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Indo-European Languages

Anatolian Family

Carol Justus and Jonathan Slocum

The oldest known family of Indo-European languages is Anatolian. Luwian (or, to English speakers, Luvian) may well have been the language of Homer's Troy, destroyed ca. 1250 BC. Hittite, the oldest and most richly attested of these languages, was spoken in Central Anatolia by historical Hittite kings (ca. 1650-1180 BC) and, before that, probably as early as 2000 BC at Kanesh (Kultepe).

Before the first Hittite clay tablets were found, at the end of the 19th century, and deciphered starting in 1915, the people known from the Bible as "Hittite" were still a mystery apart from some details such as the fact that Bathsheba's first husband was a Hittite general in King David's army. The people that we call Hittites did not in fact call themselves Hittite, nor their language Hittite: their kings called their land the "Hatti Land," and Hittite scribes called their language "Nes(h)ite" (from Nesa = Kanesh).

The capital of the ancient Hittite Empire was mountaintop Hattusa, with walls a few miles in circumference. Nearby Yazilikaya was an important cult center, where the Late Hittite king Tuthaliya IV (ca. 1230 BC) venerated the Hurrian storm god Tessup. As modern Boghazkale, Hattusa lies about 100 miles east of Ankara, not too far from Çorum. One of several other Hittite sites, Kushakli-Sarissa, lies farther east near Sivas on the upper Kizil Irmak River (in Hittite the Marrasantiya, in Greek the Halys).

Although neither Hittite nor any other Anatolian language survived into the modern era, their influences are still with us among the Greek creation myths and other cultural relics. The Hittite word for 'water', watar, and other Hittite linguistic artifacts are still recognizable if one scratches the surface.

Archaeological excavations are still uncovering artifacts, including new clay tablets. Ongoing tasks include studying texts written on the tablets or inscribed in stone, completing dictionaries and grammars, and writing a Hittite history. For this work, scholars now share online resources in addition to many essential published books and journals.

Recommended Reading

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