Studying Anatolian languages and cultures brings to light some of the foundations of our modern Western civilization. Hittite, one of the Anatolian languages, is the oldest Indo-European language known — older than Greek, Latin, or Sanskrit: the earliest evidence for Hittite is found on Old Assyrian clay tablets from ca. 2000-1900BC. Despite what is often thought, modern Western civilization did not start with the Greeks. The real cradle of this civilization stood in what is now the Middle East. Many literary and artistic themes and motifs can be traced back directly to that world. The Bible was embedded in ancient Near Eastern society, and the earliest forms of what we call modern science are found in Babylon. Anatolia is the natural bridge between those Eastern worlds and Graeco-Roman civilization, and the Hittites and their descendants in the same area served as intermediaries, handing down ancient Near Eastern culture to the West.
As an Indo-European language, Hittite as well as the other Anatolian languages are related to modern-day languages like English: the Hittite word for “water” is watar. But it is not always that transparent. English “who” is also the same word as Hittite kwis and Latin quis, and “fire” is really related to Hittite paḫḫur and Greek pur!
The Anatolian languages were written in different scripts. The main members of the group, Hittite and Luwian, were written in cuneiform on clay tablets: if you ever have the opportunity to hold a Hittite clay tablet, you will experience the same sensation as the Hittite who held that tablet about 3700 years ago. That Hittite might have been Queen Puduheba, checking the letter she was about to send to Pharaoh Ramses II, or it could have been a king, passing judgment from a collection of laws, or reading a sarcastic report on a failed siege of a Syrian city.
It is the task of Hittitologists to preserve, study, as well as make known and accessible to a wider audience the achievements of Hittite culture and society. Our instructors, Theo van den Hout and Petra Goedegebuure, are involved in this mission as the Executive Editor and Senior Editor, respectively, of the Chicago Hittite Dictionary of the Oriental Institute (CHD). When studying Hittite, students will have full access to the resources of the CHD Project.
Luwian was also written in indigenous Anatolian Hieroglyphs, mainly on rock cliffs, statues, and stelae in Turkey and Northern Syria, and on large orthostats in monumental buildings in Northern Syria. These inscriptions, commissioned by kings, local rulers, and government officials, were intended for the local population as displays of power. NELC is one of the few places in the world where Luwian and its sister language Lycian are taught on a regular basis.
The study of the Anatolian languages is primarily philologically oriented. Students will approach each language through the texts in their cultural, historical and material settings, but depending on student interests, linguistics and literary analysis may be added. The CHD Project allows students to conduct original research, providing them with an unsurpassed amount of raw data.
The CHD office is also the meeting space of the Anatolian Circle. Regularly, that is, at least once per quarter and organized by the students, we all get together for an informal lecture and discussion of current topics of research by a student, an instructor, or by a visiting student or scholar.
Students may study Hittite at an elementary or advanced level, as well as the other Anatolian languages of second and first millennium B.C. Anatolia and Northern Syria. More specifically, we offer:
- Elementary Hittite on a yearly basis
- Advanced Readings in Hittite on a yearly basis, focusing on one genre such as
- Historiography and historical texts
- Diplomatic texts (state treaties, letters)
- Religious administration
- Wisdom literature
- Hieroglyphic Luwian of the 1st millennium BC
- Hieroglyphic and Cuneiform Luwian of the 2nd millennium BC
- Lycian, Lydian and Carian, all 1st millennium BC languages (regularly attested together with Greek on bilingual documents)
- Hurrian, a non-Indo-European language spoken at the Hittite court
Our program also offers courses in art, archaeology, history, literature and linguistic methods for extinct languages.
Placement after Graduation
Undergraduate students with a major in the Anatolian languages are regularly accepted in MA or PhD programs at, for example, the University of Chicago, Oxford University, University College London, and the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. All PhD graduates who wished to continue in academia have done so. They are now Senior Research Associate at the OI, tenured faculty in History and Classics departments, Post-Doctoral researchers, or Teaching Fellows at the University of Chicago.