As one of the four great powers of the ancient Near East and a powerful northern Mesopotamian kingdom, the Mitanni controlled an extensive peripheral empire during most of the Late Bronze Age. The kingdom of Mitanni resulted from the unification of several small states of northern Mesopotamia by a group of Indo-Aryans who had detached themselves from the main Aryan migration south into India. Their cultural impact had been limited to the introduction of a number of personal names of Sanskritic origin, to several words of Sanskritic affiliation, and to a few Vedic deities (in theophoric names and in a treaty). Although the Mitanni state languages remained local Hurrian and Akkadian, the Indo-Aryan political and military roles became dominant.
The term Mitanni came from the earlier Maitani and the Old Egyptian Ma-ta-ni; it was also known as ḫurwuḫe/ḫurruḫe (in Hurrian), ḫurri (mainly in Hittite), ḫuru (in Egyptian), ḫanigalbat (and variations on that in the Akkadian of Babylonia, Assyria, and Nuzi), and Naharina (in West Semitic, “river land,”—the most common designation in Egyptian). Unlike the other major civilizations of the ancient Near East, knowledge of the kingdom of Mitanni comes almost exclusively from its neighbors: from the Amarna Letters; from Egyptian, Hittite, Babylonian, and Assyrian records; and from its vassal kingdoms of Alalakh (in northern Syria), Arrapkha (east of the Tigris River, principally from the town of Nuzi), and Khana (on the middle Euphrates River and the lower Khabur). Six tablets were found at Tell Brak in the heartland of Mitanni, but only two mention the kings Artashshumara and Tushratta.
The earliest mentions of Mitanni as ḫanigalbat occur in a tablet from the reign of the Babylonian king Ammisaduqa (1582–1562 BCE; then spelled ḫabingalbat) and under Year 3 of the Akkadian version of the annals of the Hittite king Hattushilish I (c.1575–1540 BCE). By that time, Mitanni was strong enough to launch an invasion of Anatolia that almost extinguished the Hittite kingdom.
Mitanni fought the Hittite kings Hattushilish I and Murshilish I (c.1540–1530 BCE) for control of northern Syria, reversing the Hittite victories over Babylon by defeating Murshilish I upon his return. Then Khana joined Mitanni as a client state. ḫantilish I (c.1530–1500 BCE) was then ousted from Syria, but a third competitor soon appeared on the scene—Egypt, led by Thutmose I, who invaded northern Syria in c.1525 BCE. He fought Mitanni and reached as far east as the Euphrates River. At this point, most likely, Ilim-ilimma I, an offspring of the old local dynasty, was installed as king of Halab. A few years later, Ilim-ilimma was assassinated, probably by a pro-Mitanni faction. His son Idrimi fled to Ammiya (now Amyūn in Lebanon), at that time under Egyptian rule. He was able (evidently with Egyptian support) to build ships, recruit an army, land on the shore of his ancestral domain, establish himself at Alalakh, and resist the Mitanni king Parattarna for seven years. A shift in Egyptian foreign policy under Hatshepsut, however, deprived Idrimi of Egyptian backing, and he submitted himself to the overlordship of Parattarna. The road to northern and central Syria—and to Palestine as far as the Egyptian border fortress of Sharuhen—was then opened to the Mitanni. Men with Indo-Aryan and Hurrian names were soon appointed rulers of many southern Syrian and Palestinian city-states; they were left in place after the reconquest of these areas by Egypt. Their successors used the same onomastic tradition in the Amarna period. ḫuru first became an Egyptian designation for Syria and, during the nineteenth dynasty, specifically for Palestine. About the same time, Mitanni acquired a new client state, at the expense of Hatti—Lowland Cilicia (in Hittite, Adaniya, in Ugaritic, Qṭy; and in Egyptian, Qadi). Its contingent—along with troops from Qidshi, ḫuru, and Naharina—participated in the defense of Megiddo against Thutmose III in 1482 BCE.
Thutmose III's reconquest of Palestine and southern Syria went rather easily, but the campaigns in central Syria were more difficult. In 1472 BCE, however, the Egyptian army invaded northern Syria, northeast to the Euphrates River, and imposed its overlordship on the local states. This did not last very long; Mitanni, probably under the new king Saushshatar, made a crushing comeback in 1463 BCE, to reconquer not only northern Syria but also Tunip and Qidshi. Only Amqa and Upi remained in the hands of Egypt. Saushshatar was successful on other fronts as well; in the northwest, he extended his sovereignty over the large and strategically important kingdom of Kizzuwadna; in the east, he sacked Assur and reduced it to vassalage; and in the far north, he defended the vassal state of Ishuwa from invasion by the Hittite king Tudhaliyash I.
Under one of Saushshatar's successors (Parattarna II or Artatama I), Tudhaliyash I forced Kizzuwdna back into the Hittite fold. This opened for him the passes to northern Syria. Both Hatti and Mitanni sent emissaries to Amenhotpe II to gain Egypt's friendly neutrality (probably in his twenty-third regnal year). Hatti soon concluded a nonaggression pact with Egypt, the Kurushtama treaty. A few years later, in the first regnal year of Thutmose IV, the hard-pressed Artatama I of Mittani made far-reaching territorial concessions to Egypt: he ceded to it Tunip, with the southern part of its domain (Qatna, Qidshi, and Takhshi), and he agreed to the extension of Egyptian sovereignty upon the hitherto neutral kingdom of Ugarit. The sacrifice paid off: after initial success, Tudhaliyash I was pushed out of Syria by Mitanni's troops, which no longer had to be split on two fronts. The century-long enmity between Egypt and Mitanni was then replaced by an entente cordiale which lasted for sixty years. Three generations of Egyptian kings (Thutmose IV, Amenhotpe III, and Amenhotpe IV) married princesses from Mitanni. Under Amenhotpe IV and his ally and father-in-law Tushratta of Mitanni, their joint troops cooperated in reversing the political affiliation of Nuḫašše, Tunip, and Amurru, which had been brought about by the Hittite king Shuppiluliumas I's foray into Syria.
This was to be Tushratta's last success. A few years earlier, the eastern part of his kingdom had been seized by a rival claimant, Artatama II (probably his brother), who established his capital at Taidi. Two years after his Syrian foray, Shuppiluliumas I invaded Mitanni from the north; he sacked its capital, Washshukanni; he crossed into Syria; and he conquered both its Mitanni zone and the areas previously ceded to Egypt by Mitanni. Soon after this, Tushratta was killed by one of his sons, and his kingdom was annexed by Artatama II. Yet another son of Tushratta, Shattiwaza, escaped to Anatolia, presented himself to Shuppiluliumas, and with his military assistance regained his father's domain. Although he had to cede part of it to Hatti by an agreement with Artatama II, Shattiwaza was appointed heir to the remaining part of his kingdom (much of which had been taken over by the newly liberated Assyria). Troops of Naharina still fought on the Hittite side in the Battle of Kadesh (Qidshi), but some twelve to fifteen years later, King Adad-narari I of Assyria made that state his tributary. After two unsuccessful revolts—the second one, against Shalmaneser I, had massive Hittite assistance—by 1250 BCE, Mitanni (ḫanigalbat) had been completely incorporated into the Assyrian empire.
- Astour, Michael C. Hittite History and Absolute Chronology of the Bronze Age. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology and Literature, 73. Partille, 1989. Chapters 10–14, 27, 33, 34, 36, 37, 39, and Charts II and IV deal with the chronology of Mitanni and its synchronisms with ḫatti, Alalakh, and Egypt, with their military and diplomatic interactions, and with territorial changes in Syria until 1386 BCE.
- Diakonoff, I. M. “Die Arier im Vorderen Orient: Ende eines Mythos (Zur Methodik der Erforschung verschollener Sprachen).” Orientalia NS 41 (1972), 91–120. First published in Russian, Vestnik drevnej istorii, 1970, no. 4, 39–63. A minimalization of the role of the Indo-Aryans in the Near East.
- Finkel, Irving L. “Inscriptions from Tell Brak 1984.” Iraq 47 (1985), 187–201. Two tablets from Mitanni, pp. 191–198.
- Finkel, Irving L. “Inscriptions from Tell Brak 1985.” Iraq 50 (1988), 83–86. A period letter from Mitanni.
- Illingworth, N. J. J. “Inscriptions from Tell Brak 1986.” Iraq 50 (1988), 87–108. Two tablets from Mitanni, pp. 96–108.
- Kammenhuber, Annelies. Die Arier im vorderen Orient. Heidelberg, 1968. A minimalization of the role of Indo-Aryans in the Near East.
- Klengel, Horst. “Mitanni: Probleme seiner Expansion und politischen Struktur.” Revue hittite et asiani-que 36 (1978), 91–115.
- Klengel, Horst. Syria, 3000 to 300 B.C.: A Handbook of Political History. Berlin 1992. See Chapter 3: “The Period of Mittanian and Egyptian Domination (c. 1600–1350).”
- Liverani, Mario. “Ḫurri e Mitanni.” Oriens Antiquus 1 (1962): 253–257.
- Mayrhofer, Manfred. Die Indo-Arier im alten Vorderasien. Mit einer analytischen Bibliographie. Wiesbaden, 1966.
- Mayrhofer, Manfred. Die Arier im vorderen Orient—ein Mythus?: mit einem bibliographischen supplement. Vienna, 1974. Rejoinder to Kammenhuber and Diakonoff above.
- O'Callaghan, Roger T. Aram Naharaim: A Contribution to the History of Upper Mesopotamia in the Second Millennium B.C. Analecta Orientalia, 26. Rome, 1948. Ch. IV, pp. 51–92, “The Mitanni Kingdom.” Dated, but a useful general survey.
- Rouault, Olivier. “Cultures locales et influences extérieures. Le cas de Terqa.” Studi micenei ed egeo-anatolici 30 (1992), 247–256. Information on the status of Ḫana as a vassal of Mitanni, from unpublished Terqa tablets.
- Wilhelm, Gernot. “Parrattarna, Saušatar und die absolute Datierung der Nuzi-Tafeln.” Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 26 (1976), 149–161.
- Wilhelm, Gernot. The Hurrians. Translated from German by Jennifer Barnes. Warminster, 1989. A slightly updated translation of Grundzüge der Geschichte und Kultur der Hurriter, Darmstadt, 1982. The chapter “History,” pp. 7–41, includes the history of Mitanni.
- Wilhelm, Gernot. “A Hurrian Letter from Tell Brak.” Iraq 53 (1991), 159–168.
Michael C. Astour