History Files

Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Anatolia


South Indo-Europeans (Anatolian Tribes)
c.3500 - 1500 BC

FeatureAccording to David Anthony (generally supported by academia), the Yamnaya horizon exploded across the Pontic-Caspian steppe from around 3300 BC, this being the primary vector through which proto-Indo-Europeans could spread westwards. The various interrelated cultural expressions that formed the basis of this 'horizon' were created by early proto-Indo-Europeans who belonged to semi-nomadic, pastoral tribes which could, more or less, understand each other (see feature link for more on the Indo-European migrations). However, prior to the main wave of migration from the Pontic-Caspian steppe into the Danubian basin and Carpathian Mountains to form the South-West Indo-European and West Indo-European divisions, two other branches split away from the Indo-European homeland.

FeatureThe first of these formed the Tocharian branch which largely headed east, but which may theoretically also have seen a group head south to form elements of the Gutians. The second was the South-Indo-European branch, although their split from the main homeland may have predated that of the Tocharians. In fact, the split is calculated to have taken place so early that some scholarly opinion suggests that they may not even be proto-Indo-Europeans as such, but a related group. An early division is generally accepted because they preserved early roots of words that later changed amongst the remaining proto-Indo-Europeans to their north, showing that they were isolated from such changes. That split seems to have taken place by around 3500 BC - possibly up to a millennium earlier - to form the pre-Anatolian language group of Indo-Europeans (see feature link for more information).

These pre-Anatolian-speakers most likely headed down through the Caucuses by following one of the coastal routes, either along the eastern coast of the Black Sea or the western coast of the Caspian Sea. A proposed route via the Balkans seems highly unlikely given later historical settlement patterns which were initially concentrated in eastern and then central Anatolia. This stream of migrants quickly sub-divided itself into at least three groups: Luwian-speakers, Hittite-speakers, and Palaic-speakers, with the division calculated to have occurred around 3400 BC based on later records of people speaking these language groups. It is that early date which makes it possible to push the original split from other Indo-Europeans back even further, since these divisions took time to evolve.

Palaic, the language spoken by the Pala, could later be found in northern Anatolia only. This did not survive much beyond 1500 BC. Its speakers were overrun or marginalised by the non-Indo-European Kaskans by around that date, and then replaced (or absorbed) by the Phrygians in the late thirteenth century BC. Luwian speakers, initially focussed in southern Anatolia, eventually encompassed much of the region and were dominant until the arrival of Greek settlers after the twelfth century BC gradually diluted their numbers. Hittite by-and-large died with the end of its empire at the end of the thirteenth century, although it persisted in decreasing fashion in some of the post-Hittite states.

The main reason for the eventual decline of the South Indo-Europeans can be found through Hittite, Pala, and Luwian religions. Religion is always a strong indicator of cultural values. With these groups it seems they largely adopted the deities of their indigenous neighbours (with the exception of the storm god, Tarhunt, and the glowing god of light, Tiwaz - the latter was the universal deity from which so many names and words derive: 'day, deus, theos, deva, deity, Tiu/Tyr', and so on). It's no wonder they weakened and were conquered; it indicates that they probably lost their aggressive steppe culture, and instead became completely sedentary. A move from herding to agriculture would have weakened them during the climatic changes of the thirteenth century BC and attacks from other equally desperate peoples.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information by David Ross, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from The Arzawa Letters in Recent Perspective, J David Hawkins (British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 14 (73-83, 2009)), from Hittite Diplomatic Texts, Gary Beckman (Second Ed, Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1999), from The Kingdom of the Hittites, Trevor Bryce (1998), from The Hittites, O R Gurney (1991), from Annals of Mursili (Years 1 to 8), Ian Russell Lowell, from The Hittites, J G Macqueen (1996), from Hittite Prayers, Itamar Singer (Scholars Press, Atlanta, 2002), and from External Links: Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and Anatolian Conference abstracts, Emory University, and The alleged kingdom of the disappeared Hittites is found (Free News), and Proto-Bulgarian Runic Inscriptions, and Linguistics Research Center (University of Texas at Austin).)

c.3500 - 2500 BC

Once in the region of what is now Armenia, Azerbaijan, and north-eastern Turkey, the South Indo-Europeans appear to settle for quite some time into what is probably a semi-nomadic lifestyle. To the west and south of what could be described as the proto-Anatolian homeland, other more settled groups are heading slowly towards early civilisation. These include the city states of northern Mesopotamia and Syria, and the Hatti cities of central-eastern Anatolia.

Map of proto-Anatolian migration 3000-2000 BC
This map attempts to illustrate in basic terms the separate paths taken by the Luwians, Hittites, and Pala during their westwards migration and their progress from proto-Anatolians to kingdom-builders (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.3000 BC

The first urban centres appear in eastern Anatolia, around the headwaters of the Upper Euphrates and immediately north of the Anti-Taurus mountain range. Neolithic farming had long ago been developed in this general region around eastern Anatolia (amongst others). It also seems to have been from eastern Anatolia that Neolithic farmers began migrating in the seventh millennium BC towards Europe to create the Sesklo culture and bring farming to Europe.

Around this time though, 3000 BC, a destruction layer appears in the city of Melid (later Melitene, modern Malatya in Turkey) which may coincide with the arrival of the South Indo-European migrants from an initial gestation area to the south of the Caucuses. Their presence would seem to influence to a degree at least one local state, that of Ishuwa, possibly through settlement amongst the indigenous natives. A takeover of the type seen later when the Hatti are defeated seems less likely as Ishuwa contains several sources of influence.

c.2300 BC

Division had occurred perhaps around 3400 BC or earlier to form three main groups of South Indo-Europeans, these being Luwian-speakers, Hittite-speakers, and Palaic-speakers. Some time after this point, 2300 BC, Luwian-speakers begin to settle in southern Anatolia along the Mediterranean coastal region, to the south of the Hatti. Luwian settlement in south-eastern Anatolia's Cilician Plain extends northwards into south-eastern Cappadocia beyond Comana in Cataonia. The area had been home to some of the earliest agricultural settlements, such as that at Çatal Hüyük, and is rich in cultivated fields and silver mines.

Upper Euphrates
Much of the Upper Euphrates where it builds around the Anti-Taurus Mountains was formerly Ishuwa's territory, providing it with fertile farming land, but modern dam projects mean that a good deal of it is now under water

Around the same time, 'barbarians from the north' are causing problems in cities within Syria, likely to be Luwians testing their defences. The Hittites, however, make no such appearance in written records for a further five hundred years or so. During this time they most likely remain in whatever grazing lands their cattle occupy to the south of the Caucus Mountains.

Why they remain behind for so long when the Luwians have found a new home is unknown. The Luwian movement at this time can be explained by linking it to the climate-change-induced dip in farming production in Sumer around the same time. So climate forces the Luwians to migrate. Why the Hittites remain where they are (or at least, are presumed to do so) and why they begin to move around the end of the nineteenth century BC so that they arrive in central Anatolia shortly after the beginning of the eighteenth century BC is unknown. Population increase and the need for fresh grazing land may be the best reasons. Or perhaps they are Luwians themselves, changed by association with the Hatti.

early 1700s BC

Pithana, the earliest-documented Hittite ruler, and his son rule their newly conquered domain in Anatolia from the unlocated city of Kussara. Pithana later conquers the Hatti city of Kanesh, centre of the Assyrian trading colonies in Anatolia, perhaps moving his capital there (and probably ending Assyrian trading there too). Neither Pithana nor his son bear Indo-European names, suggesting a degree of intermingling between the Indo-European Hittites and their immediate native Anatolian neighbours at some point in the last few centuries.

c.1600 BC

Gradually since the initial Luwian settlement of southern Anatolia, and by the sixteenth century BC, a Luwian state has formed. It now emerges into history under the name of Kizzuwatna. By this time, however, the territory that has become known as Luwia has already divided into two states, with Arzawa to the west of Kizzuwatna first being recorded around the same time as its neighbour.

c.1200 BC

The international system has recently been creaking under the strain of increasing waves of peasants and the poor leaving the cities and abandoning crops. Around the end of this century the entire region is also hit by drought and the loss of surviving crops. Food supplies dwindle and the number of raids by habiru and other groups of peoples who have banded together greatly increases until, by about 1200 BC, this flood has turned into a tidal wave.

Habu relief at Medinet
Attacks by the Sea Peoples gathered momentum during the last decade of the thirteenth century BC, quickly reaching a peak which lasted about forty years

Already decaying from late in the thirteenth century BC, as Assyria has risen and instability has gripped the Mediterranean coast, the Hittite empire is now looted and destroyed by various surrounding peoples, including the Kaskans and the Sea Peoples (and perhaps even selectively by its own populace).

Small Hittite (or 'neo-Hittite') states form out of some territories in western Anatolia and northern Syria. Later groups of Luwian-descended peoples also include the Lukka (Lycians) and Lydians, but the dominance of the descendants of the proto-Anatolians is gradually lost thanks to the arrival of Greek settlers in the twelfth to eighth centuries BC. Luwian survives the end of the Hittite empire, but today all three language groups - including Palaic - are extinct.