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 Origin of the Indo-European languages: Part VIII

Hittite civilization


 Introduction

Hi, Andrés Muni again. As the last one, the following document has plenty of names.

I have attempted to translate all those names into English properly to a certain extent, but since my knowledge of English language is limited, I maybe made some mistakes. Besides, some of them are in Spanish, specially those of the kings, because I do not know their respective translation.

If you note some errors or know a translation for a certain word, please e-mail me in order to correct the mistake or translate the word. I have marked with an asterisk the words with a problematical translation.

In this document, we will study the ancient Hittite civilization. Enjoy.

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 Decipherment of the Hittite scriptures

Only in the twentieth century, the ruins of Hattusa, in Bogazköy, attracted the attention of the archeologists. In 1906, the German assyriologist Hugo Winckler carried out an important finding. His excavations allowed him to extract fragments and tablets. Most tablets were written in Arzawa language, which was firstly discovered in Tel-El-Amarna and could not be deciphered at that time. Shortly afterward appeared tablets written in Acadian (the Babylonian language) containing fragments of correspondence between a pharaoh and a Hittite king.

This induced Winckler to think that he was excavating the capital city of the Hittite empire. Later on, a tablet containing the text of a nonaggression pact between the pharaoh Rameses the Second and a king by the name of Hattusili the Second was unburied. Rameses the Second got that pact engraved hieroglyphically on the walls of the Temple of Karnack. Winckler had a tablet on which the same conditions and terms of the aforesaid pact were stated, but this time in cuneiform characters and Babylonian language.

In 1907, he came back to Bogazköy with another expedition, and picked up over 10,000 tablets and fragments. The discovered documentation increased the list of unknown monarchs, places and narratives he could identify thank to Egyptian, Babylonian and Assyrian sources.

The translation of the tablets in Acadian allowed an incomplete list of Hittite kings to be compiled, which became the starting point to rebuild the history of a nation. This nation was also a considerable power in the ancient world. But the numerous documents written in Arzawa (then Hittite) will continue untranslated until the hieroglyphic inscription in Hamathitelanguage could be deciphered. The innumerable clay tablets containing cuneiform characters in Arzawa which were found in Hattusa remained indecipherable as well as the hieroglyphics engraved on the walls of the temples and on monuments.

From the cuneiform inscription it was known that the cuneiform writing had been taken by the Hittite from the Babylonian. However, regarding the hieroglyphics, nobody succeeded in deciphering them since the time they were found on the stones of Hamath. In 1874, the North American linguist William Ward discovered the order in which the Hamatita inscriptions should be read. Ward noticed that all hieroglyphics having an identifiable pictorial value (head, feet, hands) faced the same direction along one line, but did face the opposite direction along the following line. Thus, he concluded that the Hittite hieroglyphics had to be read in boustrophedon, i.e. in the same way as an ox pulls the plow, from right to left in one line and from left to right in the next one.

In 1876, one of the hieroglyphics on the stones of Hamath was deciphered by the British philologist Archibald Sayce. By studying copies of Hamatita inscriptions he deduced that the profile of man stood for the first person pronoun in singular number, i.e. "I". In 1880, he deciphered another symbol which defined as the governing prefix of divinity.

Sayce concluded that the Hittite hieroglyphic system was predominantly syllabic, that is, its symbols stood for a phonetic syllable. There were too many different signs to conclude that the system was based on an alphabet and at the same time there were very few to state it was ideographical (where every sign represents a different word). That very sign standing for the divinity had appeared on the stones of Hamath and other places, always in the form of a prefix of an indecipherable group of hieroglyphics naming the deities. This led Sayce to conclude that by finding the name of one of these deities with the help of another language endowed with similar pronunciation, one might analyze the conversion of the aforesaid name in Hittite hieroglyphics. Also, he stated that the keys to be obtained through that process might in turn be applied to other parts of a Hittite inscription where the same sign were to occur.

Sayce thought of the possibility of finding a bilingual inscription (an identical text but written in two languages, one being known and another being interpreted from the former). The most celebrated inscription of this kind is the Rosetta stone (discovered in Egypt in 1799), which allowed the Egyptian hieroglyphics to be deciphered.

In 1880, he found a clue on a writing that spoke of an ancient silver disk discovered in Istanbul. It was a small-sized relic resembling a seal. In its center, the figure of a warrior wearing a short robe, cape, helmet and upward-toe-capped boots (a Hittite apparel, no doubt) lay. The frieze around the warrior contained a cuneiform inscription in Hurrian dialect. Sayce supposed that the cuneiform inscription on the seal and the Hittite characters contained in its inner circle expressed only one meaning. Therefore, he was before a bilingual text.

Sayce translated the cuneiform text of a copy made of plaster reading "Tarritktimme, king of the country of Erme" (the seal, known as the seal of Tarkumuwa, is currently in a museum of Baltimore). Unfortunately, the information which the seal of Tarkumuwa could offer was not sufficient to unveil the mystery of the Hittite hieroglyphics. In late 1886, seven signs had been deciphered out of the totality of signs belonging to the hieroglyphic system.

The German Oriental Society which had sponsored the Winckler's expedition to the Hittite capital city, put in 1913 a group of Assyriologists to work on the tablets (among them there was a professor of Assyriology of the University of Vienna, the Czechoslovakian Bedrich Hrozny). In 1914, Hrozny was sent to Istanbul, where most tablets of Bogazköy written in Arzawa language were located. Hrozny chose to work on the tablets written in Hittite instead of working on those written with Babylonian characters. He used his linguistic knowledges comprehending not only the Semitic languages, but also the Indo-European ones. Being a knower of the innermost relationship between the Indo-European languages, he knew that the analogies of vocabulary and grammatical forms showed that languages apparently distant from each other like Sanskrit and Icelandic, had evolved from the same origin.

In 1915, in a Society's meeting in Berlin, Hrozny formally declared his findings: Hittite was an Indo-European language. In 1917, he published his investigations in a book where defined the situation of the Hittite people in the context of the Indo-European languages, aside from describing the grammatical structure of their language. In 1919, he published an extensive translation of Hittite cuneiform texts. In 1920, being assisted by a German scholar expert in the Indo-European culture called Ferdinand Sommer, he perfected the existing translations, which allowed him to perform the first approach to the history of the Hittite nation. Even so, despite the tablets made of clay of Bogazköy had been deciphered, the Hittite hieroglyphics remained a mystery.

In 1934, the German archeologist Kurt Bittel went on with the Winckler's works on the ruins of Hattusa. In the ruins of the royal palace, he found about 300 seals, being one hundred of them bilingual. The discovered inscriptions were very concise to make other interpretations any easier. Nonetheless, they contained names of kings both in hieroglyphic and cuneiform versions, which corroborated the fact that the translators had read the names of the monarchs properly and the system being used was the right one.

At the end of World War II, the Hittite basic grammatical system was understood, and a group of hieroglyphic signs could be translated. In 1945, a group of researchers of the University of Istanbul, led by the German Helmuth Bossert, discovered a stone bull and a human figure made of fragmented stone on the summit of mount Karapete (Black Mountain). On that figure, they also found a Semitic writing, which was then identified as Phoenician. Subsequent excavations carried out by Bossert in 1947 caused fortified ramparts, buildings' walls, large embossments containing human and animal figures along with a fragment of another Phoenician inscription to come to light. Later on, the digging group found remains of a second Phoenician inscription, which turned out to be the lengthiest text discovered in this language. Besides, other texts written in Hittite hieroglyphics were also found nearby. The link which led the scholars to connect the discovered texts to each other was found by the philologist Franz Steinherr. In his dreams, he realized that a couple of texts in both languages were identical.

Thus, the excavations on Black Mountain had revealed a bilingual text. This discovery enlarged knowledge about Hittite hieroglyphic script and increased understanding of its syntax in such a way that in 1960 the specialists in the Hittite civilization could affirm that they were already able to translate all signs of that script.

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 Languages spoken in the empire

In 1919, E. Forrer discovered that could be distinguished eight different languages among the Bogazköy's cuneiform texts. Only two languages, Hittite and Acadian, were used by the Hittite monarchs to redact official documents. Hurrian was another language in which whole texts were written sometimes.

Of the remaining languages, Luwian, Palaic and Hattian appear in the form of brief passages scattered among the Hittite religious texts. In turn, Mitanni language could be identified in a document by detecting a few terms occurring there. The Sumerian language was utilized only by the Hittite scribes for their specific use. This language was compiled in vocabularies based on lists of Sumerian signs.

Hittite

As it was said before, the philologist Bedrich Hrozny in 1915 traced the relationship between Hittite and Indo-European languages. The affirmation that an Indo-European language was spoken by peoples of Asia Minor in the second millennium BC was received with much skepticism. In spite of that, the aforesaid link has been made evident beyond doubt: there are six cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative and instrumental) in the declension of a noun. The nouns have a vocative which consists of its own crude form, i.e. its original form that has not been declined. The Hittite noun has only two genders: animate and inanimate. The verb has two voices: active and semipassive.

Again, its vocabulary is for the most part of Indo-European origin. The act of going deeper and deeper into knowledge of the language has led scholars to debate about its exact position within the Indo-European family. It is generally admitted that Hittite language represents a different branch from the Indo-European group, together with the other well-known languages.

Despite the name "Hittite" was applied to that language by the specialists as the official language of Hatti and has been universally accepted, that is improper from a strict viewpoint because the word "Hattili" is used in the texts to present passages in a completely different language (Hattian). When this was discovered, the scholars looked for the true name of the official language in the texts. Nowadays, it is admitted that the real name of the language is Nesite (language of Kanesh or Nesa), although the name "Hittite" has become so deeply rooted that it will possibly continue to be used as such.

Acadian

It is the name used to designate the Semitic language of Babylon and Assyria (the Hittite knew it as "Babylonian"). It was greatly used in Near East for diplomatic correspondence and international documents. The Hittite sovereigns went on using the Hittite language in the negotiations with their neighbors though.

Hurrian

There is plenty of documents and writings redacted in Hurrian serving as a means for studying it. In the texts of Bogazköy, there are numerous passages in Hurrian about rituals, even texts wholly written in Hurrian (fragments of a translation of Gilgamesh's epic, the literary summit, as it were, of the Babylonian civilization). The main source for translating Hurrian is the letter that Tusharatta, king of Mitanni, sent to the pharaoh Amenhotep the Third about 1400 BC. This letter was found in the ruins of El-Amarna. Other texts in Hurrian were discovered in Tell Hariri (the ancient Mari) in the Middle Euphrates (dating from 1750 BC) and in Ras-Es-Shamra (Ugarit) in Syria.

A descendant of Hurrian is the language of the kingdom of Urartu, known from royal inscriptions composed in cuneiform Assyrian about seventh century BC. Even when its origin is uncertain, both languages are linked to the group of languages of Eastern Caucasus.

Luwian

It is closely related to Hittite language. Its main particularity is that dependence between two nouns is not expressed by a genitive (like in other Indo-European languages) but an adjective (assis or assas). This formation produces toponymic terms. Thus, Tiwatassa and Tarhuntassa mean "belonging to the gods Tiwat and Tarhunt". Luvita was subdivided into several dialects, one of them was the hieroglyphic language and another one evolved into Lycian during the Greek Classic Age.

Palaic

Just as Hittite and Luwian, Palaic language belongs to the Indo-European group. Little is known about this language. The testimonies are based on a worship given to a deity (Ziparwa).

Hattian

This language was uttered by the priests in countless cults or worships (specially those given to the principal Hittite gods). Even so, there is not material enough to decipher the structure of its vocabulary. The name "Protohittite" was extensively adopted so that it may not be mistaken for official Hittite language, even though the former is not related to the latter at all, really. Hatita or Protohittite is related to the group of North-Caucasian languages.

Mitannian

There is no text written entirely in this language. There are just some terms in Mitannian in the "Treatise on Horse Training" by Kikkul of Mitanni (four tablets belonging to the Bogazköy's Archives). These terms are connected with Sanskrit. It is known as Mitannian (although this name is not quite satisfactory) because this language is related to the sovereigns ruling over Mitanni.

Sumerian

It is the oldest language of Lower Mesopotamia. Despite it was not spoken, was assiduously used in Hattusas, where innumerable Sumerian-Hittite vocabularies have been found. Most Sumerian words are monosyllabic and many of the syllables associated with the cuneiform signs of the Hittite period are Sumerian terms, whose meaning had been forgotten. The scribes used unique characters to represent the meaning or idea that those very signs would have expressed in Sumerian, thus saving the time they had had to spend writing the respective Hittite or Acadian words (much longer). So, Sumerian language was used as a kind of tachygraphic script by the Hittite scribes.


Apart from the eight written languages in cuneiform characters on clay tablets in Bogazköy, the Hittite hieroglyphic language may also be quoted. Almost all hieroglyphics were carved on stones or on stone monuments (basalt). Exceptions to this practice are to be found on seals and letters in the form of rolls discovered in Assur and published in 1924. The signs are pictographies representing different parts of the body: hands in various positions, profile faces, legs, feet; heads of oxen, horses, dogs, pigs, lions, deers, birds, hares and fishes. There were pieces of furniture like chairs and tables too.

As it was mentioned before, the order followed by the signs is boustrophedon (writing from right to left and vice versa, imitating the furrows left by plowing with an ox). This feature is also characteristic of the primitive Greek inscriptions found in the Ionian banks. This hieroglyphic script was a Hittite independent invention, possibly stimulated by their knowledge of the Egyptian hieroglyphics.

This is one of the various new scripts of hieroglyphic and cuneiform sort which were invented in the middle of the second millennium BC, encouraged by the cultural contacts in the zone of Levant (Anatolia) where the fluvial cultures of the rivers Euphrates and Nile intermingled one another.

The language used to write the inscriptions on those monuments is a dialect derived from Luwian. Just as Luwian, that dialect is closely related to Lycian, a language known from the inscriptions of the Greek period. Most documents were engraved after the downfall of Hittite empire, although the aforesaid dialect derived from Luwian was also used by the scribes during the Golden age. Aside from being used on lengthy inscriptions (classic age), it was also utilized on monuments and seals to write the names of Hittite kings. Even though there is no ancient name for this language, it has been agreed on adopting the terms "Hittite hieroglyphics" and "Luwian hieroglyphics" to designate that type of signs.

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 Chronology of the Hittite kings

Name of the king Period in which he ruled over the Hittite nation (BC) Age
Pitkhanas Unknown Old
kingdom
Anittas Unknown
Labarnas I 1680-1650
Labarnas II
(Hattusili I)
1650-1620
Mursilis I 1620-1590
Hantilis I 1590-1560
Zidantas I 1560-1550
Ammunas I 1550-1530
Huzziyas I 1530-1525
Telipinus 1525-1500
Tahurwailis 1500-1420
Alluwamnas
Hantilis II
Zidantas II
Huzziyas II
Muwatallis I
Tudhaliyas I 1420-1400 Empire
Hattusilis II 1400-1390
Tudhaliyas II 1390-1370
Arnuwandas I 1370-1355
Tudhaliyas III 1355-1344
Suppiluliumas I 1344-1322
Arnuwandas II 1322-1321
Mursilis II 1321-1295
Muwatallis II 1295-1271
Mursilis III 1271-1264
Hattusilis III 1264-1239
Tudhaliyas IV 1239-1209
Arnuwandas III 1209-1205
Suppiluliumas II 1205-?

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 Concluding remarks

I apologize for all those untranslated names. I tried to do my best, be sure. I recommend you e-mail me if you detect an error or know the correct translation for one of those names. It has been an important document with lots of information on a relevant civilization. The task to translate the cuneiform and hieroglyphic scripts was a long ride undertaken by some relatively unknown heroes such as Hrozny, Sayce, Winckler, etc. It took many years to come to a complete understanding of the cuneiform and hieroglyphic characters. Through such a understanding, the scholars could learn how the Hittite people were born, lived and died at that time. This finding was like a grain of sand being added to the huge dune of universal knowledge, no doubt. Just a grain of sand, you may say, but remember that a dune would not exist without grains of sands like that one.

I hope my task bring bliss and enlightenment to your life. Best wishes to you.

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 Further Information

Andrés Muni

This document was conceived by Andrés Muni, one of the two founders of this site, and conversant with linguistics.

For further information about Sanskrit, Yoga and Indian Philosophy; or if you simply want to comment, ask a question or correct a mistake, feel free to contact us: This is our e-mail address.