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Amarna Letters

“Here is one of the great innovations of human history - diplomacy on a truly international scale., when major kings chose not to fight but to seek peace, and created all the neccesary protocols and instruments for diplomatic solutions to international problems”

— Brotherhood of Kings, Amanda Podany


Tal came in from an adjoining room. “This next room is full of tablets, almost like a library.”

“Oh, it's the Amarna Room,” Neal said. “These are the clay tablets Akhenaten used to correspond with the other kings and government officials throughout the ancient world.”

“How big was his world? How many people could he have written to?”

“Well Katie, the clay tablets, there are more than three hundred of them, indicate some of his correspondents was from empire called the Hittites, in what is now modern day Turkey. They became increasingly assertive during Akhenaten’s rule, going to war against the Mitanni beneath them in Syria and Iraq, who were an Egyptian ally. In addition to their conflicts with the Mitanni, the Hittites were also stirring up instability in the vassal states of Syria, and helping a Semitic nomadic group, the Apiru, to create unrest in Syria-Palestine.”

“All of this was going on three thousand years ago?”

“Yes, about then. And the Old Testament deals with a lot of this stuff too. The information we get from the tablets is corroborated in the Bible.”

Clay TabletsClay tablets are probably the invention of the Sumerians of southern Babylonia. The use of soft clay tablets was popular right up until the Christian Era. Use of clay tablets became widespread and was the general means of written communication throughout Mesopotamia and the entire ancient East.The system of use involved two parts: The tablet proper, that was fashioned as a 'letter' and formed the inner core of the communication. Shrouding the inner tablet was a folded clay 'envelope' that completely enclosed the inner tablet. The message to be sent was first written on the smaller, inner tablet, while the clay was soft using a thin, sharpened tool to inscribe wedge-shaped cuneiform letters that comprised the text. This tablet was then fired to harden it and make the message permanent.It was then wrapped in a thin sheet of clay that was folded around the main message like a modern envelope. This was inscribed with the name of the recipient, the contents of the inner tablet and the name (and possibly the seal) of the author.These tablets have been excavated by the thousand, from archaeological sites all over the East. There are at least one million tablets held and displayed in various museums throughout the world.The envelope system provided privacy to the writer and if the seal had not been broken, the recipient would know that no one had read his mail.


Another of the vegetable writing materials is papyrus. Apparently invented in Egypt, where long papyrus reeds grow along the banks of the Nile River, especially in the Nile Delta region. This versatile plant was also used as a fuel, food, medicine, for clothing and for rope manufacture.

The thick reeds where peeled of their outer layer and then cut into flat strips. The strips were laid out on boards in a criss-cross weaving pattern and gently beaten with a wooden mallet. The result, after drying, was a very strong, flat writing surface that could be rolled up. Not only was it a versatile writing material it was also very light.

Large sheets could be manufactured and after polishing each piece with pumice stone, it was ready for the scribe. The longer the text of the message then the longer the papyrus page could be made. Papyri many metres long have been discovered. The average length of a religious or business roll is about ten metres although some are known to have been up to 40 metres long.

For storage they were rolled to form scrolls. For practical purposes a long scroll was somewhat inconvenient. To be read, a scroll had to be unrolled with one hand while the other hand then re-rolled it causing only a small portion to be seen at any one time. Because of this awkwardness, scroll length became standardised.

Standard sizes meant that long works, such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, needed 24 scrolls to accommodate them resulting in the division into 24 books. Similarly, the books of the bible have been shaped by prescribed scroll sizes. Long books such as Samuel and Kings needed to be divided into two parts while short books, like the 12 minor prophets could be combined onto one single scroll.

Writing was achieved by using pen and ink. The pen was a slit reed and the ink was a mixture of lamp soot with gum and water. This combination was highly durable as evidenced by the survival of thousands of fragments of written text. The papyri itself was the weakness of the system. The ink had tremendous longevity but fire, dampness and insects easily destroyed the organic papyrus.

Archaeologists have found documents written on papyrus, rolled up, tied with string and sealed with a clay stamp on which the mark of the authority was impressed. More than often the clay seal is found but the valuable document that it held has deteriorated and been lost.

Egyptian-Hittite Correspondence

The contents of Egyptian-Hittite correspondence under Ramses II are varied. Among others, they deal with

  • the fate of Urhiteshub, the nephew and deposed predecessor of Hattusili, who was married to a Babylonian princess and who went into exile in Egypt, after he and his followers had been causing trouble in southern Asia-Minor and northern Syria,

  • the making and shipment of a silver tablet with the cuneiform text of the Egypto-Hittite peace treaty in the 21st year of the reign of Ramses II

  • the wish of Nefertari to visit her sister Puduhepa and King Hattusili

I burn to go to you with Ramses, my husband, to see the good state of peace your country enjoys

  • the marriage of Hattusili's daughter, whose Egyptian name was Maat-Hor-Neferu-Re, to Ramses II in the 34th year of his reign.The Great King, the king of Egypt, son of Re, Ramses beloved of Amen, speaks thus. Speak thus to the queen of the land of Hatti, the great Queen Puduhepa: Behold, I, your brother, am well. My houses, my sons, my armies, my horses, my chariots and everything in my lands, are very well. May you, my sister, be well! May your houses, your sons, your armies, your horses, your chariots, your nobles, and everything in your land be very well! Speak thus to my sister: Behold! My messengers have reached me accompanied by my sister's messengers and have brought me news that my brother, the king of the land of Hatti, the Great King, is in good health... Speak thus to my sister: The great King, the king of the land of Hatti, has written to me thus: Let the people come and pour sweet-smelling oil on my daughter's head and let her be taken to the house of the Great King, the king of Egypt, my brother. Behold! My brother has written thus to me. This decision my brother has made known to me is wonderful. The Sun God has approved of him. The Weather God has approved of him. And the gods of Egypt and the gods of Hatti have approved of him for making this excellent decision to unite two great lands forever...

Extracts from a letter sent by Ramses II to Queen Puduhepa

It had to be assured that she would become the main queen in the haremAnd you (gods) give her to the house of the king! And she will be the ruling (queen) of the Egyptians.

Extract from a letter sent by Ramses II to Queen Puduhepa [1]

and would not be prevented from receiving her father's messengers. The giving birth to a daughter by her is mentioned, upon which the Hittite king responded, that the birth of a boy would have secured the rule over the Hittite empire.

  • There is also evidence in the correspondence of a second marriage of Ramses II with a daughter of Hattusili, so far only known from hieroglyphic sources.

  • Many letters mention gifts such as golden beakers presented by Ramses II, gold necklaces and linen cloth from Queen Naptera (Nefertari)... See, I have sent you a gift, in order to greet you, my sister... for your neck (a necklace) of pure gold, composed of 12 bands and weighing 88 shekels (8*88=704 gr.), coloured linen maklalu-material, for one royal dress for the king... A total of 12 linen garments.

Extract from a letter sent by the Egyptian Queen to Queen Puduhepa [2]

and Ramses II sent medicines and doctors, among them Pariamahu, to the Hittite king to cure him of an eye-disease [4] .

  • Two sea-going vessels were delivered to the Hittites for them to copy [4].

About one fifth of the extant correspondence is from the Hittite royal family itself, since they have never been sent. The oldest letter, in Akkadian, is that of a queen called Dakhamunzu by the Hittites, considered by many to have been Tutankhamen's widow Ankhesenamen, to the Hittite king Suppiluliuma, proposing an alliance by marriage between the two kingdoms [3].


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Amarna Letters, Chapter 12

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