Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.10.32

Robert Fischer, Die Ahhijawa-Frage. Mit einer kommentierten Bibliographie. Dresdner Beiträge zur Hethitologie 26.   Wiesbaden:  Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010.  Pp. vii, 125.  ISBN 9783447057493.  €29.80.  

Reviewed by Jorrit M. Kelder, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, Humanities Department (

The question as to whether or not ‘Ahhiyawa’ in Hittite texts is the same as the Greek ‘Achaea’ has been the source of ongoing debate since the 1920s. In the book Die Ahhijawa-Frage, which is under review here, Robert Fischer endeavours to provide an overview of almost a century of scholarly debate, listing various academic stances towards the equation of Ahhiyawa with Achaea and most of the scholars who have been involved in this debate. In addition, the book includes an annotated bibliography of most of the available literature on the Ahhiyawa question.

Die Ahhijawa-Frage, which is a reworked version of the author's M.A. thesis, consists of 8 chapters and a (German) summary. Fischer begins with a brief overview (chapter 1: Forschung, Literatur, Kontroverse) of the Ahhiyawa Question, introducing the main advocates of the 'Greek' identification of Ahhiyawa and their critics.

Following the introduction, chapter 2 (Einiges aus dem Umfeld der Ahhijawa-Frage) explores the origins of the 'Ahhiyawa Question'. The debate on the position of Ahhiyawa in the Hittite world was sparked by Swiss Hittitologist Emil Forrer’s famous 1924 paper, 'Vorhomerische Griechen in den Keilschrifttexten von Boghazköy.'1 In that paper, he not only identified Hittite Ahhiyawa as Greek Achaea, but also proposed that 'Alaksandus' is the Hittite rendering of the Greek name (Paris) Alexandros. Moreover, Forrer identified a certain Attarissija, who appears in a Hittite text dated to the reign of Arnuwanda I (ca. 1400 BC), as the Greek Atreus. Forrer's identifications were received with scepticism in the scholarly world. Amongst the critical responses, the work of Ferdinand Sommer, in particular, stands out.2 Although most scholars nowadays accept that Ahhiyawa should probably be equated with Ἀχαία, many uncertainties (particularly linguistically) remain.

Moreover, the question as to where Ahhiyawa should be geographically positioned (i.e. in Anatolia, on the isles in the Aegean, or on the Greek mainland) remains a matter of debate. This debate is explored in chapter 3 (Wo liegt Ahhijawa?). Here, Fischer identifies two main lines of thought: first, that Ahhiyawa should be found either on the Greek mainland or on the islands in the Aegean, and second, that Ahhiyawa should be sought in 'other' parts of the 'griechisch-kleinasiatischen Welt' (such as Cyprus or various parts of western Anatolia).

Attention then shifts to the historical framework of the Ahhiyawa Question, with particular focus on the chronological order of the Hittite texts, and possible correlations between Ahhiyawan activity in those texts and the presence of Mycenaean artefacts in western Anatolia (chapter 4: Historischer Hintergrund der Ahhijawa-Frage). One must applaud Fischer's attempt to place the Hittite sources on Ahhiyawa in their proper historical context, as especially for the earlier periods of Hittite history, the sequence of Hittite kings is far from clear. Indeed, the fragmentary state of some of the cuneiform texts makes it difficult to establish whether one is dealing with an early king or his namesake who ruled several centuries later. In that respect, Fischer notes that such uncertainties surround the Hittite text KUB XXVI 91 (erroneously referred to as CTH 181; should be CTH 183), in which there seems to be a reference to a Hittite King named Tudhaliya and to Ahhiyawan involvement in western Anatolia (possibly in connection with the Hittite conquest of Assuwa), but the text is difficult to date on account of its fragmentary state.3 Overall, the picture that arises from the Hittite texts is that, between ca. 1400 and 1200 BC, the Hittite state had several encounters with Ahhiyawans on Anatolian soil –sometimes in an apparently peaceful context, but more frequently in a bellicose setting. The west coast of Anatolia appears to have been the stage for these encounters, and it thus seems reasonable to assume that Ahhiyawa was situated close to this region. Fischer duly identifies a number of possible localities, of which Pamphylia, Cyprus, Rhodes, and part of the Greek mainland (including various islands), appear to be most plausible.4

With so many regions of the Greek world as plausible candidates for Ahhiyawa, the equation of Ahhiyawa and Achaea enters the discussion again. In chapter 5, Fischer examines the place of Ἀχαία and the Ἀχαιοι in Greek history. He argues that the connotation of Ἀχαία changed over time. While it was originally meant as a designation for the southern part of Thessaly, the toponym was later also used for the northern part of the Peloponnese, whereas in later (Roman) times, it was used to designate all of Greece. The Ἀχαιοί, on the other hand, appear to have been only one of the many peoples living in Greece. This is evident, Fischer notes, in various passages in Homer, where the Achaeans are reported to have lived alongside Pelasgians, Kydonians and Eteocretans (Odyssey XIX 172-77). At the same time, however, Homer also used Ἀχαιοι for all the Greek troops before the walls of Troy. Even if Ἀχαιοί was indeed used as a designation for all Greek peoples at the time of the Iliad’s composition, the point remains that Homer represents the earliest attestation of this ethnonym. Consequently, it cannot be demonstrated to have been used as such in earlier (Mycenaean) times. The equation of Hittite Ahhiyawa with Greek Ἀχαία, Fischer argues, thus remains hypothetical and largely a matter of faith.

The same problem seems to apply for the purely linguistic discussion. In chapter 6, Fischer evaluates the various, and sometimes conflicting, stances on this aspect of the Ahhiyawa Question. On the whole, the impression given is that Ahhiyawa may, indeed, have been the Hittite derivation of Greek Ἀχαία, although unequivocal proof is lacking.

In chapter 7, a number of problems that are related to the Ahhiyawa Question are evaluated. Unsurprisingly, the identification of Hittite Taruisa as Troy, and that of Hittite Wilusa as (W)Ilion are first discussed. Fischer presents both the arguments in favour of these identifications and those against it. As is the case with the Ahhiyawa Question, consensus does not appear to have been reached. Moreover, the identification of the site of Hissarlik as Troy, as advocated by the late Manfred Korfmann, remains debated, although Hissarlik certainly lies within the reach of Mycenaean merchants and, possibly, settlers.5 That Wilusa must have lain within the Mycenaean sphere of influence may receive some epigraphic support: the name of King Alaksandu of Wilusa, who is known from a Hittite Treaty, has been shown to be of Greek origin (and not Hittite/Anatolian).6 Next, the position of Arzawa is examined. Fischer seems to be under the impression (following Götze) that Ahhiyawan contacts with Hatti were ‘niemals direkt, sondern immer über die Arzawa, bzw. die Lukka-Länder erfolgte.’ Curiously, there is no mention here of the Tawagalawa letter, in which such a notion is directly dispelled (in that letter, Tawagalawa, the brother of the Ahhiyawan King is reported to have stood in the chariot with the personal charioteer of the Hittite King himself; cf. Taw. 8, 59-62). Attention subsequently shifts to Millawanda, a land on the Anatolian west coast, close to Arzawa. Millawanda is almost universally accepted as the Hittite designation for the Greek city of Miletus, and archaeology indicates that Miletus, although originally a Minoan settlement, fell under Mycenaean sway from ca. 1400 BC onwards. Miletus appears to have been a Mycenaean foothold on Anatolian soil until the very end of the Bronze Age, although the presence of what has been identified as a Hittite style wall (a so-called Kastenmauer) may suggest that the city may have (briefly) fallen to the Hittites at some point.

Interestingly, the Hittite texts that gave rise to the Ahhiyawa Question are examined only in the last chapter (8) of the book. Fischer briefly reviews the scholarly debate around the most important texts, such as the Tawagalawa letter, the Indictment of Madduwatta, the Sausgamuwa Treaty and the Annals of Mursili. In addition, a number of texts that had already received some attention in chapter 7, and that touch upon Ahhiyawa-related affairs in Anatolia, are reviewed. These include the Alaksandu Treaty and the Milawata letter. Following this final chapter, there is a brief (German) summary and an annotated bibliography.

As the author states in his foreword, 'Die Ahhiyawa-Frage' is a (reworked) version of his magister (M.A.) thesis. As such, the scope of the book remains limited, and there is no real research question (other than 'was ist die Ahhijawa-Frage?'). On the whole, the organisation of the book, with 8 chapters focusing on various aspects of the Ahhiyawa Question, is logical enough, although it remains difficult to see why the primary (Hittite) sources that sparked the debate are only discussed in the last chapter of the book, and then only very briefly. This reader noted a few mistakes concerning chronology (cf. page 22: the inception of the Late Bronze Age / Late Helladic period is generally dated to ca. 1600-1550 BC, and not to 1750 BC) and Aegean prehistory (such as the numerous comparisons between Bronze Age archaeology and the Homeric Epics (these comparisons are inherently problematic, considering the doubtful status of Homer as a witness of the Bronze Age) and the erroneous dating of the destruction of Mycenaean Crete to ca. 1400 BC (see also note 4)). Whilst the annotated bibliography at the end of the book may be useful for students with an interest in the Late Bronze Aegean, a number of relevant studies are not included. Of these omissions, Hawkins' 1998 article on Tarkondemos, King of Mira, is most notable.7

In sum, Fischer's 'Die Ahhijawa-Frage' offers an overview (if occasionally rather chaotic) of almost a century of Ahhiyawa debate. What it does not offer is anything new.


1.   E. Forrer, 'Vorhomerische Griechen in den Keilschrifttexten von Boghazköy,' MDOG 63 (1924) 1-22.
2.   F. Sommer, Die Ahhijava-Urkunden, Munich, 1932.
3.   Fischer (pp. 23-4; with reference to S. Heinhold-Krahmer, Arzawa, Untersuchungen zu seiner Geschichte nach den hethitischen Quellen, Heidelberg 1977) notes that the reference in KUB XXVI 91 to a Tudhaliya might suggest that the letter dates to the reign of Tudhaliya I / II (Middle Kingdom, before 1400 BC) or Tudhaliya IV (normally dated to ca. 1237–1209 BC). There appears to be some confusion here: although the text may refer to activities in Assuwa from earlier Hittite Kings (including Tudhaliya I/II) as justification for later incursions, the date of the text is generally considered to fall in the reign of Mursili II or (more probable) his successor Muwatalli (cf. D. Easton, 'Has the Trojan War Been Found?,' Antiquity 59 (1985) 192; O. R. Gurney, 'Hittite Geography: Thirty Years on,' in H. Otten (ed.), Hittite and other Near Eastern Studies in honour of Sedat Alp, Ankara, 1992, 136; most recently H. A. Hoffner, Jr., Letters from the Hittite Kingdom , Atlanta, 2009, 290-292). A recent (and much debated) new translation of KUB XXVI 91 by Frank Starke might indicate that this text was, in fact, a letter sent by an Ahhiyawan King to his Hittite colleague.
4.   Crete is discarded as a viable option, since Linear B texts indicate that the Mycenaean period on Crete came to an end around 1400 BC (page 28, with references to Bennett, 'Homer and the Bronze Age,' in B. Powell and I. Morris (eds.), A New Companion to Homer, Leiden, 1997) or A. Bartonek, Grundzüge der altgriechischen mundartlichen Frühgeschichte, Insbrück, 1991)). However, the dating of the tablets from Knossos to ca. 1400 BC is contested, and a later date, in the second half of the 13th century BC, seems to be more likely. Moreover, it is increasingly clear that Mycenaean culture on Crete endured until at least 1200 BC, most notably at Chania.
5.   Cf. P. Mountjoy, 'The East Aegean – West Anatolian Interface,' Anatolian Studies48 (1998) 33-67.
6.   H. G. Güterbock, 'Troy in Hittite Texts? Wilusa, Ahhiyawa and Hittite History,' in M. J. Mellink (ed.), Troy and the Trojan War. A Symposium held at Bryn Mawr College, October 1984, Bryn Mawr, 1986, 33-44.
7.   J. D. Hawkins, 'Tarkasnawa King of Mira,' Anatolian Studies 48 (1998) 1-31. In that article, Hawkins virtually proves that Ahhiyawa should be sought in the Aegean; either on the isles or (more likely) on the Greek mainland. Also strangely absent in the bibliography is the recent study of Gerd Steiner, 'The Case of Wilusa and Ahhiyawa,' in Bibliotheca Orientalis, Leiden 2007. In addition, one would expect references to the recent work of J. Freu and M. Mazoyer on the sequence of Hittite Kings (Les débuts du nouvel empire hittite, Les Hittites et leur histoire 2, Paris, 2007 ; L'apogée du nouvel empire hittite, Les Hittites et leur histoire 3, Paris, 2008) and to Margalit Finkelberg's monograph on linguistic and cultural identity in the Late Bronze Aegean, Greeks and Pre-Greeks, Cambridge, 2005.

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