The Ahhiyawa Texts

Published May 22, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, so I have now finished reading The Ahhiyawa Texts by Gary M. Beckman, Trevor R. Bryce and Eric H. Cline, and I can tell you all about it.  Well, not “all” actually.  The only way to get “all” of it is to read it yourself.  But I can tell you all about the parts that made me squee, or go “that’s so amazing!” or just made me stop and ponder the implications.  (Though, of course, some of the implications are more for my novels than for reality, but…)

So, to start at the beginning, The Ahhiyawa Texts is a collection, translation and analysis of all the Hittite texts that mention the Ahhiyawa, a group of people of the Late Bronze Age (LBA for short) that are now pretty much universally accepted as being the Mycenaean Greeks.  (The term is related to the Homeric term Achaian.)  It also includes a few texts that don’t directly mention the Ahhiyawa, but do mention a person known to have worked for/with them.  Unfortunately, it does not include the Alaksandu Treaty, despite the fact that anyone interested in the LBA interactions of the Greeks and the Hittites would want to read it, what with it being addressed to a man with a Greek name, and the fact that he’s the king of freakin’ Troy.  So I was disappointed that it wasn’t in there, but…well, I’ve read the text of it elsewhere, so it’s not a huge deal; I just would have liked a more up-to-date translation, and one that matched the rest of the translations.

Now, everyone has their own reason for reading a book like this.  My reasons are twofold.  One, I’m working on a book set 20 years after the Trojan War that has the offspring of a number of major mythical characters going to Hattusa to meet with the Great King of the Hittite Empire, so having the best possible understanding of the relations between the Mycenaeans and the Hittites is obviously very important.  And two, I’m generally interested in how myths are created, shaped and formed.  Now, a lot of Greek myths have obvious Indo-European roots, and thusly bear strong similarities to dozens of myths from all over the continents of Europe and Asia.  But there are also a number of them that don’t adhere to the basic Indo-European myths.  Generally speaking, these tend to be myths about human beings, with little to no divine intervention, and even when the gods are involved, they’re not the ones moving the story, just shaping it from a distance.  Those are the ones where you have to look to something more local and precise to determine their roots.  Not to say that they’re all based on historical reality (of course they aren’t) but there’s always going to be something that sparked a myth, whether an historical event, a cultural peculiarity, or just some guy having a really bad dream and telling all his friends about it without making it clear it was a dream.  (Okay, I have no idea if that ever happened, but it seems like the kind of thing that could have happened.)

In short, I was specifically interested in looking at how the historical reality of the LBA might have affected the classical Greek perceptions of the past of the Heroic Age.  But only within reason.

So, moving from my motives back to the book, the introduction of course spends a while talking about the way the academic community has interpreted the identifier Ahhiyawa.  Because while the  linguistic link to Achaian is pretty easy to make (especially since the earlier Hittite texts refer to the Ahhiya rather than the Ahhiaywa) it still poses problems, in that all the Linear B tablets discovered at Mycenaean sites make it very clear that Mycenaean Greece, like Classical Greece, was not a unified state like modern Greece; the palatial centers of the LBA were independent polities just as the city-states of the historic era were independent polities.  This meant that there was no King of the Ahhiyawa, if the Ahhiyawa were the Mycenaeans, and yet it was to such a person that the Great King of the Hittites was addressing himself in one of the few letters that (partially) survives of their correspondence.

The two main ways this discrepancy is explained are as follows.  One, that the Hittite king was writing to the king of a particular Mycenaean citadel–Miletus (Millawanda) on his own continent, or Mycenae or Thebes–and it’s merely by association that other Mycenaean Greeks might also be referred to as Ahhiyawa.  (As the term “Frank” became a commonly used appellation for all European Christians during the era of the Crusades, even though the Franks were only one small subset of that group.)  The other is that there was, in fact, some form of cooperation or even overlordship between the different Mycenaean citadels, with one of the local lords having greater power than the others.  The first explanation doesn’t work terribly well, because the Great King refers to the King of the Ahhiyawa as “my brother,” a political term for addressing an equal, which Hittite kings reserved for men of their own power level, like the Pharaoh in Egypt.  So for the King of the Ahhiyawa to be a mere wanax, controlling only a single palatial center, seems unlikely.  Also, as is pointed out in the introduction, some of the references to the level of military power at the King of the Ahhiyawa’s disposal is far greater than that which was available in Pylos at the time of its destruction.  (Sadly, Linear B tablets were never meant to be kept, so all we have, as far as Mycenaean records goes, are the tablets that were fire-hardened and thus preserved even as their city burned down.)  That leaves the second explanation, that the different palatial centers must have cooperated with each other, at least to a certain extent, in their dealings with the people of Anatolia.  There are mythical and historical precedents for this, of course, though naturally the historical ones come later:  the alliance of several of the Greek city-states in the face of Xerxes’ invasion, followed by the Delian League, which led to the so-called Athenian Empire, the closest one gets to a single ruler over a number of allegedly independent Greek city-states before the Macedonian conquest of Greece.  The mythical precedent is likely to come more easily to mind, though:  Agamemnon lorded it over all the other Greek kings at Troy, and if the real Hittites had met the mythical Greeks instead of the real ones, they surely would have seen Agamemnon as the equal of their own king.

Bottom line, although Ahhiyawa = Achaian seems logical, and almost no one is still arguing against it, it isn’t absolutely proven, and it isn’t absolutely perfect, either.  But, as the book points out several times, if that isn’t what the Hittites called the Mycenaeans, then they’re unrepresented in the massive Hittite archival texts, despite that we know for a fact they were active on the edges of Hittite territory, given the large number of Mycenaean artifacts found at coastal sites, particularly Miletus (Millawanda) and Ephesus (Apasa).  So we have to just assume that we’re right about that equation, and move onwards.

Now that I’ve finished the set-up, I’m going to be a bit less structured, and follow my post-it notes in the book (how did I read this kind of book before I learned I could do that?) to point out the moments in the individual texts that I found most exciting.

The first two texts are annals of a Hittite king named Mursili II.  (Not that he used the Roman numerals, mind you!  That’s just been put there to keep scholars (and especially non-scholars!) from getting confused.  One thing I noticed in reading all of these texts is that the Hittite kings didn’t like using their own names, or those of their ancestors.  They went so far as to use “the father of My Majesty” even in recycled bits of old annals, so that a man was calling himself “the father of My Majesty”.  Given that their term for saying that the king had died was that he had “become a god” I suspect that there were actually religious reasons not to mention the king’s name any more than strictly necessary, and particularly not to mention the names of past kings.)  These were really interesting more from the perspective of showing just how LBA some of the actions in the Iliad really were.  (Okay, yes, they were interesting for more reasons than that, but that’s the only reason I want to talk about here.)  Every time there was a battle and some city/fortress/what-have-you was taken, Mursili would brag about how many “civilian captives” he had sent back to Hattusa personally, and how many his army had sent back.  Of course, when he says “civilian captives,” it’s hard to interpret that as anything but “slaves.”  Just the way the Achaian forces enslaved the populations of the smaller towns they sacked during the ten years of the Trojan War.  There was also a particularly interesting passage towards the end of the second set of annals.  (One was basically the extended cut of the other.)

“You Mashuilawa, came to my father as a fugitive, and my father took you up and made you his son-in-law, giving you his daughter and my sister Muwatti in marriage.  But he could not come to your assistance and defeat your enemies for you.  (Now) I have come to your assistance and defeated your enemies for you.  Furthermore, I have rebuilt towns, fortified them, and provided them with garrisons.  I have installed you in rule in Mira.”

What Mursili is describing here comes up a lot in the Greek myths.  A man flees from his native land for whatever reason–usually because he killed someone, as the punishment for homicide was usually exile–and the king who takes him in gives him a daughter’s hand in marriage.  Now, in the myths, this often leads to the exile ending up inheriting his father-in-law’s kingdom (Peleus, for example, gained Phthia that way) but it did also sometimes lead to the father-in-law giving him an army with which to regain his lost kingdom.  (As Adrastos gave his son-in-law Polynices an army with which to (attempt to) take back Thebes from his brother Eteocles.)  So this passage really struck me because it’s proof that behavior of that sort really did take place in the Late Bronze Age.  It’s not proof that the Mycenaean Greeks behaved that way, of course, but if one group did, it’s not at all unreasonable to think that a contemporary with whom they had a lot of contact might also do so.  (Though it’s certainly not proof that they did, of course!)

One other thing of interest in these annals is the fate of some royalty from Arzawa.  They were driven out of their kingdom and took refuge with the Ahhiyawa.  Uhha-ziti and his sons Piyama-Kurunta and Tapalazunawali.  Of particular concern here is Piyama-Kurunta, whose fate is unclear, but who may have been handed over to the Hittites by the Ahhiyawans.  I’ll have more to say about Arzawa and Piyama-Kurunta later…

The third text is called “The Indictment of Madduwatta” and it’s notable for two things.  First, it mentions a figure named Attarissiya of Ahhiya.  It has been suggested that Attarissiya might be the Hittite rendition of the Mycenaean equivalent of the name known to us by its Classical Greek spelling of Atreus.  It’s not a certain thing, but it’s not that much more dissimilar than Alaksandu/Alexandros.  Well, okay, yes, it is actually a lot more dissimilar than Alaksandu/Alexandros.  But it’s less dissimilar, in my opinion, than what many (if not most) scholars agree is the Hittite rendition of Eteocles!  (More on that later.)  So you have this Attarissiya/Atreus, and he’s interacting with Madduwatta, who rules over a kingdom at the foot of Mount Zippasla, better known as Mt. Sipylus.  (Though the book doesn’t make that connection; it says the place can’t be located with certainty.  But I remember reading somewhere that Zippasla = Sipylus.)  So here you have a person who may be named Atreus connected to Mt. Sipylus…which is where Atreus’ father Pelops came from.  Perhaps this Atreus, whoever he was (seems the Great King didn’t think of him as an equal, so he wasn’t as powerful as some of the later Ahhiyawans, despite the massive number of chariots he was able to field), became well known enough in the early-Greek-speaking world that his name became associated with that of Mt. Sipylus?  Tentative at best, yet the coincidence is strong enough that it’s hard to outright dismiss.

The other noteworthy thing about the Great King’s list of Madduwatta’s crimes against Hattusa is that Madduwatta was not only constantly betraying the Hittite king (both the king who was writing the letter and his father before him) but he was being sneaky and two-faced about it.  He wasn’t simply turning on him, but rather he would do things like allying with the enemies of the Hittites while sending messages to Hattusa saying things like “I’m just tricking them into thinking I’m letting them marry my daughter” even though it was no trick.  The one that particularly caught my attention was this one:

Niwalla, the huntsman of My Majesty, [ran off] and went to Madduwatta, and Madduwatta [took him in.  Then] at first, I, My Majesty, wrote after him repeatedly:  “Niwalla, the huntsman [of My Majesty], ran off and came to you.  [Seize him and] give him back to me!”  Initially Madduwatta [ … ] kept saying:  “No one [came] to me.”

(All those brackets are in the original, btw.  Showing where the text was partially or entirely reconstructed.)  Anyway, that exchange reminded me of something I had read last month in Who’s Who in Classical Mythology by Michael Grant & John Hazel:

Yet another story of his wickedness tells how Pandareos stole from a shrine of Zeus a wonderful golden guard-dog, which he gave to Tantalus to look after.  Hermes was sent by Zeus to claim the dog, and Pandareos later asked for it back, but on both occasions Tantalus swore an oath that he knew nothing of the dog and had never seen it.

Guess where Tantalos ruled?  Yep, Mt. Sipylus!  (The above anecdote is the one I couldn’t work into my version of the Tantalos story, btw.)  Now, obviously, the similarity of Madduwatta’s denial of having sheltered Niwalla and Tantalos denying having the golden guard-dog is entirely coincidental.  It is, after all, the most common way to handle not giving someone what they want from you.  But the association of trickery with Mt. Sipylus…that seems less likely to be coincidental.  (It still could be, of course, but…)

We’ll come back to Mt. Sipylus later, but right now we’re moving on to one of the two most famous Hittite documents.  (The other, of course, being the Alaksandu Treaty.)  This one is known as the Tawalagawa Letter, and it’s a letter from the Great King in Hattusa to the King of the Ahhiyawa, concerning the destruction being wrought by a renegade Hittite named Piyamaradu, who keeps hiding out in Ahhiyawan territory (particularly Millawanda/Miletos), and seems to have the cooperation of the king’s brother Tawalagawa.  (He’s not mentioned very often, but it can’t be named after Piyamaradu, because there are a surprisngly large number of documents talking about him.  He may have been a thorn in the sides of as many as four Great Kings, across 35 years.  That or it was more of a title than a personal name.  Though that idea is never mentioned.)

Of course, Tawalagawa doesn’t sound like a very Greek name, does it?  Well, the prevailing scholarly opinion is that it’s actually Eteocles.  Because in Mycenaean Greek, the di-gamma hadn’t been dropped yet, so it would be Etewoclewos, and in written Mycenaean, the final -s is dropped.  Once you know that, it’s not that hard to see, but how they first realized that is beyond me!

The other reason that the Tawalagawa Letter is famous, aside from including the name of a Mycenaean Greek (only one other confirmed name, that of Attarissiya, is known for sure, though there’s one other that might belong to an Ahhiyawan), is the fact that it specifically mentions the Great King of the Hittites and the King of the Ahhiyawa having quarreled over Wilusa…that is, over Ilios, better known as Troy.  (Linguistic evidence in the Iliad had long since proven that Ilios–the preferred Homeric name for the city–had been known as Wilios at the time when some of the stock phrases in the epic were assembled, and the jump from Wilios to Wilusa is a very small one.)  He doesn’t say in what way they were at odds over the city–the commentary points out that the word could mean anything from a diplomatic disagreement to an actual clash between armies–or why, just that the King of the Ahhiyawa should remind his brother that that conflict is over.  So it was probably fairly recent.  Or maybe the Ahhiyawans had lost, and that was actually a subtle threat.  With so little of the letter, and almost no other context, it’s impossible to say for sure.  But the mind reels giddily at the possibilities!  (Well, mine does, anyway.)

So, now we’re returning to tie together some threads from before.  Specifically, Arzawa, Zippalsa, Piyama-Kurunta and Piyamaradu.  Because Zippalsa is in Arzawa.  And sometimes so is Wilusa.  (Arzawa being a kingdom swallowed up by the Hittite empire, you see, so it was actually pretty big, covering perhaps as much as the whole western coast of modern-day Turkey.)  And of course you can see the similarity in those two personal names.  The part they share, Piyama, is also pretty close to the name Priamos, which is not a Greek name (hence the absurd false etymology about him being ransomed by his sister’s veil and thus changing his name to Priam, from the word for “to buy”) and thus may have been a corruption of the Hittite name Piyama.  Or it may not.  Who knows?  Furthermore, Piyama-Kurunta was driven out of a kingdom that included Mt. Sipylos, and ended up in Greek territory, just as Pelops was driven out of his father’s kingdom at Mt. Sipylos and ended up in Greece.  I’m not saying that Piyama-Kurunta is Pelops; that would be absurd.  But I think it’s easily possible that his historical story had a small influence on some of the details of the tale of Pelops.  (That, in fact, was one of the points mentioned at the very tail end of the book, when talking about how the book didn’t mention the connections between the Ahhiyawa texts and the Greek myths, then recommended a number of books that did.  Most of which I can get out of the university library through interlibrary loan, so they’re on my to-read list now!  Though I’ll probably wait to get through more of the books I’ve actually paid for first.)  There are some heavy differences between Piyama-Kurunta’s tale and that of Pelops, of course.  Piyama-Kurunta was driven out by the Hittites, along with his father and brother, and may have ended up back in their hands (or maybe he and Piyamaradu are the same person?) whereas Pelops was driven out by the grandfather of King Priam, and never went back to Anatolia…except maybe as bones.  (Some versions say the bones of Menelaos’ Lydian grandfather were needed to take the citadel at Troy, so they were brought over for that task.  But most versions don’t include that.)

One last text I want to talk about before I get to a general thought on the Hittites in relation to the Greeks.  The very last text in the book is actually from centuries later, and isn’t a Hittite text, but a Cilician bi-lingual inscription from someone who calls himself the king of the Hiyawa.  The last Hittite texts also use Hiyawa instead of Ahhiyawa, having dropped the initial sound.  This fellow, therefore, is probably descended from Mycenaean Greeks, and he names one of his ancestors.  In the Luwian version (Luwian being the Hittite language, btw) he identifies that ancestor as Muksas.  In the Phoenician version, he identifies him as MPS.  (Written Phoenician has no vowels.)  In classical Greek texts, there’s a seer named Mopsus (grandson of Tiresias) who went about founding towns on the Anatolian coast…and he’s sometimes referred to as Moxus.  So there’s a strong indication, then, that this mythical person was at least partially based on a real one.  (And this Muksas/MPS fellow is attested in more than just the one inscription, btw.)

But there’s an important issue here.  We’ve seen a number of names in these texts that probably influenced names in Greek myths.  And what little we know of Mycenaean culture and religion indicates a certain amount of carry-over from the Mycenaean times to the historical times.  (The fact that the Catalog of Ships in the Iliad is outlining the Mycenaean power distribution, not the one from the time of the poem’s composition is an even stronger indication, naturally!)  And we have these texts and numerous Mycenaean artifacts found on the Anatolian coast to show that the Mycenaeans were in contact with the Hittites.  So why are the Hittites never mentioned in any Greek myths?

The short answer is that I now think they were.

Last December, I spent some time talking about the possibility that the homoerotic relationship between Achilles and Patroclos and the resulting bereavement/vengeance cycle was pre-dated by a similar cycle with Achilles and Antilochos, where Hector’s role in the Iliad was played by Memnon, King of Ethiopia.  My main problem (well, one of my main problems) with the theory that some scholars have that the Antilochos version came first is that it then makes the primary Greek hero of the Trojan War have his primary rival not be a Trojan, but an Ethiopian.  Which doesn’t make a lot of sense, right?  Why would someone from Ethiopia even be there, much less be the city’s most important defender?  (As to why Memnon is there, it’s because Priam is his uncle, as his father was a Trojan prince abducted by Eos, goddess of the dawn.)  Well, one important thing to realize is that the Greek myths referring to Ethiopia were not always talking about what we mean when we say Ethiopia.  There’s a lengthy discussion in the article “The Cult of Achilles in the Euxine” by Guy Hedreen (Hesperia:  The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 60, No. 3, July-Sept. 1991) that speculates as to how the cult of Achilles ended up on Leukos, and (a small) part of the article’s point is that Ethiopia was not always, in the Greek mind, in Africa.  He quotes a line from the Odyssey:

Ethiopians, most distant of men, who live divided, some at the setting of Hyperion, some at his rising.

Thus Ethiopia was originally to the far east (and west), which makes sense given its association with Eos.  Another point he makes is how in the Aithiopis, Achilles and Memnon are presented as mirror opposites.  Part of their exact opposite nature is physical:  while they’re both beautiful men, Achilles is fair, and Memnon is dark, not only in hair but also in skin.  So Ethiopia became associated, through myths of Memnon, with extremely dark-skinned individuals, which is probably how the name became associated with Africa south of Egypt, where people were extremely dark-skinned.

Okay, I’m beginning to stray from the topic here, so I’ll just cut to the chase:  I think that there’s at least the possibility that the name Hatti–the land of the Hittites–changed over time to Aithi in the repetition of tales in the Greek-speaking lands, and thus Memnon was originally not an Ethiopian, but a Hittite.  If we had any Linear B tablets that referred to the Hittites, I’d have a better idea if that could actually have happened, but it makes sense to me, especially since the Ethiopians are pretty much only associated with the Trojans in the myths.  I would love to ask an expert just how likely that is, but I’m not sure what kind of expert I’d need to ask.  A linguist who has studied the changes specifically in the Greek tongue, I suppose, and has a strong knowledge not only of Mycenaean Greek, but also Ionian Greek, which would be the dialect most closely related to the Greek-speaking people who retained the closest contact with the descendants of the Hittites after the fall of Hattusa around the same time that the Mycenaean palatial centers burned.  (Actually, the people to ask would probably be the authors of this book, but how the heck would I do that?  I’m just a lowly MA student–and in History, not Archaeology–at a fairly unimportant Midwestern university.  I don’t have access to top minds in the Mycenaean and Hittite archaeological fields.)

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