are an indigenous logographic script native to central Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...
, consisting of some 500 signs. They were once commonly known as Hittite hieroglyphs
, but the language they encode proved to be Luwian
Hieroglyphic Luwian is a variant of the Luwian language, recorded in official and royal seals and a small number of monumental inscriptions. It is written in a hieroglyphic script known as Anatolian hieroglyphs...
, not Hittite
Hittite is the extinct language once spoken by the Hittites, a people who created an empire centred on Hattusa in north-central Anatolia...
, and the term Luwian hieroglyphs
is used in English publications. They are typologically similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs, but do not derive graphically from that script, and they are not known to have played the sacred role of hieroglyphs in Egypt. There is no demonstrable connection to Hittite cuneiform
Hittite cuneiform is the implementation of cuneiform script used in writing the Hittite language. The surviving corpus of Hittite texts is preserved in cuneiform on clay tablets dates to the 2nd millennium BC ....
Individual Anatolian hieroglyphs are attested from the third and early second millennia BC across Anatolia and into modern Syria. The earliest examples occur on personal seal
A seal can be a figure impressed in wax, clay, or some other medium, or embossed on paper, with the purpose of authenticating a document ; but the term can also mean the device for making such impressions, being essentially a mould with the mirror image of the design carved in sunken- relief or...
s, but these consist only of names, titles, and auspicious signs, and it is not certain that they represent language. Most actual texts are found as monumental inscriptions in stone, though a few documents have survived on lead strips.
The first inscriptions confirmed as Luwian date to the Late Bronze Age, ca. 14th to 13th centuries BC. And after some two centuries of sparse material the hieroglyphs resume in the Early Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...
, ca. 10th to 8th centuries. In the early 7th century, the Luwian hieroglyphic script, by then aged some 700 years, is marginalized by competing alphabetic scripts
Various alphabetic writing systems were in use in Iron Age Anatolia to record Anatolian dialects and the Phrygian language. Previously several of these languages had been written with logographic and syllabic systems....
and falls into oblivion.
While all the preserved texts employing Anatolian hieroglyphs are written in the Luwian language
Luwian is an extinct language of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family. Luwian is closely related to Hittite, and was among the languages spoken during the second and first millennia BC by population groups in central and western Anatolia and northern Syria...
, some features of the script suggest its earliest development within a bilingual Hittite-Luwian environment. For example, the sign which has the form of a "taking" or "grasping" hand has the value /ta/, which is precisely the Hittite word ta-/da- "to take," in contrast with the Luwian cognate of the same meaning which is la-. There was occasionally some use of Anatolian Hieroglyphs to write foreign material like Hurrian theonyms, or glosses in Urartian
Urartian, Vannic, and Chaldean are conventional names for the language spoken by the inhabitants of the ancient kingdom of Urartu that was located in the region of Lake Van, with its capital near the site of the modern town of Van, in the Armenian Highland, modern-day Eastern Anatolia region of...
(such as á - ḫá+ra - ku
or tu - ru - za
, two units of measurement).
As in Egyptian, characters may be logographic or phonographic—that is, they may be used to represent words or sounds. The number of phonographic signs is limited. Most represent CV syllables, though there are a few disyllabic signs. A large number of these are ambiguous as to whether the vowel is a
Some signs are dedicated to one use or another, but many are flexible.
Words may be written logographically, phonetically, mixed (that is, a logogram with a phonetic complement
A phonetic complement is a phonetic symbol used to disambiguate word characters that have multiple readings, in mixed logographic-phonetic scripts such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, Akkadian cuneiform, Japanese, and Mayan...
), and may be preceded by a determinative
A determinative, also known as a taxogram or semagram, is an ideogram used to mark semantic categories of words in logographic scripts which helps to disambiguate interpretation. They have no direct counterpart in spoken language, though they may derive historically from glyphs for real words, and...
. Other than the fact that the phonetic glyphs form a syllabary
A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent syllables, which make up words. In a syllabary, there is no systematic similarity between the symbols which represent syllables with the same consonant or vowel...
rather than indicating only consonants, this system is analogous to the system of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Unlike Egyptian hieroglyphs, the lines of Luwian hieroglyphs are written alternately left-to-right and right-to-left. This practice was called by the Greeks
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...
Boustrophedon , is a type of bi-directional text, mostly seen in ancient manuscripts and other inscriptions. Every other line of writing is flipped or reversed, with reversed letters. Rather than going left-to-right as in modern English, or right-to-left as in Arabic and Hebrew, alternate lines in...
, meaning "as the ox turns" (as when plowing a field).
Some scholars compare the Phaistos Disc
The Phaistos Disc is a disk of fired clay from the Minoan palace of Phaistos on the Greek island of Crete, possibly dating to the middle or late Minoan Bronze Age . It is about 15 cm in diameter and covered on both sides with a spiral of stamped symbols...
and Cretan hieroglyphs
Cretan hieroglyphs are hieroglyphs found on artifacts of Bronze Age Minoan Crete . Symbol inventories have been compiled by Evans , Meijer , Olivier/Godart...
as possibly related scripts, but there is no consensus regarding this.
Anatolian hieroglyphs first came to Western attention in the nineteenth century, when European explorers such as Johann Ludwig Burckhardt
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt was a Swiss traveller and orientalist. He wrote his letters in French and signed Louis...
and Richard Francis Burton
Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton KCMG FRGS was a British geographer, explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer and diplomat. He was known for his travels and explorations within Asia, Africa and the Americas as well as his...
described pictographic inscriptions on walls in the city of Hama
Hama is a city on the banks of the Orontes River in west-central Syria north of Damascus. It is the provincial capital of the Hama Governorate. Hama is the fourth-largest city in Syria—behind Aleppo, Damascus, and Homs—with a population of 696,863...
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....
. The same characters were recorded in Boghaz-köy
Boğazkale is a district of Çorum Province in the Black Sea region of Turkey. It is located at 87 km from the city of Çorum. Population of the town is about 1,500. The mayor is Ali Rıza Soysat ....
, and presumed by A. H. Sayce to be Hittite in origin.
By 1915, with the Luwian language known from cuneiform, and a substantial quantity of Anatolian hieroglyphs transcribed and published, linguists started to make real progress in reading the script. In the 1930s, it was partially deciphered by Ignace Gelb
Ignace Jay Gelb was a Polish-American ancient historian and Assyriologist who pioneered the scientific study of writing systems...
, Piero Meriggi, Emil Forrer
Emil Orcitirix Gustav Forrer was a Swiss Assyriologist and Hittitologist....
, and Bedřich Hrozný
Bedřich Hrozný was a Czech orientalist and linguist. He deciphered the ancient Hittite language, identified it as an Indo-European language and laid the groundwork for the development of Hittitology. Though of Czech origin, he published his work in German or French.Hrozný was born in Lysá nad...
. Its language was confirmed as Luwian in 1973 by J.D. Hawkins, Anna Morpurgo-Davies and Günther Neumann, who corrected some previous errors about sign values, in particular emending the reading of symbols *376 and *377 from i, ī
to zi, za
Transliteration of logograms is conventionally the term represented in Latin, in capital letters (e.g. PES for the logogram for "foot"). The syllabograms are transliterated, disambiguating homophonic signs analogously to cuneiform transliteration, e.g. ta=ta1
transliterate six distinct ways of representing phonemic /ta/. Some of these homophonic signs have received further attention and new phonetic interpretation in recent years, e.g. tà has been found to stand for /da/.