Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tushratta's Two Gold Statues

The Amarna Letters were written on clay tablets mostly in the Akkadian language. They were part of the diplomatic correspondence between the Egyptian Pharaoh and the kings of Assyria, Babylonia, Syria, Hatti (the Hittites) and Mittani.

These letters seldom provide information on important historical events, but they do enable us to get a fascinating view of the relationships between the members of ancient near eastern royalty. One of the main characters in these letters is Tushratta, King of Mittani.

Several letters were exchanged between the courts of Egypt and Mittani regarding two solid gold statues which Tushratta claimed had been promised to him by Amenhotep III. The earliest letter (EA 26 in Moran’s The Amarna Letters) was addressed to Queen Tiye, Wife of Amenhotep III and mother of Akhenaten. Tushratta reminds Tiye of his love for her deceased husband, Amenhotep, and says that he will “show 10 times – much, much - more love” to her son Akhenaten.

He then comes to the point, saying that he had asked Amenhotep for two solid gold statues, but that Akhenaten had sent him wooden statues covered in a thin coating of gold. “Is this love… my brother was going to treat me 10 times better than his father did. But now he has not [given me] even what his father was accustomed to give”. Tushratta asks Tiye to intervene so that two solid gold statues will be cast for him. After all, gold is “like dirt” in Egypt.

In letter EA 27 (addressed by Tushratta to Akhenaten) we find out that these statues in question were of Tushratta and of Tadu-Heba (a daughter of Tushratta’s, who had married Amenhotep III).  Tushratta claims that Amenhotep had said to him, “Don’t talk of giving statues just of solid gold. I will give you ones made also of Lapis Lazuli. I will give you, too, along with the statues, much additional gold…”. Tushratta asks Akhenaten to send the statues to him and repeats that gold is like dirt in Egypt.

Incredibly, Tushratta sent at least one more letter (EA 29), addressed to Akhenaten, in which these statues are mentioned. The letter starts off with Tushratta providing a long litany of all the gifts he has sent to Egypt (including has daughter Tadu-Heba) and how much love he has shown Amenhotep and how much he mourned Amenhotep’s passing. He then asks, again, that the statues be sent to him.

These letters make one wonder why these statues were so important to Tushratta. Given the problems that the newly resurgent Hittites were about to cause both Tushratta and Akhenaten, the statues in question seem to be small potatoes.

All quotes are from Moran, William L. The Amarna Letters, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chaos, Murder, and Civil War in Ancient Egypt

Dr. Aidan Dodson’s Poisoned Legacy is a fascinating attempt to sort out the questions surrounding the end of the Nineteenth Dynasty, which is one of the most obscure periods in ancient Egyptian history.

The death of Ramesses II, arguably one of Egypt’s greatest Pharaohs, ushered in a period of intrigue within the members of the royal family that led to chaos, civil war, and (likely) regicide.

Dr. Dodson takes the tantalizing, fragmentary evidence available and paints plausible answers to some of the vexing questions of the period:

  • Who was Amenemesses and how did he gain the throne?
  • Was Siptah a child when he came to the throne? How did he get there and who backed him?
  • Who as Chancellor Bay? Was he the kingmaker he claimed to be?  Was he a foreigner? How did he get the right to build a tomb in the royal valley and was he eventually murdered by a member of the royal family?
  • Did Tawosret have Siptah murdered so that she could become Pharaoh?
  • How did Sethnakht get to the throne and who was he? 
    This book contains over 120 illustrations (black and white photos and line drawings), several useful appendices and an extensive bibliography. It is well researched and written by a recognized expert in the field. This book is sure to hold the interest of anyone interested in Egyptian history.

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    Met to Return Objects From Tutankhamen's Tomb

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will return nineteen objects that were taken from the tomb of Tutankhamen. The objects were willed to the museum by a niece of the tomb's excavator, Howard Carter.

    The move of these objects from New York to Cairo was scheduled to take place today. Once in Egypt, the objects will be displayed in a new museum being constructed near the great pyramids at Giza.