Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

On the origin of the Indo-European language family

Posted by Fredsvenn on August 21, 2014

Cities of Ancient Mesopotamia

The earliest testimony of Armenian dates to the 5th century AD (the Bible translation of Mesrob Mashtots). The earlier history of the language is unclear and the subject of much speculation.

Early in the fifth century, Classical Armenian, or Grabar, was one of the great languages of the Near East and Asia Minor. Although an autonomous branch within the Indo-European family of languages, it had some affinities to Middle Iranian, Greek and the Balto-Slavic languages but belonged to none of them.

It was characterized by a system of inflection unlike the other languages, as well as a flexible and liberal use of combining root words to create derivative and compound words by the application of certain agglutinative affixes.

The classical language imported numerous words from Middle Iranian languages, primarily Parthian, and contains smaller inventories of borrowings from Greek, Syriac, Latin, and autochthonous languages such as Urartian. Middle Armenian (11th–15th centuries AD) incorporated further loans from Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Latin, and the modern dialects took in hundreds of additional words from Modern Turkish and Persian.

Therefore, determining the historical evolution of Armenian is particularly difficult because Armenian borrowed many words from Parthian and Persian (both Iranian languages) as well as from Greek.

It is clear that Armenian is an Indo-European language, but its development is opaque. In any case, Armenian has many layers of loanwords and shows traces of long language contact with Hurro-Urartian, Greek and Indo-Iranian.

The Armenians according to Diakonoff, are then an amalgam of the Hurrians (and Urartians), Luvians (Anatolians) and the Mushki (which melted together with the Phrygians).

After arriving in its historical territory, Proto-Armenian would appear to have undergone massive influence on part the languages it eventually replaced. Armenian phonology, for instance, appears to have been greatly affected by Urartian, which may suggest a long period of bilingualism. 

The large percentage of loans from Iranian languages initially led linguists to erroneously classify Armenian as an Iranian language. The distinctness of Armenian was only recognized when Hübschmann (1875)[28] used the comparative method to distinguish two layers of Iranian loans from the older Armenian vocabulary.

M. Austin (1942) concluded that there was an early contact between Armenian and Anatolian languages, based on what he considered common archaisms, such as the lack of a feminine and the absence of inherited long vowels. However, unlike shared innovations (or synapomorphies), the common retention of archaisms (or symplesiomorphy) is not necessarily considered evidence of a period of common isolated development.

Soviet linguist Igor Diakonov (1985)[30] noted the presence in Old Armenian of what he calls a Caucasian substratum, identified by earlier scholars, consisting of loans from the Kartvelian and Northeast Caucasian languages such as Udi.

Noting that the Hurro-Urartian peoples inhabited the Armenian homeland in the second millennium BC., Diakonov identifies in Armenian a Hurro-Urartian substratum of social, cultural, and animal and plant terms such as ałaxin “slave girl” ( ← Hurr. al(l)a(e)ḫḫenne), cov “sea” ( ← Urart. ṣûǝ “(inland) sea”), ułt “camel” ( ← Hurr. uḷtu), and xnjor “apple(tree)” ( ← Hurr. ḫinzuri).

Some of the terms he gives admittedly have an Akkadian or Sumerian provenance, but he suggests they were borrowed through Hurrian or Urartian. Given that these borrowings do not undergo sound changes characteristic of the development of Armenian from Proto-Indo-European, he dates their borrowing to a time before the written record but after the Proto-Armenian language stage.

Proto-Indo-European shares a lot of similarities with Hurro-Urartian and Caucasian (both southern, northeastern and northwestern) languages, and there seems to be a connection between Indo-Europeans, Haplogroup R1b, the Neolithic revolution and the domestication of cattles , kurgans, the wheel and the horse, and the Bronze Age – all comming from Southern Caucasus, and developing via the Shengavit (Kura Araxes, or Early Trans-Caucasian culture) and the Maykop culture, which spread these culture elements towards the north.

There are strong connections between the Sumerian, the Hurro-Urartians, who seems to develop in the Southern Caucasus/Anatolia (Aratta being the same as Urartu/Urashtu, Armenians/Assyrians), Semites (developing and spreading from Syria around 3750 BC.) and the Indo-Europeans. In fact it all seem to develop from a mix of cultures during the Neolithic revolution in Soutwest Asia, and especially the mountain chain made up by Taurus, Caucasus and Zagros.  

Aratta, Ayrarat (Urartu) and Armenia is connected to the Indo-European root Ar- meaning “assemble/create” which is vastly used in names of or regarding the Sun, light, or fire, found in Ararat, Aryan, Arta etc.

The Armenian hypothesis of the Proto-Indo-European Urheimat, based on the Glottalic theory suggests that the Proto-Indo-European language was spoken during the 4th millennium BC in the Armenian Highland.

It is an Indo-Hittite model and does not include the Anatolian languages in its scenario. The phonological peculiarities proposed in the Glottalic theory would be best preserved in the Armenian language and the Germanic languages, the former assuming the role of the dialect which remained in situ, implied to be particularly archaic in spite of its late attestation.

The Proto-Greek language would be practically equivalent to Mycenaean Greek and date to the 17th century BC, closely associating Greek migration to Greece with the Indo-Aryan migration to India at about the same time (viz., Indo-European expansion at the transition to the Late Bronze Age, including the possibility of Indo-European Kassites).

The Armenian hypothesis argues for the latest possible date of Proto-Indo-European (sans Anatolian), roughly a millennium later than the mainstream Kurgan hypothesis. In this, it figures as an opposite to the Anatolian hypothesis, in spite of the geographical proximity of the respective suggested Urheimaten, diverging from the timeframe suggested there by as much as three millennia.

Armeno-Phrygian is a term for a minority supported claim of hypothetical people who are thought to have lived in the Armenian Highland as a group and then have separated to form the Phrygians and the Mushki of Cappadocia. It is also used for the language they are assumed to have spoken. It can also be used for a language branch including these languages, a branch of the Indo-European family or a sub-branch of the proposed Graeco-Armeno-Aryan or Armeno-Aryan branch.

Classification is difficult because little is known of Phrygian and virtually nothing of Mushki, while Proto-Armenian forms a subgroup with Hurro-Urartian, Greek, and Indo-Iranian. These subgroups are all Indo-European, with the exception of Hurro-Urartian.

The Catacomb culture (ca. 2800–2200 BC) refers to a group of related cultures in the early Bronze Age occupying the Pontic steppe in essentially what is present-day Ukraine.

The culture was the first to introduce corded pottery decorations into the steppes and shows a profuse use of the polished battle axe, providing a link to the West. Parallels with the Afanasevo culture, including provoked cranial deformations, provide a link to the East. It was preceded by the Yamna culture.

The name Catacomb culture comes from its burial practices. These are similar to those of the Yamna culture, but with a hollowed-out space off the main shaft, creating the “catacomb”. Animal remains were incorporated into a small minority of graves.

In certain graves there was the distinctive practice of what amounts to modelling a clay mask over the deceased’s face, creating an obvious if not necessarily correct association to the famous gold funeral mask of Agamemnon (see also Tashtyk culture).

The economy was essentially stock-breeding, although traces of grain have been found. There seem to have been skilled specialists, particularly metal-workers.

The origin of the Catacomb culture is disputed. Jan Lichardus enumerates three possibilities: a local development departing from the previous Yamna Culture only, a migration from Central Europe, or an oriental origin.

The linguistic composition of the Catacomb culture is unclear. An Indo-European component is hard to deny, particularly in the later stages. Placing the ancestors of the Greek, Armenian and Paleo-Balkan dialects here is tempting, as it would neatly explain certain shared features.

More recently, the Ukrainian archaeologist V. Kulbaka has argued that the Late Yamna cultures of ca. 3200–2800 BC, esp. the Budzhak, Starosilsk, and Novotitarovka groups, might represent the Greek-Armenian-“Aryan”(=Indo-Iranian) ancestors (Graeco-Aryan, Graeco-Armenian), and the Catacomb culture that of the “unified” (to ca. 2500 BC) and then “differentiated” Indo-Iranians.

Grigoryev’s (1998) version of the Armenian hypothesis connects Catacomb culture with Indo-Aryans, because catacomb burial ritual had roots in South-Western Turkmenistan from the early 4th millennium (Parkhai cemetery). The same opinion is supported by Leo Klejn in his various publications.

The Armenian language is close to Greek and Sanskrit. There existed a relationship, a southern group, consisting of Greek, Armenian and sanskrit. The Iranian languages, which developed in Central Asia, had a later development.

The thing is that Anatolian is a sister language of the Indo-European language family, that the Tocharians was among the first language group that broke away from the Caucasian urheimat and that Germanic in the according to the Glottalhic theory is the language which emmigrated, while Armenian developed in situ.

The Armenian, Germanic, Anatolian, and Tocharian subfamilies belong to the Taihun group, while the Baltic, Slavic, Armenian and Indo-Iranian subfamilies belong to the Satem group.  

The name Urartu, cognate with the Biblical “Ararat,” Akkadian “Urashtu,” and Armenian “Ayrarat”, comes from Assyrian sources: the Assyrian King Shalmaneser I (1263–1234 BC) recorded a campaign in which he subdued the entire territory of “Uruatri. 

The Shalmaneser text uses the name Urartu to refer to a geographical region, not a kingdom, and names eight “lands” contained within Urartu (which at the time of the campaign were still disunited).

The name used by the local population as a toponym was Biainili (or Biaineli), which forms the root of the Armenian (“Van”), hence the names “Kingdom of Van (Bianili)” or “Vannic Kingdom.”

Scholars such as Carl Friedrich Lehmann-Haupt (1910) believed that the people of Urartu called themselves Khaldini after their god Khaldi, also known as Haldi or Hayk, one of the three chief deities of Ararat (Urartu). His shrine was at Ardini. The other two chief deities were Theispas of Kumenu, and Shivini of Tushpa.

Of all the gods of Ararat (Urartu) pantheon, the most inscriptions are dedicated to him.[citation needed] His wife was the goddess Arubani. He is portrayed as a man with or without a beard, standing on a lion.[citation needed]

Khaldi was a warrior god whom the kings of Urartu would pray to for victories in battle. The temples dedicated to Khaldi were adorned with weapons, such as swords, spears, bow and arrows, and shields hung off the walls and were sometimes known as ‘the house of weapons’.

Hayk or Hayg, also known as Haik Nahapet (Hayk the Tribal Chief) is the legendary patriarch and founder of the Armenian nation.  Hayk and Haig are usually connected to hay and hayer, the nominative plural in Modern Armenian), the self-designation of the Armenians.

Hayk would then be an aitiological founding figure, like e.g. Asshur for the Assyrians, Indra for the Indians, etc. One of Hayk’s most famous scions, Aram, settled in Eastern Armenia from the Mitanni kingdom (Western Armenia), when Sargon II mentions a king of part of Armenia who bore the (Armenian-Indo-Iranian) name Bagatadi (“Theodore”).

A connection was made in Armenian historiography of the Soviet era, with Hayasa, a Late Bronze Age confederation formed between two kingdoms of Armenian Highlands, Hayasa located South of Trabzon and Azzi, located north of the Euphrates and to the south of Hayasa. The Armenian word haykakan or haigagan (meaning “that which pertains to Armenians”) finds its stem in this progenitor.

Chaldia (Greek: Khaldia) was a historical region located in mountainous interior of the eastern Black Sea, northeast Anatolia (modern Turkey). Its name was derived from a people called the Chaldoi (or Chalybes) that inhabited the region in Antiquity.

Chaldia was used throughout the Byzantine period and was established as a formal theme, known as the Theme of Chaldia by 840. During the late Middle Ages, it formed the core of the Empire of Trebizond until its fall to the Ottomans in 1461.

Anthony Bryer traces the origin of its name not to Chaldea, as Constantine VII had done, but to the Urartian language, for whose speakers Ḫaldi was the Sun God. Bryer notes at the time of his writing that a number of villages in the Of district were still known as “Halt”.

Chaldea or Chaldaea, from Greek Chaldaia; Akkadian: māt Ḫaldu; Hebrew: Kaśdim; Aramaic: Kaldo) was a small Semitic nation which existed between the 10th and 6th centuries BC. It was located in the marshy land of the far south eastern corner of Mesopotamia, and briefly came to rule Babylon.

Boris Piotrovsky wrote that “the Urartians first appear in history in the 13th century B.C. as a league of tribes or countries which did not yet constitute a unitary state. In the Assyrian annals the term Uruatri (Urartu) as a name for this league was superseded during a considerable period of years by the term “land of Nairi””.

Scholars believe that Urartu is an Akkadian variation of Ararat of the Old Testament. Indeed, Mount Ararat is located in ancient Urartian territory, approximately 120 km north of its former capital.

In addition to referring to the famous Biblical mountain, Ararat also appears as the name of a kingdom in Jeremiah 51:27, mentioned together with Minni (Mannaeans) and Ashkenaz (Iranians, Scythians).

In the early 6th century BC, the Urartian Kingdom was replaced by the Armenian Orontid dynasty. In the trilingual Behistun inscription, carved in 521 or 520 BC by the order of Darius the Great of Persia, the country referred to as Urartu in Assyrian is called Arminiya in Old Persian and Harminuia in Elamite. 

Hurrian names occur sporadically in northwestern Mesopotamia and the area of Kirkuk in modern Iraq by the Middle Bronze Age. Their presence was attested at Nuzi, Urkesh and other sites. They eventually infiltrated and occupied a broad arc of fertile farmland stretching from the Khabur River valley in the west to the foothills of the Zagros Mountains in the east.

J. Gelb and E. A. Speiser believed East Semitic speaking Assyrians/Subarians had been the linguistic and ethnic substratum of northern Mesopotamia since earliest times, while Hurrians were merely late arrivals, but it now seems that the Hurrians must have been in the area since earliest times, while Assyrians merely late arrivals.

Shupria (Shubria) or Arme-Shupria (Akkadian: Armani-Subartu from the 3rd millennium BC) was a Hurrian-speaking kingdom, known from Assyrian sources beginning in the 13th century BC, located in the Armenian Highland, to the southwest of Lake Van, bordering on Ararat proper. The capital was called Ubbumu.

Shubria was part of the Urartu confederation. Later, there is reference to a district in the area called Arme or Urme, which some scholars have linked to the name Armenia.

Weidner interpreted textual evidence to indicate that after the Hurrian king Shattuara of Mitanni was defeated by Adad-nirari I of Assyria in the early 13th century BC, he then became ruler of a reduced vassal state known as Shubria or Subartu. 

The name Subartu (Sumerian: Su-bir/Subar/Šubur, Akkadian Šubartum/Subartum/ina Šú-ba-ri, Assyrian mât Šubarri) for the region is attested much earlier, from the time of the earliest Mesopotamian records (mid 3rd millennium BC). It is mentioned in Bronze Age literature.

Between the 25th and 21st centuries the original land of Subartu in Northern Mesopotamia, at the upper Tigris in modern Northern Iraq, coalesced into the Akkadian speaking kingdom of Assyria. The name later reappears as Subari in the Amarna letters, and, in the form Šbr, in Ugarit, and came to be known as the Hurrians or Subarians and their country was known as Subir, Subartu or Shubar, although this appears to be a region in eastern Anatolia.

Most scholars accept Subartu as an early name for Assyria proper on the Tigris, although there are various other theories placing it sometimes a little farther to the east, north or west of there. Its precise location has not been identified. From the point of view of the Akkadian Empire, Subartu marked the northern geographical horizon, just as Martu, Elam and Sumer marked “west”, “east” and “south”, respectively.

The Sumerian mythological epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta lists the countries where the “languages are confused” as Subartu, Hamazi, Sumer, Uri-ki (Akkad), and the Martu land. Similarly, the earliest references to the “four quarters” by the kings of Akkad name Subartu as one of these quarters around Akkad, along with Martu, Elam, and Sumer. Subartu in the earliest texts seem to have been farming mountain dwellers, frequently raided for slaves.

Eannatum of Lagash was said to have smitten Subartu or Shubur, and it was listed as a province of the empire of Lugal-Anne-Mundu; in a later era Sargon of Akkad campaigned against Subar, and his grandson Naram-Sin listed Subar along with Armani (Armenians), -which has been identified with Aleppo (known as Ha-lam), among the lands under his control. Ishbi-Erra of Isin and Hammurabi also claimed victories over Subar.

Armani, (also given as Armanum) was an ancient kingdom mentioned by Sargon of Akkad and his grandson Naram-Sin of Akkad as stretching from Ibla to Bit-Nanib. Its location is heavily debated, and it continued to be mentioned in the later Assyrian inscriptions. It has been suggested by early 20th century Armenologists that Armani is the earliest form of the name Armenia.

It has been suggested by early 20th century Armenologists that Old Persian Armina and the Greek Armenoi are continuations of an Assyrian toponym Armânum orArmanî. There are certain Bronze Age records identified with the toponym in both Mesopotamian and Egyptian sources.

The earliest is from an inscription which mentions Armânum together with Ibla (Ebla) as territories conquered by Naram-Sin of Akkad in ca. 2250 BC identified with an Akkadian colony in the Diarbekr region. However, many historians, such as Wayne Horowitz, identify Armanî which was conquered by Naram-Sin of Akkad, with the Syrian city of Aleppo and not with the Armenian Highland.

Armani was mentioned alongside Ibla in the geographical treaties of Sargon, this led some historians to identify Ibla with Syrian Ebla and Armani with Syrian Armi, an important Bronze Age city-kingdom during the late third millennium BC located in northern Syria identified by some historians with the city of Aleppo.

Knowledge about Armi comes from the Ebla tablets and while most historians such as Wayne Horowitz identify Armi with Aleppo, German historian Adelheid Otto believes Armi to be the modern Tell Bazi, a citadel on the bank of the Euphrates 60 km south of Jarabulus.

Armi was the most quoted city in Ebla texts, Giovanni Pettinato describes Armi as Ebla’s alter ego, however the relations between the two cities is complicated, for it wasn’t always peaceful, the texts of Ebla mentions gifts exchange between the kings but it also mentions wars between the two kingdoms.

Prof Michael C. Astour refuse to identify Armani with Armi. Armani was attested in the treaties of Sargon in a section that mentions regions located in Assyria and Babylonia or territories adjacent to the East in contrast to the Syrian Ebla location in the west.

The later King Adad-Nirari I of Assyria also mentions Arman as being located east of the Tigris and on the border between Assyria and Babylon. Historians who disagree with the identification of Akkadian Armani with Syrian Armi, place it (along with Akkadian Ibla) north of the Hamrin Mountains, the westernmost ripple of the greater Zagros mountains in northeast Iraq.

Together with Armani-Subartu (Hurri-Mitanni), Hayasa-Azzi and other populations of the region such as the Nairi fell under Urartian (Kingdom of Ararat) rule in the 9th century BC, and their descendants, according to most scholars, later contributed to the ethnogenesis of the early Armenians.

Shupria is mentioned in the letter of Esarhaddon to the god Assur. Esarhaddon undertook an expedition against Shupria in 674, subjugating it. As early as Akkadian times, Hurrians are known to have lived east of the river Tigris on the northern rim of Mesopotamia, and in the Khabur Valley. The group which became Mitanni gradually moved south into Mesopotamia before the 17th century BC.

Urartian is closely related to Hurrian, a somewhat better documented language attested for an earlier, non-overlapping period, approximately from 2000 BCE to 1200 BCE (written by native speakers until about 1350 BCE). The two languages must have developed quite independently from approximately 2000 BCE onwards.

Although Urartian is not a direct continuation of any of the attested dialects of Hurrian, many of its features are best explained as innovative developments with respect to Hurrian as we know it from the preceding millennium.

The closeness holds especially true of the so-called Old Hurrian dialect, known above all from Hurro-Hittite bilingual texts. Igor Diakonoff and others have suggested ties between the Hurro-Urartian languages and the Northeastern Caucasian languages, also known as Dagestanian (Daghestanian), or Nakho-Dagestanian languages, a language family spoken in the Russian republics of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, in northern Azerbaijan and northeastern Georgia, as well as in diaspora populations in Russia, Turkey, and the Middle East.

The Northeastern Caucasian languages are occasionally called Caspian, together with Pontic for the Northwest Caucasian languages. Pontic is the proposed language family or macrofamily, comprising the Indo-European and Northwest Caucasian language families, with Proto-Pontic being the reconstructed proto-language.

The internal reconstruction of the Indo-European proto-language done by Benveniste and Lehmann has set Proto-Indo-European (PIE) typologically quite apart from its daughters. In 1960, Aert Kuipers noticed the parallels between a Northwest Caucasian language, Kabardian, and PIE. It was Paul Friedrich in 1964, however, who first suggested that PIE might be phylogenetically related to Proto-Caucasian.

Mitanni (Hittite cuneiform KUR URUMi-ta-an-ni, also Mittani Mi-it-ta-ni) or Hanigalbat (Assyrian Hanigalbat, Khanigalbat cuneiform Ḫa-ni-gal-bat) or Naharin in ancient Egyptian texts was an Hurrian-speaking state in northern Syria and south-east Anatolia from ca. 1500 BC–1300 BC.

At the height of its power, during the 14th century BC, Mitanni had outposts centered around its capital, Washukanni, whose location has been determined by archaeologists to be on the headwaters of the Khabur River. Eventually, Mitanni succumbed to Hittite and later Assyrian attacks, and was reduced to the status of a province of the Middle Assyrian Empire.

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