The Hittites/Chapter 7

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HOW can the history of a lost people be recovered, it may be asked, except through the help of the records they have left behind them? How can we come to know anything about the Hittites until their few and fragmentary inscriptions are deciphered? The answer to this question will have been furnished by the preceding pages. Though the Hittite, inscriptions are still undeciphered, though the number of them is still very small, there are other materials for reconstructing the history of the race, and these materials have now found their interpreter. The sculptured monuments the Hittites have left behind them, the seals they engraved, the cities they inhabited, the memorials of them preserved in the Old Testament, in the cuneiform tablets of Assyria, and in the papyri of Egypt, have all served to build up afresh the fabric of a mighty empire which once exercised so profound an influence on the destinies of the civilised world.

But the Hittite inscriptions have not been altogether useless. They have helped to connect together the scattered monuments of Hittite dominion, and to prove that the peculiar art they display was of Hittite origin. It was the Hittite hieroglyphs which accompany the figure of the warrior in the Pass of Karabel, and of the sitting goddess on Mount Sipylos, that proved these sculptures to be of Hittite origin. It has similarly been inscriptions containing Hittite characters which have enabled us to trace the march of the Hittite armies along the high-roads of Asia Minor, and to feel sure that Hittite princes once reigned in the city of Hamath.

The Hittite texts are distinguished by two characteristics. With hardly an exception, the hieroglyphs that compose them are carved in relief instead of being incised, and the lines read alternately from right to left and from left to right. The direction in which the characters look determines the direction in which they should be read. This alternate or boustrophedon mode of writing also characterises early Greek inscriptions, and since it was not adopted by either Phœnicians, Egyptians, or Assyrians, the question arises whether the Greeks did not learn to write in such a fashion from neighbours who made use of the Hittite script.

Another characteristic of Hittite writing is the frequent employment of the heads of animals and men. It is very rarely that the whole body of an animal is drawn; the head alone was considered sufficient. This peculiarity would of itself mark off the Hittite hieroglyphs from those of Egypt.

But a very short inspection of the characters is enough to show that the Hittites could not have borrowed them from the Egyptians. The two forms of writing are utterly and entirely distinct. Two of the most common Hittite characters represent the snow-boot and the fingerless glove, which, as we have seen, indicate the northern ancestry of the Hittite tribes, while the ideograph which denotes a 'country' is a picture of the mountain peaks of the Kappadokian plateau. It would therefore seem that the system of writing was invented in Kappadokia, and not in the southern regions of Syria or Canaan.

We may gather, however, that the invention took place after the contact of the Hittites with Egypt, and their consequent acquaintance with the Egyptian form of script. Similar occurrences have happened in modern times. A Cheroki Indian in North America, who had seen the books of the white man, was led thereby to devise an elaborate mode of writing for his own countrymen, and the curious syllabary invented for the Vei negroes by one of their tribe originated in the same manner. So, too, we may imagine that the sight of the hieroglyphs of Egypt, and the knowledge that thoughts could be conveyed by them, suggested to some Hittite genius the idea of inventing a similar means of intercommunication for his own people.

At any rate, it is pretty clear that the Hittite characters are used like the Egyptian, sometimes as ideographs to express ideas, sometimes phonetically to represent syllables and sounds, sometimes as determinatives to denote the class to which the word belongs to which they are attached. It is probable, moreover, that a word or sound was often expressed by multiplying the characters which expressed the whole or part of it, just as was the case in Egyptian writing in the age of Ramses II. At the same time the number of separate characters used by the Hittites was far less than that employed by the Egyptian scribes. At present not 200 are known to exist, though almost every fresh inscription adds to the list.

The oldest writing material of the Hittites were their plates of metal, on the surface of which the characters were hammered out from behind. The Hittite copy of the treaty with Ramses II. was engraved in this manner on a plate of silver, its centre being occupied with a representation of the god Sutekh embracing the Hittite king, and a short line of hieroglyphs running round him. This central ornamentation, surrounded with a circular band of figures, was in accordance with the usual style of Hittite art. The Egyptian monuments show us what the silver plate was like. It was of rectangular shape, with a ring at the top by which it could be suspended from the wall. If ever the tomb of Ur-Maa Noferu-Ra, the Hittite wife of Ramses, is discovered, it is possible that a Hittite copy of the famous treaty may be found among its contents.

At the events, it is clear that already at this period the Hittites were a literary people. The Egyptian records make mention of a certain Khilip-sira, whose name is compounded with that of Khilip or Aleppo, and describe him as 'a writer of books of the vile Kheta.' Like the Egyptian Pharaoh, the Hittite monarch was accompanied to battle by his scribes. If Kirjath-sepher or 'Book-town,' in the neighbourhood of Hebron, was of Hittite origin, the Hittites would have possessed libraries like the Assyrians, which may yet be dug up. Kirjath-sepher was also called Debir, 'the sanctuary,' and we may therefore conclude that the library was stored in its chief temple, as were the libraries of Babylonia. There was another Debir or Dapur further north, in the vicinity of Kadesh on the Orontes, which is mentioned in the Egyptian inscriptions; and since this was in the land of the Amorites, while Kirjath-sepher is also described as an Amorite town, it is possible that here too the relics of an ancient library may yet be found. We must not forget that in the days of Deborah, 'out of Zebulon,' northward of Megiddo, came 'they that handle the pen of the writer' (Judg. v. 14).

The inscriptions recently discovered at Tel el-Amarna in Egypt have shown that in the century before the Exodus the common medium of literary intercourse in Western Asia was the language and cuneiform script of Babylonia. It was subsequently to this that the Hittites forced their way southward, bringing with them their own peculiar system of hieroglyphic writing. But the cuneiform characters still continued to be used in the Hittite region of the world. Cuneiform tablets have been purchased at Kaisarîyeh which come from some old library of Kappadokia, the site of which is still unknown, and Dr. Humann has lately discovered a long cuneiform inscription among the Hittite sculptures of Sinjirli in the ancient Komagênê. If the Hittite texts are ever deciphered, it will probably be through the help of the cuneiform script.

A beginning has already been made. Within a month after my Paper had been read before the Society of Biblical Archæology, which announced the discovery of a Hittite empire and the connection of the curious art of Asia Minor with that of Carchemish, I had fallen across a bilingual inscription in Hittite and cuneiform characters. This was on the silver boss of King Tarkondêmos, the only key yet found to the interpretation of the Hittite texts.


The story of the boss is a strange one. It was purchased many years ago at Smyrna by M. Alexander Jovanoff, a well-known numismatist of Constantinople, who showed it to the Oriental scholar Dr. A. D. Mordtmann. Dr. Mordtmann made a copy of it, and found it to be a round silver plate, probably the head of a dagger or dirk, round the rim of which ran a cuneiform inscription. Within, occupying the central field, was the figure of a warrior in a new and unknown style of art. He stood erect, holding a spear in the right hand, and pressing the left against his breast. He was clothed in a tunic, over which a fringed cloak was thrown; a close-fitting cap was on the head, and boots with upturned ends on the feet, the upper part of the legs being bare, while a dirk was fastened in the belt. On either side of the figure was a series of 'symbols,' the series on each side being the same, except that on the right side the upper 'symbols' were smaller, and the lower 'symbols' larger than the corresponding ones on the left side.

In an article published some years later on the cuneiform inscriptions of Van, Dr. Mordtmann referred to the boss, and it was his description of the figure in the centre of it which arrested my attention. I saw at once that the figure must be in the style of art I had just determined to be Hittite, and I guessed that the 'symbols' which accompanied it would turn out to be Hittite hieroglyphs. Dr. Mordtmann stated that he had given a copy of the boss in 1862 in the 'Numismatic Journal which appears in Hanover.' After a long and troublesome search I found that the publication meant by him was not a Journal at all, and had appeared at Leipzig, not at Hanover, in 1863, not in 1862. The copy of the boss contained in it showed that I was right in believing Dr. Mordtmann's 'symbols' to be Hittite characters.

It now became necessary to know how far the copy was correct, and to ascertain whether the original were still in existence. A reply soon came from the British Museum. The boss had once been offered to the Museum for sale, but rejected, as nothing like it had ever been seen before, and it was therefore suspected of being a forgery. Before its rejection, however, an electrotype had been taken of it, an impression of which was now sent to me.

Shortly afterwards came another communication from M. François Lenormant, one of the most learned and brilliant Oriental scholars of the present century. He had seen the original at Constantinople some twenty years previously, and had there made a cast of it, which he forwarded to me. The cast and the electrotype agreed exactly together.

There could accordingly be no doubt that we had before us, if not the original itself, a perfect facsimile of it. The importance of this fact soon became manifest, for the original boss disappeared after M. Jovanoff's death, and in spite of all enquiries no trace of it can be discovered. It may be recovered hereafter in the bazaars of Constantinople or in some private house at St. Petersburg; at present there is no clue whatever to its actual possessor.

The reading of the cuneiform legend offers but little difficulty. It gives us the name and title of the king whose figure is engraved within it—'Tarqu-dimme king of the country of Erme.'

The name Tarqu-dimme is evidently the same as that of the Cilician prince Tarkondêmos or Tarkondimotos, who lived in the time of our Lord. The name is also met with in other parts of Asia Minor under the forms of Tarkondas and Tarkondimatos; and we may consider it to be of a distinctively Hittite type. Where the district was over which Tarqu-dimme ruled we can only guess. It may have been the range of mountains called Arima by the classical writers, which lay close under the Hittite monuments of the Bulgar Dagh. In this case Tarkondêmos would have been a Cilician king.

The twice-repeated Hittite version of the cuneiform legend has been the subject of much discussion. The arrangement of the characters, due more to the necessity of filling up the vacant space on the boss than to the requirements of their natural order, allowed more than one interpretation of them. But there were two facts which furnished the key to their true reading. On the one hand, the inscription is divided into two halves by two characters whose form and position in other Hittite texts show them to signify 'king' and 'country'; on the other hand, the first two characters are made, as it were, to issue from the mouth of the king, and thus to express his name. We thus obtain the reading: 'Tarku-dimme king of the country of Er-me,' the syllables tarku and me being denoted by the head of a goat and the numeral 'four,' while the ideographs of 'king' and 'country' are represented by the royal tiara worn by gods and monarchs in the Hittite sculptures, and by the picture of a mountainous land. In the ideograph of 'country' Mordtmann had already seen a likeness of the shafts of rock which rise out of the Kappadokian plateau.

The bilingual boss accordingly furnishes us with two important ideographs, and the phonetic values of four other characters. Armed with these, we can attack the other texts, and learn something about them. It becomes clear that the inscriptions from Carchemish now in the British Museum are the monuments of a king whose name ends in -me-Tarku, and who records the names of his father and grandfather. To the grandfather belonged an inscription copied by Mr. Boscawen among the ruins of Carchemish, but unfortunately never brought to England, and probably long since destroyed.

On the lion of Merash, moreover, a king similarly records his name along with those of his two immediate ancestors. The same king's name is found at Hamath as that of the father of the sovereign mentioned in the other inscriptions that come from there, and we may perhaps infer that the monuments of Hamath are the memorials of a Komagenian monarch who carried his victorious arms thus far to the south. The


time will doubtless come when we shall be able to read these mysterious characters without difficulty, and we shall then know whether or not our inference is correct.

Meanwhile we must be content to await the discovery of another bilingual text. The legend on the boss of Tarkondêmos is not long enough to carry us far through the mazes of Hittite decipherment; before much progress can be made it must be supplemented by another inscription of the same kind. But the fact that one bilingual inscription has been found is an earnest that other bilingual inscriptions have existed, and may yet be brought to light. We may live in confident expectation that the mute stones will yet be taught to speak, and that we shall learn how the empire of the Hittites was founded and preserved, not from the annals of their enemies, but from their own lips.

It is not probable that the Hittite system of writing passed away without leaving its influence behind it. As the culture and art which the Hittites carried to the barbarous nations of Asia Minor became implanted among them and bore abundant fruit, so too we may believe that the knowledge of the Hittite writing did not perish utterly. There is reason to think that the curious syllabary which continued to be used in Cyprus as late as the age of Alexander the Great was derived from the Hittite hieroglyphs. It was singularly unfitted to express the sounds of the Greek language, as it was required to do in Cyprus, and it has been shown that it was but a branch of a syllabary once employed throughout a large part of Asia Minor, the very country in which the Hittites engraved their own written monuments. It seems likely, therefore, that the Hittite characters became a syllabary in which each character represented a separate syllable, and survived in this form to a late age.

It is also possible that the names assigned to the letters even of the Phœnician alphabet were influenced by the hieroglyphs of the Hittites. When the Phœnicians borrowed the letters of the Egyptian alphabet they gave them names beginning in their own language with the sound represented by each letter. A was called aleph because the Phœnician word aleph 'an ox' began with that sound, k was kaph 'the hand' because kaph in Phœnician began with k. It was but an early application of the same principle which made our forefathers believe that the child would learn his alphabet more quickly if he was taught that 'A was an archer who shot at a frog.'

But the names must have been assigned to the letters not only because they commenced with corresponding sounds, but also because of their fancied resemblance to the objects denoted by the names. Now in some instances the resemblance is by no means clear. The earliest forms of the letters called kaph and yod, for example, both of which words signify a 'hand,' have little likeness to the human hand. If we turn to the Hittite hieroglyphs, however, we find among them two representations of the hand, encased in the long Hittite glove, which are almost identical with the Phœnician letters in shape. It is difficult, therefore, to resist the conviction that the letters kaph and yod received their names from Syrians who were familiar with the appearance of the Hittite characters. It is the same in the case of aleph. Here too the old Phœnician letter does not in any way resemble an ox, but it bears a very close likeness to the head of a bull, which occupies a prominent place in the Hittite texts. Aleph became the Greek alpha when the Phœnician alphabet was handed on to the Greeks, and in the word alphabet has become part of our own heritage. Like yod, which has passed through the Greek iota into the English jot, it is thus possible that there are still words in daily use among ourselves which can be traced, if not to the Hittite language, at all events to the Hittite script.

What the language of the Hittites was we have yet to learn. But the proper names preserved on the Egyptian and Assyrian monuments show that it did not belong to the Semitic family of speech, and an analysis of the Hittite inscriptions further makes it evident that it made large use of suffixes. But we must be on our guard against supposing that the language was uniform throughout the district in which the Hittite population lived. Different tribes doubtless spoke different dialects, and some of these dialects probably differed widely from each other. But they all belonged to the same general type and class of language, and may therefore be collectively spoken of as the Hittite language, just as the various dialects of England are collectively termed English. Indeed, we find the same type of language extending far eastward of Kappadokia, if we may trust the proper names recorded in the Assyrian inscriptions. Names of a distinctively Hittite cast are met with as far as the frontiers of the ancient kingdom of Ararat, and it may be that the language of Ararat itself, the so-called Vannic, may belong to the same family of speech. As the cuneiform inscriptions in which this language is embodied have now been deciphered, we shall be able to determine the question as soon as the Hittite texts also render up their secrets.

In the south of Palestine the Hittites must have lost their old language and have adopted that of their Semitic neighbours at an early period. In Northern Syria the change was longer in coming about. The last king of Carchemish bears a non-Semitic name, but a Semitic god was worshipped at Aleppo, and Kadesh on the Orontes remained a Semitic sanctuary. The Hittite occupation of Hamath seems to have lasted for a short time only. Its king, who appears on the Assyrian monuments as the contemporary of Ahab, has the Semitic name of Irkhulena, 'the moon-god belongs to us'; and his successors were equally of Semitic origin. It is more doubtful whether Tou or Toi, whose son came to David with an offer of alliance, bears a name which can be explained from the Semitic lexicon.

In the fastnesses of the Taurus, however, the Hittite dialects were slow in dying. In the days of St. Paul the people of Lystra still spoke 'the speech of Lykaonia,' although the official language of Kappadokia had long since become Aramaic. But the Aramaic was itself supplanted by Greek, and before the downfall of the Roman empire Greek was the common language of all Asia Minor. In its turn Greek has been superseded in these modern times by Turkish.

Languages, however, may change and perish, but the races that have spoken them remain. The characteristics of race, once acquired, are slow to alter. Though the last echoes of Hittite speech have died away centuries ago, the Hittite race still inhabits the region from which in ancient days it poured down upon the cities of the south. We may still see in it all the lineaments of the warriors of Karabel or the sculptured princes of Carchemish; even the snow-shoe and fingerless glove are still worn on the cold uplands of Kappadokia.