Sunday, September 19, 2010

Those Wacky Hittites: Postscript

I launched a fairly wild notion in the course of my text explosion on the Hittites t'other day.
[Yes! I will consider the possibility that lithium might be right for me!] Which is that historical linguistics might be radically wrong about what Proto-Indo-European (PIE!) looks like, essentially because we've put Sanskrit in the wrong place in its development. There's actually much more substantive critiques of older reconstructions of PIE, and competing new ones, not that you'd know it from the sorts of places where most people learn about ancient Aryans, which is still trapped in the tar pits with Georges Dumezil. Hating on certain people is reason enough to make my point as starkly as possible.

Sanskrit was invented out of "Prakrit" by a guy named Panini, who probably wrote after 100AD.

Hey, look! I just got a billion Indians, a hundred historical linguists, and 10 very old PIEists mad at me!

But, dudes, seriously. The first dated Sanskrit texts are the Buddhist modified Sanskrit literature produced in Kashmir about 100AD. This is called "Buddhist modified" because it doesn't follow Panini's grammar. So, the first "modified" Sanskrit comes prior to the first "orthodox" Sanskrit, an inscription commemorating the building of a dam in about 150AD. BMS looks a great deal like the variety of "Prakrits," i.e., dialects, that are documented prior to 150AD. The Prakrits are all, of course, derived from Sanskrit. And we know this because.... well, because!

Okay, no. The "proof" is that the Vedic literature that forms one of the bases of the Hindu religion dates to 1500BC. Well, how do we know that? The earliest copy of the Vedas is in a manuscript written in 1450, and the first Vedic text dates to the mid-1100s. So we need to find a way to push this back another 2500 years. The claim is that the Vedas were handed down by an oral tradition. Anyone who has ever played "Telephone" will find that hard to swallow, but the advocates say that the Vedas were sacred, and the super-important-importantness of religion trumps all human frailty. (Wendy Doniger's excelllent recent book has a less-than-excelllent shaggy dog story about how Vedic ritual practitioners needed to keep every word of it secret from the impure --who, what, weren't allow to eavesdrop on the rituals?-- and so didn't write it down, or only wrote it in code, or something. Until they just stopped doing it.) Note that this theory also needs to explain the textless propagation of a massive commentary on the original Vedas. What, apart from not wanting to offend people (a noble objective, but one that can only be carried so far) obligates us to believe this, centuries after we abandoned the idea that the first five books of the Bible were written by Moses?

And it is wrong at another level. There is language change in the Rigveda. The (European) author who compiled it says that the different manuscripts before him rarely had variant readings, but then we are looking at manuscripts coming out of a four-century written tradition by this point. And, reluctant as they are to face the issue, modern scholars acknowledge that extended portions of the Rigveda are incomprehensible gibberish. It may not necessarily "Telephone" gibberish, but that's the way to bet. Here's a brief (and old) summary of some arguments about reading the Rigveda.

But back up here to the whole "1500BC" thing. Where do we get this date? Wikipedia maintains the pure pull-it-out-of-your-assness of the actual date. I've already mentioned that it is a backdating from the Trojan War. Which we don't even think happened any more! And the backdating happened like this: the great Nineteenth Century Indologist Max Mueller was asked whether this dating made sense in the light of his work. Mueller replied that the last possible date for the composition of the last of the Vedic literature (the Upanishads) was the date of the Buddha, who was clearly reacting to them. Buddha lived about 550BC. And there were 5 or so major generational stages to be detected in the Vedic literature, and 200 years was a perfectly reasonable length of time for the changes in each stage, so 1500BC was A-OK in his book!

Dudes: you don't even have a date. You have a guy who says that the date isn't inconsistent with the numbers. Except he's wrong. The modern accepted account puts the Buddha ahead 150 years from Mueller. And yet that's only because they're choosing to use something. We could easily go later, although that provokes continuing scholarly resistance, even though archaeology suggests 400BC as an earliest limit. And then there's the uncomfortable fact that if we put the Buddha after the date of the Persian, never mind Macedonian invasions, we change the cultural context completely.

Moving on, it is observed that the Rigveda reads a great deal like Zoroaster's Gathas, the authentic original core of the Zoroastrian holy texts, the Avestas. I'd be less impressed if it weren't for that bit about the Bible. But more than that, the Book of Mormon reads just like the King James Bible. So clearly the Book of Mormon dates to 1000BC! Well, no. The KJV is a recent translation, the Book of Mormon a deliberate imitation. Is this a valid comparison? Well, the Avestas as we have them come from manuscripts collected in Bombay in the late 1700s. They can be physically dated to about 11ooAD, and the tradition, is that they were compiled by a commission set up by Ardashir I (226--241). The language here is a little complicated. We usually refer to the eastern Indo-European languages as forming two larger families of Indo-Iranian (spoken in Iran-like places), and Indo-Aryan, spoken in India. The fact that Urdu-speaking Pakistani truck drivers can make themselves understood in Teheran and Delhi suggests that the border distinguishes these languages less than nationalism (see further: talking to Croatian linguists about "Serbo-Croatian"). So I am going to go with the eminently scholarly Indo-Whatsit to describe a grab-bag of languages and dialects, of which Sanskrit is attested in 150AD, Avestan about the same time. And when we go earlier, we learn surprising things.

Now, there is every reason to be suspicious of Ardashir's motives. He was the founder of a new, Sassanian state, and needed to formulate an appropriate ideology for it. In doing so, he had to sideswipe the Arsacid (Parthian) dynasty/regime that had ruled in Iran for over 400 years by his time, because they were still around, his rivals, and Roman allies. That gave him a motive for skipping back to the Achaemenians as a model, and notwithstandinghis traditional prominence in the story, a Sassanian state religion of Zoroastrianism only comes into clear focus along side the Arsacid official state church in 301AD. If Zoroastrianism had not existed, the Sassanids would have had to invent it. Only, both can be true.

That is, the Achaemenians were a natural alternative source of legitimacy, and even if the Sassanians knew nothing else of them (or knew things that did not work for them), they would have had the same Greek literature that we have. So they would have the names, some stories, and the figure of Zoroaster. That's not saying that these are the only sources. It's just saying that these are the sources that we know they had. What we do not have is any doxology, nor the slightest evidence that the Parthians had any doxology. Zoroaster is mentioned by Plato. So is Pythagoras. Does Zoroastrianism have anything more to do with Zoroaster than neo-Pythagoreanism to Pythagoras?

So what is the actual earliest-evidence of --well, let's not call it "Sanskrit," or "the Vedas," but something more neutral, such as "Indo-Iranian context?" The answer goes back to the Hittites, again. In about 1380BC, Suppililiuma III signed a treaty with King Shattiwaza of the neighbouring Mitanni state. Treaties were a big deal, so you called on as many gods to witness them as you could:

"[T]he Storm-god, Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Moon-god and the Sun-god, the Moon-god of Harran, heaven and earth, the Storm-god, Lord of the kurinnu of Kahat, the Deity of Herds of Kurta, the Storm-god, Lord of Uhušuman, Ea-šarri, Lord of Wisdom, Anu, Antu, Enlil, Ninlil, the Mitra-gods, the Varuna-gods, Indra, the Nasatya-gods, Lord of Waššukanni, the Storm-god, Lord of the Temple Platform (?) of Irrite, Partahi of Šuta, Nabarbi, Šuruhi, Ištar, Evening Star, Šala, Belet-ekalli, Damkina, Išhara, the mountains and rivers, the deities of heaven and the deities of earth."

Varuna, Indra, and the Mitra and Nasatya-gods appear in the Rig-Veda! We also have Indo-Whatsit names for both Mittani and Kassite (the guys in charge at Babylon in these days) kings, and some Indo-Whatsit vocabulary is used in the horse-training manual of Kikkuli the Mittanian, a Hittite-era bestseller preserved in multiple copies in Bogazkoy archives. Clearly, then, the Mittani had been conquered by an Indo-Whatsit speaking tribe of expert charioteers! The Indo-Whatsit vocabulary in Mittani is a superstrate. Curiously, the Hittite gods mentioned immediately previously are all "Hattic." The Hittites used this unique language in some religious texts, adopted their gods, and even gave Hattic names to their kings. This, of course, proves that invading Indo-European Hittites conquered the Hattic people, and their language is presumably a substrate74.

Opposite conclusions from identical datum suggest that the conclusion is dictating the explanation. In this case, the Indo-Europeans as invaders. Now, there is precious little reason for this a priori. Besides the Hittites and the Indo-Whatsit rulers of the Mittani and perhaps Kassites, we have more Indo-European languages attested in this part of the world. West and south of the Hittites, various independent states speak the near-Hittite Luwian language. Across the cozy Aegean Sea, in Greece and down to Crete, we have an early dialect of Greek recorded in the famous Linear B tablets. Looking up the Euphrates and Tigris as they break into the mountains through one tributary valley and satellite mountain spur after another, we find unexcavated city states everywhere receiving strings of horses raised on the mountains on either flank, some carrying tin carried down by road. Somewhere in here, there is no reason that PIE could not have been first spoken, somewhere near where the Hurrian-speaking kingdom of Urartu/Armenia emerged.

But that's not what we argue. The invasion happened. And re-happened. For example, the Hittites must have invaded and overthrew the Hattians about 2200BC. and some Anatolian cities were burnt at about this time! What other possibly explanation is there than a migrant horde? Trevor Bryce supports my snark, but allows for another invasion, about 1800BC. And about 1500BC, the Linear A writing people of Knossos in Crete were supplanted by those afore-mentioned early Greek writers, the "Mycenaeans." Clearly they invaded from the north, and would soon get civilised enough to appear in Hittite records as a recognisable form of Homer's Achaeans. More Greeks would in turn overthrow the Mycenaeans and much else about 1150BC in a "Sea Peoples" invasion. We also have a preinvasion in the east, where history used to usher the "Persians" onto the stage about 800BC, leaving the Indo-Whatsists of Mitanni to be a precocious offshoot, although people don't do that any more. (For an approach to early Iranian history I like much better, see here.) Invasion: it happened, and they came from the Black Sea.

You would think that no-one ever proposed an alternative. But there is one, the one I've already noted, the "Anatolian homeland." It is even Colin Renfrew's version. Renfrew now admits that he's wrong in imagining a scenario in which agriculture, after being invented in Iraq, crossed the mountains to Anatolia, hooked up with some PIE-speakers, and spread with them all over Europe, perhaps at the same time that neighbours speaking Ural-Altaic, Elamo-Dravidian, and Afro-Asiatic speakers were making for the territories in different directions, spreading agriculture with their language families over all the Earth. Although nearly Biblical, the dates (c. 6000BC) are too early to be plausible, and clearly at least the regions at the extremes of the language-family range came to feature these languages as a result of adoption rather than physically replacement.

This does not, however, dispose of the hippy-uncle-car-trip issue. Where better to put the PIE homeland than in the middle of the road, as opposed to the muddy, uncrossable ditch that we mean when we vaguely point to the Pontic steppes, and which has always directed traffic north and south, rather than east and west? This leads to J. P. Mallory's disproof, which is almost proof masquerading as disproof. Mallory says that Anatolia can't be the homeland, because language families can only evolve in geographic spaces large enough to avoid contamination by other language families, and the ancient Middle East was filled to the brim with lnguage families and isolates. (It's in here somewhere.) Seriously? How did Hattic, Hurrian, Kassite, Sumerian, Elamite and Afro-Asiatic come to evolve? Do we need to find vast, remote language-spaces for each of them? Of course not: Mallory's implicit claim is that Indo-European is special. And he's right.

But not the way he wants to be. The discovery of Indo-European led to a rush of other language family discoveries. that culminated with Edward Sapir (1884--1939) travelling from one reserve to the next and finding vast, sprawling Indian language families wherever he looked, and making vast claims about language and human consciousness. Many of Sapir's families now look like confirmation bias, and what followed made this blatant to the point where there's been something of a reaction, and linguists now argue that Indo-European in particular is the exception to the rule. "Language families" are not a generalisable heuristic. The majority of languages do not belong to language families. Those that do require special explanation. Colin Renfrew is right, but the fact that most "isolate" languages are identified in non-agricultural societies does not mean that agriculture is the explanation.

Now, I've already supplied an explanation for the spread of Indo-European, that is hardly original to me. That it was entangled with the spread of a prestige technology, the war chariot, and the necessary prerequisites, bronze and the domesticated horse is clear, the residual question being the nature of the entanglement. I say the language was spread by the technology, in the form of migrating specialists teaching local charioteers. The invasion thesis holds that the language was spread by the technology in the form of proto-Nazi panzer divisions, chariot-riding conquerors. This is the so-called "Kurgan hypothesis," based on Marija Gimbutas' reformulation, where the spread of Indo-European could be linked to the spread of a particular kind of burial that is much more archaeologically visible than chariots. More recently, we have this formidable iteration of these ideas.

Why do I disagree with this? I have no problem with the idea that languages "migrate." I speak English, which migrated to North America along with English speakers. Clearly, people migrate, and when they get to their new home, they have to speak some language, and the one they already speak is one option. But that assumes the homogenous movement of large numbers of speakers of the same language, and that is not the usual rule. In my own region, early migrants came speaking many languages. To bride the gap between native and imported languages, they began speaking a mixed languages, or "pidgin," called Chinook. Chinook soon gave way to English, the written language of government and education. This happens in most places, but there are a number of cases where it has not, enough that we can study creoles. What kind of a language is a creole?

The stakes here for linguistic theorists are big. Imagine two tribes, each using a different range. For one or another reason, one range has a few bad years. that group faces starvation. Meanwhile, the other tribe can exploit the resources that the failing tribe can't. So the lucky tribe invites the tribe to live with them. They camp together, the children play and intermarry, and, a generation later, the camp splits to cover the old ranges. If creoles can rapidly evolve into a new language, then a Martian ethnologist who visits at intervals of a century will suppose that the old tribes are extinct, and replaced by two new tribes (likely with new names, but quite possibly adopting older ones) who speak different dialects of an entirely new language. Now, there is no question that this process happens. We can point to the Kiowas and Seminoles and enough other cases to need a technical term: "ethnogenesis." Ethnogenesis also generates new languages by "Creolisation," and if this happened routinely, the language map will not only contain few language families, but we will be able to say much less about history on the basis of studying language families. To dispense with the argument, we will need to argue that Creolisation is a self-limiting phenomena. This is pretty clearly wrong. Creoles are just normal language that emerge through non-genetic processes.

So what makes language families? A specific technological package spread Indo-European, but other packages do not have their own language. There is just precisely no "agricultural revolution" language family. But then most of our evidence is written, and we still have not taken this seriously. The texts are not incidental. They are what we need to study.

In the Middle East, writing starts out in Egypt and lower Iraq at about the same time (3100BC) and the same context of state building. The evidence of contact-era Peru is that this cultural contexts will have possessed multiple symbolic inventories matched to their storage media. The problem lay in stabilising reference, so that any given symbol reliably meant something specific. The choice made, inevitable or not, was that at least two symbolic inventories, of cuneiform scratches on clay tablets and heiroglyphs (painted cartoons), were linked to specific spoken language by rendering some symbols as words, others as syllables. Egyptian and Sumerian have been described as the languages of Egypt and lower Iraq respectively, but I see no reason not to problematise this. All three languages fit a syllabic writing system better than many others, notably Hittite and Indo-Whatsit. The script might well have chosen the language.

Under the first imperial state of which we have written records, the Sumerian written system was formalised to write an Afro-Asiatic language called Akkadian, after the Akkadian rulers of what is now Baghdad, in about 2300BC. The rise of the Akkadian state has been plausibly linked to the "Amorites," who are either the first barbarians to trouble a civilised state, or, more likely, an economic classification. By this argument, the success of city-level organisation has led tothe rise of industrial-scale textile production, which has in turn led to large scale sheepherding on the margins of early civilisation. The new economic context generates new political forms, and Akkadian spreads up and down the rivers to other city states, but not over the mountains into Turkey. If I were pressed for a reason for this, I would suggest that the practice of writing things down on anything as cumbersom as a dry clay tablet may have seemed a little more trouble than it was worth absent a coercive managerial apparatus. (So speaks the sometimes middle manager, all-too often exhausted in his attempts to impose ill-considered top-down iniatives. Hey, consultants and clueless top-level management, quit it!)

That said, Akkadian represents the first script-language problem. It, too, is a syllabic language, and the script can directly borrow the syllable-symbols of written Sumerian. But it does not do so universally. Many Sumerian words are adopted directly into Akkadian. By the time the next empire falls (Neo-Babylonians, c. 1595BC), the world is finally ripe for the idea of adapting cuneiform to new languages. Thus we get the menagerie already encountered, of written Hittite, Elamite, Hurrian, Hattic, Aramaic and Greek, while the Egyptians made limited use of cuneiform Akkadian in diplomacy.

This is interesting because it is easy to imagine a context that was nothing but Akkadian specialists writing letters for kings. The "serious" literature of medieval Europe is all in Latin, even though there were no more Latin speakers in a way in which it would have been unthinkable for the Middle-to-Late Bronze Age to use Akkadian. On the contrary, on the periphery of the great power system we find archives written in native languages in adapted scripts, such as Linear A and Linear B.

This is not the case for the Hittites, obviously. They wrote a great deal of Hittite in cuneiform, to the point where the main problem we have in understanding the language is the use of "Sumerograms," and syllable symbols where they are not quite appropriate. Thus, written Hittite contains many superfluous letters, and we lack some pretty basic words, including the numbers! (Of note here is that one of the key pieces of evidence that Kikkuli was translating out of Indo-Whatsit into Hittite was that he uses ordinal forms [i.e. "eighth"] that look Indo-Whatsit. If we lack the words for Hittite numbes, do we also lack Hittite ordinals?) Of Greek, we have even less. Fortunately, Greek developed into one of the best-attested languages on Earth. Hittitte, not so much. It vanished, buried in the archives of its abandoned cities. That, however, should not be melodramatically overinterpreted. The Hittite state did heiroglyphics, too, and it chose to use Luwian, not Hittite in them. For, like all empires before nationalism, the Hittite regime saw that to favour any of the many languages of its subject peoples was bad politics. To the extent that there was a "family" language used within the ruling family, it could be an exception. But, as far as we know, that language was Hattic for the Hittites. In any case, Luwian was related to Hittite, and had a posthumous relationship with the Hittite state. For by 7/600BC, there were "neo-Hittite" states in northern Syria and adjacent parts of Turkey that claimed the legacy of the old Hittite Empire, and they wrote in Luwian. Our first Greek historian, Herodotus may not "remember" the Hittites, but others can.

That said, historical memory is an interesting thing here. The Neo-Hittite states were gone by Herodotus' time, destroyed by the Assyrians and absorbed by the Persians. He would have known Luwian through its use in another, more present power, an empire that stretched from its capital at Sardis on the Aegean coast of Turkey deep inland --the tyranny of Asia, Lydia. The Lydian form of Luwian is distinctly its own language of "Lydian, and" closely related to Carian, a language Herodotus knew the the Lydian "tyranny" well. He was fascinated with it. All the Greeks were. It had been overthrown by the Persians sixty years before Herodotus' birth, an event that shaped all subsequent Greek history, since it brought many "Greek" city states under Persian rule. Herodotus was in no position to delve into the ancient past of Lydia, since he couldn't read heiroglyphic Luwian or get a reading of them, or at least did not bother to seek one out. Yet Herodotus was not entirely bereft of curiosity. He tells us at least one story that intimates that he was on the same path as we are right now.

This story has it that Pharaoh wishes to learn which is the first human language. It is a curious question to consider, given that he speaks the language of the gods, but on the other hand there is the interests of science to consider. Pharaoh does not order the compilation of massive vocabularies and grammars. How we wish he had! Instead, he has some children raised without any human contact, hard as that is to imagine before the invention of the Gameboy. Eventually, the children come to spontaneously demand "bekos," or bread in the language of the Phrygians of west-central Turkey. Phrygian, language of King Midas, is thus the original language of humanity. We know that this is wrong, but more importantly, we know why Herodotus says this. "Phrygian origins" are a way of getting at the idea that the political legitimacy of the state can be derived of origins and first things. (Midas was a great and ancient king who was a great lover, perhaps of his mother or sister. Thus, he "fathers" the state. Or something like that.) This has nothing to do with the actual history of the Phrygians. Which is not to say that we should not inquire.

Phrygian is an Indo-European language. We know it because the Phoenicians spread the idea of alphabetic scripts in the early 700sBC. It was an excellent way of writing Indo-European languages, and came attached to reasons for wanting to write them that gave rise to a new literature. From the Greek tradition we get the Iliad and the Odyssey. . From the Aramaics of northern Iraq, we get a large literature winnowed down in time pretty much to Biblical texts. (Aramaic-writing scribes got around.) From Phoenicians, Aramaics, Lydians, Carians and Phrygians we get a few surviving fragments. Chances are, this is an accident of preservation. The Phrygians did it earlier and were a bigger deal than the Greeks, as at the time they were a major player, and even get mentioned in the Assyrian archives. Then, they were devastated by a Cimmerian invasion about 700AD or so, and overshadowed by their Lydian neighbours, while going forward Greek-writing states would do better than either.

So who were the Phrygians? They are usually brought onto the scene as invaders from Europe during the dark years iof the early Iron Age, but this strikes a suspect narrative in its own right (it makes these teachers and relatives of the Greeks into Europeans rather than "Asiatics") and entirely unsourced, except in one of the multitude of internally contradictory migration tales the old Greek authors liked to tell. Phrygia sits on old Hittite territory, and short of their running some preliterate Einsatzgruppen, assimilated Hittite elements and so are in some sense inheritors of the Hittite state. I'm sure that historical linguists have solid reasons for not arguing that Phrygian is descended from Hittite, and perhaps one could explain. (Though if the two languages are related, that would open up a can of worms, because Greek is often said to be related to Phrygian, and possibly also Armenian and Old Persian(!))

So, about Old Persian, which is in fact the next major piece of textual interest. Sometime between 522 and 486, the Persian emperor Darius commissioned a great inscription by the side of a major road coming down from the Iranian plateau to the Iraqi plain, at a place called Bisitun. It contains a lengthy trilingual, or text in three languages: Aramaic, Elamite, and Old Persian. The former played much the same part in the Persian Empire as elsewhere in the Middle East, as a language of learned comment and administration that overshadowed lol tongues. The second is an isolate language spoken in Khuzistan, the appendage of the Iraqi plain squeezed into the escarpement of the Iranian plateau down in the southwest of modern Iran. The third is ...well, let's not get ahead of ourselves!

So Darius is known to us from Gree history as the third Persian emperor, and the first not (closely) related to the empire's founder, and he has a fascinating tale to tell. He knows, we all know how the Persian Empire was founded. Even two thousand years later a full account could be dug up in old Babylon, called the Nabonidus Chronicle, while Herodotus has his own version. So we know that a man called Cyrus launched a series of campaigns in which he conquered Lydia and the Neo-Babylonian Empire. (Herodotus adds a third victim, the kingdom of the Medes. We certainly have no reason to doubt that Darius ruled the Medes. It's just that the conquest is not corroborated by the incomplete Chronicles.) Anyway, Cyrus campaigned in various directions until he died in battle. Since kings and generals die in battle far less often than one might suppose, this might cause me to suspect something, were my reserves of suspicion not needed at the next turn in the story. Cyrus was succeeded by his son, Cambyses, an equallly effective campaigner who soon added Egypt to the collection. Unfortunately, there is a well-established axis of relations between the Aegean coastal states and Egypt. From now on, revolution in Egypt will stir things up in the Greek-speaking world.

Cambyses, Darius tells us, died soon after conquering Egypt. At this point, a sinister usurper emerges and takes the throne, and General Darius overthrows him, defeats rebels in all directions, and assumes the throne of the empire, which he will rule for 36 years, creating, as in all long reigns, considerable historical inertia down a certain path. But which path? Even if we did not have Herodotus's account, which says that it was Darius who was the illegitimate usurper, the way that Darius dwells on being born a king and a son of a king would tell us something. The Bisitun inscription is not meant to be read by mortals (although of course everyone at the time would know what it said), but by gods, and gods can be awfully gullible at times. Darius was saying these things to make them so. Conclusion: the whole story that Darius belongs to the Achaemenian family of Cyrus is wrong, because Cyrus was not an Achaemenian.

So what has this to do with language? Since Darius was a Persian, it is, of course, logical that the Bisitun text was in Old Persian, a major language of his empire. Right? Wrong. The major languages of the old Persian Empire, by count of surviving documents, were Aramaic and Elamite. The Persepolis Archives have as many documents in Old Persian as they have in Phrygian (one each, so this is hardly a statistically interesting comparison.) Old Persian is used on coins, on a few royal monuments, and carved, probably after the fact, onto some images associated with Cyrus. Backing up to the Nabonidus Chronicles, we find Cyrus described as the "King of Anshan," a traditional label for Elamite players in lowland politics. If Cyrus were to fill out a Census form, I suspect that he would tick the box for "Elamite," and while Darius would tick the box for "Persian," there would not be that many of them.

Not that Cyrus would situated himself in ethnic terms, for all that the greater part of his army would have been Elamite speakers. On the contrary, he was located within great power politics. His mother was a daughter of the King of the Medes, his grandmother a sister of Croesus, last king of Lydia. These were the alliances that the ancient powers had to make to rid themselves of the shadow of Assyria and overwhelm its cities in 620--605BC. Sardis seems like a long way away from Khuzistan, to be sure, but there is a sense in which the Median Empire was in the middle of them.

But wait. Hold up for a moment. You can get out your ancient history map and see the Median Empire illustrated. What you cannot find is independent evidence that it existed. There was an anti-Assyrian confederacy of "Medes," but, such as it was, it consisted of all the highland tribes arrayed in a semi-circle around the Assyrian homeland, assembled into one great coalition of grievances after the eruption of the Cimmerians --whom the Assyria identify as an Indo-European speaking people up there in the mountains of Kurdistan. This might not be an ethnic label, any more than "Tea Partiers" represents a rebellious tribe living in Teapartia. So who were the kings of the Medes from whom Cyrus was descended? Go forward a bit into Herodotus, and we find Croesus again, making war on the Medes by besieging their great city of Pteria. Herodotus is a little vague about where Pteria was, but until recently no-one doubted that it was in central Turkey. Go back far enough and Bogazkoy used to get singled out. More recently, another very large hilltop city not too far east of Bogazkoy, but destroyed and abandoned at the right time, has been singled out: Kerkenes. The problem that has led scholars to retract their identification? Kerkenes was a Phyrgian city.

Woo. Spooky. Phyrgians, Greeks, Hittites, Medes, Persians, Lydians, Cimmerians --they're all blurring together into one composite Early Iron Age entity, exchanging influences, princesses, and presumably words and jargon. It sure was much simpler when we could derive them all from the Pontic Steppe and assume that the Greeks went west to heroic, virtuous Europe, while the Persians went east, to servile, decadent Asia!

But there are a couple of other curiosities about the Bisitun inscription. First of all, it barely mentions "India," even though "India" was a key part of the early Persian conquests according to Herodotus. Either this land of millions of square miles and vast wealth hardly even impinged on the consciousness of the king, or, more likely, he is referring to the region on the right bank of the Indus --Afghanistan, Baluchistan and parts of eastern Iran that get often get that label later. The idea of Indian would be transferred to the whole subcontinent much later. This opens up the possibility that the Greeks thought the same way, which is very interesting, because after Alexander the Great conquered the Achaemenian empire, the eastern parts fell in to the hands of the Seleucid dynasty and various "satraps." In about 255BC, the remote but important province of Bactria (it's on the only practical road for bringing elephants out of India) rebelled under the leadership of a "Greek satrap" named Diodotus. Actually, ethnic labels aren't very helpful here. All we know directly is that the "Greco-Bactrian" state had Greek-style cities, used Greek on its coins. It might have been a racially-pure garrison apartheid state, or something more congenial. Anyway, Diodotus defeated Arsaces, semi-legendary founder of the Parthian state, the Seleucids, and a bunch of others who got in his way in the course of establishing this Greco-Bactrian state, which lasted for several hundred more years, and is well known from archaeology and Indian tradition, as well as to an extent in the classics.

What makes this interesting is that at the same time, and in the very places that Diodotus claimed to rule, we know of another empire: that of the man who calls himself Priyadarsi and sometimes Devadutta in a series of monumental inscriptions in Aramaic and also the "Prakrit," ie. dialect of Sanskrit, called Kharosthi. Buddhist sources of the so-called Mahayana tradition especially call this king "Ashoka," and describe him as a virtuous ruler living a hundred years after the Buddha (that is, 250BC, in this tradition.) He founded many stupas, spread the Buddhist word, and in various ways was the prototype Buddhist world emperor, or Cakravartin ("Wheel-Spinning King.") And now that we have the Kharosthi manuscripts recovered around Ghandhara in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, we know that this is not mere legend. Or, rather, it is a legend that goes back almost to 100BC. And as with Herodotus' slightly more ancient world, it is hard to believe that there were not more symbolically stored historical traditions accessible to them than there are today. Just as the Sassanian kings destroyed a huge Elamite inscription and mural in order to make their own at Nashq-i-Rustam, so history was lost as history was made.

The names are also direct Kharosthi translations of "Diodotus." Were Diodotus and Asoka the same person? Probably: it's a less interesting question than some have supposed, because having a Greek name doesn't make the Beloved of the the Gods any more a Greek than having a Kharosthi name makes him an Indian. What is interesting is that we have linked the first manifestation of Indo-Whatsit languages in the Indian subcontinent not to some unspeakably ancient oral tradition, but to the royal propaganda of a powerful and successful ruler on the edge of the Greco-Persian continuum, embedded in a tradition of using the purposeful creation and manipulation of languages and scripts in the interest of establishing historical legitimacy. Here is a language of writing, law and power, a language that can displace local tongues and creoles and, in time, become the language and literature of two great world civilisations.

Because it would be naive to think that these developments will have no effect on the further development of Greek or Latin. Indeed, it would be a mistake to think that these developments have any centre, except perhaps in the Anatolian middle. Rather, ideas, words, scripts and grammars are moving east and west, north and south along the artery roads throughout this period to create the Indo-European continuum.

Sorry about the abruptness of the ending. I've got to put this to bed --it's taken far too much of my time already.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Those Wacky Hittites, IV.

Bronze is a term of art. Copper, although not the most common metallic element in the Earth's crust, has one of the best combinations of low smelting temperature and usefulness. It is quite dense, very ductile, and hard enough to hold an edge. No-one would make it their first choice as a tool, but an axe (say), of copper will cut something, even if it has to be hammered back into shape after every blow. Not only that, but it often appears in nuggets that can be worked right out of the ground. And it doesn't rust away, but rather remains to be found in the archaeological record.
No wonder that the classic division of prehistory has a "Chalcolithic" stage following the Neolithic (Copper Age, following the New Stone Age.) Starting about 3000BC in the Old World and 1000BC in the New, ornaments and some tools of copper become more and more common in the archaeological record.

But it is not that useful. To get the most out of a lump of copper, you want to alloy it with any one of a number of related metals. Arsenic is widely avaiable, and, although toxic, adds some hardness and toughness to copper. So does zinc. But there is nothing to match the improvements you get by adding tin in proportion of about 1 to 10. Unfortunately, tin is much less evenly distributed around the world than copper. There's lots of tin in Bolivia and in a broad stretch of land stretching from Malaysia north into China, but virtually no exploitable sources of tin west of the Pamirs and in North America. At least now. There was a mine in Anatolia at which tin was extracted sometime shortly after 3000BC, and probably an economical vein of co-occuring tin and copper in the hills on the Iran-Iraq frontier, and placer deposits of cassiterite ore are lost to us forever if they were mined out in this early period. Probably by no coincidence, this era of Middle Eastern history is known as the Early Bronze Age. Tools and weapons were made of bronze, but not many. That would take the exploitation of genuinely rich sources.

Of these, we know of mines in Spain, in Cornwall in southwestern England, in the Erzgebirge mountains on the border between the Czech Republic and Germany, and in Afghanistan. All of these were a long way from the Middle East. Yet by the Late Bronze Age, there was so much bronze in circulation in the Middle East that it is logically implausible that it was not being brought into the region from these mines. A whole ton of tin was found in a single LBA shipwreck off the coast of Turkey in 1986. That's a huge amount of material to bring such a long distance. It's not even clear that bronze is such an improvement over stone, and usually long range trade requires an elaborate system of finance and credit. In modern times, there is a crazy ideologue here and there who thinks long range trade happens because of "the markets," but, generally, massive state intervention implicitly underwrites these things. Empires. That's what I'm talking about.

If bronze wasn't the only material that people made tools out of, what made it so valuable? The obvious answer is that it was crucial military technology. Which is true. That said, just how crucial was it? Most of the bronze age weapons recovered are swords. Now, swords are useful weapons, but large armies beat small armies, and if there is a limiting resource, you use if efficiently. And spears, by and large, beat swords. If bronze was the limiting resource in a naked era of total warfare, we wouldn't find swords. We'd find spearheads. Bronze did limit the capacity of states to make war. But weapons were not the issue.

That's not necessarily crazy. Until military historians began obscuring the issues a century ago, it was pretty widely agreed that cavalry was a vital, even decisive military arm. I refer you to my babbling about armoured warfare for an explanation. We don't have to talk about whether cavalry really charged, or whether pikes beat knights, or whether horse archers were the ultimate military arm. Because it is much simpler than that. Speed gives intelligence, and intelligence wins battles. Without cavalry, without screening and information gathering, armies lose. Cavalry, as far as we can tell, gets its start in the Middle East with the horse chariot, and the Hittites were its earliest proponents. Some historians want to push the domestication of the horse, the invention of the chariot, and the beginning of cavalry warfare back into the misty past of the Indo-European homeland. I go with this guy, and this guy. Chariots were invented, and horses (practically) domesticated, in the Middle East, shortly after about 2000BC. Because it was only with the development of bronze tools and nails that it became possible to make chariots. Far from being crude, early inventions, the LBA Bronze Age chariot was an exceedingly complex machine made by highly skilled carpenters. Faced with difficult terrain, LBA generals were perfectly capable of having their chariots broken down into wagon or porter loads and carried across. a noble chariot driver in the Egyptian army was expected to maintain 5 retainers, and on the evidence, one or several of them would have been highly skilled riggers capable of assembling and disassembling the structure, and making new parts as needed. This would imply both the precision fabrication of wooden parts and the smelting of metal components --a torn sleeve bearing (for example) can hardly be repaired, short of welding it, after all.

Now, just throwing it out there, what would you expect to happen if there was a single limiting resource that's vitally necessary for military purposes, being brought in to the centre by a trade that is pumping out value? First, you would expect the outward flow of prestigious skills and military technology, as middlemen tried to get into the business.

So let us imagine a chariot rider and his retainers getting off the boat in, say, Marseilles. Clearly, he is a military asset, but he would be far more of a military asset if he were to train new crews. t look at what he needs to teach! He needs to teach horse care, a life time of study in itself. He needs to teach bronze carpentry. He needs to show people how to fight on chariots. Military advisory groups are no new thing in the world, but we happen to know more about how they work in recent times, and one of the things we know that they do not do is learn the native language in every place that they bring Phantoms and T-54s. They teach English or Russian, instead. It's one of the reasons that English, in particular, has become the international language of technology.
Why should it have been any different in the LBA?

Second, you would expect supply to gradually accumulate at the centre. In a perfectly rational market, you would expect prices to fall. But in a real market, you expect information lag and "animal spirits," and all those things that go to create a bubble. When the bubble collapses --well, I guess we have a possible explanation for the end of the LBA. Perhaps significantly, archaeologists at Ugarit, one of the towns that did worst out of the end of the LBA, have found bronze hoards, deposited around 1150BC, all over the place. The explanation that Robert Drews gave for this in 1997 was that it was some kind of dysfunctional response to a gathering barbarian storm. Everyone was hiding weapons and weapons materials, and couldn't recover them in time. I think it's more likely that they've found the equivalent of new Scottsdale residential subdivisions, and that the ruin above is the work of a LBA Tea Party. (If bronze has lost its value, there's not much point in living in crowded cities and putting up with wealthy elites telling us what to do. It's time to refudiate them with a good knock on the head, and head out onto the land to farm with cheap, reliable iron!)

Now, about those Hittites. My aunt and uncle did a spell as medical missionaries in India back in the good old, idealistic hippy days of the early 1970s. When they were done, of course they did some travelling, taking their VW van all the way back from India to England, where they put it on a boat and shipped it back to Canada. One of the things that bothered me as a kid was that they went through Turkey on the way. What the heck? Isn't the road through Russia the best way? That's how the Indo-Europeans went!

Well, no. From the times of the Persian Empire through the Roman to the crusades, a lot of armies have marched from near Iran/India to Europe and reverse. The most common route goes up along the Euphrates river, ovr the Syrian Gates into Cilicia, via the Cilician Gates into the Anatolian plateau, then up to the system of straits that divide the Aegean from the Black Sea. These narrow at two places, the Dardanelles between the Troad and the Gallipoli peninsula, and at the Bosphorus between Bithynia and Thrace. It's pretty easy to cross at either place. The Troad has easier access to the greater Middle East since you don't have to cross the Mysian mountains, and the traditional great road follows the western slopes of the Anatolian peninsula. Cutting off a drainage like this means that you cross lots of rivers, but if your pack animals can swim, you care a great deal more about the fact that there's grass for them to eat, which means water. Conversely, once you're across the Bosphorus, you are in striking distance of the flood plain of the Danube, and there will be grass all the way to Italy or Germany. The road across the Troad just leads to Greece.

Grass. That's the key thing here. Everywhere else in the Middle East, it gets a little short in high summer. Anatolia is the exception. (Well, so is Iran, but that's on the other side!) It's probably why the Hittite chariots kicked butt. They had their pick of horses.

Either way, though, we probably want to backtrack to the point where these two roads divide if we want to build a truckstop, or find the ancient founders of European civilisation, one or the other. And that would be the country between the Syrian and Cilician Gates --Cilicia.

And who do we find there? Hittites. So why the Hittites? They're on the tin-for-technology road. Hittites are going up the road to teach seminars in "Technical Hittite and chariotmaking," and tin is coming back. And they have the horses, which explains why this one time, there was a Hittite empire.

And all I had to do to get here was to throw out this whole idea that there were "Proto-Indo-European" barbarians vigorously falling upon Middle Eastern civilisation with their Sanskrit-like language and their bronze battleaxes.

I had to get rid of Conan! Now there's a tragedy of doing professional history.

I've also not explained the Phrygians or the Lydians. And we are no closer to explaining why the Hittites aren't in the Iliad. I do have some ideas though.

Those Wacky Hittites, III.

When the Mughal Emperor Akhbar (1542--1605) set out to encourage Sanskrit learning at his court, he could have had no conception that he was setting in motion a meme that would be used to justify death camps more than three centuries after his death. That was certainly not his intent. He was just doing what emperors do: patronise schoarship and poetry. And, if, along the way, he could use this new scholarship to put the law courts that dealt with his Hindu subjects on a more regular basis, that, too, was a job for emperors.

The reason that Sanskrit mattered was that there was a huge body of literature and religious writing in this language, and even an extraordinary work of analytical scholarship by the great Panini. Unfortunately, there was great need of encouragement, because no-one in his realms spoke Sanskrit as a living language, or wrote in it. The Hindu priests explained that this was because Sanskrit was the perfect language of the gods, spoken by all the humans they created in those first days of the world, but in the latter days, people had fallen away from the ancient rigours and no longer practiced right ceremonies, right thinking, and, above all, right grammar. Why, those young folks today....

In reality, the Sanskrit laid out in Panini's text is monstrous. No-one today speaks or writes it because it is incredibly difficult. Panini's textbook unveils a language of purest logic, it also describes a language with 44 letters, 36 phonemes, 10 tenses, 3 numbers, 3 genders, and 8 cases. No wonder that, at the earliest dates we can see, Sanskrit had already given rise to an assortment of easier-to-use dialects, the so-called Prakrits.

But, wait a minute. The first "Indian" texts we have are not written in Sanskrit. They are in a Prakrit called Kharosthri. Recent discoveries of Kharosthri documents preserved in Pakistan demonstrate that Kharosthri was still the main language of literature and religion in the Kushite state from roughly 100BC-100AD. The first text written in Sanskrit comes from about 250AD. Interestingly, while Panini is usually ascribed to the ancient Mauryan Empire of c. 300BC, founded by the legendary Chandraguptra, it was under another ruler named Chandraguptra, founder of the Gupta Empire of c. 250AD--550AD when the first dateable Sanskirt texts were composed. India is rich with architectural, artistic, and dateable texts of the Guptan period. The only suriving "Mauryan" remnants are an account of Greek historians and ambassadors of the court of Chandraguptra and his son, and the pillar edicts set up by Ashoka, usually deemed the third Mauryan, but troublingly hard to distinguish from a Greek/Iranian/Afghan prince of the same period.

It is heresy in India to say that Sanskrit isn't the earliest "Indic" language, but there's just too much evidence that it is another "Middle Indic language" for non-Indian scholars to take this seriously. Let's put our cards on the table: Sanskrit was basically invented by Panini, during the Guptan era, and the supposedly ancient Sanskrit, as well as more recent compositions, date to that era. So what was Panini's point? My guess is that his language looks like a more complicated Greek or Latin because he had Greek and Latin grammars in front of him, and set out to make it so!

Dude. What's this got to due with the Hittites? Good question! It I am right, it is entirely wrong to reconstruct "proto-Indo-European" out of Sanskrit, Greek and Latin, and then establish that the Hittites broke free early, because Hittite is just so different from PIE. On the contrary, the most conservative and sound approacy would be to start Indo-European language studies with the earliest attested Indo-European language: Hittite.

Now, I'm no linguist, nor am I really qualified to judge their work. But I can skim the abstracts of linguistic studies. The most remarkable thing about the discovery of Hittite was the presence of "laryngeals" (I have no idea what that means) that Ferdinand Saussure (a righteous dude in his own right!) had predicted would be found in PIE more than a generation before. Conversely, Hittite lacked the "male" and "female" grammatical genders. This, I get. Like any native English speaker who has to learn another IE language, I give big ups to the Hittites for not forcing us to deal with male hats and female tables, but this was very unlike the predicted form of PIE.

Like I said, I can barely get linguist's abstracts. But even short summaries seem to be saying that having got rid of the idea that PIE looked like Sanskrit,we can also get rid of the idea that it had male and female gender. That was, on the contrary, a later innovation, which is why French and German and Hindi can't agree on whether wagons are male or female. (Although, heck, they may agree.) I can also read the abstracts of recent articles that convincingly trace this or that word in Greek back to Hittite and conclude that the closer we get to fully understanding Hittite, the more it looks like a "typical" IE language. So, instead of saying that "Indo-Hittite" split off from PIE much earlier than the other IE languages, how much explanatory power do we lose when we say that the other IE languages are descended from Hittite, that Hittite is as close as we are going to get to PIE?

What we lose here is the homeland (Central Asia) a dating (way, way back there) and a paradigm (invading barbarians). Are these such big losses? On the contrary: these pseudo-facts were constraining our ability to answer Bruce's question: why the Hittites.

To get there, I'll throw out one fact: many people spread from Ireland to India, come to our attention from 1500BC to 500AD, speaking post-Hittite. Second, in talking about why the Hittites were an empire, we haven't explained why there were empires just then.

Those Wacky Hittites, II.

So that's a brief history of the Hittites. (Wikipedia has a little more detail.) If you look carefully, though, two threads stick out, suggesting interests not well contained by the subject of the Kingdom of the Men of the City of the Storm God of Hattusas, Heirs to Anitta: language, and (related to that), an unhealthy interest in barbarian invaders. Why does such a short summary digress into the fate of the town of Knossos in Crete, or tell you that "Indo-Hittite" is a separate branch of Indo-European? The latter's not even true!

It's because I'm quoting Straw Man, the most prolific guy on the Internet. I hate Straw Man. He uses history is some pretty distasteful ways. Fortunately, he's always wrong, always makes bad arguments, and is thus easy to refute. If he didn't exist, I'd have to invent him!

So let's play professional historian and talk about earlier work and sources. I said that we should start with previous historians. And, wow, we have the original here. Not Herodotus, mind you, because he's a piker compared to these guys. According to the Bible, the Hittites were round and about in the time of David and Solomon, but at this point we're still in the introduction to the Bible's sections of "scientific" history. Those focus on events from the establishment of the Neo-Assyrian Empire to its fall, in a hurricane of events embracing Egyptian, Babylonian, Elamite and Assyrian armies, as well as small players. And they have an agenda. One agenda is to establish, very clearly, between the white hats and the black hats, so that you can make judgement calls on the various Jewish political figures who dealt with them. For that, the Bible historians delve back into the Book of Genesis and the story of Noah. Not the story about the ark and two-by-two and all that stuff, but about how after the Flood, Noah's sons became the fathers of the nations of the Earth. Shem, oldest and bestest. Next up and next best is Japtheth, and finally there is young Ham, who is no good at all. Not surprisingly, Shem turns out to be the ancestor of the Twelve Tribes, while the sons Japtheth and Ham become the white hats and the black hats, respectively.

This sounds like a pretty arbitrary exercise, and it is. When Eighteenth Century historians tried to organise the world by this scheme, they tended to put the Japthethites up north, in Greece and whatnot, and the Hamites down south. They were helped by the Bible historians' decision to include a bunch of raiders who troubled the settled powers, the Gimmeru, among the Japthethites. It was pretty obvious to these historians that the Gimmeru were the Cimmerians of Herodotus, who apparently hailed from the Crimea originally.

The Cimmerians!

The Eighteenth Century happened to be an era of revival for the Welsh, for reasons having to do with patronage politics and the development of the English Church and the social roots of Nonconformism and blah blah, oh please shoot me now. (Just kidding: another great book I haven't read!) Anyway, the old Welsh name for Wales is "Cymru," so it was obvious what happened here. Those great guys from the Bible just up and wandered across Europe and settled in Wales. Whereas the English were born when some Trojan had a one-night stand with a Baal-worshipping proto-Arab. Or something. The point is, the Welsh are gods among men. You can even extend this to the Scotch-Irish of America, if you like. Because shut up! That's why!

Naturally, when a Welsh revivalist lawyer/politician named William Jones arrived in the British province of Bengal in India in 1784, it wasn't at all his agenda to prove that the other party had been mismanaging and misconceiving Indian affairs. So that could hardly have been the point of his discovery that the traditional language of India, Sanskrit, was related to Greek, Latin, and no doubt Celtic, and that the Indians were therefore Japthethites whose ancient traditions came right down from Noah and therefore had to be respected, unlike the way the previous lot of English appointees had tried to run Bengal. Am I ladling on the irony too thick, here? Because of the ways these ideas were to evolve, I have little respect for them, which is a little unfair to Jones. On the other hand, the central insight for which he gets historical credit was not original to him. In fact, the problem here is that the poets and writers of the Sanskrit literary revival at the court of the Mughal emperors for the last century and so are almost at fault for obscuring what should have always been obvious. Their point was that Sanskrit was the perfect original language of the gods, so it was blindingly obvious, and no insight whatsoever, that Latin and Greek were descended from Sanskrit!

What Jones did say that was novel was that the Cimmerians or whatnot who brought Sanskrit to India must have -well, brought Sanskrit to India. Sometime roughly about 1500BC, a bunch of Cimmerians must have descended across the mountain ranges that separate Indian from Inner Eurasia and conquered the people who got to India before them. Hamitics, no doubt. (Where does this leap of logic come from? Well, not only had the Mughal Dynasty come from the north, but within surprisingly few years, the British regime in India was going to be devoting much of its military attention and effort to India's northwestern frontier. The peoples beyond, the soldiers argued, would be plundering the rich cities of the plains and ruining British investments unless they got more money and resources. It had happened before! Right back to the beginning of time!)
And why 1500BC? Because the Greeks who besieged Troy were in Greece in 1200BC, and you have to give a margin of three centuries or so for the two peoples to develop different languages.

By this time, we're living in a world where ancient Greek civilisation is at its peak of influence, and Christianity is in a bit of a retreat. So the same guys who are still taking Homer as a historical source are beginning to look a little askance at the Bible. And Jews, too. Evolution was where it was at, and clearly the Jews were a different race --an inferior race-- compared to the Nordic peoples. Evolution allows deep time, so we can throw out the tight chronologies of the Bible and allow the "Indo-Europeans" an ancient past in their homeland. Which was clearly far from the Asiatic Semites. Inner Eurasia. That'd be a good place for it.

Now, there are some great scholars who argue for the distant homeland, and I'm not actually that impressed with the "Anatolian" hypothesis that the origins of Indo-European are to be found in Anatolia. I'm in the strange position of being convinced by the less-convincing hypothesis. Why? Because Hittites.

So, these Hittites? Who are they? From the late Nineteenth Century, archaeologists began to find cuneiform tablets at two major sites: Amarna in Egypt, and Hattusas in Turkey. From an early date, it became clear that they were sampling two major state diplomatic archives from the Late Bronze Age era of roughly 1400--1150BC. They were, unfortunately, not the only state archives of the two states involved, because kings moved capitals fairly frequently in those days, but they were illuminating. At least, the Egyptian one was, because they could be read. Or, most of them could. Some of the cuneiform was in Akkadian, the Semitic language that seemed ot have been the international language of diplomacy, and some was in the native language, or languages, of the respective empires. Egyptologists could read Egyptian by that time, but the stuff from the Bogazkale, not so much. What was it?

In 1915, A Czech linguist, Jan Hrozny, published a translation, establishing that Hittite was an Indo-European language. This prepared the way for a sources-based history of the Hittite state, a unique enterprise in the writing of professional history. Historians use the archives of modern states all the time, but we have nothing like the quality of insights they can generate about, say, eighteenth century Prussia for even the Roman Empire, never mind a Bronze Age state! Trevor Bryce's Kingdom of the Hittites is the most recent and in some ways the best of these works. Importantly, he takes Hrozny fully on board for the first time.

So what the heck does that mean? There is a problem with Hrozny's insight. It came with what we now understand to be a somewhat naive reading of the history of the Hittite state, according to which we can take these archives as evidence for the earliest history of the state. And so we know that Indo-European speakers were in Anatolia by 1800BC. The Sea Peoples were not the first eruption of Indo-European speakers into the Middle East. (We no longer take this naive reading. The archives were composed after 1400BC, and there is no reason to take documents claiming to tell the story of Anitta at face value. Fortunately for the linguistic part of the story, we have the Kultepe letters.)

Those Wacky Hittites, I.

So: here's a question: "Why the Hittites?"

Or, as some guy named Bruce says,

One of my favorite teachers used to say that one of the fun things about history is that you could always look at the same data and see something you never before. "For example," he intoned, "I just last night realized that you can't turn a pyramid upside down."I think I'm having an upside-down pyramid moment. The subject is the Hittites, who developed a great empire in and around Central Anatolia from (say) the 18th to the 12th Century BC.. At least in this part of the world, it was about the fourth empire ever, following the Akkadians, Ur-three, and Babylon.It is also the first of these empires to be located outside of a river basin. At least at its height, away from the water: its focal point is the Anatolian plateau, up around 3,000 feet.Which brings me to my pyramid moment: this is a terrible place to build an empire. Paul Collier argues that if you want to avoid poverty as a nation, one of the things you don't want to be is "landlocked." Especially not with unfriendly neighbors, of which the Hittites seemed to have plenty--and if they weren't unfriendly to begin with, the Hittites would make them so (forget Switzerland: it only looks landlocked; in fact it is the center of a thriving market).

I'm quoting this after seeing it quoted on Brad Delong's blog. I found Brad because he was practically the only guy on the Internet to care about Twirlip of the Mists (hexapodia is the key insight!), but it turns out that he's semi-famous. That officially makes this an Important and Interesting Question. Or, by the time anyone reads this, an Old and Played Out Question. It's also a question I find fascinating, because it is located at some of the tenderest and most tendentious of the points where a professional practice of history meets the narrative version that you and I both love. If you do love history, and read it a great deal, you will probably occasionally pick up a professional work. Instead of telling a story, it will begin with a discussion of the other historians who have written on the subject in the past, followed by a discussion of the sources, followed by a new intepretation of what the sources tell us.

Is that history? No, you'll say, this is history. And good method, too. First the distinguished professor writes a book that gets at the issues that these tedious professional historians care about, and then he spins out a book that tells the actual story of the Hittites! And you only have to read one.

Except, well, not to criticise Professor Bryce or anything, but we need a professional historian with a flamethrower here, not a word processor. On the outside, we have here a peaceful village of narrative factology, but a closer look reveals that some sinister force is at work here!

What am I talking about? Okay, here's a short version of the history of the Hittites: "About 5000BC, a tribe separated out from the ancestral Indo-Europeans in their homeland on the Pontic steppe and settles in Transcaucasia. (Armenia, Georgia, places like that.) About 2300BC, this tribe surges westwards, capturing and burning a number of cities and eventually establishing itself around the town of Kussara in the south of the Anatolian plateau. Sometime around 1800BC, Pittana, King of Kussara, conquers the city of Kanesh with its flourishing Assyrian trade. The citadel of Hattusas near the modern Turkish town of Bogazkale falls to his son, Anitta. The family's use of the Hittite language is attested both in the Assyrian letters and in a tablet Anitta left at the site of Hattusas, proclaiming that he had ruined it and sown weeds upon the site, symbolising a lasting curse on the site. Nevertheless, a slightly later Hittite King named Hattusilis I made his capital at Hattusas as part of a reign of terror across the Middle East that culminated whenhis son, Mursili captures Babylon in 1531BC. The Empire of Hammurabi is overthrown, and barbarian tribesmen take over the city. Meanwhile, the civilisation of Minoan Crete is overtaken by Mycenaean Greeks, more recent Indo-European emigrants, while the Kaska and the Mittani make inroads in the Hittite homeland. Mursili is killed and usurped, the Hittite state goes into decline, as does civilisation in general.

Only in the reign of Tudhaliya I in the early 1300s BC does this age of chaos end. The Hittites emerge as one of the great empires of the Middle East, fighting, trading, and even intermarrying with Egypt, and managing many client states beyond the mountain ranges of the Taurus in northern Syria. They even fight the earliest battle that anyone has likely heard about, Kadesh, or Armageddon.

Unfortunately, all things come to an end. Sometime after about 1200BC, a coalition of pre-Vikings called the Sea Peoples fall on the civilisations of the Middle East. Egypt survives, but even in distant Babylonia, cities are sacked. Hattusas is destroyed, and another age of empires is at an end. When the lights come on again, a number of small kingdoms across the Taurus in southern Turkey and northern Syria claim the Hittite inheritance. They are the "Hittites" of the Bible and eventually fall victim to the Assyrians. All that is left is a slice of Turkey from the homeland to the Aegean Sea in which various dialects descended from Hittite (or perhaps cousins to it) are spoken.

These notably include Lydian, language of one of the great kingdoms that benefitted from the overthrow of the Assyrians to rise to great power status. Unfortunately, this great kingdom succumbs to the over-civilised softness and sexuality of a typical Oriental court, and was overthrown in return by Cyrus the Persian. Its last king, Croesus, was born off to adorn the court of Cyrus and his successors, giving wise advice, all too rarely heeded. And with Croesus, Lydia begins to fade into history. Neither the Greek historian Herodotus nor, more surprisingly, the earlier poet Homer knows anything about the Hittites.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

G. J. Meyer, The Tudors

I just lost a post for not saving about a recent popular history of the Tudors. Just as well, I found it disappointing, and would have just gone on at length as to why. (Answer: too much Anglo-Catholic complaining, too little context. More importantly, throws away an excellent chance to take the ultimate dynasty-without-heirs as a case study in what long periods of dynastic insecurity produces in domestic politics.) And Meyer doesn't deserve that after spending all that work and effort on this book, which is a good read and an interesting introduction to the dynasty.

Having finished with Henry the monster, (and being continuosly reminded of being a spectator to the Storm over Stalin at CREES while a grad student at UToronto in the '90s), I'm definitely going to follow through into the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth.
In the meantime, some questions:
-Obviously overly fiscal-centric, but what was the role of the Price Revolution in driving the English Reformation. Henry needed the money to pay the bills, which were structural rather than driven by extravagance, sort of thing?
--How is the rise in vagrancy related to the P.R. and the Reformation. Was it exogenous, evidence of economic restructuring? (I like this theory, because I can relate it to the influx of salt cod and perhaps the beginning of potato growing. But the dates for the latter might not work, even if we concede that the potato made its entry into Europe much earlier than once thought, as it was a garden planting, and easily overlooked.)
--How was dynastic insecurity related to all or any of the above three. Do we have a political explanation at the heart of the changes in sixteenth-century England?
--Comparative study time: would we have the America that we have if the Tudors could have just produced some heirs?