The Rise And Fall Of The Amarna Age

The Rise And Fall Of The Amarna Age

By the end of the 15th Century B.C.E. a vibrant international community had developed across the Near East with a trade network linking Africa to Europe and Central Asia.

The Amarna Age

The dawn of the age began with the newly enthroned 18th Dynasty breaking out of Egypt’s traditional borders. Under Tuthmose I, (ca.1504-1492 B.C.E.), Egyptian armies ranged from Nubia in the far south to the shores of the Euphrates, a distance of over 3,000 kilometers. This initial excursion into foreign territory was followed by the ambitious plans of Tuthmose III, (ca. 1479-1425 B.C.E.). This pharaoh crushed a coalition of enemies in Palestine at Megiddo, invaded Syria, then went on to defeat an army led by the Mittani King at Juniper Hill. Tuthmose III’s military success in Syria, followed by many subsequent campaigns of consolidation, allowed Amenhotep II, (ca.1427-1401 B.C.E.), his heir, to secure Egypts place as foremost among the Great Kingdoms of the day.

Sickness and decline marked the end of the long reign of Tuthmose IIIs great grandson, Amenhotep III (ca.1390-1353 B.C.E.), who’s rule culminated at the pinnacle of his Dynasty’s control over Egypt. His successor, Amenhotep IV/ Akhenaten (ca.1353-1335 B.C.E.), moved Egypts royal court to what has now become the partially excavated ruins of Tell el Amarna. This period in history, which begins at the end of the 15th Century B.C.E., has has been named after the modern day location of this palace, which Akhenaten named Akhetaten (Horizon of the Aten) after his favored deity.

To this new city, along with the royal family, went the diplomatic archives, which were, in turn, partially discarded or forgotten when the site was abandoned in ancient times. The remaining clay tablets, known as the Amarna Letters, have since become a primary source for contemporary knowledge of the history of the Late Bronze Age. Together with records from Syria and Anatolia, the Amarna Letters paint a vivid picture of the vibrant international community that existed in the Late Bronze Age.

The International Community

Far to the north of Egypt, the Hittites were masters of Anatolia. Hundreds of years earlier the Hittite King Mursili (ca.1620-1590 B.C.E.) had toppled Hammurabis descendants from the throne as rulers of the Babylonian Empire.

Although the Hittite Kingdom had since fallen on hard times, it’s power was resurgent during the Amarna Age under the auspices of King Suppliliuma (ca.1350-1322 B.C.E.), who would build an empire to challenge Egypts dominant role in the Near East.

What is now Syria was then the Hurrian Kingdom, whose people were known to the Egyptians as the Mittani. By the Amarna Age the Mittani Kings had settled their long conflict with Egypt by entering into a diplomatic marriage alliance with the Pharaohs. After extensive negotiations, Amenhoptep IIs son, Tuthmose IV (ca.1401-1391 B.C.E.), married a princess from Mittani, securing a peaceful frontier with Syria. It is possible that this initial agreement was reached in an effort for the two kingdoms to ally against the Hittites.

Nevertheless, during the middle of the 14th century B.C.E., the Mittani kingdom would be overrun by the Hittites in the west and the Assyrians in the east.

During the Amarna Age, the rise of Assyria as an international power under Ashur-uballit, (ca.1363-1328 B.C.E.), marks the beginning of a long standing rivalry between that land and its powerful southern neighbor, Babylonia. Babylonia was itself resurgent under a dynasty of kings known as the Kassites, who had inherited Hammurabis Kingdom after a century of divided rule.

The Kassites, like the Mittani, enjoyed a strong relationship with Egypt. It is known that a diplomatic marriage alliance also existed between the Egyptians and the Kassites. Although the original details of the negotiations are unknown, there is evidence that indicates Amenhotep IIs grandson, Amhenhotep III, married a princess from Babylonia, the daughter of the renowned Ziggurat builder, the Kassite King, Kurigalzu the Elder (ca.1400-1374 B.C.E.).

Trade

It is clear, however, that the relationship between Egypt and Babylonia was not built on reconciliation after conflict, as had been the case between Egypt and Mittani. In fact, the primary reason that Egypt had for building an alliance with distant Babylonia, which is referred to as Karaduniyash in the Amarna Letters, was to secure the long range trade of luxury goods and horses.

Trade during this time was less straightforward than modern arrangements. The formal basis for commerce was the reciprocation of gifts between brother kings. Accordingly, certain occasions became customary opportunities for largess.

Egypt, for its part, sent great quantities of gold and valuables in return for the gifts they received from the Kassites. As commerce was built upon cordial relationships between kingdoms, the cementing of such ties through marriage was seen as an important part of the established protocol.

For several generations the Great Kings, as they identified themselves in careful delineation from ordinary kings, continued to honor marriage alliances and a system of trade built on friendship between brothers.

As noted, this complex international dynamic came into being with the rise of the Egyptian Empire, whose dominance of the central territories of Palestine and Syria, coupled with Africa’s wealth in gold, made them the primary power in the ancient Near East for over a century. So it is no surprise to find that with the steady decline of that power, during the second half of the 14th century B.C.E., so declined the international community it had fostered.

Sources

Bryce, Trevor, Kingdom of the Hittites, (Oxford, Oxford University Press,)

Klengel, Horst. Syria: 3000 to 300 B.C. (Akademie Verlag.)

Moran, William, The Amarna Letters, (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press)

Roaf, Michael, Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia, (Andromeda, Oxfordshire, )

Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. (Oxford University Press, Oxford, )

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