by David Ross, 18 February 2001. Updated 28 June
Arzawa (pronounced ar-tzau-wa, perhaps later -va) was a small,
obscure kingdom in the western Anatolia of the Late Bronze Age. As
such, its importance in world history would appear to be limited.
However, in two articles, I
have attempted to build up interest in this obscure kingdom.
As I will show, Arzawa played a pivotal role in the birth of our
civilization, and is the best potential witness to the events
described in our oldest and greatest works of literature.
It also seems to be the unluckiest of ancient kingdoms. There
aren't many civilisations that are struck down by meteors. It also
appears to have underlaid a good part of the Atlantis legend (that
part which did not derive from Thera).
The history of Arzawa studies
Western Anatolia became known to archaeology in the nineteenth
century. In 1879 Professor Archibald Sayce linked the reliefs of the
Magnesia region in western Turkey to those of Yazilikaya in the
centre, and recognised that they both belonged to a pre-Greek
culture. In the following year, he announced that this culture
represented the 'lost Hittite empire' which Egyptian texts were then
bringing to light (James p. 256).
Arzawa itself was first detected in 1902 by the Norwegian
scholar J A Knudtzon - in Egypt. In 1887, the expedition at Tell
El-Amarna in Egypt had uncovered the diplomatic correspondence of
Pharaoh Amenhotep III and his son, Akhenaton. Two of these missives
were written in a hitherto unknown language. Although scholars could
read it, since the characters it used were standard Sumerian
cuneiform, no-one could understand it.
Knudtzon's great discovery was that the language "had an
apparent affinity with the Indo-European family of languages,"
(Gurney p 4-5). He was even able to identify the kingdom's name.
This language was promptly dubbed 'Arzawan', and was found to be
equivalent to tablet-fragments which E Chantre had acquired ten
years prior, near the village of Boghazkoy in central Turkey (now 'Boghazkale';
I don't know why they changed the name).
Eventually, Dr Hugo Winkler (on behalf of the German Orient
Society) received the Ottoman Empire's consent to excavate Boghazkoy,
which he commenced in 1906. Immediately, he discovered an enormous
archive; and, in the next year, he published his preliminary report.
The site was in fact the capital of the empire of Hatti ('Hattusas'),
which the excavators equated with the 'Kheta' kingdom of the
Egyptian records. The newly uncovered language, meanwhile, was
renamed according to the Bible: 'Hittite'.
Since then, of course, we have discovered that both names,
Arzawan and Hittite, are inaccurate; the kings of Hatti called their
language Nesili, Nasili, and in one case Kanisumnili - '(K)neshian',
that which is spoken in (Ka)nesh[as], motherland of the dynasty.
Hattili more accurately describes the non-Indo-European language of
the Halys heartland. But either way, scholarly interest has been
directed toward the kingdom of Hatti, leaving Arzawa far behind it -
likely because no major Arzawan sites have been found yet.
However, records have been discovered throughout the Near East
about Arzawa, and some older records have been retranslated. A good
example of the latter is Ramesses III's account of the Sea Peoples
at Medinet Habu, discovered by Auguste Mariette in the early 1850s.
It lists a group of countries which the Sea Peoples destroyed - Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Yereth, and Yeres (Drews). These latter
have been retranslated 'Arzawa' and 'Alasiya', respectively
Also, Recep Meriç of Dokuz Eylül University at Izmir has been
uncovering Late Bronze Age hill-forts along the Gediz valley of
western Turkey - built to defend against an eastern opponent,
presumably Hittite (James p 224). Through the diligence of
archaeologists, Arzawa is coming back.
The geography of Arzawa and of its neighbours
Relief of a captured soldier at Medinat Habu - one of the Sea
Peoples who also destroyed Arzawa
Arzawa is in Anatolia, to the west of the Hittite capital.
Beyond this, no-one knows its location; one must as yet rely upon
sketchy Hittite records. The same is true of the other western
The picture is clearing up, though. Some 1986 texts place a
number of kingdoms in the southern littoral of Anatolia. That pushes
the Lukka lands to classical Lycia and Arzawa in turn to the Ephesos
region. In 1998, J D Hawkins (Anatolian Studies Vol 48) deciphered a
relief of Tarkasnawa, last recorded king of Mira, near classical
Based on the celebrated 'Ahhiyawa problem' - whether Ahhiyawa
was in Mycenaean Greece or not - there have been numerous rival maps
of western Asia Minor. The texts as of now suggest that Ahhiya lay
outside Asia Minor, and are beginning to agree on those kingdoms
that remain within it. Of course the most controversial of these is
Wiluja, which sounds a lot like 'Wilios'.
Some scholars have attempted to locate Arzawa's later capital in
Ephesos. This is due to a phonetic similarity between it and 'Apasas',
a western port town which Mursilis II called the city of the rebel
Uhha-Ziti. One such scholar is Sarah Morris, who explains all in a
PDF document. Peter
James thinks that the nation's capital was in a Zippasla / Sipylus
before that, just east of Magnesia.
The language of Arzawa
The language of the south-western littoral of Anatolia - which
includes Arzawa - was Luwian, which, like Kneshian, was a member of
the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European family. A Luwian glossary
is available online.
For diplomatic correspondence, however, Arzawa used Kneshian -
even when writing to the Egyptian king! It appears that this
diplomatic faux pas was a result of Arzawa's provincial character;
Kneshian was the language required to deal with the other states of
Asia Minor, and especially with Hattusas.
The period under discussion here begins with the Middle Hittite
king Tudhaliyas II. According to Craig Melchert (in Emory's
Anatolian Conference), Hittite texts note that dialectical Luwian
was already evolving into proto-Lydian, for instance shifting y > d.
One example is Luwiyan marwaiya (black) > Lydian marivda (lead).
Greek Linear B borrowed this word in a proto-Lydian form preceding w
> v: moriwdos or moliwdos (there being no r / l distinction in that
syllabary). It is likely that what the Greeks heard was the trade
language of Luwiyans by the sea, while the Hittites were still
occasionally preserving Luwiyan texts in an archaising "classical"
Some examples of Arzawan personal names are Ura-Tarhunta,
Piyama-Radu, and Piyama-Kurunta. One could propose the pattern:
Muwa-x or x-Muwa
where x is the name of an overlord; divine, human, animal, or
In Luwian, piyama is 'gift', ura is 'great', muwa is
and ziti is 'man'. I couldn't tell you what 'Kupanta' and 'Radu'
The ruins of Classical Ephesos in western Anatolia
Manapa is certainly a descriptor and not a god's name.
Controversy there hinges on what manapa meant to the Luwians. Ilya
Yakubovitch suggests that it meant 'protect the mana!' in the way Nebuchadrezzar employed Akkadian
The beliefs of Arzawa: gods
Like other Luwians, the Arzawans chiefly worshipped the storm
god (Teshub in Hurrian, and later the Greek Zeus took on the storm
god's role) whom they called 'Tarhun' but rendered 'Tarhunta' in theophoric names. Another god was Uhha, as seen in the names
Uhha-Muwa ('Uhha's Might') and Uhha-Ziti ('Uhha's Man'). When the Arzawans made treaty with the Hittites, they also called the river
and mountain gods to witness.
Another element that appears in the personal names is 'Kurunta',
often under the Sumerograms KAL and LAMMA. 'Kurunta' alone became a
personal name for a later prince of Tarhuntassa, founded by Luwians,
so it seems likely that Kurunta was a local hero as much as a god
The donkey was important to western Anatolia. Sarah Morris noted
that Tarkasnawa of Mira was named after a donkey, and used ass's
ears in his royal seal. The donkey's ear as a symbol of west
Anatolian kingship survived into legends of Midas the Phrygian. It
is further notable that these Dark Age legends have this king of
non-Luwian origin adopting this Luwian custom after attaining
kingship over Luwian land.
The beliefs of Arzawa: worship
The religious practice of Arzawa seems to have been the same mix
of piety and superstition which ruled the Hittite kingdom at this
These are the words of Uhha-Muwa, the Arzawa man. If people are
dying in the country and if some enemy god has caused that, I act as
EXTERNAL LINKS: Ilya Yakubovitch at
www.uni-tuebingen.de (dead link)
Sarah Morris Abstracts The Scapegoat at
www.asor.org (dead link)
Luwian stele found at Sultanhan in Anatolia
They drive up one ram. . . . They drive the ram onto the road
leading to the enemy and while doing so they speak as follows:
"Whatever god of the enemy land has caused this plague -- see! We
have now driven up this crowned ram to pacify thee, O god! Just as
the herd is strong, but keeps peace with the ram, do thou, the god
who has caused this plague, keep peace with the Hatti land! In favour
turn again toward the Hatti land!" They drive that one crowned ram
toward the enemy [ANET, 347].
The 'scapegoat' was used by Luwians in Kizzuwatna as well. The
Hittites imported both as, apparently, did Israel.
The current ran both ways. The Hittites believed that Alalus was
king in Heaven. Anus then deposed Alalus. Kumarbis then deposed Anus
and swallowed his genitals. But Kumarbis had erred in this: Kumarbis
became pregnant with Teshub, Tarmisus, and the Tigris river. And
Teshub the storm god led them to victory [ANET, 120-1]. The same
myth reappeared centuries later in Boeotia: Hesiod believed that
Chaos was king, and then Ouranos. Kronos neutered Ouranos and took
over, but soon begat Zeus and the elder gods. Hesiod broke the link
between Kronos' crime and his eventual downfall; for Hesiod,
Kronos' wife tricked Kronos into swallowing actual stones (instead
of Kumarbis willingly swallowing Ouranos' 'stones'), which Kronos
did instead of swallowing his own children. The myth is more
coherent in the Hittite version, and so Hesiod or another
predecessor not of the Hittite culture likely picked it up and
garbled the details. As James points out, the myth originated
further east than the Hittites; Teshub and Kumarbis were Hurrian
gods, and the river Tigris is a dead giveaway (pp 194-5).
The Hittites also shouldered from the Hurri-lands the primeval
Atlas - whom they called Ubelleris. Ubelleris had his feet in the
'dark earth' - the underworld - and held up the earth and sky [ANET,
125]. Likewise, in much Hellenistic (and modern!) iconography, Atlas
does not hold up the Vault of the Heavens from this world, but the
entire globe of the Ptolemaic universe from some unknowable flat
landscape. (As he'd have to; the flat earth was debunked in Greece
at least by Aristotle's day, although it lingered in Palestine until
after the Gospel of Matthew. Note how the better-educated Luke
turned the mountain into a high place.) I think James was implying
that the Greek, Hatti, and Hurri iconography represents a memory of
Atlas supporting a flat earth and domed sky from the flat land of
Ubelleris was just one, specifically Hurrian, conception of the
bearing-god. There were other 'titans' in Great Hatti. Bull-men
supported the heaven from earth in the Yazilikaya sanctuary (1200s
BC). Three men bear three other men, who bear Teshub, in Imamkülü
to the east. And so on (James pp 197-9). Mauritz van Loon called
them "vanquished champions of the older generation of gods...
indicated by the raised fists, and their defeat and punishment by
their bent caps" (Anatolia in the Second Millennium BC, 1985, p
21). Zeus punished other Titans in and under mountains: Prometheus
(chained to a mountain), Typhon/Enceladus (buried under Etna),
Ophion. (Python, Fontenrose, 1959, 231, 241-2). Atlas' family
itself is located in Anatolia (James pp 289-90), as is Merops',
who in Euripides' Helen was either married to Atlas or was Atlas.
In particular the child of Elektra, daughter of Atlas, was Dardanos,
the founder of Troy.
Hesiod certainly got the stories from western Anatolia. The
western Anatolians had accepted them from the Hittites. When the
western Anatolians had done so - in the Bronze Age or the Dark Age -
I cannot say; but the myth of the Titans was already canonical Greek
fare by Homer's day.
In Emory's Anatolian Conference, Yoram Cohen and Assaf Yasur-Landau
write that Greece and Hatti shared a religious feast tradition,
likely found in Arzawa too.
Bull-men support the heavens in this relief at the Hittite sanctuary
Arzawa and a rough estimation of its borders at the kingdom's
Key dates in known Arzawan history:
c.1450 BC Arzawa controls the solid green
section of the map, including Tarhuntassa, but probably not the
Lower Land (hatched areas are debatable)
c.1430 BC Madduwattas, from his mountain
kingdom of Zippasla and with Hittite help, conquers Arzawa
c.1370s BC Arzawa gains the Lower Land up
to Tuwanuwa and Tyana, but within twenty years loses it and all
of Tarhuntassa to the Hittites
c.1350 BC Arzawa appears to fragment.
Mira, Masa, the Seha River Land, and Happalla all emerge as
sub-kingdoms within Arzawa
c.1335-1325 BC Under Uhhaziti much of the
kingdom is reunited. The Hittites under Mursili II invade and
conquer it, recognising the sub-kingdoms as direct vassal
kingdoms (various subsequent rebellions notwithstanding)
Main Sources - Text
Beckman, Gary - Hittite Diplomatic Texts,
Second Ed, Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1999
Bryce, T - The Kingdom of the Hittites,
Drews, R - The End of the Bronze Age, 1993
James, Peter - The Sunken Kingdom,
Jonathan Cape, London, 1995. Overview and introduction available via
the link on the left
Gurney, O R - The Hittites, 1991
Lowell, Ian Russell - Annals of Mursili, Years
1 to 8