Gianni Dagli Orti/Corbis

A helmeted god, carved in high relief, stands guard over King’s Gate, one of the principal entrances to ancient Hattusa (modern Boghazkoy, Turkey). From the 17th century B.C. to the early 12th century B.C., Hattusa served as the capital of a Hittite empire that stretched from the Aegean Sea in the west to the Euphrates River in the east. Within the city’s six-mile-long circuit of fortified walls and towers were palaces, dozens of temples, and a library containing over 3,000 cuneiform tablets inscribed both in the Hittite language and in Mesopotamian Akkadian (see box).