Essentially an ethnolinguistic term, Luwian (or Luvian) is used to refer to population groups that became widespread in Anatolia during the second millennium BCE and spoke a common language. Scholars are still uncertain about both the original homeland of the Luwian-speaking peoples and the nature and period of their entry into Anatolia. There is, however, fairly general agreement that they settled in Anatolia during the third millennium BCE, initially occupying extensive areas in the west.

In the first half of the second millennium, a large part of western Anatolia seems to have been called Luwiya. However, the term was probably used only in a broad geographic sense, with no strong political connotations. By the middle of that millennium, Luwiya was replaced in the Hittite texts, most explicitly in the Hittite laws, by the term Arzawa. The latter, though varying in its geographic limits, nonetheless had distinct political connotations. During the Hittite New Kingdom, it embraced a number of Hittite vassal states known collectively as the Arzawa lands.

Luwian speakers extended far beyond the boundaries of Arzawa. The migrations that had led to their settlement in western Anatolia continued well into the second millennium, and by the middle of that millennium, Luwian-speaking groups occupied much of the southern coast of Anatolia, from the region later known as Lycia, in the west, to Cilicia, in the east. Lycia was the homeland, or part of the homeland, of the Luwian-speaking Lukka people, one of the Lycians' main Bronze Age ancestors. Luwian speakers also settled in Cilicia, particularly in the region of Bronze Age Kizzuwatna. Kizzuwatna also came under strong Hurrian influence and, presumably, Luwian and Hurrian cultural and ethnic elements mingled there.

Our understanding of the spread of Luwian speakers in western and southern Anatolia is based primarily on linguistic and onomastic evidence: a range of place names (names ending in -assa, for example) and personal names, as well as the names of Luwian deities. Thus, cults of the Luwian gods Tarḫunt and Šantas (Sandon) are attested in Kizzuwatna, and to the north of Kizzuwatna cults of the Luwian deities Šahašara, Ḫuwaššana, and Kuniyawanni are in evidence in the region of the classical Tyanitis, part of the Hittite Lower Land.

The most tangible evidence of the Luwian presence in Anatolia is provided by two types of inscriptions: cuneiform and hieroglyphic. The cuneiform texts are inscribed on clay tablets, dating to the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries BCE and found in the Hittite archives at Boğazköy/Ḫattuša. In these inscriptions (the bulk of which are published in Heinrich Otten, Keilschrift Urkunden aus Boghazköi, vol. 35, Berlin, 1953) the language used is identified as lu(w)ili, literally “(written) in the manner of Lu(w)iya.” From the inscriptions, which deal mainly with ritual and cultic matters, it is clear that Luwian belongs to the Indo-European language family and has close affinities with the “Hittite” (more strictly Nešite) language. The hieroglyphic texts appear on a number of royal seals and rock monuments. The earliest known example of the script appears on a seal of Išpuhtahšu, a fifteenth-century king of Kizzuwatna. However, the majority of texts date from the thirteenth through the eighth centuries BCE.

Decipherment of the hieroglyphic script was greatly facilitated by the discovery in 1939 of a bilingual text, in Phoenician and Luwian hieroglyphs, at Karatepe, in eastern Cilicia. More recent work on the language of the inscriptions has established its virtual identity with that of the Luwian cuneiform texts. The character of the script, which was perhaps initially inspired by the monumental script of Egypt, made it a more appropriate medium than cuneiform for recording important achievements on public monuments. In the thirteenth century, increasing use seems to have been made of the script for this purpose, as is illustrated by the discovery in 1988 of a built stone chamber, commonly referred to as the Südburg structure, in the Hittite capital of Ḫattuša. The monument, which dates to the reign of the last Hittite king, Šuppiluliuma II (c. 1205– ), bears a hieroglyphic inscription listing the king's military conquests in southern Anatolia.

Luwian elements survived the collapse of the Late Bronze Age civilizations, reemerging in the first millennium BCE. Indeed, the majority of hieroglyphic inscriptions, attributable to the rulers of Early Iron Age kingdoms in southeast Anatolia and northern Syria, date to the first two centuries or so of this period. In Lycia and Cilicia Aspera, Luwian personal names are attested as late as the classical and Roman imperial periods. The Lycian language was a direct descendant of the Luwian language, and Luwian deities figure prominently in the Lycian pantheon.

[See also Anatolia, article on Ancient Anatolia; Boğazköy; Cilicia; and Lycia.]


  • Houwink ten Cate, Philo H. J. The Luwian Population Groups of Lycia and Cilicia Aspera during the Hellenistic Period. Leiden, 1961.
    Study of the survival of Luwian elements in southern Anatolia during the first millennium BCE
  • Laroche, D. L. “Luwier, Luwisch, Lu(w)iya.” In Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderasiatischen Archäologie, vol. 7, pp. 181–184. Berlin, 1928–.
    General discussion of the chief features of the Luwian language and the spread of Luwian-speaking peoples in Anatolia during the second and first millennia BCE
  • Laroche, Emmanuel. Dictionnaire de la langue louvite. Paris, 1959.
    Luwian word list, with meanings (where known), Hittite equivalents (where applicable), and sources of reference
  • Otten, Heinrich, and Christel Rüster. Texte in hurritischer Sprache. Keil-schrifttexte aus Boghazköi, vol. 35. Berlin, 1993.

Trevor R. Bryce