Home Languages and scripts Lemnian, the language of the Hittites? – The Lemnos stele deciphered.

Lemnian, the language of the Hittites? – The Lemnos stele deciphered.

There are only a few Lemnian inscriptions and probably the most famous is the one on the Lemnian stele. The Lemnian language was Indo-European and usually related to Etruscan and Phrygian languages.

The official dating for the Lemnian stele is the 6th century BC, based on the fact that in 510 BC the Athenians invaded Lemnos and Hellenized it. The inscription is easy to read but not easy to understand. Of the many attempts to decipher the text, none became officially accepted by scholars to this date.

The stele is a tombstone of a fallen soldier. We see him holding a spear and a shield. The text is obviously an epitaph.

Translation of the Lemnian Stele

Here is my translation of the Lemnian Stele. In the continuation of this article, I will explain how I did it.

Official transcription:


A.1. hulaieš:naφuθ:šiaši
A.2. maraš:mav
A.3. sialχveiš:aviš
A.4. evisθu:šerunaiθ
A.5. šivai
A.6. aker:tavaršiu
A.7. vanalasial:šerunai:murinail


B.3. šivai:aviš:sialχviš:marašm:aviš:aumai

My translation:


A.1. A warrior:to the heavens: climbed
A.2. his spear: fell
A.3. Sialkhveiš (a name): the omen
A.4. I saw: above you
A.5. This
A.6. stele: stands
A.7. on his tomb: above: the deceased


B.1. Warrior: of the Phocis: above you: I saw:
B.2. the glorious: eagle: This: epitaph: was made: by your: Phocian
B.3. This is: omen (memento): for Sialkhveiš: the Spearman: the omen: that you are seeing

Lemnian, the language of the Hittites?

As it will soon become evident, I have translated the Lemnian text by relying mainly on the Hittite dictionaries. If my translation is at least partially correct, the implications of this discovery are huge. But I will keep the conclusions for the end. First, let’s see how I did it.

A.1. hulaieš:naφuθ:šiaši


The first word in the text is “hulaieš“. In the Hittite text “The Proclamation of Anittas” (Old Hittite), the word “hullanza” means “battle”, while “hulla” means “fight”. Therefore, I translated “hulaieš” as “soldier, warrior”.

Here are some Hittite examples:

hu-ul-la-an-za-an – noun; accusative singular animate of <hullanza-> battle
hu-ul-la-an-za-is – noun; nominative singular animate of <hullanza-> battle
hu-ul-la-nu-un – verb; 1st person singular preterite of mi-conjugation <hulla-> fight, defeat

Source: The Univeristy of Texas at Austin – Online Hittite glossary


The second word is “naφuθ“. The Hittite word for the sky was “Nepiš”, a cognate of the Greek νέφος (néphos). The “tetha” sound at the end may signify dative.

Source: Paleolexicon.com


The third word is “šiaši“. It is only when I found the Hittite equivalent of this word that the previous word made sense. Represented by sounds š+iya, this word means “to go up” (to heaven).

Source: The Hittite Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Volume Š.

The first line, therefore, can be: “A warrior to the heavens climbed.”

A.2. maraš:mav

The first word of the second line is “maraš“. At first, I thought that it relates to the city of Maraš, modern-day Kahramanmaraş, Turkey. But even the name of the city has to have a meaning. I believe that represents a spear or a similar hand-arm. This is what the Hittite word “mari”, written as “ma-ri-us” meant. Maraš could be a plural form.

Source: Hittite Etymological Dictionary, Jan Puhvel

The second word, “mav” is pretty much a spot-on match, from “mau” and “mu-wa” – “to fall, collapse”:

Source:  Hittite Etymological Dictionary, Jan Puhvel

A.3. sialχveiš:aviš

The Wikipedia article on the Lemnos stele translates the word “sialχveiš” as “sixty” and relates it to the Etruscan “śealχisc” with the same meaning. Indeed. this seems like a convincing linguistic connection, but I cannot agree that it is applicable here. Namely, a sixty-year-old person would have been considered quite old by ancient standards. And it is even harder to imagine a person of that age in the battle, with a shield and a spear, as depicted on the Lemnos tombstone. Also, we can be quite certain that this is not the face of an old man.

Unable to find similar words in Hittite, and the neighboring languages, I opted for the option of the first name, since you would expect to see one on a tombstone. I could be wrong about this, but it does fit nicely with the rest of the context.

The second word, aviš, is equally problematic. But for another reason – there are a few options here.

Latin word “avis” meant: 1. bird and 2. omen. It comes from Proto-Italic *awis, from Proto-Indo-European *h₂éwis. Cognates include Ancient Greek ἀετός (aetós) and Sanskrit वि (ví). There is also the word “avus” meaning: grandfather, ancestor, old man”. From Proto-Indo-European *h₂éwh₂os. Cognate with Hittite (ḫu-uḫ-ḫa-as), Old Prussian awis, Gothic (awō)…

The translation “grandfather” would perhaps fit nicely with the notion of sixty years of age, but then we would be missing the word “age”, which is highly unlikely. And we go back to the same logical problem of an old man dying in battle.

This is why I hesitated between “bird” and “omen”, and decided to go for “omen” as the word will be used again later. Also the “sixty birds” did not make much sense.

Therefore, the third line would read: “Sialχveiš, omen” and the sentence continues in the next line:

A.4. evisθu:šerunaiθ

The first word, evisθu is also problematic. It seems that no IE language has something similar. The exceptions are Latin languages, like Spanish, where “he visto” means “I saw”. I am aware that this is not the best solution but the Latin word “visus” has numerous IE cognates so I decided to keep it.

The second word, šerunaiθ, appears three times in the text, with slight variations. It starts with the prefix “šer” which means “above” in Hittite. This meaning fits perfectly the context of all three cases.

Source: Source: The Hittite Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Volume Š.

Therefore, this line could read: “I saw above you” (you because of the “tetha” letter at the end of the second word)

A.5. šivai

Šivai was the first word I decoded. And the one that made me realize that Lemnos stele text is Hittite. A long time ago, when I first saw the text, I saw a proposed translation of “he lived” which is still in the Wikipedia article. Since this word sounds like the Slavic word “živeo”, I have tried to translate the rest of the text, but without success.

But I have remembered this word, and I was quite surprised when I recognized it in the Hittite text, with the meaning of “this”. The book where I saw it is “Inscriptions of the Iron Age: Part 1: Text, Introduction, Karatepe, Karkamis” by John David Hawkins,

The author states that the word is “za-w-a-i” but that the archaic form is “zi-wai”!

A.6. aker:tavaršiu

Now, what is particularly interesting about the quote above, is that it seems that the ideograph for stele is not deciphered yet. The meaning is there but the sound value is unknown, that is why it is written in English with capital letters – STELE.

Upon seeing this I went back to the Lemnos stele, and noticed that the next word is “aker“.

Now, the word “ak” meant “to die” in Hittite. But Jaan Puhvel, in his Hittite Etymological Dictionary relates it to the word “tombstone”, by tracing the Venetic funerary expressions.

Therefore, the words “šivai:aker” would mean “this:tombstone” and if I am right about this, I have just determined the sound value of the ideogram STELE! My humble contribution to the Hittite corpus via the stele from Lemnos!

The word tavaršiu could relate to “tawara”, attested in Karkamiš inscription, with the meaning “standing”. Source: Luwian Corpus

Therefore, “aker:tavaršiu” would mean “tombstone:stands”

A.7. vanalasial:šerunai:murinail

According to Paleolexicon.com, the word “wana” means “tomb” in Lydian. As for the sufix “lasial”, Wikipedia article on Lemnos stele considers the “si” ending” as a form of dative.

Therefore, wanalasi, could perhaps mean “wanala-si” – “his tomb”.

We have already said that the word “šerunai” could mean “above”. On the other hand, the word “murinail” could mean “the dead, deceased”:

The meaning of this line would therefore be: “on his tomb, above the deceased”

The side inscription


The word φukiasiale is already translated as Phocians by other authors. I was not able to find any alternatives, but the reason I decided to keep it is as it makes sense in the context.

Now we know the first four words, and the translation would be: “Soldier of Phocis, above you I saw…”

The last word is “tuveruna” but due to the lack of space on the stele it probably continues in the next line which starts with “rum”. Therefore the whole word would be “tuverunarum

The best translation I could find for this one is the Lycian “tuwere” – celebrant


In the second line, we skip the word “rum” and start with “haraliu“. In Hittite “hara” means “eagle”. Source: Hitite Lexicon

It looks like the previous sentence ends here. The meaning is “Above you I saw the glorious eagle”.

We saw already that “šivai” means “this”. The word “eptešiu” could mean “epitaph”. This is even more clear from the context that follows. The word “epitaph” comes from Ancient Greek ἐπιτάφιος (epitáphios, “relating to a funeral”), from ἐπί (epí, “over”) + τάφος (táphos, “tomb”).

The word “arai” is another spot-on match in Hittite. It means “raised”.

And the same is valid for “tiš”, meaning “your”. No doubt, we are dealing with the Hittites here.

Based on the context, the final word “φuke” would mean simply “Phocian”. And the whole sentence means: “This epitaph was raised by your Phocian”


And finally we have:

šivai – this,
aviš – omen (here with the meaning of memento)
Sialxviš – to Sialxveiš (note the different ending, indicating change of declination)
marašm – the spearmen (or a similar hand-arm carrier) Again note the change of ending with extra “m” at the end.
aviš – omen (“is the omen” perhaps)

and aumai – from Hittite “aui” to see, which I translated “you see” (plural).


This article is already way too long, but there are some really important implications of this research that I need to mention.

Even the youngest phase of the Hittite language dates to the period 1430–1180 BC. On the other hand, the Lemnos dates to the 6th century BC, officially. The dating could be off though, as stones are difficult to date with certainty.

But a long time ago, the island of Lemnos was indeed under the Hittite influence. This is a fact. Later, it was the home of the Amazons, whose origins go back to more or less to the same region of Turkey Could it be that the language of the Hittites survived on this small island, too small to have their own language anyway? At least until the arrival of the Greeks in the 6th century BC.

But then, what were their relations with the Etruscans, whose language is said to be similar to that of Lemnos? And who were the Phocians, the founders of Delphi – a mountainous oracle whose name comes from the word for dolphin? Moreover, why is the Greek city of Lamia in this territory and does it have the same meaning as Lemnos?

Too many important questions for this short article. So let us just conclude with a quote from Herodotus, who stated that Minyae (Minoans?) had settled Lacaedemonia from Lemnos.

Hdt: 4.145

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