This Ph.D. project aims at demonstrating how the scribes in the Hittite empire dealt with foreign languages through the activity of translation and to investigate what role these translated texts could have played. The activity from the neighboring Mesopotamian culture is more widely known; however, the scribes in the Hittite empire, who worked with so many languages in ancient times very intensively, have not been fairly valued yet.


The texts which can be identified as a translation are the subject of the research. The start texts are written in Hattic, Hurrian or Akkadian, whereas the Hittite being its target language (in general). Ideally, the texts are written on one and the same clay tablet as one bilingual text. But there are also translations, which are on two (or more) separate clay tablets. The most difficult case is so-called translation literature, of which there is no Vorlage: the origin of the text should be however sought in Mesopotamia.

Methodological approach

The applied method is translation studies, a complex subject with various disciplines. The analysis and explanation for the deviations between the start and the target texts will be carried out not only by linguistics but also by means of philology. The topic of “translation strategy” has only recently been incorporated in Hittitology. A systematic study is still a desideratum.

Another fruitful aspect of this project is to put the result in the framework of the histor(iograph)y of translation. During the bibliographical research it came to light that the overwhelming number of literatures on the history of translation start with the Graeco-Roman world, particularly with the famous dictum of Cicero. There are still many blank spaces, which await investigation. The philologists working on dead language(s) are to be cordially invited to this very promising field of translation history of ancient times in the future.

First results

Methodologically speaking, an elaboration of how to write a histor(iograph)y of translation was indispensable. The classical framing “quis quid ubi quibus auxiliis cur quomodo quando?” is still valid but not easily applicable to describe the situation coping with dead languages. There is no reason to assume that all the translators were of Hittite origin. Indeed the mistakes found in the translated texts show that the “agent(s)” could be the ones from Mesopotamia, speaking Akkadian or Hurrian as their mother tongue. It makes the study of the subject more complicated, but at the same time highly intriguing.

The reasons and causes of translation activity are manifold. To translate an international treaty into Akkadian, the lingua franca of that time, is fairly clear. The same goes to the texts so categorized as royal inscriptions. Some texts are difficult to judge. The (so called) scientific texts like omen cannot be simply translated for the very scientific purpose, since we do not find any evidence that they were really in use.

Finally, the relevance of the ancient translation activity is emphasized within the framework of the increasingly globalizing world like today. As a matter of fact, it should serve as a part of intercultural studies.

This Ph.D. thesis is being written within the program “Ancient Languages and Texts” (ALT) of the Berlin Graduate School of Ancient Studies (BerGSAS).