VAMPIRES OF THE STEPPE
This is the largest piece I’ve written for any magazine to date. A robust 5,700 words, this piece featured in Asian Geographic 2012, Issue 6. It was split into three sections, so I’ve split it into three separate posts for anyone who may be interested in reading the entire piece. Original text follows the spread as it appears in the magazine.
VAMPIRES OF THE STEPPE
How Turkic Blood Changed the World: Part 1
By Flash Parker
Blood runs thicker than water. Thicker than oil too, depending on whom you ask. About the only thing in the world thicker than blood is the Turkish coffee that is currently wreaking havoc on my nerves. In case you don’t already know, Turkish coffee is as black as midnight, kicks like a mule, and comes sprinkled with a little bit of magic. I came to Turkey to climb up and down Mount Ararat looking for Noah’s Ark, find an Eastern Karadeniz hamlet to hold up in between summer meadow picnics, trek the Kackar Mountains, and explore the ancient ruins of Hattusas. I even had plans to visit the rock-hewn Sümela Monastery with a basket packed full of anchovy pies, Aryan salted yogurt, and a few Akcabat koftesi meatballs for good measure. Now, with the world’s strongest coffee coursing through my veins, I can hardly remember why I wanted to come out here at all. I suppose even the best laid plans have a way of unraveling.
From my perch at a little café in the remote village of Bogazkale, ancient Hattusa unfolds before me on the steppe. Where moments ago there were only ruins, now the great city stands in all its mighty glory. My mind wants to tell me I’m hallucinating – I’m not much of a coffee drinker after all – but my heart begs me to believe that the city, annihilated more than 3,000 years ago, really does exist. A great wall, six kilometers long and some eight meters thick, protects the outer perimeter; ramparts rise to meet great gates, guarded by fierce lion simulacrums; serfs work the fertile plains; a great chariot thunders towards the southern ramparts carrying a proud king, returning home after the conquest of another distant land. My vision encapsulates the entire ancient kingdom of Hittite; I realize I can’t drink any more coffee.
Voices bring me back to reality. The men at the table next to mine are engaged in a heated conversation. “This is the personification of the Anatolian Tiger,” the gentleman closest to me says as he slams his tiny cappuccino cup down on the table. He’s dressed in a plaid shirt, slacks, and has a scarf wrapped around his waist in a manner that makes him look like he’s about to raid an ark. Ark Raider continues; “the blood of ancient Turkey is pure, and it courses through his veins. Istanbul recognizes this, and she is afraid; soon he will rise to take his place among the greats of history and rule this nation. This is the destiny of the Anatolian Tiger.”
Ark Raider accentuates his point by jabbing his fist at the air; his companion nods, as if everything Ark Raider says is true. For some reason, I want to agree. I’ve heard the term Anatolian Tiger used in casual conversation, even seen it pasted on newspaper headlines throughout the country. As I understand it, an Anatolian Tiger is a businessperson of significant entrepreneurial aptitude, a mover and a shaker, an industrial giant, someone for whom commercial, cultural, and industrial conquest is the rule, and not the exception. In short, an Anatolian Tiger is someone who rules the country.
Synapses firing on meta-human levels, caffeine saturating my brain cells, I start making minute connections. Ark Raider’s Anatolian Tiger must be descended from the royal line of Hittite kings – rulers of the city state of Hattusa – a great civilization that once flourished on this very domain. The Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Assyrians are widely regarded as the giants of the ancient world, and each had a hand in shaping the cultural landscape of what is today modern Turkey, yet the Hittites themselves were at one time as powerful as any of them – perhaps even more so. If Ark Raider’s Anatolian Tiger is in some way connected to these ancient peoples, I want to know how.
As far as most people are concerned, the only Hittites of note were the biblical characters of Uriah and Bathsheba, a warrior in King David’s army, and his wife, respectively. The love triangle between these characters conspired to bring about King David’s downfall, and while this biblical account makes for exciting reading, it is preposterous to think that Ark Raider’s Anatolian Tiger could in any way be linked to the line of the King of the United Kingdom of Israel. The only plausible connection to be made concerns the historical Hittites, the former lords of Anatolia.
My originally planned journey is no longer of consequence; I understand now that my task is to unravel this mystery, and discover the clues to whose blood courses through the tiger’s veins. In short, I must know who had the greatest bloodline of all. I order a fresh pot of coffee, flip to a fresh page in my notebook, and dip my pen in ink. The first lines in the sand have been drawn.
THE BIRTH OF THE TIGERS
The inhospitable terrain of the Anatolian steppe had been home to various peoples for millennia, but the Hittites were the first to lay the foundation of an empire. Hattusa sat at the core of this empire, a strategic stronghold that grew powerful enough to rival the great Egyptians under the leadership of Suppiluliuma I. The royal line of the Hittite kings was considered by many to be divine; these kings sent consorts to far-flung reaches of the empire to spread royal blood and expand the sphere of empirical influence. The ultimate goal of many Hittite kings was to inject Anatolian blood into the Egyptian line of pharaohs. The Egyptians, fearful of the emergent Hittite power after the death of Pharoah Akhenaten in 1336 BCE left the Egyptian line of succession in question, facilitated a covenant to marry the Pharaoh’s widow to one of Suppiluliuma I’s sons. The widow Dakhamunzu, commonly referred to as Nefertiti today, sought to unite the two titans and create the most powerful bloodline the world had ever known. The Assyrians, fearful of this union as a portent of their own downfall, assassinated Prince Zannanza, Suppiluliuma I’s son, and began a campaign of purging Anatolia of Hittite royal blood. The Hittites were enraged; they had long sought an ally with the strength and resources of the Egyptians, and had they succeeded in marrying Zannanza to Dakhamunzu, the next Pharaoh of Egypt would have been a Hittite, and the Hittite line would have changed history forever. Bound by blood, the unified kingdoms would have been able to defeat any army and conquer any territory.
The Hittites struck back at the Assyrians. Strong, disciplined, resourceful, and technologically advanced for the age – the Hittites also had a number of great pyramids in their capital city, but they didn’t brag about them like the Egyptians did – the Hittites engaged in a long campaign against the Assyrians that would weaken their overall power and crack the very foundation of Hattusa – and the Empire. Mursili II, another son of Suppiluliuma I, took the reins of the empire’s mighty chariots – the most feared weapon of war at the time – and dealt a blow to Assyria that was severe and devastating. Bolstered by his triumph, Mursili II sought to reclaim great swaths of Hittite land, spreading his armies thin in the process, though he did manage to send emissaries into the Greek territory of Achae in an effort to inject Hittite blood into the Hellenic lines.
Mursili II and future Hittite kings would war with the other great empires for control of Kadesh, an eastern Mediterranean littoral that had held strategic importance for hundreds of years. The Hittites engaged in open battle against the Egyptians and the legendary Ramses II for control of Kadesh in what was the greatest chariot battle ever fought, while at the same time the Assyrians assailed their flanks. With many soldiers engaged in campaigns in remote outposts of the empire, the Hittites were ill equipped for battle on two fronts. Though they defeated the Egyptians at Kadesh, the Hittites were weakened, and they had no choice but to sign a treaty with Ramesses II; this treaty, the first of its kind, was signed in 1259 BCE and ended more than 200 years of battling over Mediterranean territories between the Hittites and the Egyptians. Hattusili III, a son of Mursili I and king of the Hittites, signed the treaty and wed one of his daughters to Ramesses II. The Egyptians aided the Hittites in their campaign against the Assyrians, and for a time it seemed as though the empire would again flourish, and the great kings of the Anatolian steppe would finally see one of their own rule over the Egyptian Empire as great pharaoh.
Proud, powerful, and headstrong, the future kings of the Hittites spilled as much blood as they spread, as Hattusili III’s sons Tudhaliya IV and Suppililumas II struggled to defend the empire from emergent threats. In the end, it was Hattusa’s remote location that would doom the empire; for ages Hattusa existed as the paragon of strategic military defense, cut off from the rest of the world, impervious to attacks from the sea – the closest major river was hundreds of miles away – and protected by one of the ancient world’s most formidable defensive perimeters. Yet this isolation meant that Hattusa’s supply lines were always vulnerable; the enemies of the empire took notice, and they struck hard. The Assyrian’s pushed deep into Hittite territory while the Phrygians and Kaskas attacked supply lines and trade routes. Hattusa was razed in 1175 BCE, and the last Hittite king’s blood was spilled on the soil of the steppe.
Though the empire had fallen, Hittite kings had succeeded in injecting royal blood into Egyptian, Assyrian, and Babylonian lines; numerous Hittite vassal states were also infused with royal blood. The suddenly mighty Phrygian Empire was also linked to the Hittite through King Gordias, founder of the Phrygian capital Gordium. Historians disagree on accounts of the king’s lineage, but most concede that he had a son named Midas, who donated a great throne to the Oracle of Delphi. King Midas himself had strong Greek ties, but doomed his own line when he accepted the gift of the golden touch from the satyr Silenus. Under the vain and treacherous Midas, the Phrygian line destabilized and disintegrated. Over time the historical and mythical versions of Gordias and Midas have fused into one rich, multi-layered lyrical tapestry, where truth is little more than the thread that binds the narrative together. Whether it was the golden touch that doomed the Phrygian Empire, or the rise of the Cimmerians, or the renewed vigor of the powerful Assyrians that hastened their downfall, the Hittite bloodline was, by all historical accounts, wiped clean from the ancient slate. By the time Hellenistic powers were rising in Anatolia and Alexander the Great was conquering the world, blood that had flowed for centuries had ceased to ebb.