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The Hurrians

The Hurrians were an important ethnic group in the Levant during the 2nd millenium BCE. The first appearance of Hurrian personal and place names comes from Mesopotamian records of the late 3rd millenium. These reveal that the region east of the Tigris river into the Zagros Mountains was the Hurrian homeland. Over time they moved westward, especially after about 1700 BCE (during Egyptian Twelfth Dynasty), when Indo-Europeans began moving in behind them from the area between Lake Van and the Zagros. The Hurrians overthrew the rulers of Assyria, and the flourishing commercial city of Nuzu east of the Tigris was a Hurrian community. The Hurrians also had much influence in northern Syria and eastern Anatolia, where they neighbored the Hittites.

The Hurrian homeland, however, was northern Mesopotamia. At that time their country was called Hurri and was ruled by Indo-Iranian kings. In the 15th and 14th centuries BCE (during the Egyptian Eighteenth Dynasty), they united the entire Hurrian region from the Iranian mountains to the Mediterranean, forming the Mitanni state. The Mitanni entered into an alliance with Egypt, but Akhenaten did nothing to prevent the Hittites under Suppiluliumas from conquering them. The Mitanni became a vassal to the Hittites, but because the Hurrian culture was so strong in northern Syria and Kuzzwadna (Cilicia), the Hittites were all but Hurrianized. Their gods were Hurrian gods, their queens bore Hurrian names, and their epic poems were based on Hurrian mythology. However, except for a small principality called Hayasha in the Armenian mountains, the Hurrians as a distinguishable ethnic group disappeared by the end of the 2nd millenium BCE, having been assimilated into the other cultures of the day.

There are few native documents pertaining to the Hurrian and Mitanni religion, but much can be inferred from the related Hittite and Ugaritic myths. The king of the gods was the weather god Teshub, who had violently deposed his father Kumarbi. His war chariot was drawn by the bulls Seris ("Day") and Hurris ("Night"). Major temples to Teshub were located at Arrapkha (now Kirkuk) and Halab (now Aleppo). In the east, his wife was the goddess of love and war Shauska, and in the west Hebat; both were similar to the Semitic goddess Ishtar-Astarte. There were also the sun-god Shimegi and the moon-good Kushuh, whose consort Nikkal was the same as the Sumerian Ningal, although these deitites were of lesser importance. Greater than these was the Babylonian god of war and the Underworld, Nergal. In the north there was the god of war Astapi and the goddess of oaths Ishara. There was also importance attached to divinities of heaven and earth, mountains and rivers.

In their myths, the terrible aspects of their deities frequently takes precedence over their benevolent ones. There is evidence of sacrifice and other rites known throughout Syria. Many Hurrian rituals were similar to those in Hittite Anatolia. There is evidence for magic and oracles.

Aurelien Joly is a Tunahead.