Tituli Anatolian notes

Pillar of Kherei, Southwest TL 44a.
Pillar of Kherei, Southwest TL 44a. Detail from end of lines 51–54. Xanthos (425–400 BC). Photo by author, Oct. 24, 2021.

You may have seen the name Tituli Anatolian among the works we are working on. This is an ongoing project and we have a page with the same name on our website with its current status and other details. If you reached here through the expression “[fontname] is one of the seven typeface designs in Esintype’s ancient scripts of Anatolia project, Tituli Anatolian series,” that’s the place you might want to see first. As a little background, our notes and remarks here.

The first sentence of the 14th volume of Strabo of Amaseia’s book Geography:

It remains for me to speak of the Ionians and the Carians and the seaboard outside the Taurus, which last is occupied by Lycians, Pamphylians, and Cilicians.”

Add the Phrygians and Lydians, and the set is almost complete.1 Some of the scripts that are the subject of our “Tituli Anatolian – Anatolian Inscriptions” series.

Detail from book cover: William Wright (1886). The Empire of the Hittites. James Nisbet & Co., London.

The history of ancient writings of Anatolia dates back to 2000 BCs,2 Old Assyrian and Hittite (Nesite) cuneiform writings, Luvian peoples, and Anatolian hieroglyphs. If we consider the various ideograms found in caves and rocks as writing, then 6000 BC and until the times of the Neolithic Revolution. However, we focused on the part of this legacy from 800 BC to the post-Roman imperial period, because we believe that the only letterforms that can be associated with modern forms belong to this time frame. In short, the Tituli Anatolian series is about the writings between 800 BC and 400 AD, reaching the present day from 2800–1600 years ago.

The natural habitat of lettering history

“Today’s Turkey is the only country that has experienced all phases of the history of Europe and the Near East, and has gathered all the cultural products of the Western and Eastern world in during its classical antiquity ages.”3The oldest written Indo-European languages belonged to the Anatolian branch.”4

Anatolia, in addition to all its other historical and cultural features, is the natural habitat of various writing systems such as regional Greek colonial dialects, Hellenistic ancient Greek, Roman Empire Latin, and alphabets and hieroglyphs from much older times. The scripts of languages, which are the source of more than half of those used in the world today, sprouted in Anatolia and developed by spreading through cohesions and cultural interactions.

The oldest scripts of Indo-European languages have been discovered in the Central Anatolia and Eastern Anatolia regions of this geography, which covers a large part of today’s Turkey, and relatively new alphabets and writings also included in the same language group have been discovered in the West and Southern West. Most of these inscriptions have survived in the form of inscriptions engraved on stones such as limestone, marble and various rock formations. There are languages still not completely deciphered. The main difficulty in deciphering is the scarcity of useful inscriptions and the lack of qualified content.5 The fact that the corpus consists mostly of similar sepulchral and dedicatory inscriptions makes the advantage of abundance insignificant. The deciphered parts of partially deciphered inscriptions are mostly easy to match, known names of people and places. On the other hand, names of people and regions are one of the prominent epigraphic datasets.6

Geographic names are just as important as human names. Local names sometimes do not change for centuries and can often be translated into unknown or lesser known language layers.

G. Rohde
Antalya Museum (Nov. 8, 2021). Photo by author.

Many of these are very significant artifacts that can be seen while standing in ancient cities or museums which archaeologists, epigraphers and other scientists continue their research and studies.

On Anatolia and Asia Minor

Anatolia, which makes up major part of modern Turkey, is a large peninsula that reaching out for 1500 kilometers from east to west, with an increasing elevation above sea level from west to east. It is in the north of the Middle East, Mesopotamia and the Levant. It is north of the Fertile Crescent.

Anatolia is the place where the sun and its own name were born. Its Turkish Anatolia is derived from the Greek word Aνατολή (Anatolḗ), meaning East; originally “sunrise”, “a rising above (the horizon),” “to rise,” “up,” “to accomplish, perform” from a deep-rooted vocabulary.7 Its English is “Anatolia”, which came through Latin.

Detail, Natoliae quae olim Asia Minor, Joan Blaeu (1665)
Detail. Blaeu, Joan (1596-1673). Natoliae quae olim Asia Minor (1665). David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

While the titles of some maps of the 17th century include the phrase “Natolia”, these titles also carry the information that this place was formerly known as “Asia Minor”.8 Like “Natolia olim Minor” (Natolia was once Asia Minor) and “Natoliae quae olim Asia Minor” (Natolia which was formerly Asia Minor)…

Quad, Matthias (1557-1613), 7. Natolia olim Asia Minor (1600). David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Quad, Matthias (1557-1613), 7. Natolia olim Asia Minor (1600). David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

In all traveler’s books written in the 18th and 19th centuries, Asia Minor was preferred. This preference is said to date back to Classical Greek sources.9 Christian Marek describes the subject based on the earliest known sources:10

The name ‘Asia Minor’ as the name given to a peninsula is not found in hieroglyphs or cuneiform scripts in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria or anywhere in Anatolia. As Homer writes in Odyssey 7, 8, the Greeks originally called this place simply ‘the mainland.’ Herodotus used the same term when speaking of islands off the mainland in the 5th century BC. The idea of Asia as geography is based on the phrase ‘a-si-wi-ja’ inscribed on a Linear-B tablet at Pylos during the Mycenaean period. (…) The first writer who clearly distinguished the continent from the peninsula was the geographer Strabo, an Anatolian from Amaseia (today Amasya) who had been given a Greek education and wrote in the time of the Emperors Augustus and Tiberius. We first encounter the term Asia Minor in Claudius Ptolemaios, a mathematician and geographer of the 2nd century CE. In contrast, the name ‘Anatolia’ appears later.

(Marek 2010)

Finally, yes, we came here from Tituli Asiae Minoris.11

As prologue to the origin of letters

Perge, Antalya (Apr. 22, 2021). Photo by author.

Frederic Goudy expresses his admiration for the Greek inscriptions, which he sees as the beginning of Roman capitals, in the introductory chapters of the Alphabet book, where he goes down to the origins of the letters. Pointing out that the letters we use in books today are derived from Roman capitals of two thousand years ago, he says that Greek works were more monumental than the best of the earliest Roman works, which he found primitive in idea but differed little in technical perfection.12 The following lines in the book are both instructive and almost summarize the purpose of this project (the brackets are our additions):

A study of the [Greek] alphabet leads into so many byways that it is necessary to omit much that would be of interest to the student but of no great service to the craftsman in forming a style. To trace the derivatives of the Greek involves research into languages —Coptic, Runic [Runes], Slavonic [Cyrillic]— which bear but indirectly on the shapes of the roman characters we now use; and the present work is intended primarily to deal with forms useful to the present-day craftsman.13

Ancient Greek letters have a say

Perge, Antalya (Apr. 22, 2021). Photo by author.

There are a substantial number of Latin inscriptions in Anatolia, but their number is too few to compare with Greek inscriptions. Shouldn’t it actually be the other way around? Because the Roman Imperial period is much closer to the present day than the Aegean migrations period, which formed the Aeolian, Ionian, and Dorian colonies. The answer to this question is largely the Hellenization process, which started with the Anatolian campaign of Alexander the Great in 334 BC and continued afterwards. Greek and the Greek alphabet continued to be used even when it was included in the territory of the Roman empire. The writings of peoples with different languages were written in Greek letters. Just as Turkish was written in Arabic letters during the Ottoman Empire.

Epigraphists are also trying to understand ancient languages with those written in Greek. There are New Phrygian (Neo-Phrygian) inscriptions written in Greek letters, as well as Old Phrygian (Paleo-Phrygian) inscriptions.14 The same is true for other ancient Anatolian languages. Due to this simple fact, the mother tongue of Classical Archeology has been Greek. While the Greek inscriptions are important works in their own right, some of them act as guides for the analysis of other languages. Even non-bilingual ones can be useful for comparative analysis of constant data or factual information such as names of people and places.

All of the ancient Greek alphabets and most of the capitals in the modern Greek alphabet are heirlooms of all the scripts that clearly evolved from each other on every shore of the Mediterranean geography.

Tituli Anatolian by Esintype — The Project

These are the subjects we working on within the scope of Tituli Anatolian. This project is not a philological or linguistic study of the Extinct Languages of Anatolia in a broad sense. It can be considered as a workshop on some parts of a very comprehensive whole, determined by aesthetic criteria from the perspective of typography. You can follow the updates on the project page. The format is limited, we plan to cover each one respectively soon.


  1. It is noteworthy that the Hittites were never mentioned in Greek sources. Neither Homer nor Herodotus know about the Hittites.” — Ünal, Ahmet (2002). Hititler Devrinde Anadolu I (Anatolia in the Hittite Period, Vol. 1), p.33. Arkeoloji ve Sanat Yayınları, İstanbul. ↩︎
  2. Alp, Sedat (2000). Hitit Çağında Anadolu; Çiviyazılı ve hiyeroglif yazılı kaynaklar (Anatolia in the Hittite Age; Cuneiform and hieroglyphic written sources), pp.1–44. Tübitak. ↩︎
  3. Şahin, Sencer. Cumhuriyet Bilim Teknik 400, Nov 19, 1994 pp.4–5. İstanbul. ↩︎
  4. Anthony, David W. (2007). The Horse, the Wheel, and Language; How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Princeton University Press, New Jersey. ↩︎
  5. Melchert, H. Craig (2008). Lycian in The Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. Woodard, Roger D. (ed.), p.46. Cambridge Uni. Press, New York. ↩︎
  6. Rohde, Georg (1943). Anadolu’nun Yunan ve Roma Epigrafisine Dair (On the Greek and Roman Epigraphy of Anatolia). Belleten, 7-25, p.167. ↩︎
  7. Online Etymology Dictionary, Anatolia entry. ↩︎
  8. David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries. ↩︎
  9. Bryce, Trevor R. (2016). Atlas of the Ancient Near East; From Prehistoric Times to the Roman Imperial Period. p.41. Routledge, New York. ↩︎
  10. Marek, Christian – Frei, Peter – Rendall, Steven (translator)(2016). In the Land of a Thousand Gods; a history of Asia Minor in the ancient world. p.5. (First published in German under the title Geschichte Kleinasiens in der Antike, Verlag C.H., Beck oHG, München 2010). Princeton University Press, New Jersey ↩︎
  11. Kalinka, Ernestus (1901). Tituli Asiae Minoris; Collecti et editi auspiciis, Caesareae Academiae Litterarum Vindobonensis; Volumen I, II, Tituli Lyciae, Lingua Lycia Conscripti; Linguis Graeca et Latina Conscripti. OAW. ↩︎
  12. Goudy, Frederic William (1963). The Alphabet; and Elements of Lettering. Chapter II, p.26. Dover Publications, New York (Originally published by the Uni. of California, 1952) ↩︎
  13. Ibid p. 28 ↩︎
  14. Obrador-Cursach, Bartomeu (2020). The Phrygian language. pp.22–26. Brill, Boston. ↩︎
  15. H. Craig Melchert (2001). Anatolian Databases, Lycian Corpus, text 44a. ↩︎
Cover image

Kherei Pillar (425–400 BC), Southwest TL 44a. Detail from end of lines 51–54. Xanthos (Arñna). Photo by author, Oct. 24, 2021.

Letters in the frame15
(51) e:hri=xñtawa
(52) nã:ijaeusas
(53) e:tewẽt(e):sãm
(54) xxãnaterñ:e

The different aspects of the Kherei Pillar (or The inscribed Stele of Xanthos, Columna Xanthia, Xanthos Column, Xanthian Obelisk, etc.) will be discussed in another post, in detail.