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Ancient Anatolia

Background to Arzawa Studies

by David Ross, 18 February 2001. Updated 28 June 2008

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 civilisation, 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 which 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 p256).

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 pp4-5). 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 (as of 2001).

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 Ramses 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' (Alashiya, on Cyprus) respectively (Redford).

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 p224). Through the diligence of archaeologists, Arzawa is coming back.

The geography of Arzawa and of its neighbours

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 states.

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 Ephesus region. In 1998, J D Hawkins (Anatolian Studies Vol 48) deciphered a relief of Tarkasnawa, last recorded king of Mira, near classical Smyrna.

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 (Ahhiyawa) lay outside Asia Minor [now largely accepted to be incorrect as of 2017 - Ed], and are beginning to agree on those kingdoms which 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 Ephesus. 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 [no longer available online]. Peter James thinks that the nation's capital was in a place named 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 (see external link in the sidebar).

For diplomatic correspondence, however, Arzawa used Kneshian - even when writing to the Egyptian pharaoh! It appears that this diplomatic faux pas was a result of Arzawa's provincial character; Kneshian was the language which was required to deal with the other states of Asia Minor, and especially with Hattusas.

The period which is 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 Luwian 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 Luwians by the sea, while the Hittites were still occasionally preserving Luwian texts in an archaising 'classical' form.

Some examples of Arzawan personal names are Ura-Tarhunta, Piyama-Radu, and Piyama-Kurunta. One could propose the pattern:

  • Piyama-x
  • Kupanta-x
  • Ura-x
  • Manapa-x
  • Muwa-x or x-Muwa
  • x-Radu
  • x-Ziti

where x is the name of an overlord; divine, human, animal, or state.

In Luwian, piyama is 'gift', ura is 'great', muwa is 'power', and ziti is 'man'. I couldn't tell you what 'Kupanta' and 'Radu' mean.

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 usur.

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 which 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, a kingdom founded by Luwians, so it seems likely that Kurunta was a local hero as much as a god (like Heracles).

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 time:

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 follows:

Luwian steele from Sultanhan

Luwian stele found at Sultanhan in Anatolia (click or tap on image to read more on a separate page)

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.

Projected mythology

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 River Tigris. 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 (pp194-5).

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 on 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 the Underworld.

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 Imamk and uumllü to the east. And so on (James pp197-9). 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, p21). Zeus punished other Titans in and under mountains: Prometheus (chained to a mountain), Typhon/Enceladus (buried under Etna), and Ophion (Python, Fontenrose, 1959, p231, pp241-2). Atlas' family itself is located in Anatolia (James pp289-90), 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. Precisely 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.

Map of Anatolia c.1450 BC
This map depicts Arzawa and a rough estimation of its borders at the kingdom's height, showing a clear dominance in western Anatolia

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, 1998

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

Macqueen, J G - The Hittites, 1996

Singer, Itamar - Hittite Prayers, Scholars Press, Atlanta, 2002

Anatolian Conference abstracts, Emory University, available via the link on the left

Catalogue of Hittite Texts

Main Sources - Map

Alp, Sedat - Hethitische Briefe aus Masat-Höyük (the Letters from Masat Huyuk), Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayinlari, VI/35, 1991

Bartholomew's World Atlas

Garstang, John & Gurney, Oliver R - The Geography of the Hittite Empire, London, 1959

Gotze, Albrecht - Kizzuwatna and the Problem of Hittite Geography

Grote, George - History of Greece

Hawkins, J D - Anatolian Studies (48), Tarkasnawa King of Mira, The Karabel Inscription, 1998

Jones, A H M - Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces

Otten, Heinrich - Die Bronzetafel aus Bogazkoy (the Bronze Tablet), Studien zu den Bogazkoy-Texten I, 1988

Scarre, Chris (Ed) - Past Worlds: The Times Atlas of Archaeology

Van De Mieroop - A History of the Ancient Near East ca 3000-323 BC



Text copyright © David Ross. An original feature for the Arzawa Page and now incorporated into the History Files with the author's permission.