by David Ross, 18 February 2001. Updated 28
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 that 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
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
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
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 that 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.
Relief of a captured soldier at Medinat Habu - one of the Sea
Peoples who also destroyed 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
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 required to deal with the
other states of Asia Minor, and especially with Hattusas.
The period 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'
Some examples of Arzawan personal names are
Ura-Tarhunta, Piyama-Radu, and Piyama-Kurunta. One could propose
Muwa-x or x-Muwa
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.
The ruins of Classical Ephesos in western Anatolia
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 that 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:
EXTERNAL LINKS: Ilya Yakubovitch at
www.uni-tuebingen.de (dead link)
Sarah Morris Abstracts The Scapegoat at
www.asor.org (dead link)
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.
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.
Bull-men support the heavens in this relief at the Hittite sanctuary
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
Drews, R - The End of the Bronze
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