BMCR 2020.02.05

The Luwians of Western Anatolia: Their Neighbours and Predecessors

, The Luwians of Western Anatolia: Their Neighbours and Predecessors. Oxford: Archeopress, 2018. iv, 162. ISBN9781784918279 £26.00 (pb).

Table of Contents

This book was written as a follow-up to Eberhard Zangger’s The Luwian Civilization (2016, Zero Books). Zangger set out to establish the Luwian-speakers of Anatolia as a ‘lost’ civilization of the Bronze Age; Woudhuizen uses historical linguistics to locate the Luwians in western Anatolia. Yet as a sequel (the book is explicitly framed as such on p.1), Woudhuizen’s book has been somewhat overtaken by events following the publication of the original Zangger volume. The arguments put forward within its slim covers can only be assessed within the wider context of the book’s publication — for which, see the latter part of this review.

The book begins by covering some well-established topics (Chapters 1 and 2) before moving to the more controversial claims of Woudhuizen’s central argument (Chapters 3-5), including a reprinted publication of an inscription widely considered to be a forgery (Chapter 6), and finally addresses a wide range of different issues more loosely linked to this central argument (Chapters 7-10).

The first chapter charts the distribution of Luwian place names in the Aegean and Anatolia, and presents the standard argument that such toponyms are survivals from an early, pre-Greek language that must have once been spoken in the region. Chapter 2 turns to the historical geography of western Anatolia, making a series of identifications between Hittite and later Greek toponyms (e.g. Milawata sounds like Miletos, and Samurna sounds like Smyrna). The identifications proposed here are mostly well attested, and have been more fully discussed elsewhere.1

In Chapter 3, Woudhuizen moves into more controversial territory, arguing that the hieroglyphic Luwian script was developed in western Anatolia towards the end of the Early Bronze Age. In support of his argument, he offers readings of several short inscriptions found on seals. Seal legends are also the focus of Chapter 4, which additionally includes a new reading of the inscriptions on the famous silver stag rhyton (Metropolitan Museum of Art 1989.281.10), challenging the conventional reading by Hawkins (pp. 67-73). This chapter argues that these legends provide evidence for a ‘great kingdom’ called Assuwa located in Luwian western Anatolia, whose powers extended into the Aegean and even onto the Greek mainland.

Chapter 5 moves forward in time into the Late Bronze Age and the period when the ‘great kingdom’ was conquered by the Hittites. The chapter briefly surveys textual evidence for Hittite rule in western Anatolia, making no reference to the wealth of archaeological evidence.2 Chapter 6 presents a particularly long and controversial inscription which Woudhuizen claims belongs to this period — the Beyköy inscription. As mentioned above, this inscription is now widely held to be a forgery.

The final four chapters of the book spin off into a range of different directions, covering the following topics in rapid succession: the Aegean activities of the pharaoh Amenhotep III; the radical reinterpretation of several well-known Hittite texts; a highly controversial claim to have deciphered the Phaistos Disc; an attempt to provide a grammatical reconstruction of the original language represented by the hieroglyphic Luwian script; an argument that the Trojans were ethnically distinct from the Luwians instead of ‘Thraco-Phrygian descent’ (p. 130); and finally that the pre-Luwian inhabitants of the region were the Pelasgians.

Readers familiar with the controversy surrounding Zangger and Woudhuizen may want to skip the next two paragraphs, but for others this book requires some contextualisation. Zangger’s book on the Luwians appeared in 2016 to great fanfare in the media, focusing on the claims that: a) Zangger had discovered a hitherto-unknown ancient civilization, and b) the Luwians were dramatically wiped out at the end of the Bronze Age by ‘World War Zero’. These claims were immediately discredited by specialists in the field, who pointed out that the ‘Luwians’ had been the focus of academic study for decades, and also that the collapses at the end of the Bronze Age were neither caused purely by war nor resulted in the disappearance of the Luwian language.3 It seems likely that the media attention lavished on the book owed more to its sensationalist claims and to Zangger’s expertise as a professional publicist, rather than to its rigour or accuracy.

The controversy was to continue. In 2017, Zangger collaborated with Woudhuizen to publish the text of a new hieroglyphic Luwian inscription known as ‘Beyköy 2’. The inscription itself was said to have been lost or destroyed, but Zangger and Woudhuizen produced their text using drawings they had discovered amongst the papers of the archaeologist James Mellaart (1925-2012). The inscription was rapidly identified as a forgery by leading scholars of Luwian including David Hawkins and Mark Weeden, and Zangger distanced himself from the inscription early in 2018, citing Mellaart’s previous record of falsifying discoveries.4 In contrast, Woudhuizen continues to argue for the authenticity of the Beyköy inscription, the text of which is reprinted in Chapter 6 of this book (with only limited discussion).

Two central pillars on which this book rests had therefore already been knocked askew before its publication in 2018 — the idea of the Luwians as a ‘lost great civilization’, and the Beyköy inscription. Although Woudhuizen seems keen to stick to his guns on both counts, it is difficult to see how this position can be maintained in the face of mounting evidence and arguments marshalled by leading scholars in the field. The wilder claims made in this book (e.g. that the Phaistos Disc is in Luwian, p. 111; that the Theban Kadmos was granted rule over islands by the king of Assuwa, but that he could only maintain control by having Assuwan henchmen, p. 65) do little to encourage confidence, nor does the refusal to engage with mainstream academic scholarship.


1. See chapters by Matsumura and Weedon; Günel; and Gander, all in Weedon and Ullman (eds) 2017. Hittite Landscape and Geography (Leiden: Brill).

2. For this evidence, e.g. Dedeoğlu, F. and E. Abay 2014, “Beycesultan Höyük Excavation Project: New Archaeological Evidence from Late Bronze Age Layers”, Arkeoloji Dergisi 17: 1-39; Glatz, C. 2009, “Empire as Network: Spheres of Material Interaction in Late Bronze Age Anatolia,” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 28: 127-141; Luke, C., C. H. Roosevelt, P.J. Cobb, and Ç. Çilingiroğlu 2015, “Composing Communities: Chalcolithic through Iron Age Survey Ceramics in the Marmara Lake Basin, Western Turkey,” Journal of Field Archaeology 40.4: 428-449; Mac Sweeney, N. 2010, “Hittites and Arzawans: a view from western Anatolia”, Anatolian Studies 60: 7-24.

3. See, for example, this short but damning piece by Eric Cline at Rogueclassicism.

4. Luwian Studies.