Hittite and the Anatolian Dialects

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Hittite is one of the Anatolian Dialects which include Palaic, Luwian, Lycian, and later Lydian. These languages were spoken from about 2300 BCE to about 300 BCE, in Anatolia, the geographic region that corresponds roughly to modern day Turkey. Etruscan may be a later form of Lydian, though this is still debated among linguists.

The Anatolian Dialects make up one branch of the Indo-European Language family. Most people have heard of Hittite (it’s mentioned in the Bible), an ancient and extinct language that is known from hieroglyphic writing found in central northern Turkey near Ankara. The Hittites are first referred to in inscriptions in Akkadian records as early as about 2300 BCE. Inscriptions in the Hittite language date from approximately 1900 to 1700 BCE. By 1200 BCE all records of the Hittites ceased, apparently because of invasions of the mysterious “Sea Peoples” who also attacked Syria and Egypt.

Other closely related dialects such as Luwian and Palaic continued in use in the Taurus mountains in southeastern Anatolia. These languages are known from extensive inscriptions in tablets dating to 1350 BCE. Among the texts are a great number that describe ceremonies in which the king was required to participate in extensive (in fact, interminable) rituals to ensure good harvests, etc. The texts include law codes, myths, descriptions of Gods and lists of temple possessions including images of Gods--these last especially rich in Luwian.

Lydian is a later form of the Anatolian dialects and was spoken in the Lydian kingdom which was founded in western Anatolia by about 700 BCE. Sardis was the capitol and main city and when placer gold was found in the river, the Lydians became the first people to mint money. The dynasty ended with King Croesus, famously rich, who was conquered by the Persians in 548 BCE. Eventually the Greeks gained control of the area and while the Greek language came to be spoken with a Lydian accent, some Lydian words and Lydian Goddesses were absorbed into Greek. The Goddess Tyche “Luck” was borrowed into Greek. She is the tutelary Goddess of the city of Antioch, which is named for her. The Lydians also worshiped the Manes and Artemis among other Indo-European deities. Little historical information and no long texts are known in Lydian, as only a few inscriptions on gems and grave markers survive. Considerable information has been put together on the history of Lydia by numismaticists like Reid Goldsborough.

The Etruscans, one of the indigenous tribes of Italy thought that they were originally from the territory of the Lydians (western Anatolia, modern day Turkey). They are not considered to speak an Indo-European language, however, many of their Gods and Goddesses have Indo-European names. This may be because they borrowed them from the Greeks along the way, who may have gotten them from the Lydians, but the relationships are still not clear. One very important God of the Etruscans is Tarkhunies, after whom they are named. His name is a form of the Hittite God Tarhunt. Most of what is known about the Etruscans comes through Roman sources, though modern archaeology has added to the small corpus of linguistic information. In Roman legend, the Etruscans made up the first dynasty of the kings of Rome and they were called the Tarquins. This is possibly another form of the name Tarhunt.

Hittite is a very conservative language in some respects. It clearly shows the maintenance of laryngeals as they were hypothesized to exist by Saussure and this discovery has gone a long way toward confirming the scientific theory of historical phonology. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any links to good sources about the Hittite language on the internet. The only glossary that I could find was on webgumbo and it is very small and seems to have some obvious errors in it.

Primary Sources
An entire library of Hittite texts has been found and includes a large selection of government documents, among them records, laws, myths, descriptions of rituals to be used at the king’s court, hymns, divination reports and magic charms for healing sickness.

Not much intelligent has been written about the Hittite religion. A lot of what has been published consists of attempts to shove it into one theory or another in support of modern or medieval religious and social agendas. Among these are the Christian dualistic confusion where all descriptions of seasonal changes are reduced to wars between good and evil, etc. Other authors were unable to exclude Christian theology from their thinking, including the Dumézilian fascist nonsense. In fact, the Hittite religion is very similar to other Indo-European religions, with cognate Gods and myths. For Hittite specifically, many rituals were performed at the court of the king. These consist of elaborate performances with many participants.

Hittite Pantheon
The Hittites had many Gods of their own which are cognate with the other Indo-European deities and they also had many Gods borrowed from Mesopotamian and Hurrian cultures with which the Hittites had extensive contact, both diplomatic and military. Some deities were borrowed in the opposite direction too. The Hittites, the Hurrians and the Mesopotamians used to steal each others’ Gods (literally, in the form of idols) and take them home and worship them. They seem to have had the idea that this would bring the God’s power, such as fertility or success in war, to whoever had possession of the statue. Extensive lists of the statues of Gods in the temples give a clear idea of the many names. Many Hittite Gods are known by the names of other Mesopotamian deities as a sort of “interpretatio.” As usual, these are quite useless for identifying the relation of the Hittite Gods to the rest of the Hittite Pantheon and to the other Indo-European Gods. Some images of the Gods are carved in stone at Yazilikaya, and they are identified by their attributes, by the animal that they are standing on, and sometimes by the inscriptions that are carved in stone next to them.

Festival Calendar
Although I do not have enough information to put together a festival calendar for the Hittites, there probably is enough information. Many of the festivals are known by name and the activities and myths that are associated with them are known. Some of them correspond closely with other Indo-European festivals, most conspicuously, some Albanian folk festivals reported in the 1800’s CE. The Purulli festival is one of the major Hittite festivals, falling at the New Year, and is celebrated by telling the myth of Illuyanka. Another festival describes the standard Indo-European form of a food offering (puja) specifically in this case, a daps:

“When it becomes spring and it thunders. . . the priests . . . carry the Mountain-God Halwanna up to the mountain . . . . They set down meat, bread and beer by the cult-stand and other bread and beer for display . . . . They eat and drink, they fill the cups. In the presence of the God there is wrestling. They start fighting, they make merry. When the sun sets they carry the God down to the city and set him up in the temple.” (Hittite Religion Gurney, p. 27.)

A selection of myths has been translated by Harry A. Hoffner in Hittite Myths. Many of these correspond with myths known for the other Indo-European languages but with significant differences. Certainly the names of the actors in the stories have cognates among the Gods in other Indo-European Myths.

See the festival above for an example of a ritual. Another aspect of the Hittite religion was a long series of rituals at which the king had to drink a rhyton (or “horn” in the shape of an animal’s head) of wine at frequent intervals, while two different bands played. This type of ritual sometimes went on for days or weeks and it is difficult to see how the king could remain upright while consuming so much alcohol. Some of these rituals have been analyzed linguistically and interpreted by Jaan Puhvel in a series of articles in JIES and elsewhere. The Hittites had a variety of different kinds of priests and priestesses for the purpose of performing these rituals. [fuggle26]

Notably missing from Hittite religion is any reference to sacred horses (although they did have horse racing at the festivals), horse gods or myths that include horses despite the widespread appearance of such elements in other Indo-European forms of Paganism. The Hittites certainly had horses since they are referred to in the inventories of the kings’ war gear, along with chariots and harness which were used in war. In the Hittite version of the myth of the horse twins, it seems that a cow has the position of the horse as mother of the twins who appear in other versions of this myth in the Proto-Indo-European religion.

General References
• Gamkrelidze, Thomas V., and Ivanov, Vjaceslav V., Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans: A Reconstruction and Historical Analysis of a Proto-Language and a Proto-Culture (Trends in Linguistics: Studies and Monographs 80, 2 Vol. Set), with Werner Winter, ed., and Johanna Nichols, translator (original title Indoevropeiskii iazyk i indoevropeistsy), M. De Gruyter, Berlin & NY, 1995.
• Puhvel, Jaan, Analecta Indoeuropaea, (a collection of articles), publ. by Innsbrucker Beitrage zur Sprachwissenschaft, Innsbruck, 1981.
• Gurney, O. R., Some Aspects of Hittite Religion published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 1977.
• Hoffner, Harry A., Hittite Myths by Society of Biblical Literature, Scholars Press, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 1990, 1998.
• Malay, Hasan, Researches in Lydia, Mysia, and Aiolis, published by Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna, 1991.

© 2007, last updated 7/18/2017, piereligion.org/hittite.html