The Hittites had grown at the expense of Mitanni, but their glory too was of no long duration. In the days of Ramses II., the Pharaoh of the Oppression, their power was at its height. From their southern capital at Kadesh on the Orontes their armies had gone forth to contend on equal terms with the forces of the Nile, and after twenty-one years of warfare, peace was made between the two combatants, neither side having gained an advantage in the long struggle. The text of the treaty is engraved on the walls of Karnak. There we may read how the two rivals swore henceforth to be friends and allies, how the existing boundaries of their respective territories in Syria were to remain unchanged for ever, and how a general amnesty was to be granted to the political fugitives on either side. It was only the criminal to whom the right of asylum in the dominions of the other was denied.
In the war they had waged with Egypt the Hittite princes of Kadesh had summoned their vassal allies from the distant coasts of Asia Minor. Lycians and Dardanians had come from the far west; and were joined by the troops of Aram-Naharaim from the east. The extension of Hittite supremacy to the shores of the AEgean Sea is testified by the monuments it has left behind. Hittite inscriptions have been found near Smyrna engraved on the rocks, as well as the figures of Hittite warriors guarding the westernmost pass of the ancient road. The summer residences of the Hittite princes were on the eastern bank of the Halys. Here the roads of Asia Minor converged, and here we still see the sculptured bas-reliefs of a Hittite palace and long rows of Hittite deities.
The Hittite empire broke up into a multitude of small principalities. Of these Carchemish, now Jerablus, on the Euphrates, was perhaps the most important. It commanded the ford across the river, and the high-road of commerce from east to west. Its merchants grew rich, and “the mina of Carchemish” became a standard of value in the ancient world. Its capture by Sargon destroyed a rival of Assyrian trade, and opened the road to the Mediterranean to the armies of Assyria.
The decay of the Hittite and Mitannian power meant the revival of the older Aramaean population of the country. The foreigner was expelled or absorbed; Syria and Mesopotamia became more and more Semitic. Aramaean kingdoms arose on all sides, and a feeling of common kinship and interests arose among them at the same time. To the north of the Gulf of Antioch, in the very heart of the Hittite territory, German excavators have lately found the earliest known monuments of Aramaean art. The art, as is natural, is based on that of their Hittite predecessors; even the inscriptions in the alphabet of Phoenicia are cut in relief like the older hieroglyphs of the Hittites. But they prove that the triumph of the Aramaean was complete. The foreigner and his works were swept away; no trace has been discovered of a Hittite text, barely even of a Hittite name. The gods are all Semitic—Hadad the Sun-god and Shahr the Moon-god, the Baal of Harran, and Rekeb-el, “the Chariot of God.”