and silver gates which the Mitannis had brought from Assyria 200 years ago. Assyrian king Ashur Uballit I (1365 BC to1338 BC) ended the Mittani independence completely by defeating Shuttarna II. Over 14000 Mitannis were blinded. After this defeat, the Mitannis either got absorbed in the region or some of them went up north to form part of the Urartu Kingdom. Something like that had perhaps also happened to another Indo Aryan people the Kassites, who ruled earlier over Assyria for nearly 5 centuries, but apart from 300 words of their language and 30 odd gods not much is known about them.
In the Kingdom of Mitannis, also known that of Hurrians, the latter probably formed the majority, i.e. the other backward classes of those days. The Hurrians, whose language is neither Indo-European nor Semitic, were a non-Indo-European people and are believed to have come from Armenia and present day north east of Turkey. They were well distributed in the region, even in the Hittite areas. They were culturally well developed and their religion and other practices were adopted by the Hittites. The Hurrians also transmitted the Assyrian culture to the Hittites. Perhaps it was too early for the castes to emerge, but the Mitannis certainly appeared to be like the Kshatriyas; a word which comes from ratharias - charioteers, having superimposed themselves over the Hurrians. The Mitannis used Hurrian language but inducted into it Indo-Aryan vocabulary, as the Turks did in Persia, India in a way and elsewhere, i.e. using the language of the subjects, but retaining the military terms.
The Hittites were an Indo-European people, the first to break away from the proto Indo-Europeans, who probably originated from the Black Sea coast of Russia and Ukraine. They had reached Asia Minor at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC via the straits of the Bosphorous and established a magnificent and impregnable capital at Hattusa, i.e. Bogazkoy next to Cappadocia (with its mysterious honeycombed underground cities and lunar landscape with eerie tall chimneys, where the earliest Christian communities built their churches).
The name Hittites (referred as such in the Bible) is taken from Hattis, an indigenous people, whom the Hittites displaced and who then formed the lower substrata. The Hittites called themselves Nes and their language Nesiti. The Hittite King Hattusilis (reign 1650 to 1620 BC) consolidated the Kingdom and extended its control over most of Asia Minor and Northern Syria. His grandson Mursilis I raided down along the Euphrates river and destroyed the Amorite dynasty of Babylon, then one of the most cosmopolitan, rich and cultured cities. The austere highlanders felt out of place and far away from Hattussa and returned to their capital. Then for some time they got embroiled in their own affairs and re-emerged as the new Empire in the 14th century BC. Under Suppililumas I it reached the height of its power, extent and culture. Tusharatta, the last independent Mitanni King, defeated the Hittites first time around, but Suppililuimas I then went north and east, taking Wassukkanni by surprise. Tushratta escaped to Carchemish, but the Mitanni power was broken and its glory came to an end. Suppliliumas put his sons as kings of Aleppo and Carchemish. Hittite king Muwatallis (1320 to 1294BC) fought at Kadesh (in Syria) one of the greatest battles of ancient times against Pharaoh Ramses II. It was probably indecisive, even though the latter claimed a victory. Later a peace treaty was signed and a marriage alliance concluded. The Hittites were tolerant in their religious outlook and their polytheism contained indigenous Anatolian, Syrian and Hurrian divinities. The Hittite King, deputy of the storm god, was also the commander in chief, chief judge and after death became a god.
The earliest Indo-Aryan writing in India occurs around 300 BC on Ashoka pillars, but it is really Prakrit. The ancient Sanskrit of Vedas, though transmitted orally was probably written down by 6th century BC. Thus the earliest written archaic Indo-Aryan/Indo-Iranian language has been found in Asia Minor and Syria. The Hittite language is the earliest known extinct form of Indo-European Language and the older Hittite texts (from 1650 BC to 1595 BC ) are the earliest texts found so far. In the later forms (1400 BC to 1190 BC) are to be found the Treaties and Treatise mentioned earlier, which are now on display at the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul along with other historical treasures, literally a sweep through time and history. But for a full and authentic account of the times and lives of the Mitannis and pre-Vedic Aryans, we have to wait till Wassukkanni is located, dug and its findings deciphered.
K Gajendra Singh, Indian ambassador (retired), served as ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served terms as ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies.
Copy right with the author*. E-mail: Gajendrak@hotmail.com