Sunday, April 24, 2011

Brotherhood of Kings - a Fascinating History of the Near East

Brotherhood of Kings, by Amanda Podany, is one of the most interesting books on Near Eastern Archaeology that I have read in a long time.

This book tells the history of the Bronze Age Middle East through the eyes of Kings, Queens, Princes, Princesses and vassals who wrote letters found in archives preserved in Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt. These letters reveal the personalities of the writers in a very human way. Some of the Kings were greedy for gold; others constantly whined that the gifts that had been sent to them by other Kings were not sufficient. Amenhotep III of Egypt seemed to have an interest in marrying as many foreign princesses as possible and several letters reveal the size of the dowry and bridal gifts exchanged by the Pharaoh and his father-in-law.

Some of the stories are familiar to students of the Ancient Near East. For example, the letters between an Egyptian Queen (Ankhesenamen, the widow of Tutankhamen?) and the King of the Hittites, in which the Egyptian Queen asks for the Hittite King to send one of his sons to Egypt so that she can marry him (as her husband has died and she does not want to marry one of her subjects) is a well-known, and fascinating, story. One wonders how history would have changed if the Hittite Prince had married the Egyptian Queen (instead of being assassinated en route to Egypt).

Other sets of correspondence were not familiar to me. One of the most interesting of these, are the set of letters between Zimri-Lim (King of Mari) and a number of other Kings to whom he had married his daughters. One of the young ladies was very unhappily married and seems to have genuinely feared for her life. She was probably quite relieved when her husband divorced her and sent her home.

This book is well written and easy to read. It is full of fascinating information and tells numerous interesting tales in a very lively manner. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in ancient Near Eastern history.