Hurrians and Hurrian in Minoan Crete


Hurrians and Hurrian in Minoan Crete

Author: Peter G. van Soesbergen.


Most students of the Hurrian language usually have their starting point in Near Eastern studies, whether Akkadian, Ugaritic or Hittite, because Hurrians were spread over Iraq, East Anatolia, Syria and even Palestine. Since I was originally a student of Ancient Greek (especially Greek linguistics and Mycenaean studies), Latin, Ancient History and Mediterranean Pre- and Protohistory, I consider myself in a sense an outsider in Hurrian studies. During my PhD research on The onomastics of the ‘Minoan Linear A’ and ‘Linear B’ documents and their historical significance I suddenly came across evidence that the idiom written with Linear A might well be of an agglutinative character. My first searches for agglutinative languages that can be considered approximately contemporary with Minoan Linear A showed that Hurrian might in many respects be the best candidate.


The University Library of the University of Sheffield offered me quite a lot to start with: E.A. Speiser, Introduction to Hurrian (AASOR 20, 1940-1941), New Haven 1941; F.W. Bush, A grammar of the Hurrian language (dissertation Brandeis University), Ann Arbor 1964; E. Laroche, Les noms des Hittites, Paris 1966; E. Laroche, Glossaire de la langue hourrite. Première partie (A-L), RHA 34 (1976), Paris 1978; E. Laroche, Glossaire de la langue hourrite. Deuxième partie (M-Z, Index), RHA 35 (1977), Paris 1979; Joh. Friedrich, Kleinasiatische Sprachdenkmäler, Berlin 1932; A. Draffkorn, Hurrians and Hurrian at Alalaḫ, an ethnolinguistic analysis (A dissertation in Oriental Studies, Univ. microfilms, University of Pennsylvania), Philadelphia 1959; I.J. Gelb, P.M. Purves, A.A. MacRae, Nuzi Personal Names (The University of Chicago, Oriental Institute Publications 57), Chicago 1943; F. Gröndahl, Die Personennamen der Texte aus Ugarit (Studia Pohl, Dissertationes scientificae de rebus orientis antiqui), Rome 1967; J.M. Sasson, Ḫurrians and Ḫurrian names in the Mari texts, Ugarit Forschungen 6 (1974), 353-400; and many other books and articles. Those that were not available in the University Library could easily be ordered through the kind and effective service of the British Library.


The very first steps in Hurrian research were so promising because of the many matches of Hurrian personal names and even of Hurrian grammatical forms with Linear A that I immediately got the impression that I was on the right track. Since I was invited to give a Mycenaean Seminar on The historical significance of onomastic data from Linear A and B texts to the Institute of Classical Studies of the University of London, 28 May 1980, I decided to drastically adapt the text of my paper, so that Minoan Linear A would be the main subject.


In fact the same happened with my PhD research on The onomastics of the ‘Minoan Linear A’ and ‘Linear B’ documents and their historical significance, Sheffield 1987. This dissertation later became the basis of my monographs on Minoan Linear A, Vol. I, Parts I-II: Hurrians and Hurrian in Minoan Crete, Amsterdam 2016. Although the subtitle Hurrians and Hurrian in Minoan Crete was already quite suggestive, I had hesitated to use the term ‘decipherment’ with regard to Minoan Linear A. That changed thanks to the late Ilse Wegner († 2018), and Thomas Richter. Their thorough and extensive studies and, of course, the works of other scholars on which these studies were based, offered the tools to improve the Hurrian analysis of Linear A words, names and grammatical forms, so that my 8 new monographs, published at IngramSpark in 2022, could at last get the title of The Decipherment of Minoan Linear A.


As compared to E. Laroche’s Glossaire de la langue hourrite our knowledge of the Hurrian vocabulary is increased and improved tremendously by Thomas Richter’s Bibliographisches Glossar des Hurritischen, Wiesbaden 2012, and the analysis of Hurrian onomastics is improved by his Vorarbeiten zu einem hurritischen Namenbuch, Erster Teil: Personennamen altbabylonischer Überlieferung vom mittleren Euphrat und aus dem nördlichen Mesopotamien, Wiesbaden 2016.  

Ilse Wegner’s completely revised 2nd edition of Einführung in die Hurritische Sprache [Introduction to the Hurrian language] has brought grammatical analysis, in particular of the Hurrian noun and the Hurrian verb, to a much higher level. The recognition that (consecutive) root-extensions can be added to a root, thus forming the stem, is a firm step forwards. The chain of suffixes following the stem of a noun or a verb is extended and much better established. Modal forms such as the jussive, the conditional optative and the final debitive are described.


Ilse Wegner’s Einführung in die Hurritische Sprache is the most recent, comprehensive grammar of Hurrian, the dominant language of the Empire of Mitanni in the 2nd millennium B.C., best known from a letter of almost 500 lines written in Hurrian and sent by King Tušratta of Mitanni to Pharaoh Amenhotep III of Egypt ca. 1365 B.C. accompanying the retinue of his daughter, princess Tadu-Ḫeba [Old Hurrian ‘Ḫeba(t) loved (the girl) and still loves her’ or ‘Love (the girl), oh Ḫeba(t) !’], who had been given as a bride to the pharaoh after long negotiations. The Tušratta letter, sometimes called Mitanni letter, was found in 1887 at Tell el Amarna (ancient 3ḫ.t-ỉtn = Akhet-Aten ‘Horizon of Aton’) together with 11 letters in Akkadian and 2 lists of presents, sent by Tušratta to Amenhotep III and his son Amenhotep IV. Akhet-Aten was built as a new residence by Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to 3ḫ-n-ỉtn = Akhn-Aten ‘Useful for Aton’.

Hurrian (ca. 2230 – 1200 B.C.) is also known from many texts found at other places in the Near East and Anatolia, in particular the ancient Hittite capital, Ḫattuša (Boǧazköy / Boǧazkale), east of Ankara. The revised edition makes use of the latest discoveries such as texts found at Qaṭna, but especially the Hurrian-Hittite bilingual Kirenze ‘liberation, manumission (of slaves)’ (KBo 32) from Boǧazköy. The Hurrian-Hittite bilingual belongs to the category of ‘Old Hurrian’ (see I. Wegner sub E “Althurritisch”). Typical ‘Old Hurrian’ morphemes can be recognized in verbal forms that can be distinguished from so-called ‘Mitanni’ Hurrian forms known from the Tušratta letter. Hurrian personal names can contain either ‘Old Hurrian’ or ‘Mitanni’ Hurrian morphemes.


Since the excavations of Urkeš (Tell Mozān) in northern Syria it is known that the Hurrian language goes back at least to the 2nd half of the 3rd millennium B.C. and was an important language in northern Syria, North Iraq and East Anatolia. Some scholars even assume that the Hurrians were as indigenous in North Iraq as the Sumerians were in South Iraq. The Tiš-atal inscription (AO 19938) from Urkeš is the oldest attested Hurrian inscription. It tells: 1. Ti-iš-a-tal 2. en-da-an 3. ur-kèški 4. pu-ur-li 5. DNERI.GAL 6. ba-'à-áš-tum, … (7-25) = “Tiš-atal, endan ‘Lord’ of Urkeš has built a temple for Nerigal. … etc.” I. Wegner has analysed the whole inscription extensively in Lesson 14 of her Hurrian grammar (232-236). The form ba-'à-áš-tum is very interesting, because it is analysed as ‘Old Hurrian’ pa=ašt=o=m, consisting of the Hurrian verbal root pa- ‘to build’ + root-extension -V(owel)št- (probably marking the completion of an action in ‘Old Hurrian’), of which the vowel is in agreement with the vowel of the root (pp. 88-89) + the Old Hurrian marker of the transitive-ergative past/perfect tense -o- + the Old Hurrian marker of the subject of action 3rd person singular -m (pp. 126-127).

The form pa=ašt=o=m also occurs in the Hurrian-Hittite bilingual Kirenze, KBo 32: 14 Rs. 35. Significantly Th. Richter (Bibliographisches Glossar des Hurritischen, Wiesbaden 2012, 285) mentions that the root + root-extension also occurs in toponyms: pa=’/h=ašt- [Boǧ.; ON; Tiš-atal], cf. G. Wilhelm, Gedanken zur Frühgeschichte der Hurriter und zum hurritisch-urartäischen Sprachvergleich (in: Xenia 21, Konstanz 1988, p. 55). The Hurrian root pa- corresponds with Hittite weda-/wete- (cf. M. Salvini, 1987/88, 181; E. Neu, 1988a, 7, 1996a, 184).


Incidentally, the form appeared to be of particular interest for my own research, since I assume that the Old Hurrian form ba-'à-áš-tum, analysis pa=ašt=o=m, ‘he has built’, offers the Old Hurrian etymology for the toponym Phaistos in Crete. Doro Levi's excavations at Phaistos have shown that the so-called 'Old Palace' has several times been destroyed by earthquakes, so that he could distinguish 3 building phases of the Old Palace. The New Palace was built on top of the Old.

One assumes that Minoan pa-i-to (HT 97a.3; HT 120.6) in the Linear A texts from Hagia Triada and Mycenaean pa-i-to (KN Da 1163+1400, et al.) in the Linear B texts from Knossos refer to the Palace of Phaistos, 2 miles from Hagia Triada. The toponym Φαιστóς is Pre-Greek. Only the ending -oς is Greek. Since Linear A is after intensive research deciphered as a Minoan branch of the Hurrian language, the original Minoan form is likely pa=(j)=ašt=o=m, with transitional glide -j- between the vowel of the root and that of the root-extension -ašt-.   Through syncope of the -a- in -ašt- the form changed to > P(h)aistom. It is not clear whether the aspiration of the labial occlusive in Φαιστóς can be explained from the Minoan-Hurrian phoneme or is due to the Mycenaean Greek pronunciation. Minoan pa-i-to (HT 97a.3; HT 120.6), pa=(j)=ašt=o=m, can be translated as ‘He/She (a numen or the King) has built (the palace)’.

The morphology of Hurrian is characterized by series of suffixes that are pasted in a fixed order after a nominal or verbal root or after a root + root-extension(s) (agglutination = lit. ‘sticking together’). Unlike some other ancient agglutinative languages, such as Sumerian and Hattic, Hurrian used no prefixes, only suffixes. Hurrian is an agglutinative and ergative language related to Urartian, the language of the kingdom of Urartu (9th-7th century B.C).

In Hurrian the subject of an intransitive verb is in the absolutive case, but the subject of a transitive verb is in the ergative (named after the Greek word ergon ‘work’, ‘action’), but the direct object is in the absolutive (not in the accusative, which does not exist in ergative languages).

It is impossible to mention the innumerable instances, in which I referred to Ilse Wegner and/or Thomas Richter in the 8 monographs on The Decipherment of Minoan Linear A, so I have to do with a few examples:


Formerly I had already mentioned that Linear A forms like a-mi-da-u (ZA 10a.3) from Kato Zakro and a-mi-da-o (HT? 170a.5) from Hagia Triada look like Hurrian verbal forms in the 1st person singular future, with the suffix -ed-/-id- marking the (transitive) future + the subject of action 1st person singular -au.

The context of HT? 170a.5 and ZA 10a.3 leaves no doubt that a plain verbal form is not expected in lists of personal names, but an appellative name based on such a form might be conceivable. Since Th. Richter published Vorarbeiten zu einem hurritischen Namenbuch, 2016 (especially pages 584-587), it has become clear that, what I cautiously considered a theoretical possibility, is actually attested by many examples in the Hurrian onomastic material assembled by Th. Richter. He calls this frequent category of Hurrian names ‘one-word’ personal names. The other frequent category is that of the so-called (quasi-)theophorous ‘sentence’ names. Both categories appear relatively as frequently in Hurrian cuneiform as in Minoan Linear A. 


The scripts of Linear A and B do not distinguish single and double writing of consonants as cuneiform does (except e.g. the Cappadocian cuneiform). So we cannot be sure, whether amm- or am- is involved. The Minoan scribe no doubt knew, which of the two roots were meant.

Starting from the Hurrian verbal root amm- ‘to reach (something)’, Linear A a-mi-da-u and a-mi-da-o can be analysed as {amm=e/id=au} ‘I shall reach (something)’, 1st person singular indicative future, consisting of the root amm- + the suffix -e/id- (with voiced dental) marking the transitive future tense + the marker of the subject of action 1st person singular -au.


I. Wegner (Einführung, 129) offers an example of the transitive usage of amm- II in the Hurrian-Hittite bilingual kirenze: olvi=ne=ma amm=i=b ommin(i)=ne (KBo 32: 14 I 19-20), which she translates ‘Ein anderes Land aber erreichte es (das Reh)’ [‘But it (the roe) reached an other land’].

This Old Hurrian sentence is antipassive, with a (non-ergative) subject in the absolutive, an object in an oblique case like -a (essive) or -ne, and with the Old Hurrian transitive verbal form in =i=b.

However, if we assume that a-mi-da-u and a-mi-da-o contain the transitive root am- II [Boǧ.] ‘ansehen, anschauen, beachten’, ‘porter son regard sur’, ‘guardare, osservare, vedere’, ‘to observe’ (see Th. Richter, BGH, 21-23), the meaning of these personal names would be ‘I shall observe’, which would also offer a conceivable meaning for a personal name.


The scribe of ZA 10a seems to have been particularly fond of playing with names, because he wrote four names in a row starting with sign a-: a-ku-mi-na 1, a-ta-na-te 1, a-mi-da-u 1, a-du-ku-mi-na 1. As mentioned in my Corpus of transliterated Linear A texts, the tablet is called ‘tablet of the double axes’, because Linear A sign 52 = a is probably derived from the pictographic or hieroglyphic sign of a double axe.

In the combination of ta-na-te in line 1 and a-ta-na-te in line 2 he used rhyme as well as in a-ku-mi-na and a-du-ku-mi-na. Another example of playing with names is shown by a-mi-da-u (ZA 10a.3) and a-mi-ta (ZA 10b.4-5), which may be etymologically related, at least with regard to the Hurrian verbal roots amm- or am-. The scribe certainly had a poetic feeling for alliteration and displayed his ars poetica in a splendid way.

Linear A a-mi-ta (ZA 10b.4-5) on the b-side of the tablet is certainly a personal name. Whether or not it can be identified with the personal name from Cappadocia Amita (wr. A-mì-ta) is difficult to say, because we cannot define, whether the Cappadocian name is phonologically to be read as /A-mì-da/ {am=e/id=a} or as /A-mì-ta/. Cappadocian orthography does not use gemination of the consonants. E. Laroche, Les noms des Hittites, 240, n. 4: Les noms cunéiformes seront orthographiés selon l’usage cappadocien, sans la gémination consonantique hittite. Par ex.: Kuku = capp. Ku-ku-ú, hitt. Ku-uk-ku.

Apart from the status of the name from Cappadocia, Linear A a-mi-ta (ZA 10b.4-5) can be identified as a Hurrian ‘one-word’ personal name based on a verbal form. In this case Linear A orthography and Hurrian grammar provide more than one possible interpretation.

Hurrian am- II [Boǧ.] ‘to observe’ (cf. Th. Richter, BGH, 21-23). If the Linear A scribe wrote a personal name built on this root, a-mi-ta (ZA 10b.4-5) can be interpreted as Amitta and analysed as {am=i=tta} ‘Observe me’, consisting of (the transitive root) am- + the transitive theme-vowel -i- (the imperative 2nd person singular does not have its own marker) + (the personal pronoun 1st person singular serving as object in transitive constructions) -tta.

Hurrian amm- II [Boǧ.; Qaṭna]: ‘ankommen, gelangen, erreichen’, [‘to arrive, to reach’], corresponds with Hittite ar- and Akkadian kašādum, cf. Th. Richter, BGH, 23-24. If Linear A a-mi-ta (ZA 10b.4-5) is built on this root, it can be interpreted as Ammitta, analysis {amm=i=tta} ‘Reach me !’, cf. supra the transitive usage of amm- II in the bilingual kirenze: olvi=ne=ma amm=i=b ommin(i)=ne. (KBo 32: 14 I 19-20).

The meaning ‘Bring me’ for Linear A a-mi-ta (ZA 10b.4-5), interpreted as Ammitta, can be derived from the interpretation of a parallel Hurrian personal name attested at Mari, with the suffix -nna, representing the enclitic personal pronoun 3rd person singular. Th. Richter (VHN, 56) mentions Amminna (wr. am-mi-na), name of a man at Mari, analysis {amm=i=nna}, typology, lexicon am(m), ‘Bringe ihn (Junge) her !’ [‘Bring him (the boy) here !’]. The enclitic personal pronoun -nna has the function of object as -tta has in the Linear A name. He also mentions fAmminna (wr. am-mi-in-na, a-mi-na), name of a woman at Mari, ‘Bringe es (Mädchen) her !’ [‘Bring her (the girl) here !’].

There is another interpretation of Linear A a-mi-ta feasible. If Hurrian amm- is used as intransitive, the form Ammitta can be analysed as {amm=e/it=t=a} ‘He will arrive’, consisting of (the intransitive root) amm- + (the suffix marking the future tense) -e/it- + (the suffix marking absence of an object) -t- + (the suffix marking intransitivity) -a- + Ø (in future and past intransitive there is no enclitic personal pronoun as subject for the 3rd person singular; so no use of -nna).

I. Wegner (Einführung, 97-99, sub 5.4: Die Suffixfolge beim indikativen, intransitiven, positiven Verb (Tabelle 6 und 7)) gives an example of another comparable intransitive form: un + et + t + a ‘er wird kommen’ [‘he will come’].

The Linear A sequence du-re-za-se 2 (ZA 10a.5), du-re-za-se VIN 5 (ZA 10b.1-2), du-re-za|-se 1 (ZA 20.1-2), occurring on a- and b-side of tablet ZA 10, and probably again on ZA 20, from Kato Zakro can be identified as a Hurrian personal name of the type ‘sentence’ name. It may each time refer to the same person.

The name consists of two nominal elements durezza and -še. The element -še is the hypocoristic of -šena ‘brother’ or -šen(a)=ne/ni ‘the brother’, that is very common in Hurrian personal names. The form durezza can be compared with two Hurrian names at Mari, Turazze and Turizza, of which the second bears the closest resemblance to Linear A du-re-za-, cf. Th. Richter, VHN, 318-319.

Turazze (wr. tu-ra-ze) is a slave at Mari (MARI 8, 637 VIII 2), typology 3.1, lexicon turazze (→ turi), whose name is compared with tu/tù-ra-ša/šá and tu-ra-še at Nuzi (AAN I, 152). Turizza (wr. tu-ri-iz-za) from Mari (M.5811 II 3’), analysis {turizz(i)=a[E.]}, typology 3.2.1, lexicon turizz(i) (→ turi). [E.] refers to the essive form in -a. According to Th. Richter (VHN, 546) the meaning of turi ‘man’ has been established by Von Brandenstein (1937, 567), see also Th. Richter, BGH, 476. It is not clear, whether or in which way it is to be distinguished from taḫe ‘man’.

It is, however, significant that forms of both turi ‘man’ and taḫe ‘man’ are attested with initial voicing of the dentals in Linear A du-re-za-se and da-qe-ra (= Hurrian daḫera, comitative in -ra of daḫe / daḫi), respectively.

According to Th. Richter (ibid.) turazze can be analysed as {tur(i)=a=šše} ‘Mannschaft(?)’ [‘manhood (?)’] (see G/ beside the formation turizzi with [i] in the second syllable. Parallel formations exist as well: ḫani ‘Kind’ [‘child’] and ḫanazze ‘Kindschaft(?)’ [‘childhood (?)]’ beside the formation ḫa-ni-iz-zo with [i] in the second syllable (see catalogue sub Ḫanazzu).

Consequently I propose to analyse the Linear A personal name du-re-za-se as {dure/izz(i)=a-še} ‘The brother is like manhood (?)’, consisting of dure/izzi in the essive case in -a, followed by -še, hypocoristic of -šena ‘brother’ or -šenni ‘the brother’.


Linear A a-ta-na-te 1 (ZA 10a.2) and probably a-ta-na-[te] OVIS+si  2 (ZA 9.4-5) from Kato Zakro can probably be interpreted as a Hurrian personal name. I propose to analyse a-ta-na-te as {attann(i)=a[essive]-Te(šub)} that can be translated as ‘Te(šub) is like (God) the Father’.

Or preferably {att(a)=a[essive]=nna-Te(šub)} ‘He [-nna] (the boy) is / looks like his father, oh Te(šub) !’. The theophorous element -te is (like -teḭa) a frequent hypocoristic form of -Tešub in Hurrian personal names. The essive case in -a is apparently frequently used in Hurrian personal names, see Th. Richter, VHN, passim; cf. P.G. van Soesbergen, The Decipherment of Minoan Linear A, Vol. I, Part II: Hurrians and Hurrian in Minoan Crete, 681-684.

See for the interpretation of Linear A a-ku-mi-na (ZA 10a.1-2) as Old Hurrian {ag=u-mina} ‘Bring the twin up’ and a-du-ku-mi-na (ZA 10a.3-4) as Hurrian {ašd=o/u=ḫḫu-mina} ‘The twin is female !’, P.G. van Soesbergen, ibid., 671 ff.

It is gratifying that the unraveling of the complicated Hurrian grammar is improving steadily. Ilse Wegner and Thomas Richter (along with many other scholars) have made a major contribution to the enormous progress that has been made in Hurrian studies during the last decades.

Vol I - Part I

Vol I - Part II

Vol I - Part III

Vol I - Part IV

Vol I - Part V

Vol I - Part VI