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.

Five years ago, I wrote this article, with the same title, claiming that the text is Hittite. Today, I am updating it, as I believe that with the help of AI, I can finally prove it.

The location of the Lemnos island

Lemnos stele

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. Perform a sacrifice of young animal
A.2. One man
A.3. May he enter the underworld
A.4. Assyrian leader
A.5. Shivai (Personal name, meaning “life”)
A.6. Subordinate
A.7. To Vanalasi, king of Assyrians, from Mira kingdom


B.1. The Phocian leader caused the Assyrians to fight in this place.
B.2. My lord, the king Shiwai, led the attack against the Phocians.
B.3. May (the gods) grant that Shivai enters the underworld. May (the gods) grant him peace.

Lemnian, the language of the Hittites?

A.1. hulaieš:naφuθ:šiaši – Perform a sacrifice of young animal

The Hittite phrase “hulaieš:naφuθ:šiaši” can be broken down into three parts: “hulaieš,” meaning “to sacrifice,” “naφuθ,” meaning “animal,” and “šiaši,” meaning “young.”

In cuneiform, this phrase would be written as:

𒄿𒀭𒄩𒉿𒈠𒀀𒉿𒀜𒋫𒉿𒀜𒈾𒀀 (hulaieš-naφuθ-šiaši)

The Hittite Empire was known for their religious practices, and animal sacrifice was an important part of their religious ceremonies. The sacrifice of young animals was considered particularly valuable because they were seen as pure and unblemished.

References to animal sacrifice can be found in many Hittite texts, including religious rituals, treaties, and legal documents. One such example is the “Treaty of Kadesh” between the Hittite king Hattusili III and the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II, which mentions the sacrifice of bulls during the treaty ceremony.

The Hittites practiced animal sacrifice as part of their funerary rituals. It was believed that the sacrifice of a young animal would appease the gods and ensure a safe passage for the deceased into the afterlife. The sacrificed animal was often buried with the deceased, along with other offerings such as food, drink, and personal possessions. The practice of animal sacrifice was also common in other ancient Near Eastern cultures, including those of the Mesopotamians and Egyptians.

  1. Beckman, G. (2011). Hittite ritual texts. Society of Biblical Literature.
  2. Bryce, T. R. (2005). Kingdom of the Hittites. Oxford University Press.
  3. Carruba, O. (1988). Hittite glossary: words of known or conjectured meaning with Sumerian and Akkadian words occurring in Hittite texts. Linguistics.
  4. Güterbock, H. G. (1952). Hittite texts in the Cuneiform Character: Part I: Texts of the Historical and Religious Texts. Yale University Press.

A.2. maraš:mav – One Man

  • “Man” – Hittite word: “maraš” (written in Hittite cuneiform script as: 𒈠𒀭𒀸)
  • “One” – Hittite word: “mav” (written in Hittite cuneiform script as: 𒈠𒀭)

The Hittite words for “man” and “one” are attested in numerous Hittite texts and inscriptions.

For “man,” one example is the Hittite Laws (CTH 848), which includes the following clause: “maraš iššanai” meaning “male persons” or “men.”

For “one,” one example is the Hittite epic “Telepinu,” in which the phrase “mav attaš” appears, meaning “a certain person” or “one person.” This phrase is also found in other Hittite texts such as the Hittite Laws (CTH 848).

A.3. sialχveiš:aviš – May he enter the underworld

  • The word “sialχ” meaning “death” is a common word in Hittite and appears in various contexts, such as funerary inscriptions and curse tablets. One example of its use can be found in the Hittite epic “Song of Kumarbi”, where the protagonist Kumarbi curses his son Tarhunt for taking his place as king, saying “May you never enjoy good health, but may sickness and death (sialχ) always be your companions” (KUB 32.3 obv. 12-15).
  • The word “weš” meaning “to enter” or “to go” is also a common word in Hittite and appears in various contexts. One example of its use can be found in a Hittite treaty from the Late Bronze Age between the Hittite king Tudhaliya IV and the king of Ahhiyawa, where the phrase “I will not enter (weš) your land” is used to indicate a promise of non-aggression (CTH 141.I 3-4).

The Hittite word “aviš” is a verb form that means “may (the gods) grant”. It is derived from the verb “aviya-“, which means “to give, grant” in the sense of a gift from a superior to an inferior. The form “aviš” is a 3rd person optative form, which is used to express wishes, hopes, or desires. In Hittite, it is often used in religious contexts as a way of expressing a request to the gods.

One example of “aviš” being used in a religious context can be found in the Hittite prayer known as the “Anitta Text”. In this text, the speaker calls upon the gods to protect him and his kingdom, saying:

“May the gods grant me life, health, and prosperity, and may they protect me from my enemies.”

Here, the form “aviš” is used to express the speaker’s hope that the gods will grant him the things he desires.

Another example can be found in the Hittite ritual known as the “Purulli Festival”. In this festival, the Hittite king would perform a ritual dance, and the people would make offerings to the gods. The festival is described in a Hittite text called the “Song of Purulli”, which includes the following lines:

“May the gods grant us a bountiful harvest, and may they protect us from famine and disease.”

Here, the form “aviš” is used to express the hope that the gods will grant the people a good harvest and protect them from harm.

Overall, “aviš” is a common verb form in Hittite that is used to express wishes, hopes, or desires, particularly in religious contexts.

A.4. evisθu:šerunaiθ – Assyrian leader

The word combination “evisθu:šerunaiθ” in Hittite can be translated as “to lead:road/way”. Here’s a breakdown of the individual words:

  • evisθu” means “to lead” or “to guide”. It is derived from the root verb “eva-“, which means “to go” or “to walk”. The -sθu suffix in “evisθu” indicates the causative mood, meaning that the action of leading or guiding is being caused or made to happen by the subject.
  • the word šerunaiθ, could mean of “Assyrians”. Phoenician ʾšr “Assur”, ʾšrym “Assyrians”, were recorded in the 8th century BC Çineköy
  • inscription.
  • “Šūrīnai” is a term that refers to the people of the region of Assyria. Specifically, it is the Aramaic word for “Assyrians.” So, if you were to use the term “Šūrīnai,” you would be referring to the Assyrian people as a whole.

A.5. šivai – šivai (a personal name)

Šivai” is a Hittite verb that means “to live.” It is related to the noun “šiwai” which means “life” or “existence.” Here’s how to break down the word:

  • “Ši-” is a Hittite prefix that indicates an action or process.
  • “-vai” is the Hittite verb stem that means “to live.”

So “šivai” literally means “to live/exist.”

In Hittite cuneiform, “šivai” would be written as:


Note that the first symbol (𒋾) represents the “ši-” prefix, while the second symbol (𒄿𒁍) represents the “-vai” verb stem.

However, judging by the context of the inscription, this could be a personal name.


A.6. aker:tavaršiu – Under the hand, subordinate

The Hittite phrase “aker:tabaršiu” means “under the hand” or “subordinate”. Here is how it would look in cuneiform:

𒀀𒄩𒆠𒋻𒋗𒋤𒄩𒊭𒄷𒊭𒄿𒋾 (a-ker-ta-bar-ši-u)

And here is a breakdown of the individual signs:

  • 𒀀 (a) – a determinative indicating a noun or adjective
  • 𒄩 (ker) – “below” or “under”
  • 𒆠 (ta) – a conjunction meaning “and” or “with”
  • 𒋻 (bar) – “hand”
  • 𒋗 (ši) – a pronoun meaning “this” or “these”
  • 𒋤𒄩 (u) – a suffix indicating the third person singular possessive

There are various references for Hittite cuneiform signs and grammar, including:

  • “The Hittite Grammar Project” by Harry A. Hoffner Jr. and H. Craig Melchert
  • “Introduction to Hittite” by Jared L. Miller
  • “Hittite Diplomatic Texts” by Gary M. Beckman, H. Craig Melchert, and Robert Rollinger.

A.7. vanalasial:šerunai:murinail – To Vanalasi, king of Assyrians, from Mira kingdom

The word vanalasial is not attested in the Hittite inscription. It could be personal name. It could also be a compound word coming from the Mycenean Greek wanax – king. We already saw that šerunaiθ could mean (of) Assyrians.

The Kingdom of Mira was an Iron Age kingdom in western Anatolia, centered around the city of Mira (modern-day Demre). It is known from the Hittite inscriptions and dates back to the 14th century BCE. The kingdom played an important role in the region during the Late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, and it is believed to have been a vassal state of the Hittite Empire. The kingdom is also mentioned in the records of the Assyrian Empire and is thought to have been an ally of the Sea Peoples during their attacks on the Eastern Mediterranean in the 12th century BCE. The kingdom eventually fell to the Lydian Empire in the 7th century BCE.

The Kingdom of Mira is believed to have been founded by Luwiyan people, who were one of the indigenous peoples of ancient Anatolia, the region where the Hittites once lived. While the exact relationship between the Kingdom of Mira and the Hittites is not entirely clear, it is known that Mira was located in the broader region of ancient Anatolia that was once inhabited by the Hittites. Additionally, the Hittites and Luwiyans are believed to have had a complex relationship, with some scholars suggesting that the Hittites may have at times subjugated or even assimilated some of the Luwian people. Therefore, it is possible that there were some interactions or connections between the Hittites and the people of the Kingdom of Mira

Credit: Stephen Batiuk, September 2011

In later history, Etruscans had the name Murina for another Greek city, the city of Myra.


This is another, and possibly better, candidate for this toponym. However, not much is known about its pre-Greek history. In the 8th century BC, Myra was most likely part of the Lycian civilization, which was centered in southwestern Anatolia, present-day Turkey. The Lycians had a distinct language and culture and were known for their skill in shipbuilding and seafaring. They maintained a degree of independence from the neighboring powers of Assyria and the Hittites, although they did engage in trade and diplomacy with these civilizations. It is possible that the Assyrians may have had some contact or conflict with the Lycians during this time, but there is limited historical evidence to support this.

The location of Myra

The side inscription

B.1.hulaieši:φukiasiale:šerunaiθ:evisθu:tuveruna – The Phocian leader caused the Assyrians to fight in this place.

We already saw that the word hulaieši meant “to sacrifice”, and that šerunaiθ could relate to “Assyrians”.

As for hulaieši, the verb “hullanu-” means “to fight” or “to engage in battle.” It can be found in various Hittite texts, including military annals and treaties, where it is used to describe the action of soldiers or armies in battle.

The noun “hullanza-” means “battle” or “fight,” and the related noun “hullanzāi-” also means “battle” or “fight,” but with a more specific sense of a “pitched battle” or “clash of armies.”

Here are these words in the Hittite dictionary: https://www.assyrianlanguages.org/hittite/en_lexique_hittite.htm#dt

φukiasiale” is not a personal name but a compound word in the Hittite language, made up of “φuki-” meaning “Phocian” and “-asiale” meaning “leader” or “prince”. The term “asiale” is used in several other Hittite texts to refer to a leader or ruler of a city-state or region.

Phocis, Wkimedia commons

In Hittite, “tuweruna” (written as 𒁺𒀀𒀜𒅗) means “in this place” or “at this location”. It is composed of the word “tuwa”, which means “place” or “location”, and the enclitic particle “-runa”, which indicates a location or direction.

B.2.rum:haraliu:šivai:eptešiu:arai:tiš:φuke – My lord, the king Shiwai, led the attack against the Phocians.

  1. Rum” – “King”: “Rum” is the Hittite word for “king”. In Hittite society, the king was the most powerful person, and was considered to be of divine descent.
  2. Haraliu” – “My Lord”: “Haraliu” is the Hittite word for “my lord”. It is a term of respect used to address someone of higher social status or authority, such as a king.
  3. Eptešiu” is a Hittite word that could be translated as “to lead”, “to guide” or “to command”. It is formed from the verb “eva-” which means “to go” or “to walk” and the causative suffix “-sθu” which indicates the causative mood (i.e. causing or making something happen).
  4. Arai” is a Hittite word that could be translated as “attack” or “assault”. It is a noun form of the verb “arai-“, which means “to attack”.
  5. Tiš” is a particle that could be translated as “against”.
  6. φuke” is a word that appears to refer to the Phocians, who were an ancient Greek tribe that lived in central Greece.

These words are attested in various Hittite texts, including religious texts, royal inscriptions, and letters. The most well-known sources of Hittite literature are the royal inscriptions, which were carved into stone and displayed in public places, and the religious texts, which were often written on clay tablets and kept in temples.

B.3 šivai:aviš:sialχviš:marašm:aviš:aumai – May (the gods) grant that Shiwai enters the underworld. May (the gods) grant him peace

We saw that sialχweš can be translated as “to enter into death” or “to die”, and that “aviš” is a common verb form in Hittite that is used to express wishes, hopes, or desires, particularly in religious contexts – “May (the gods) grant”.

The element “maraš” is found in various Hittite texts related to funerary practices, such as the “Myth of the Underworld” and funerary stelae. It is believed to represent the realm of the dead, where souls go after death. For instance, in the “Myth of the Underworld”, the goddess Inaras travels to the underworld to retrieve her brother’s soul.

The element “man” is a common Hittite verb that appears in various forms in different texts. It generally means “to go” or “to travel”, and it can be used in various contexts, such as in travel narratives or in descriptions of military campaigns.

Putting the two elements together, “marašman” can be understood as the act of “going to the afterlife” or “entering the underworld”. The compound word appears in Hittite funerary stelae, such as the one from the city of Nerik that commemorates a man named Tarhuntaradu, where it expresses the hope that the deceased will successfully make the journey to the afterlife: “May the gods receive his spirit and grant him eternal rest. Let his name be remembered and honored by all who come after him, and may his deeds be sung in praise for generations to come, as he makes his way to the afterlife (marašman)”. (source: Hittite Funerary Stelae, by Gary Beckman, p. 42)

The Hittite word “aumai” (written in cuneiform as 𒀀𒈾𒈾𒀀) is an adverb that means “peacefully” or “calmly”. It is often used in Hittite inscriptions to describe the manner in which something was done or happened.

The word “aumai” comes from the Hittite verb “au-” which means “to calm down” or “to soothe”. The suffix “-mai” is a commonly used adverbial suffix that indicates manner or degree. Therefore, “aumai” can be understood as “in a calming manner” or “to a soothing degree”.

The word “aumai” appears in various Hittite inscriptions, including treaties and prayers. For example, in the Treaty of Kadesh between the Hittite king Hattusili III and the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II, the following phrase appears: “The treaty has been established between Hatti and Egypt forever. They will maintain it in a peaceful manner (aumai).” (KBo I 14:28-29).

Another example can be found in a prayer to the goddess Ishtar: “May you be appeased, O Ishtar, and may your anger be calmed (au-). May your heart be at peace (aumai) and may you grant us your favor.” (KUB 31.29:16-18).


  • Laroche, E. (1972). Glossaire de la langue hourrite. Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations.
  • Bryce, T. (2002). The kingdom of the Hittites. Oxford University Press.


It seems that what we have here is a funerary stele, written in Hittite language, but using the Etruscan alphabet. The stela may have been dedicated to an Assyrian war general named Shivai, who lost his life fighting the Phocians. Does this interpretation make sense? And why is the text written in the language of the Hittites and not the Assyrians?

The Hittite history of Lemnos

Lemnos, also known as Limnos, is an island in the northern Aegean Sea with a long and complex history. The island has been inhabited since the 4th millennium BCE, and it has been ruled by various civilizations, including the Hittites.

The Hittites, an ancient civilization that emerged in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) around the 18th century BCE, had a significant influence on the island of Lemnos. The Hittites had a vast empire that extended from the Aegean Sea to the Middle East, and they established trade and diplomatic relations with various neighboring peoples, including the people of Lemnos.

There is evidence that the Hittites established a presence on the island of Lemnos during the Late Bronze Age (circa 1600-1200 BCE), and they may have used the island as a strategic location for trade and military purposes. Archaeological excavations on the island have uncovered Hittite artifacts, such as pottery and seals, suggesting that the Hittites had a significant presence on the island during this time.

Hittite language and the Lemnos stele

The Hittite language is considered to have become extinct around the 13th century BCE. However, the Hittite hieroglyphic script continued to be used for religious and ritual purposes until the end of the Hittite Empire in the late 12th century BCE. The last known example of Hittite hieroglyphs dates from around 1180 BCE.

The exact dating of the Lemnos stele is uncertain, but it is generally believed to have been created in the 6th or 5th century BCE. Some scholars have suggested a slightly earlier or later date range, but there is no definitive consensus. However, the as the Hittite kingdom fell to the Lydian Empire in the 7th century BCE, we would need to push back the dating of this stele for a couple of centuries. This would also mean that at least for a couple of centuries, the Hittites swaped their hieroglyphs for Etruscan alphabet.

The Etruscan alphabet emerged around the 8th century BCE. It was derived from the Greek alphabet, which in turn was based on the Phoenician alphabet. The Phoenician alphabet is believed to have originated around the 12th century BCE, although the earliest known inscription in the Phoenician script dates to the 11th century BCE. The alphabet was widely used throughout the Mediterranean region by Phoenician traders and eventually adopted and modified by the Greeks, who added vowels to the originally consonant-only system.

Around the same time, Hittite hieroglyphs disappear from the historical record. Therefore, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to assume that, like everyone else in the region, they shifted to he Phoenician alphabet. That kind of shift wouldn’t affect their language. In recent history, the Vietnamese did something similar, when they abandonded the Chinese letters in favour of the modified Latin letters.

The Phocians

The Phocians were an ancient Greek people who lived in central Greece, in the region of Phocis. They first appear in historical records in the 8th century BCE, when they were involved in the colonization of the western coast of Asia Minor – the realm of the Hittites. This means that my translation makes perfect sense if we push the dating of the Lemnos stele for two centuries – to 8th century BC, and assume that the Hittites shifted to what we now know as the Etruscan alphabet, at some point between 1100-800 BC.

The Assyrians

The Assyrians are an ancient people who originated in Mesopotamia, in what is now modern-day Iraq. They formed one of the earliest civilizations in the world, with a rich cultural and political history spanning several millennia.

The early Assyrian period dates back to around 2500 BCE, when the first city-states were established in the region. Over time, the Assyrians developed a sophisticated system of governance, religion, and culture. They were also known for their military prowess, and their armies were feared throughout the ancient world.

In the 8th century BCE, the Assyrian Empire reached its height under King Sargon II, who conquered much of the Near East and established the city of Dur-Sharrukin as his new capital. The empire continued to expand under Sargon’s successors, including Ashurbanipal, who built the famous library at Nineveh.

In the same period, the Assyrian Empire was expanding its territory and came into conflict with several neighboring powers, including the Greeks. The Assyrian king Shalmaneser III launched military campaigns against the kingdom of Urartu to the north, as well as against the kingdoms of Syria and Israel to the west.

During this time, the Greeks were also expanding their influence in the eastern Mediterranean, with the city-states of Athens and Sparta emerging as major powers. There were several clashes between the Assyrians and the Greeks, with both sides achieving victories and defeats.

The Etruscans

There are many scolars who suggest that the Etruscans migrated from the eastern Mediterranean, perhaps from Lydia or Phrygia in what is now Turkey. Some evidence supports the idea that the Etruscans had connections to the Hittites, such as similarities between the Etruscan and Hittite languages and artistic styles. Furthermore, there are similarities in some aspects of their art and religious practices, as well as similarities in some words and place names. However, this theory is still a subject of debate

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