Ancient writing systems in the Mediterranean

A critical guide to electronic resources


edited by: Giulia Torri (translation revised by Melanie Rockenhaus)

  • Introduction
  • Ancient Writing Systems
  • Further information

Hittite is an inflectional language and is a member of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European linguistic family. During the second millennium B.C. it is found together with Palaic and Luwian in the central area of Turkey. Those languages originated from a primitive Proto-Anatolian. Hittite was the first to split from this common language.

The Hittite population settled in an area already inhabited by Hattians, people whose cultural influence is visible and strong especially in the sphere of cult and religion.

The first rare evidence of the Hittite language is found in the Assyrian texts of Cappadocia recovered in the quarters of the Assyrian merchants at Kaneš/Neša (today Kültepe, 20th -18th cent. B.C.). The language today conventionally called Hittite, was named by its speakers nešili or nešumnili: Hittites spoke in the “language of the inhabitants of Neša”.

Between the 16th and 13th centuries Hittite would become the main spoken language of the ruling class of the Hatti reign.

Its grammatical structure is clearly of the Indo-European kind with some particularities, like the absence of the female gender in nominal inflection (Hittite differentiates between common gender and neuter gender), and of the conjunctive and optative moods in the verbal system.

The language underwent an evolution during the five centuries of history of the Hatti reign and today we distinguish between old-Hittite, middle-Hittite and late-Hittite language on the bases of linguistic, grammatical and syntactical criteria.

The recognition that the Hittite language belonged to the Indo-European family of languages was definitely established by Czech scholar Bedrich Hrozný, who in 1915 published “Die Lösung des hethitischen Problems”. Hrozný gave an interpretation of the Hittite sentence nu  NINDA-an ezatteni watar=ma ekutteni clarifying the words based on their similarity with words from other Indo-European languages. On the basis of this comparison he could translate the sentence “You eat bread and drink water”. Although the theory was at the beginning seen with skepticism, rigorous studies of the scholars Ferdinand Sommer, Johannes Friedrich, Hans Ehelolf, and Albrecht Goetze finally proved the validity of Hrozný’s theory and started the gradual reconstruction of the language, the history, and the culture of the Hittites.

Ancient Writing Systems

  1. Hittite

Further information

  1. Bibliography
  2. Online resources