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Introduction to Hittite

Introduction to Hittite
We’ve learned a lot about the Hittites this week. In this section, what we need to do is talk about how they communicated. And an interesting angle to approach this from is the story of the decipherment of the Hittite language. Up until the early 1900s, very little was known of the Hittites themselves, which is again remarkable just like the Mittanians considering the size of the empire that they had in Anatolia, modern Turkey. It’s remarkable that, in fact, very little was known about them. In many cases, they were no more than a biblical reference, something like that.
But in the early 1900s, Jorgen Knudzton was the first scholar to really look at some cuneiform tablets that were identified from Egypt, the Amarna tablets which we met in week three, and noticed the language of the Hittites written in cuneiform on those tablets. And he was the first person to suggest that maybe one of the reasons that scholars were having trouble translating the language was because it wasn’t a Semitic language. And so Semitic languages are the languages that you expect to find in the middle and Near East now and certainly in the ancient Near East, as well. So he suggested that maybe that wasn’t the case.
Then shortly after that, Hugo Winckler, the German archaeologist, was excavating in Boghazkoy, which turned out to be the capital of the Hittites in Turkey enclosed within the curve of the Halys River. And in his excavations, he came across a library of cuneiform tablets, lots and lots of cuneiform tablets with the Hittite language on them. So now we could take Jorgen Knudzton’s tentative suggestions and really test them. And it was Friedrich Hrozny, the linguist, who really put that theory to the test. And, in one particular sentence, he found a few words that confirmed what Jorgen Knudzton was talking about, that it wasn’t Semitic. But, in fact, it was Indo-European. He recognised words.
Words like eat, drink, bread, and water were recognisable to his European ears. They weren’t like the words you’d expect to find in a Semitic language for those terms. It was shortly after this that the language, of course, was deciphered, and grammars and text started to appear. Once the language had been deciphered, then text could start to be translated. And the wealth and range of text from the Hittite culture is enormous. That’s something I’d like us to investigate after this video. I’ve provided some resources, and it’d be good for us to discuss the range of Hittite texts that we can see and read.

The Hittites were relatively unknown until the beginning of the 20th century. A handful of biblical references and a few stele written in cuneiform were all linguists has to go on to decipher this ancient language.

All this changed with the discovery of the ancient capital of the Hittites and with it a library containing numerous examples of written text. Linguists now began to work on the theory that Hittite came from a different language root than that or its contemporary neighbours.

What do the Origins of the Hittite language say about where the Hittites originally came from? Does anything surprise you about their migratory pattern?

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Superpowers of the Ancient World: the Near East

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