With the exception of three interesting but relatively uninformative letters from the Tell el-Amarna archive, nearly all the extant correspondence between the Hittite and Egyptian royal courts consists of cuneiform letters found at the capital of Hattusas (modern Bogazköy), dating to the reigns of Hattusilis III and Ramesses II. Approximately a hundred letters have been found, some of them quite fragmentary. Nearly all these letters are written in a dialect of the “diplomatic” Akkadian cuneiform that had become the language of international relations in the Bronze Age. Although the archive overwhelmingly represents the point of view of the Hittite recipients, the Bogazköy material also preserves a few preliminary draft letters in Hittite, which presumably were later translated into Akkadian before transmission to the Egyptian court. Since the Ramessid capital at Qantir is in a poor state of preservation, it seems unlikely that this site will yield any Egyptian communications.

Not only did the two monarchs write each other, occasionally their wives and other family members exchanged letters as well. The topics of this correspondence are wide-ranging: the exchange of gifts, marriage arrangements, medical problems, treaty negotiations, and perhaps even a proposed visit of Hattusilis to Egypt. The epistolography reflects the stilted diplomatic language of the times: after effusive greetings, the writer inquires after the health of the king and his family, his houses, chariots, and even horses. A major concern throughout is the exchange of gifts, a critical affirmation of friendship in the diplomatic practice of that era.

Although they are not letters sensu stricto, perhaps the most important of these documents are three copies in Akkadian of the Hittite version of the treaty of Ramesses' regnal Year 21, all of which differ in several aspects from the hieroglyphic version in the Karnak temple. When supplemented by a number of letters concerned with the drafting of the final versions of the pact on silver tablets, these copies reveal a great deal about the international relations and negotiations leading to this pivotal event.

Urhi-Teshub, Hattusilis's half-brother, whom he had managed to depose, is the subject of several of these letters, most of which were written while he was an exile in Egypt. As a claimant to the throne, Urhi-Teshub remained a potentially unsettling factor in Egyptian-Hittite relations until the treaty had been concluded. By the time of the marriage correspondence some thirteen years later, the Urhi-Teshub problem had apparently been defused.

The later group of letters is concerned with the marriage of a Hittite princess to Ramesses, doubtless as a means of cementing the treaty ties between the two royal houses. In this correspondence especially, Pudukhepa, the Hittite queen, wields such remarkable influence that during the marriage negotiations Ramesses would sometimes send parallel letters both to her and to Hattusilis, addressing her as “sister.”

Bibliography

  • Beckman, G. Hittite Diplomatic Texts, edited by H. A. Hofner, Jr. SBL Writings from the Ancient World, Series 7. Atlanta, Ga., 1996. Contains a good selection from Hittite treaties and diplomatic correspondence, not only with Egypt but also with other contemporary countries.
  • Edel, E. Die ägyptisch-hethitische Korrespondenz aus Boghazköi in babylonischer und hethitischer Sprache. Vol. 1, Umschriften und Übersetzungen; vol. 2, Kommentar. Abhandlungen der Rheinsch-Westfälischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 77. Opladen, 1994. Now the fundamental study of the Ramesses-Hattusilis correspondence; contains copies of the cuneiform tablets, transcriptions, translations, and extensive commentaries of the documents.
  • Goetze, A. “The Struggle for the Domination of Syria (1400–1300 B.C.).” In The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 2, part 2. pp. 1–20. Cambridge, 1975. A good description of the history and society of the Hittite Empire for this period.
  • Murnane, W. J. The Road to Kadesh: A Historical Interpretation of the Battle Reliefs of King Sety I at Karnak. 2d ed. Chicago, 1990. A wide-ranging study, primarily concerned with the Amarna correspondence, which also describes the diplomatic and military background of the ancient Near East leading up to the battle of Kadesh.

Ogden Goelet