The Contacts of the Hittites with the Aegean Peoples

  • Mladen Horvat Ziherlova 43 1000 Ljubljana
Keywords: Hittites, Hittitology, antiquity, ancient peoples, Aegean countries


id the Hittites, a landlocked nation from central Anatolia, have any contacts with the Aegean region and its peoples? This has been a hotly contested issue ever since 1924, when E. Forrer claimed to have discovered a reference to Homeric Greeks in Hittite texts mentioning a country called Ahhiyawa. Almost as soon as the theory appeared, it was refuted by many prominent Hittitologists, most notably F. Sommer and A. Goetze, who claimed Ahhiyawa was just one of the Anatolian principalities. But there were also those who concurred with Forrer's claims - F. Schachermeyer and G. L. Huxley. Some scholars later propounded their own theories about the location of Ahhiyawa, placing it in the area of the Troad or Thrace. Recent scholarship mostly agrees with Guterbock that Ahhiyawa must have had some connection with the Mycenaeans, but not all have been persuaded.

There are several Hittite documents in which Ahhiyawa appears. The earliest of there is the so-called Indictment of Madduwata. It dates to the beginning of the 14''' century B. C. and recounts Hittite dealings with a certain Madduwata, forced to flee his country by Attarsiya, whom the Hittites called Man of Ahhiya(wa). Madduwata was installed as a Hittite vassal ruler somewhere in southwestern Anatolia; however, he proved to be an ungrateful and overambitious person, who caused serious trouble for his overlord by attacking Hittite possessions in what appears to have been the area of classical Lycia and Caria. Later he even invaded Cyprus in alliance with his former enemy Attarsiya.

The next reference to Ahhiyawa comes from the time of the Hittite king Mursilli, who reigned in the last quarter of the 14''' century B. C. He conquered the country of Arzawa, which lay in the area of classical Lydia, with its capital Apasa (classical Ephesus). Relying on the king of Ahhiyawa, it engaged in hostilities against the Hittites and incited the land of Millawanda (classical Miletus) to rebellion, but was defeated and its prince probably handed over to the Hittites by the Ahhiyawa king.

In the time of the next Hittite king, Muwatalli 11., there occurs a reference to the country of Wilusa and its ruler Alaksandu, which were identified by some scholars with Troy and its prince Paris-Alexandros. While the identity of the latter is somewhat questionable, the identification of the former is probably confirmed by another document. It deals with the attack of the Hittite renegade Piyamaradu on a place called Lazpa (the classical island of Lesbos) and mentions Wilusa as well.

Probably the most important, and certainly the longest, Hittite text regarding Ahhiyawa is the so-called Tawagalawa Letter. It is the letter of a Hittite king, most likely Hatusilli III., to the king of Ahhiyawa, whose name is unfortunately not preserved. The letter is named after the first person mentioned in it, which is Tawagalawa, brother of the Ahhiyawa king. A more suitable label, however, would be "the Piyamaradu Letter", because it is a complaint of the Hittite king to his fellow sovereign in Ahhiyawa about the depredations of Piyamaradu on Hittite territory, apparently committed with the tacit approval of the Ahhiyawa king. The most prominent feature of the letter is the apologetic and conciliatory tone used by the Hittite king to address the king of Ahhiyawa, probably a proof that the country of the latter was a respectable military power beyond Hittite reach. All this is compatible with the facts known to us about the Mycenaeans of that age.

The Hittites remained active in the Aegean area even close to the end of their empire, as is proved by the texts from the time of Tudhalija IV. He not only successfully suppressed the revolts in the west - namely the land around the Seha River -, and the southwest - Lycia and Caria -, but even managed to establish control over Millawanda-Miletus. The relations with Ahhiyawa remained tense, as can be seen from the trade embargo imposed on a Hittite vassal in present-day Lebanon, prohibiting ships from Ahhiyawa from entering his ports.

The last known Hittite king, Suppiluliuma II., also campaigned in the southwest of Anatolia and fought sea battles off Cyprus, but those were only temporary successes. Soon afterwards, the Hittite capital Hattusa was burnt by assailants still not satisfactorily identified, and central Anatolia was plunged into the centuries of the Dark Ages without any written records.

Finally, there remains to be addressed the question of the identity of Ahhiyawa; do the Hittite documents provide enough evidence for the identification of that country with (part of) Mycenaean Greece? I believe so, because although the final proof is lacking, the point remains: if the equation is not valid, this entails the coexistence of two distinct civilisations with remarkably similar names roughly in the same region, of which one (Ahhiyawa) is quite well represented in written records but has left no material remains, while the other (the Mycenaeans) has left substantial archaeological finds but is mentioned in no preserved text. This conclusion, however, is somewhat unlikely.


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How to Cite
Horvat, Mladen. 2003. “The Contacts of the Hittites With the Aegean Peoples”. Keria: Studia Latina Et Graeca 5 (1), 69-80.
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