East of the Achaeans: Making up for a missed opportunity while reading Hittite texts

By Gregory Nagy | 2023.08.20, rewritten 2024.04.21

This standalone essay, re-edited online in Classical Continuum, is Pamphlet #2 (2024) in a series of pamphlets printed by the non-profit publisher ΕΠΟΨ in partnership with The New Alexandria Foundation.

Figure 1. Hittite graffito: warrior with horsetail crested helmet, found at Boğazköy / Hattusa (HPC 308, following Vermeule 1987:146). Drawing by Jill Curry Robbins.
Figure 2. Fresco fragment: warrior with horsetail crested helmet. From a fragment of a Mycenaean or “Achaean” painting (HPC 309, following Vermeule 1987:146). Drawing by Valerie Woelfel.

§0. This essay is about two empires that existed in the second millennium BCE. One of these two empires is conventionally described as the Hittite Empire. But the other of the two is more difficult to define simply as an “empire.” Here I seek a definition that fits what I argue is relevant evidence about “Mycenaeans” who were known in their own heyday as “Achaeans.”  The first version of my essay was published online and is listed under my name in the Bibliography as Nagy 2015.07.22; that old version is superseded by a newer online version, Nagy 2023.08.20, printed in 2024 as Pamphlet 2. [In the online version here, significant changes from the previous online version of 2015.07.22 are signaled by way of highlighting in yellow.]

An etymology for the Achaeans

§1. I focus on the Greek form Akhaioí, a name translated as ‘Achaeans’. Together with the names Argeîoi and Danaoí, translated respectively as ‘Argives’ and ‘Danaans’, this name Akhaioí refers in Homeric poetry to Greek warriors who lived and died in the epic world of a heroic age. But what does Akhaioí really mean? Or, to put the question in another way, what is the etymology of Akhaioí?

§2. Many years ago, I put much time and effort into thinking about this question in a book titled The Best of the Achaeans.[1] Now, so many years later, I think that the arguments I had developed back then about the etymology of Akhaioí ‘Achaeans’ are still valid. What gave—and continues to give—validity to these arguments is that they were based not only on the linguistic evidence of morphological patterns of word-building as reconstructed all the way back to the second millennium BCE. My arguments were based also on the evidence of the formulaic system that drove the making of Homeric poetry, the evolution of which can likewise be dated back to the same era, that is, back to the second millennium BCE.

§3. Without going into too many details, I can sum up my argumentation this way: the name Akhaioí originated from a Greek compound adjective referring to a very old epic theme centering on the complementarity of winning and losing as experienced by a warrior society. In the epic traditions of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey, as I showed in Best of the Achaeans, this complementarity is expressed primarily by way of two es-stem nouns: (1) krátos, which refers to the ‘superiority’ or ‘upper hand’ that comes with the outcome of winning in any zero-sum contest, and (2) ákhos, which refers to the ‘grief’ that comes with the opposite outcome of losing in such a contest.[2]

§4. In terms of morphology, I reconstructed the form Akhaió- as *akhai-wi-ó-, meaning ‘whose force (*wı̄́-s) has grief (ákhos)’, where the ‘force’ is possessed by those who are winners while the ‘grief’ is afflicting their enemies as losers.[3] Correspondingly, again in terms of morphology, I reconstructed the form krataió- as meaning ‘whose force (*wı̄́-s) has superiority (krátos)’, where once again the ‘force’ is possessed by the winners—that is, by those who get to win the superiority that comes with winning.

§5. In terms of the formulaic system that drives the making of Homeric poetry, however, as I showed in Best of the Achaeans, the meaning of Akhaió- may be two-sided. The ákhos or ‘grief’ that afflicts the enemies of the Achaeans may at times go into reverse gear, as it were, since the force that is possessed by the Achaeans may potentially be lost to their enemies, and then the loss of that force will become a source of grief that afflicts the Achaeans themselves instead of their enemies. Such a reversal, as I also showed, actually takes place in the macro-narrative of the Homeric Iliad. But that is another story.[4]

§6. In terms of phonology, I reconstructed (1) krataió-/κραταιό- from *kratayyó- from *krataiwyó- from *kratai-wi-ó- and (2) Akhaió-/᾿Αχαιό- from *akhayyó- from *akhaiwyó- from *akhai-wi-ó-. In formatting my phonological reconstructions here, I have used the symbols *w and *y to indicate the consonantal equivalents of the vowels *u and *i. Of course, I could have used instead the more conventional symbols * and *, which are more commonly written nowadays in reconstructing Greek forms all the way back to Indo-European proto-forms, but here my spotlighting stops short at an intermediate era of the Greek language—as it existed in the second millennium BCE. In other words, I do not need here to reconstruct further back—all the way back to the earliest era imaginable, which is an era that linguists would identify with the concept of “proto-Indo-European.” Instead, I stop my reconstruction at the second millennium BCE because there is a place-name attested in this era that is relevant to the Greek form Akhaioí. This place-name is attested in cuneiform Hittite texts dating from an era stretching from the fifteenth to the thirteenth centuries BCE. Spelled as ah-hi-ya-wa-a in the Hittite syllabic system of writing, this name is conventionally transliterated as Ahhiyawa.

§7. Back when I developed my explanation of the name Akhaioí as derived from an earlier Greek form shaped *akhai-wi-oí, I said that the Hittite form Ahhiyawa was not relevant to my reconstruction, because I was at that time persuaded by those who thought that the form Ahhiyawa as written in Hittite texts had nothing to do with the Greek form Akhaioí.[5] Since then, I have changed my mind. So, I unsay what I had said then. I do so because I now realize that, in saying what I had said, I missed a big opportunity. Making up for that missed opportunity, I will now take the opposite point of view, arguing that the form Ahhiyawa, as written in Hittite texts, was a Hittite approximation of a Greek form related to the name Akhaioí. Further, I will argue that the form Ahhiyawa in the Hittite texts refers to the homeland of Greeks who actually identified themselves as Akhaioí.

The use of the form Ahhiyawa in referring to the land of the Achaeans

§8. What radically changed my mind about the use of the form Ahhiyawa in Hittite texts was my reading the work of three experts—Gary Beckman, Trevor Bryce, and Eric Cline—who published in 2011 a book containing all extant Hittite texts that mention Ahhiyawa.[6] This book, titled The Ahhiyawa Texts, not only shows the texts in both transliterated and translated forms: it also provides illuminating commentaries.[7] In what follows, my citations from these texts will be formatted by starting in each case with the abbreviation AhT followed by the text-numbers as given in the book, and then followed, wherever necessary, by the section-numbers (prefixed by the symbol ¶).[8]

§9. To start, I must highlight an argument made in the new edition of the Ahhiyawa Texts. In these texts, wherever we see the name Ahhiyawa referring to a ‘land’ as indicated by the prefixed Sumerogram KUR, this ‘land’—it is argued—is to be located outside of Asia Minor.[9] To be contrasted are alternative arguments for a localization of Ahhiyawa somewhere in Asia Minor.[10] Further, by a process of elimination, it has been argued that the ‘land’ of Ahhiyawa is located west of Asia Minor and west of the major offshore islands such as Lazpa, which is Greek Lesbos, so that the only ‘land’ that fits all the references made in the Hittite texts is to be found even further west, across from the Aegean Sea, in the Helladic mainland that we know today as Greece.[11] Moreover, as the process of elimination gets extended even further, the only location on the Helladic mainland that fits the references made in the Ahhiyawa texts, according to the editors, must be Mycenae.[12] In terms of this argument, then, Mycenae represents an empire situated to the west of the Hittites. Or, to say it the other way around, the Hittite empire is situated to the east of the Achaeans.

Hittite protocols for referring to kings and to other personages of high importance

§10. A linking of the land of the Ahhiyawa with Mycenae can best be understood by examining how the Hittite Ahhiyawa texts refer to the king of Ahhiyawa. These references, as we will now see, are comparable to the self-references, made in the same texts, to the Hittite king himself.

§11. The Hittite Ahhiyawa texts, with three exceptions (AhT 27A–B, 28), come from the archives of Hattusa, the capital city of the Hittites, and most of them are written in the speaking persona of the ‘Great King’ or LUGAL of the ‘land’ or KUR of Hatti, that is, of the Hittite Empire. In such situations, the ‘Great King’ of the land as centralized at Hattusa is referring to himself as an over-king presiding over a whole empire, which is the Hittite Empire. And, similarly, the kings with whom the ‘Great King’ corresponds by way of written letters are diplomatically treated as his peers—as if they too were over-kings presiding over comparable empires.

§12. Such a mode of diplomatic communication in Hittite texts follows in many ways the protocols of Akkadian texts as used in other major administrative centers of the ancient Near East, though the language used in the Ahhiyawa Texts is not Akkadian but Hittite. Of special interest, in this connection, are the protocols of correspondences written in Akkadian as well as in Hittite where the speaker of the written text is supposedly the pharaoh of Egypt himself, who is notionally speaking in the Hittite language to the king of the Hittites by way of official letters written to the king, which are then stored in the royal archives of Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite Empire; and, conversely, the king of the Hittites speaks in the Hittite language to the pharaoh of Egypt by way of official letters notionally written by him to the pharaoh.[13]

§13. Similarly in the case of the Ahhiyawa Texts, the king of the Hittites is notionally speaking in the Hittite language to the king of the land named Ahhiyawa, as for example in AhT 4 (= CTH 181), dating from the 13th century BCE; and, conversely, in AhT 6 (= CTH 183), dating from the 13th century BCE, it is the king of Ahhiyawa who is notionally speaking, by way of a letter written in Hittite, to the king of the Hittites.

§14. In the Ahhiyawa Texts, then, we see diplomatic expressions of notional parity between the kings of the KUR or ‘land’ of the Hittites on the one hand and, on the other, the kings of the KUR or ‘land’ that is Ahhiyawa. In this connection, I note with special interest a reference in Ahhiyawa Text 2 (= CTH 105), dating from the 13th century BCE, to the kings of other empires whom the Great King of the Hittites considers to be his peers (¶13): these personages include the rulers of Egypt, Babylonia, and Assyria. Also included in the text (again, ¶13) is the king of Ahhiyawa, though this reference is subsequently erased by the scribe, as if by way of some kind of afterthought.[14]

A Greek name for the realm of the Achaeans

§15. Here I have more to say about the KUR or ‘land’ that is Ahhiyawa. I highlight the fact that a shorter form of this place-name Ahhiyawa is attested in the older Ahhiyawa texts, that is, in AhT 3 (= CTH 147), dating from 14th century BCE, and in AhT 22 (= CTH 571.2), dating from the 15th-14th century BCE. The shorter form in these older texts is spelled a-ah-hi-ya-a, transliterated as Ahhiya, as opposed to the longer form ah-hi-ya-wa-a of the later texts, transliterated as Ahhiyawa. The optional suffixation of -wa in Hittite renditions of place-names is attested elsewhere as well. Parallel to the doublet Ahhiya / Ahhiyawa are such further doublets as Zalpa / Zalpawa.[15] The older form Ahhiya, as pronounced in Hittite, is most significant: it corresponds, more closely than the later form Ahhiyawa, to a Greek form that was used, I argue, as a name for the realm of the Achaeans in an era that is roughly contemporaneous with the era of the texts featuring the form Ahhiya. For the moment, I refer more generally to “the realm of the Achaeans,” not to their “land,” for reasons that will become clear as my analysis proceeds.

§16. Focusing on a Greek era that is roughly contemporaneous with the Hittite era of the Ahhiyawa texts, I reconstruct for this shared era a Greek form *ákhayya (/*akhayyâs) from *ákhaiwya (/ *akhaiwyâs) from *akhai-wi-a (/*akhai-wi-âs). A morphologically leveled variant is attested in the first millennium BCE as Akhaiā́ =᾿Αχαιά, epithet of the goddess Demeter.[16] A form related to *ákhaiwya (/ *akhaiwyâs) is attested already in the second millennium BCE: as we see in a Linear B tablet from Knossos (C 914), the form is spelled here as a-ka-wi-ja-de, which could be transliterated as Akhaiwian-de, translated as ‘to Achaea’—though such a place-name cannot be identified in this context as a marker for the realm of the Achaeans writ large.[17] A far more probable interpretation has been proposed by Charles de Lamberterie (2021), who shows that the context of the Knossos tablet C 914 involves the sending of sacrificial animals to a festival, where they are to be slaughtered for the feasting. He compares Knossos tablet C 911, which involves the sending of sacrificial bovines—twenty cows and one bull—‘to the festival’, e-wo-ta-de, to be interpreted as ewortān-de. Here the Mycenaean noun ewortã is the equivalent of the alphabetic Greek noun ἑορτή, meaning ‘festival’. So also Knossos tablet C 914 involves the sending of sacrificial sheep and goats—fifty each—to be slaughtered at a festival named a-ka-wi-ja. The name would be a neuter plural, Akhaiwia, so that a-ka-wi-ja-de can be interpreted as Akhaiwia-de, meaning ‘to the (festival named) Ahaiwia‘. And such a Mycenaean name of this festival would be parallel to the neuter plural names for grand festivals attested in later eras. A shining example is the festival of the Paniōnia (Πανιώνια) as described by Herodotus (1.147–148).

§17. All this is not to deny, however, the antiquity of the singular form Akhaia (/Akhaiās), attested in the first millennium BCE as referring to the goddess Demeter and, in other contexts, to various locales claiming affinity with the Achaeans of the past. Such a convergence of references to Achaean goddesses and to Achaean realms seems to me very old. For a parallel, I cite the Homeric use of the name Athḗnē with reference both to the goddess Athena (Odyssey 7.78) and to the realm of the Athenians (Odyssey 7.80).[18] The same suffix -ḗnē is visible in the name of the nymph Mukḗnē, who presides over the acropolis of Mycenae.[19] It is also visible in the place-name Messḗnē, which means something like ‘Midland’.[20] I see a parallel situation in the use of the form Aswia (/Aswiās) in the Linear B texts, where Aswia is evidently a goddess, as we see from the collocation po-ti-ni-ja a-si-wi-ja = potnia Aswia ‘lady Aswia’ as written on a tablet from Pylos (Fr 1208), parallel to the collocation a-ta-na-po-ti-ni-ja = Athānā potnia ‘lady Athena’ as written on a tablet from Knossos (V 52). Or, possibly, we may interpret these forms as Athānās potnia ‘our lady of Athens’ and potnia Aswiās ‘our lady of Aswia’. In any case, this form Aswia is evidently the prototype of the name Asiā = ᾿Ασία as used in the first millennium BCE with reference to the ‘Asia’ of Asia Minor. This region of Asiā corresponds to the region known as Assuwa in the Ahhiyawa Texts. The place-name Assuwa is mentioned in AhT 6 ¶3 (= CTH 183), dating from the 13th century BCE. As I already noted about this text, it is the king of Ahhiyawa who is notionally speaking here, by way of a letter written in Hittite, to the king of the Hittites. In his letter, the king of Ahhiyawa is following the etiquette of Hittite diplomatic language in a disputation with his ‘brother’, the king of the Hittites, over the rightful possession of islands situated offshore from the coast of Assuwa; there is also a fragmentary reference in this text to Millawanda, which is the Hittite name for the city known in Greek as Miletus = Milētos / Milātos.

§18. This region of Assu-wa, the name of which may perhaps show the same place-name suffix that we see at work in the name Ahhiya-wa, was once upon a time configured as a confederation of twenty-two states occupying the western coast of Asia Minor.[21] In the letter from the king of Ahhiyawa, he refers to the fact that this configuration had been undone when Tudhaliya, an early king of the Hittite Empire dating from the 15th/14th century BCE, destroyed the confederacy and subjugated its populations.[22]

§19. The confederation of twenty-two states that was known as the land of Assu-wa is analogous, it has been argued, with the confederation of states that was known as the realm of Ahhiya-wa.[23] So, the power of this realm of Ahhiyawa may not have been as centralized as was the power of the land of Hatti, that is, of the Hittite Empire. And the less centralized empire of Ahhiyawa in the second millennium BCE was not only land-based but also sea-based. Accordingly, this power has been compared to the sea power of the Delian League as organized by Athens in the fifth century BCE; this sea power then rapidly evolved into the Athenian Empire.[24] Thucydides (1.4) uses the word thalassokratiā ‘thalassocracy’ in referring to this maritime empire of the Athenians, comparing it directly to the rule of the mythical King Minos over the Aegean Sea. Archaeologists have come to recognize the reality underlying the myths about this empire, and the concept of a “Minoan Empire” is by now recognized as an archaeological fact, which in turn can be seen as a prototype for the Mycenaean Empire.[25]

§20. I propose, however, that an even more apt point of comparison for the Mycenaean Empire is a thalassocracy that existed even before the organization of the Delian League by Athens in the aftermath of the Athenian naval victory over the Persian Empire in 480 BCE. Both Thucydides (1.13.6) and Herodotus (3.122.2) have a say when they apply the word thalassokratiā to the maritime empire of Polycrates of Samos. This Greek ruler dominated the islands of the Aegean Sea during the late sixth century BCE before he was overthrown and killed by agents of the Persian Empire in 522 BCE; then, almost immediately, the maritime power that was thus lost by Polycrates went over to the Athenians—well before their successful naval victory over the Persian Empire in 480 BCE.[26]

§21. The sea power of Polycrates in the late sixth century BCE had radiated from Samos, one of the three major offshore islands to the west of the land mass of Asia Minor, which was at that time controlled by the Persian Empire. I propose that the see-sawing conflicts between the sea power represented by the maritime realm of Polycrates and the land power represented by the Persian Empire can be viewed as recapitulations of corresponding conflicts that were already going on almost a millennium earlier between the maritime realm of Ahhiyawa and the land empire of the Hittites. And the picture gets far more complicated when we take into account the fact that the coastal regions of Asia Minor were dominated by Greek populations during most of the first half of the first millennium BCE. A shining example is the Ionian Dodecapolis, a confederation of twelve Ionian states that dominated the central coast of Asia Minor, especially during the late eighth and the early seventh centuries BCE: of these twelve states, I should emphasize, there were only two located on offshore islands, Samos and Chios, while the other ten states were all located on the coastline of the mainland. Eventually, the power of these twelve Greek states was eroded by the countervailing power of the inland empires of the Lydians and then the Persians—until the pendulum swung back toward the Greeks in the era of the Athenian Empire.

§22. But my point is, the pendulum was already swinging back and forth in the second millennium BCE, during the centuries that span the various datings of the Ahhiyawa Texts. We see, for example, that the offshore island named Lesbos in Greek and Lazpa in Hittite (AhT 7¶4) was at various times a staging area for attacks against the Hittite Empire—attacks that were construed by their Great King as hostile acts initiated by forces working in collusion with the king of Ahhiyawa. And there are comparable accounts about the coastal state named Ephesos in Greek and Apasa in Hittite (AhT 1A ¶17; 1B ¶5), or about another coastal state named Milātos in Greek and Millawata / Millawanda in Hittite (AhT 1B ¶1; 4 ¶¶4, 5, 12). In the case of these states as well, which we would describe in Greek terms as city-states, the Ahhiyawa Texts refer to ongoing disputes about the loyalties or disloyalties shown by the rulers of these states in their dealings with the mutually opposing realms represented by the kings of Ahhiyawa and Hatti. A particularly interesting example of such disputes is a moment in the Hittite Ahhiyawa texts where the rebelious figure Piyamaradu eludes the reach of the Great King of the Hittites: this rebel escapes from his base of operations in Millawanda by boarding a ship and sailing off to safety—presumably, to a territory affiliated with the king of Ahhiyawa (AhT 4¶5).

What, then, is so ‘Achaean’ about the realm of Ahhiyawa?

§23. We are faced with serious difficulties in trying to understand the Achaeans as we keep reading various details in the Ahhiyawa Texts about various exchanges that took place between the realm of Ahhiyawa and the Hittite Empire. Because the Ahhiyawa Texts are so deeply influenced by the diplomatic language of the Hittite Empire, the few attested communications between representatives of this empire and corresponding representatives of Ahhiyawa tend to picture the Achaeans as merely mirroring the culture of the Hittites. So, it is difficult to form in the mind’s eye a free-standing picture that shows clearly the differences between the cultures of the Hittites and the Achaeans. After all, the Hittite-speaking composers of records meant for the royal archives are highlighting those aspects of Achaean culture that seem to be the same in Hittite culture while shading over any other aspects that seem to be different. That said, however, I still maintain that even those aspects of Hittite culture that seem to be the same in Achaean culture can reveal a vast array of precious details about both cultures.

§24. Within the short space of time I have left here, I list as illustrations three categories of “sameness” in the two cultures. Each of these categories, I submit, can be mined for precious new information about the Achaeans as well as the Hittites.

§25. The three categories I have chosen to illustrate the notional sameness of Hittites and Achaeans are based on details we find in Hittite archival records and in Homeric poetry. In each case, I start with a Hittite detail, followed by a Homeric detail that I highlight for comparison.

  1. In forming alliances, the Hittite over-king can make another king his vassal by forcing that king to marry his daughter (AhT 1B ¶12.37–40). Similarly in Homeric poetry, Achilles in Iliad 9 would be reduced to the status of a vassal if he accepted Agamemnon’s offer and agreed to marry one of that king’s three daughters.
  2. In Hittite warfare, there are different maneuvers for charioteering in different kinds of situations: on rough terrain, for example, the chariot-fighters have to dismount from their chariots and fight on foot (AhT 1B ¶9.39–50; 4¶2.24–25). Similarly in the Homeric Iliad, chariot fighting at Troy is restricted to the plain of the river Scamander.
  3. In speaking about successes or failures in war and in diplomacy, the speaker can speak of historical personages in terms that fit the mythical personages of epic—as well as the other way around. I cite for example a Hittite text (CTH 191) referring to a treaty between the Hittite king Muwatalli II, who can be dated to the 13th century BCE, and a vassal named Alaksandu who rules the state of Wilusa. The political linking of these names Alaksandu and Wilusa matches the epic linking of the names Alexandros and Ilion in Homeric poetry. In AhT 4 (= CTH 181), I should add, which is a letter from the Great King of Hatti to the king of Ahhiyawa, addressed here as ‘Great King’ in his own right and also as ‘brother’ and ‘peer’ (¶6),[27] it is implied that there was eventually a resolution of a conflict between the two powers over the possession of Wilusa (¶¶12–13).[28]

Viewing the big picture of Achaeans and Hittites through the lens of Homeric poetry

§26. The last of the three illustrations that I have just listed shows side-by-side a “historical” detail extracted from Hittite archival records and a “mythical” detail extracted from Greek epic poetry. But I qualify both these terms, “historical” and “mythical,” since the facts of history can become mythologized just as easily as the stories of myth can become historicized. And such mythologization and historicization must be studied empirically, especially in situations where different cultures come into contact with each other. In such situations, we need to look for patterns of contractual mythology, even contractual history, where two cultures that are in contact with each other—whether the contact is amicable or inimical—can evolve together contractually.[29]

§27. In projects to be planned for the future, I hope that I—or, more likely, colleagues younger than I—will study examples of such contractual mythology and history involving Achaeans and Hittites. I list here three projects for this hoped-for future.[30]

§28. The first desired project centers on two pictures. One picture, reproduced in the line-drawing of Figure 1, shows a Hittite graffito found at Hattusa, picturing an Achaean warrior—I indulge myself in calling him “Achaean”—who is wearing a crested helmet adorned with a plume of horsehair.[31] The second picture, reproduced in the line-drawing of Figure 2, shows a fragment of a “Mycenaean” or “Achaean” painting, picturing once again an “Achaean” warrior who is wearing a crested helmet adorned with a plume of horsehair. Both pictures, produced by way of visual art, evoke a most memorable scene produced by way of verbal art. I have in mind here the scene in Iliad 6 where the hero Hector, leaning over to kiss for the last time his infant son Astyanax, inadvertently frightens the child because he has neglected to take off his crested horsehair helmet. My late and sorely-missed friend Emily Vermeule had once remarked about all these picturings in the verbal as well as the visual arts:

In the Iliad the famous scene between Hector and Astyanax [6.466–470] could probably not have been created after the great floating horsetail crested helmet of the Achaian invaders of Anatolia went out of fashion about 1400 B.C. That it should be recorded in the Anatolian as well as the Greek images of the fifteenth century is remarkable [here she refers to the Hittite and the Mycenaean pictures], and the archaeological confirmation of a memorable poetic image. The later, post-1400 Mycenaean helmet with its flabby tab on top could not frighten the most unheroic infant.[32]

My friend’s reference here to Achaean “invaders” who are attacking Anatolia may perhaps be an overstatement. Maybe all that such Achaeans had ever succeeded in doing was to make incursions from temporary strongholds like Lesbos and Ephesos. But I do see a deep truth in her vision of the heroic age as pictured by Hittite and Achaean viewers alike.[33]

§29. Now I turn to a second desired project. It has to do with charioteering, as studied in four essays I once wrote for Classical Inquiries, dated 2015.05.01, 2015.05.08, 2015.05.15, 2015.05.20. The details about charioteering that I analyzed in those essays, based on the evidence of Homeric narrative, are comparable with relevant evidence found in Hittite texts, and I highlight here one example of Hittite comparanda. In AhT 4 (= CTH 181), the Great King of Hatti is complaining to his notional peer, the Great King of Ahhiyawa, about an incident (¶1). It seems that a rebellious figure named Piyamaradu, evidently a client of the king of Ahhiyawa, demanded to be escorted to a meeting with the Hittite king, and so this king sent out an unnamed relative of his to bring back to him this rebel Piyamaradu on a chariot. But the rebel defiantly refused the ride, apparently expecting the king himself to be his escort (also in ¶5). This convention, featuring a ceremonial ride for two on a chariot, reminds me of the moment in Odyssey 3 where Nestor the king sends his son Peisistratos to escort Telemachus on a chariot, and the two young princes ride off together on their way from Pylos to Sparta. I should add that, in the same AhT 4 (= CTH 181), the Great King of the Hittite Empire speaks of a man he holds in great honor, named Tapala-Tarhunta, a man who is described as the personal charioteer of the king and who used to ride the chariot together with the king in their youth (¶8); this man, the Great King goes on to say, even mounted the chariot, once upon a time, together with a man named Tawagalawa, who is described as the ‘brother’ of the king of Ahhiyawa (again, ¶8).[34] The personal relationship of the charioteer Tapala-Tarhunta with the Great King is underlined in this text by way of two further details: this charioteer is a relative of the king’s wife (again, ¶8), and he serves as the king’s official hostage in situations where safe conduct needs to be guaranteed (¶¶6, 8).

§30. Before I end this essay, I signal my hopes about a third desired project. I hope for a revisiting of comments I once made about the shared linguistic heritage of the Hittite and the Greek languages in referring to practices of cremation. In those comments, my two points of comparison were (1) archived prescriptions concerning the funerals of Hittite kings and (2) narrated descriptions concerning the funeral of the hero Patroklos in Iliad 23. In commenting on these points of comparison, I concentrated on the shared Indo-European linguistic heritage of Hittite and Greek funerary traditions.[35] But more could be said about the mutual understanding of cremation in both Hittite and Greek social contexts.

§31. When I last considered the practices of cremation in a Mycenaean context, those practices were barely attested archaeologically. But by now the picture has changed. I cite for example the discovery of nine cremations at the site of Chánia, some three kilometers southwest of the acropolis of Mycenae.[36] I note with special interest the splendor of the tumulus that contained these cremations, dated to the 12th century BCE.[37] The archeologist of record, Heleni Palaiologou, describes as “monumental” the stone tumulus with its circular “cyclopean” enclosure, and she notes that the ritual moment of the actual cremation, which required vast pilings of firewood, must have been “spectacular.”[38] This splendid tumulus, situated on a plain contiguous with Argos, was most visible to all: “it served as a landmark for the control of the commercial route to Argos and the cultivated area simultaneously.”[39] By this time, in the 12th century BCE, the glory days of Mycenae and of its Achaean realm were becoming evanescent, but the vitality of Mycenaean civilization was still a forceful presence, acknowledged and respected by the local population.[40]


AhT     See BBC.

BA       Nagy, G. 1999. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Rev. ed. with new intro. Baltimore.

BBC     Beckman, G. M., Bryce, T. R., and Cline, E. H., ed. and commentary. 2011. The Ahhiyawa Texts. Writings from the Ancient World, Number 28 (Society of Biblical Literature). Atlanta.

CTH      Laroche, E. 1971. Catalogue des textes hittites. Paris.

De Cristofaro, L. 2014. “L’episodio iliadico di Glauco e Diomede.” Rivista di Cultura Classica e Medioevale 56:13–55.

Edel, E. 1994. Die ägyptisch-hethitische Korrespondenz aus Boghazköi in babylonischer und hethtischer Sprache. Opladen.

GM       Nagy, G. 1990. Greek Mythology and Poetics. Ithaca, NY. Revised paperback edition 1992. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Greek_Mythology_and_Poetics.1990.

Hawkins, J. D. 1998. “Tarkasnawa, King of Mira. ‘Tarkondemos,’ Boğazköy Sealings and Karabel.” Anatolian Studies 48:1–31.

HPC      Nagy, G. 2010|2009. Homer the Preclassic. Berkeley and Los Angeles CA.

HTL      Nagy, G. 2004. Homer’s Text and Language. Urbana and Chicago.

Kelder, J. M. 2004-2005, “Mycenaeans in Western Anatolia.” Talanta 36–37:49–88.

Lamberterie, Ch. de. 2021. “La fête des Achéens.” A chapter in the online book Interdisciplinary Uses of Homer: In Dialogue with Douglas Frame, ed. I. Papadopoulou. https://chs.harvard.edu/read/interdisciplinary-uses-of-homer-in-dialogue-with-douglas-frame/.

Mee, C. 1998. “Anatolia and the Aegean in the Late Bronze Age.” The Aegean and the Orient in the Second Millennium. Proceedings of the 50th Anniversary Symposium, Cincinnati, 18–20 April 1997, ed. E. H. Cline and D. Harris Cline, 137–48. Aegaeum 18. Liège.

Melchert, H. C. 2007. “The Boundaries of Tarhuntassa Revisited.” Belkıs Dinçol ve Ali Dinçol’a Armağan, ed. M. Alparslan et al., 507–13. As the author has kindly informed me, this article may be downloaded from his curriculum vitae (number 88 under “Publications”).

Melchert, H. C. 2020.05.06, updated 2020.05.15. “Mycenaean and Hittite Diplomatic Correspondence: Fact and Fiction.” Classical Inquiries.

Nagy, G. 2011. “Asopos and His Multiple Daughters: Traces of Preclassical Epic in the Aeginetan Odes of Pindar.” Aegina: Contexts for Choral Lyric Poetry: Myth, History, and Identity in the Fifth Century BC, ed. D. Fearn, 41–78. Oxford.

Nagy, G. 2015.07.22. “East of the Achaeans: Making up for a missed opportunity while reading Hittite texts.” Classical Inquiries. https://classical-inquiries.chs.harvard.edu/east-of-the-achaeans-making-up-for-a-missed-opportunity-while-reading-hittite-texts/. This version is now superseded by the present version, Nagy 2023.08.20.

Nagy, G. 2023.08.19, new version of an archived essay dating from 2020.11.03. “Greek dialects in the late second millennium BCE.” Classical Continuumhttps://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/observations-on-greek-dialects-in-the-late-second-millennium-bce-2/. Pamphlet 1 in the series EPOPS-NAF.

Nagy, G. 2023.08.20, new version  of an archived essay dating from 2015.07.22. “East of the Achaeans: Making up for a missed opportunity while reading Hittite texts.” Classical Continuumhttps://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/east-of-the-achaeans-making-up-for-a-missed-opportunity-while-reading-hittite-texts-2/. Pamphlet 2 in the series EPOPS-NAF.

Nagy, G. 2023.08.21, new version of Greek: An Updating of a Survey of Recent Work, second edition. Classical Continuum. https://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/greek-an-updating-of-a-survey-of-recent-work-second-edition/.

Nagy, G. 2023.08.22, present version  of an archived essay, originally published as Nagy, G. 2011. “The Aeolic Component of Homeric Diction.” Proceedings of the 22nd Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, ed. S. W. Jamison, H. C. Melchert, and B. Vine, 133–179. Bremen. Classical Continuum.  https://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/the-aeolic-component-of-homeric-diction/. Pamphlet 3 in the series EPOPS-NAF.

Nagy, G. 2023.09.04. “Greek myths about invasions and migrations during the so-called Dark Age.” Classical Continuumhttps://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/greek-myths-about-invasions-and-migrations-during-the-so-called-dark-age/. Pamphlet 4 in the series EPOPS-NAF.

Nagy, G. 2023.09.07. “Yet another look at a possible Mycenaean reflex in Homer: phorēnai.” Classical Continuum. https://continuum.fas.harvard.edu/yet-another-look-at-a-possible-mycenaean-reflex-in-homer-phorenai/. Pamphlet 5 in the series EPOPS-NAF.

Niemeier, W.-D. 1998. “The Mycenaeans in Western Anatolia and the Problem of the Origins of the Sea Peoples.” Mediterranean Peoples in Transition: Thirteenth to Early Tenth Centuries BCE, ed. S. Gitin et al., 17–65. Jerusalem.

Palaiologou, H. 2013. “Late Helladic IIIC cremation burials at Chania of Mycenae.” Cremation burials in the region between the middle Danube and the Aegean, 1300–750 BC, ed. M. Lochner and F. Ruppenstein, 249–279.

Palaiologou, H. 2014. “The Plain of Mycenae during the 13th Century BC and Later.” Physis: Environnement naturel et la relation homme-milieu dans le monde égéen protohistorique. Actes de la 14e rencontre égéenne internationale, Paris, Institut National de l’Institut de l’Art, 11–14 décembre 2012, ed. G. Touchais, R. Laffineur, and F. Rougemont, 517–519. Leuven-Liège.

Steiner, G. 1964. “Die Ahhijawa-Frage heute.” Saeculum 15:365–392.

Steiner, G. 2007. “The Case of Wilusa and Ahhiyawa.” Bibliotheca Orientalis 64:590–611.

Vermeule, E. 1987. “Baby Aigisthos and the End of the Bronze Age.” Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 1987:122–52.


[1] Nagy 1979, second edition published in 1999. In the Bibliography, this book Best of the Achaeans is listed by way of the abbreviation BA, which I will hereafter use in the footnotes whenever I cite relevant pages.
[2] BA 83–93, 349–54.
[3] BA 89–90.
[4] The story centers on the temporary withdrawal of the hero Achilles from the Trojan War and the resulting ákhos ‘grief’ that afflicts the warrior society of the Achaeans. For an updating of my analysis of the story, I cite HTL 131–137.
[5] BA 88, citing Steiner 1964.
[6] Beckman, Bryce, and Cline 2011. In my Bibliography here, this book is listed by way of the abbreviation BBC, which I will hereafter use in the footnotes whenever I cite relevant pages.
[7] BBC 1–6 give a comprehensive introduction, with relevant bibliography, to the history of the “Ahhiyawa Problem.” For background, I cite Chapter 13 in a detailed book by Mary Bachvarova (2016:331–348).
[8] I will also cite, where available, the numbering of Laroche 1971 in the collection CTH, as listed in my Bibliography.
[9] BBC 3–4.
[10] BBC 3–4, with extensive bibliography, and registering disagreement with Steiner 2007. See also Kelder 2004-2005 and Melchert 2020.05.06, updated 2020.05.15.
[11] BBC 3–4, with references to the arguments of Hawkins 1998 and others.
[12] Again, BBC 3–4, with reference to the arguments of Niemeier 1998 and others.
[13] The evidence is collected and analyzed by Edel 1994. I am guided here by further analysis provided by Melchert 2020.05.06, updated 2020.05.15.
[14] Commentary in BBC 67 and 132. To be contrasted are other situations where we see expressions of parity between the Great King of Hatti and the king of the Ahhiyawa: commentary in BBC 122.
[15] Melchert 2007:512, with further comments on the innovative use of the Hittite suffix -wa as a formant of place-names.
[16] Documentation in BA 84–85, 88, 90–91, 114.
[17] Documentation in BA 88.
[18] Commentary in HTL 159–64.
[19] HTL 163; see also Palaiologou 2013:250n5.
[20] HTL 163n17, where I compare the place-name me-za-na written on a Linear B tablet from Pylos (Cn 3.1), and where I note: “I suspect that the suffix -ḗnē is endowed with an elliptic function.”
[21] Documentation in BBC 137–39.
[22] BBC 137–38.
[23] BBC 6.
[24] Again, BBC 6.
[25] Again, BBC 6, following Mee 1998:143.
[26] I analyze the thalassocracy of Polycrates of Samos, as described by Herodotus (3.122.2) and Thucydides (1.13.6), in HPC 222–23; also 362–65.
[27] BBC 122 give an analysis of the relevant contexts.
[28] BBC 101.
[29] On the concept of contractual mythology, I have more to say in Nagy 2011:59–61.
[30] I should also mention here comparable projects undertaken by others, such as the pioneering work of De Cristofaro 2014.
[31] Further documentation in BBC 272, where this artifact is dated to the 15th / 14th century BCE.
[32] Vermeule 1987:146.
[33] I offer further commentary in HPC 308–310.
[34] Commentary in BBC 276. On the possibility that Tawagalawa is a Hittite spelling of the Greek name Etewoklewēs, see BBC 120 (also p. 1, with bibliography).
[35] GM 85–121.
[36] Palaiologou 2013.
[37] Palaiologou 2013:274.
[38] Palaiologou 2013:251
[39] Palaiologou 2013:275.
[40] Palaiologou 2014 describes in lively detail the continuity of the culture in the environs of Mycenae during the 13th and the 12th centuries BCE. I note also the illuminating comments of Palaiologou on the afterlife of Mycenaean traditions in the environs of Mycenae during the first millennium BCE, especially with reference to the sanctuary of Hera and the hero-cult of Agamemnon.

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