History of The Hittites Cuneiform Code Breaking

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Cracking The Hittite Cuneiform Code

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The hittites were great recorders of their History. Excavations of the libraries at Hattusa revealed tens of thousands of clay tablets written in a cuneiform that was illegible to historians until the code could be broken.

 

The Hittites left a great treasure that would reveal their story in a labyrinth of underground tunnels housing 5 great libraries, in which 30,000 clay tablets had been carefully catalogued and stored. This was one of the oldest and largest ancient libraries ever discovered. The one great advantage of clay tablets is that they are more durable than papyrus of parchment but even though the library tablets almost certainly contained the history of the lost civilisation, they were written in a language that nobody could understand.

 

The Hittites wrote in Mesopotamian cuneiform letters using the same triangular shaped signs which was used by several of the ancient civilisations of the Middle East. The end corner of a small triangular rod or reed was pressed into soft clay tablets forming triangular shapes. The differing angles and groupings of these triangles created letters and words. Middle Eastern linguists could read the hittite cuneiform but they could make no sense of it because it shared no common words with the known cuneiform languages of the Middle East.

 

On 24 November 1915 a gifted Czech, Friedrich Hrozny, delivered a lecture to the members of the Near Eastern Society of Berlin in which he described how he had deciphered one sentence of Hittite cuneiform. Hrozny also stated that 'If I am right about the interpretation of this line. there is going to be a scientific storm.’

 

Hrozny discovered a sentence that contained the Babylonian word for bread in it which was “ninda-an”. The sentence read “nu ninda~an ezzatteni vadar-ma ekutteni.” and Hrozny reasoned that 'A sentence in which the word bread is used may very well contain the word "eat".' In the sentence he discovered the word “ezzatteni" which reminded him of the old German word for eating, “Ezzan”. Once he made the German connection the next significant word which seemed to jump out for such comparisons was “vadar". Hrozny saw a similarity to the English word water, German Wasser, Old Saxon watar. Once he had made the connection with European languages Hrozny started to translate the other words in the sentence. The first word “nu” reminded him of the Latin word for now, and the last word reminded him of Latin for water but it looked like it might be a verb so he deduced it might mean drink. From this he translated the sentence as " now you eat bread and drink water”. Hrozny had discovered that Hittite was an Indo European, like English and most other European languages, so was not related to the languages of the Middle East at all. This meant that the Hittites must have migrated from Europe to build their fortress city at Hattusa.

 

Late Hittite (Aramaean) Basalt Double Sphinx sculpture from 9th Cent B.C, excavated from the entrance of Palace III Sam'al (Hittite: Yadiya) located at Zincirli Höyük in the Anti-Taurus Mountains of modern Turkey's Gaziantep Province. Istanbul Archaeological Museum Inv. No 7731.
Late Hittite (Aramaean) Basalt Double Sphinx sculpture from 9th Cent B.C, excavated from the entrance of Palace III Sam'al (Hittite: Yadiya) located at Zincirli Höyük in the Anti-Taurus Mountains of modern Turkey's Gaziantep Province. Istanbul Archaeological Museum Inv. No 7731. Photography by ©

 

 

The Hittite Civilisation Revealed

 

Hrozny’s code breaking breakthrough meant that the clay tablets of the libraries of Hattusa could start to reveal the story of the Hittite civilisation and Empire. The tablets revealed a civilisation centred around state control, obsessed by order and riddled with fear. The tablets revealed that every aspect of Hittite life was tightly regulated by a bureaucratic system that handed out harsh penalties for misdemeanours which included the mutilation and execution of offenders.

 

The tablets revealed the Hittites as a civilisation who believed in duty, discipline and sacrifice cemented together by solemn oaths to their many gods. The greatest oath was that of allegiance to the King who carried out the will of the Gods, aided by a close nit group of elders that included the kings closest relations. This bond of brotherhood was the most important bond in Hittite society and to wrong or kill a brother Hittite was the greatest crime a Hittite could commit.

From this highly disciplined society the Hittites began to build a war machine. The tablets revealed training manuals with instructions on how to turn raw recruits into ruthless warriors. The tablets also revealed a "big brother" society where everyone was encouraged to spy on each other. Misdemeanours were ruthlessly punished and disobeyed orders were punished by blinding.

 

Picture & image of a Neo-Hittite orthostat of 3 warriors from the legend of Gilgamesh from Karkamis,, Turkey. Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, Ankara. The warrior on the far left holds a spear in one hand and the branch of a tree in the other. The middle warrior has a clenched fist an carries an impliment over his shoulder. The warrior on the far right carries a saff. All 3 are wearing swords.. Photography by ©

 

 

The preparations the Hittites made for war were meticulous. Horses were force fed a special diet to make them stronger and to make the Hittite chariots faster and more devastating. The hittites also worked in iron to create superior weapons. They were effectively an Iron Age civilisation in a Bronze Age world. The Hittite regime built an army prepared to win at any cost and they did so hidden away in the mountains away from the prying eyes of the three Great Empires of the ancient world.

 

When the Hittite war machine emerged from the mountains it took the ancient world by surprise. Kingdoms crumbled in front of the mighty Hittite army which ruthlessly swathed a path of destruction across the Middle East to build an Empire that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea in the west, across Asia Minor encompassing the Levant and Upper Mesopotamia. The Hittites crushed Assyria then destroyed the great city of Babylon, which left only Egypt as the last of the Great Ancient Empire standing in their way to the domination of the Ancient World.

 

Picture & image of a Neo-Hittite orthostat showing a Conjurer & acrobats from Alacahöyük, Alaca Çorum Province, Turkey. Museum of the Anatolian Civilisations, Ankara. The conjurer on the left has long hair and is swallowing a dagger whilst the acrobats go up the stairs without holding on. All the figures are wearing horned headress and large looped earings. The acrobats are thought to be foreigners which is why they are smaller than the conjurer. Old Bronze age Chalcolithic Period.. Photography by ©

 

 

In 1279 BC Ramesses the Great, one of the most powerful leaders in Egyptian history, was Pharaoh and he knew that the Hittites threatened Egypt itself. Egypt controlled most of the Eastern Mediterranean which was vital to securing trade routes. Whoever ruled over this area could be said to be the Greatest King of the Ancient World and the city of Kadesh was the key to the Eastern Mediterranean. It was located on the borders of the Hittite and Egyptian Empires so war for its control was inevitable.

 

 

 

 


Related MuseoPics Hittite Pages

Museopics the free online historical museum links to resources

 

Hittite Artefacts Relief Sculptures Hittite History - The Begining Breaking Hittite Cuneiform Code Hittites Battle of Kadesh Fall of Hittite Empire Sam'al Hittite Artefacts Relief Sculptures Charchamis Hittite Artefacts Relief Sculptures Yazilikaya Hittite Artefacts Relief Sculptures. Asalepte Hittite Artefacts Relief Sculptures Coba Huyuk Hittite Artefacts Relief Sculptures Alaca Huyuk Hittite Artefacts Relief Sculptures Hittite Heiroglyphic Relief Sculptures Hittite Heiroglyphic Relief Sculptures

 

 

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