Biblical Archaeology Review 44:1, January/February 2018

Strata: Who Did It?

Who deciphered the language of the Hittites?

Answer: Bedřich Hrozný

Bedřich Hrozný (1879–1952) deciphered the language of the Hittites in 1915 as a result of his work on clay tablets from the royal archives of ancient Hattuša (modern Boğazkale, Turkey)—the Hittites’ one-time capital.a

The now-extinct Hittite language flourished between c. 1700 and 1200 B.C.E. and was spoken by the Hittites, who migrated into Asia Minor by the 19th century B.C.E. When the Hittites began expanding into the southern Levant in the mid-14th century, it caused regional conflicts, including a struggle with the biggest power of the day—Egypt under Ramesses II. The end of the Hittite Empire shortly after 1200 was abrupt—likely a result of the general turmoil in the eastern Mediterranean caused by the “Sea Peoples.”

The Hittite language belongs to the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family, which encompasses almost all the languages of Europe, including English. Older than Sanskrit and Greek, it is in fact the earliest attested Indo-European language. Hittite has survived on thousands of clay tablets. Although the script of these tablets is the Mesopotamian cuneiform that scholars had been able to read since the mid-19th century, their language was not decoded until Hrozný came along.

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