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Wednesday, May 8th 2013


Egypt: The Eighteenth Dynasty, part 5


[Egypt Part 1]       [Egypt Part 2]       [Egypt Part 3]       [Egypt Part 4]       [Egypt Part 5]       [Egypt Part 6]

Workshop LogoWhat a beautiful day we were blessed with today! Sunshine, just the right temperature, an ever-so-slight breeze. By now all the trees are in flower, and Indiana has once again become livable.

As I was sitting upstairs in my study this morning, putting the last few sections of the article on Akhenaten together, June called up to me to suggest that, at a minimum, I should move outside with my laptop in order to take advantage of the weather. I more than happily complied, and also did a little bit of yard work. So, today was the opening day of my outside office, the picnic table located on the concrete slab behind the garage.

Let us return to the so-called Amarna tablets, which were found in the remnants of Akhetaten, in what is now believed to have been the office storage room of the scribes. They are clay tablets with cuneiform inscriptions, most of them in a rather awkward and somewhat archaic version of Babylonian (Akkadian), the common international language of the time. It's amazing how much information one of those tablets can hold. But think about this: Other than the Babylonians, Akkadian was not the native language of any of the many correspondents, which included among others: Hittites, Assyrians, Canaanites, and, of course, Egyptians. And even for the Babylonians, the language used was not their usual way of speaking or writing any longer. 

Look at the Egyptians in particular. Cuneiform tablets were about as far from their usual method of writing letters as they are for you and me. We write (or at least used to, prior to e-mail) on paper in a totally different script (the "Roman" alphabet") in a totally different language. Same thing for the Egyptians. Normally their scribes would write on papyrus in hieratic (a cursive form of hieroglyphics) in Egyptian. So, these tablets must have been placed into that room at some stage before or after translation, and the tablets originating from the Pharaoh, who was required to be literate in the Egyptian language, but probably not Pidgeon-Akkadian, must have been drafts of translations prior to their being sent. 

The process was somewhat cumbersome, and a very precise protocol in address was required, recognizing the pharaoh as occupying the top of the hierarchy, though the major rulers addressed each other as "brothers," while the small Canaanite vassal princes just barely seemed to count in the circle of humanity. Their salutation to the pharaoh included the standard phrase that they prostrated themselves before him on the ground seven by seven times. I imagine that at home these petty mayors who called themselves "kings" had their own subjects roll in the dirt before them 49 times or more as well. Bullying tends to be hierarchical. The process of sending tablets, by the way, was by messengers who enjoyed a kind of diplomatic immunity as they crossed various borders--unless they carried valuables, in which case they were frequently targeted by robber bands. Unkind tongues whispered that some of these "robbers" were in service to other princes. 

Amarna TabletThe Amarna tablets give us unique insights into the conditions of the Near East in the fourteenth century BC. The very first one in the official collections (designated EA 1), is a defense by Amenophis III (Akhenaten's father) against insinuations made by the king of Babylon, Kadashman Enlil. Clearly, there was a lot of exchange of princesses among the various rulers in order to cement alliances, but the Egyptians gave themselves an exemption from this policy. The pharaohs were happy to receive women from other countries to place into their harems; in fact, they practically insisted on it, but they took a firm stance against an Egyptian princess ever being sent to another king to become his wife, as expressed rather tactlessly by Amenophis III in EA 5 (Solomon may have been the only exception to this rule [1 Kings 7:8], though at that time Egypt was at a serious low point in international standing.) Instead, Egypt was expected to send lots of gold to the other kings because "Egypt has as much gold as dirt," as the saying went, and to protect its vassal states with its military power. Clearly, Egypt had broadcast neither the drowning of its army in the Red Sea nor that its growing replacement consisted to a large part of unreliable mercenaries. Furthermore, as far as Akhenaten was concerned, he needed the army to work on his building projects and to enforce the changes he mandated within his country.

As an aside, in the Amarna script and language, the names of the various correspondents and others to whom they refer are rather dissimilar from the Bible in Joshua and Judges and so are hard to recognize, but that fact does not mean that they are not the same people, and that we can't figure out who they were. Such a phenomenon is not all that unusual. I'm thinking, for example, of the fact that the country of my birth is called Deutschland by its residents, whereas others refer to it as Allemagne or Germany; Karl der Grosse is known elsewhere as Charlemagne or Karl der Sachsenschlächter. You get the picture.

To return to EA 1, the saucy note from Amenophis to Kadashman Enlil of Babylon. The latter had sent one of his daughters to Egypt to become one of Amenophis's multitude of wives. Now rumors were in the air that the girl had died. When KE sent an emissary to Egypt to check on the situation, a woman who was supposed to be the bride was paraded before him, heavily attired and without speaking. The report by this emissary strengthened the Babylonian king's suspicions. Furthermore, KE was pretty unhappy that Amenophis had not sent him his daughter in return nor, for that matter, had given his representative a huge amount of gold as a present. So, the air was tense between Egypt and Babylon. In the draft of his reply, the pharaoh took on the air of a man with wounded feelings. He lamented that the king of Babylon had succumbed to unfounded and somewhat mean-spirited suspicions. However, in the light of other shenanigans by him and his son, we cannot rule out that the Babylonian princess might have died in Egypt, and, of course, the pharaoh would never admit to such a calamity. Remember the standard ancient Egyptian way of dealing with problems: Do not record them and act as though they never happened.  

The messages that Tushratta, king of Mittani, sent to Egypt are on similar theme. His series of tablets actually begins with EA 17, directed to Amenophis III, but they start to take a very different twist with EA 26-29, which are all written (dictated) by him concerning his dissatisfaction with the Egyptian court. He had sent his daughter Tadu-Heba to Egypt to Amenophis III (who goes by variants on the name Mimmuwareya in the tablets). She, too, was slated to become one more of the pharaoh's many wives. But there is a complication here because apparently Amenophis died soon thereafter; the marriage had taken place, and so the girl passed into Akhenaten's "possession." Tushratta sent two enormous sets of treasures to Egypt as signs of good will and as a dowry (EA 22, 24). He also passed a necklace on to Amenophis that was supposed to lengthen his lifespan by 100,000 years (EA 21--that's one lakh of years for my Indian readers), and delivered (a statue of) the goddess of Nineveh on temporary loan. In return, one part of the bride price from the pharaoh was supposed to have been two statues made of solid gold. Tushratta claimed that his messengers had observed their production in Egypt at the time, so he knew that they existed. However, when they, or rather their substitutes, arrived at the king's palace, they turned out to be merely made of wood that was overlaid with gold. There had been previous incidents, where a king accused the pharaoh of cheating him by sending a very low grade of gold, but this deception would have been far worse than anything that had been perpetrated before and would have taken the coarsely ground wheat bread a prize. Apparently, Tushratta believed that the person behind the fraud was Akhenaten (known as Naphurureya in the tablets), the successor to Amenophis. Tadu-Heba was definitely in an uncomfortable position since her new "master/husband/owner/whatever" had not finished paying the agreed-upon bride price. 

How awkward was Tadu-Heba's situation? Just look at to whom Tushratta first wrote when he felt defrauded!  His first tablet, as inventoried today, went to none other than another wife of Amenophis III, specifically his Chief Wife, Tyie by name. He stated to her that she should be able to recall all of the details of the negotiations, and that she should inform her son, Akhenaten, to make it right. Whether Akhenaten's queen mother actually had any real power at the court is, like everything else, a topic of debate, but it should appear that Tushratta would not have called on her as witness if she had not, indeed, been a negotiating partner to this scheme, perhaps the last of her late husband's marital additions. Setting a pattern for Solomon centuries later, Amenophis III apparently collected wives the way other people today collect postage stamps, and I will leave it up to you work out possible analogies. Perhaps simultaneously, Tushratta also sent a tablet to the new pharaoh, telling him that his fraud had been discovered and that, if he had any questions, he should consult his mother, who would verify his claim. Two more tablets about the same matter followed. The last one (no. 29) detailed a sizeable number of complaints that Tushratta had against "his brother" Akhenaten. It is highly unlikely that Akhenaten did anything to remedy the situation. Not too long thereafter, the Hittites took over the kingdom of Mittani and executed Tushratta, and Egypt remained on the side line. 

---I'm not nearly as far along as I wanted to be before posting this entry, but I'm too tired, and so I'm going to carry on this topic just a little longer. Next time we will definitely get to the Habiru, and we can't possibly leave off this set of chips from the workshop without discussing the issue of Akhenaten's successor. I'll add the navigation links tomorrow as well.

Hang in there. The pyramids have been waiting for these blogs a lot longer than you and I have.

[Egypt Part 1]       [Egypt Part 2]       [Egypt Part 3]       [Egypt Part 4]       [Egypt Part 5]       [Egypt Part 6]

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