Relations between the Great Powers During the Amarna Period | Teen Ink

Relations between the Great Powers During the Amarna Period

August 8, 2022
By Hi-I-am-Jason GOLD, Brookline, Massachusetts
Hi-I-am-Jason GOLD, Brookline, Massachusetts
11 articles 0 photos 0 comments

As one of the first times when empires considered forming alliances and peaceful negotiations, the Amarna Period was an important era. The detailed Amarna Letters preserved the diplomatic messages that Great Powers of the time - Egypt, Babylon, Hatti, Assyria, and Mitanni - sent each other.

The Great Powers’ diplomatic and imperial relations were widely affected by their economic conditions and their respective alliances during the Amarna Period. The Great Powers used their messengers and scribes to exchange letters and luxurious gifts to create ties with one other, while also scouting princesses for political marriages. The empires of the era emphasized trading with one another to increase their economic and political influence. Lastly, the empires also resorted to warfare to conquer and control key parts of trading routes to better finance their exchange.

During the Amarna period, diplomacy was encouraged and at first there was little conflict between the Hittites and the Egyptians. Several letters reveal that The Hittite Empire, did eventually have some friction with Egypt, and The Hittites finally did clash with Egypt.  However, Babylon was on relatively good terms with Egypt, and only wrote letters complaining about relatively minor issues such as the condition of the Babylonian princess married to the pharaoh or insufficient escorts for their princesses. Assyria had just entered the international arena and wrote to Egypt to test the waters of the political scene. Mitanni was allied with Egypt. However, they were weaker in terms of trade and were often forced to acquiece to Egypt’s actions and decisions. Mitanni was also declining in power and was being monitored by the Hittites, Assyria, and Amurru (a neighboring kingdom), all of whom were looking to absorb Mitannian territory.  

The scribes who wrote these diplomatic letters serve as an important indication of how well educated and developed a kingdom was. For example, Mitanni wrote in Hurrian to Egypt, which showed both the lacking support for the Mitannian branch of language and Egypt’s superior knowledge of foreign tongues. Scribes that composed letters in native languages either did not have the money, or the education supported by their country, to learn a more widely known and accepted language in which to compose. More developed empires used Akkadian or other more widespread languages, evidence that they had the education for their scribes to write in different languages. Kingdoms used letters to gauge their connection and support to decide the priority and strength of its allies. Writers using more accepted language came from countries that valued development and education, just the qualities that another empire would value.

Besides the composing scribes, the messengers had just as much importance as the letters themselves during that period, with approximately twenty-three letters mentioning messengers by name. Some empires had a preference for trustworthy messengers and nominated only those for the job. As seen in EA 24, “If I should desire to send a word to my brother, concerning my land, then let my brother listen to rumors but let Mane say. If Mane and Gilia speak anything concerning me, concerning my land, then my brother may listen to it as authentic . . . If Gilia and Mane say anything about my brother, about his land, I will accept it as authentic.” (Moran 63) In a different letter, the pharaoh also complained about his messengers who lied about gifts sent to foreign king Kadashman-Enlil I, and that Kadashman-Enlil decided not to give them anything since they lied anyways. Therefore, the messenger’s actions and attitude could affect the relationship between Empires.

Generally, a messenger had ties with the royal palace and their most basic job was to deliver the letter to the recipient, where they were welcomed lavishly and treated respectably, like a modern-day ambassador. They would present the letter and interpret the content in a beneficial way for their country and were ready to defend the message against questions and clear up any  confusion. In EA7 of the Amarna letters, Burna-Buriyash complained about Akhenaten not sending messengers for comfort when Burna-Buriyash was sick. The messenger immediately defended their lord: “It is not a place close by so your brother can hear about you and send you greetings. The country is far away. Who is going to tell your brother so he can immediately send you greetings? Would your brother hear that you are ill and still not send you his messenger?” (Moran 13) These messengers knew how to deal with palace courtesies and knew a lot more about their own country than an average civilian. They were adept at negotiating and defending their master’s letter.

Another way Great Powers maintained diplomatic peace was the gift exchange. Messengers, along with the tablets, brought luxurious gifts for the foreign ruler. In an exemplary example, both kingdoms send gifts of equal value, and usually, it was something that the monarch wanted -- goods, personnel, material, etc. The value of the contents said a lot about the attitude of the gift giver. Cheap gifts might have come from a weaker nation with inept trading capabilities. Or it might have come from a strong empire that did not put too much thought or care into the receiver as an ally. In EA3, Kadashman-Enlil (the king of Karaduniyas) wrote to Akhenaten, “{Y]ou have sent me as my greeting-gift, the only thing in six years, 30 minas of gold that looked like silver. It was just 30 minas of gold you sent me. My gift does not amount to what I have given you every year.” (Moran 7) Kadashman-Enlil was attempting to trade one of his daughters to Egypt for gold. He had also been sending valued gifts to Akhenaten to secure an alliance. However, the only thing the pharaoh sent back as a gift for the political marriage did not equal the gifts Kadashman-Enlil sent. Only powerful empires within the trade could afford such an attitude.

Messengers were also an important source of information. They acted as agents who surveyed the other empires for information so their ruler could adjust to a proper attitude depending on the economy, diplomatic, and military strength of the surveyed country. The messengers of this period were also regarded as traders. Gift-exchanges could be seen as trading between the monarchs, with the messengers delivering the gifts and the letters. Like the scribes of the letters, traders were a good source of information, The goods they brought could be valued, and formed the basis for speculation about the finance of that country. A rich empire like Egypt sent gold and gifts, products of better value than a small kingdom could offer. The mannerisms of the traders could provide information about a kingdom. Well-mannered merchants often came from a disciplined kingdom. A merchant from a well-educated country knew the right words to use, was polite, and had proper trading etiquette. . Overall, many actions and talk from the traders and messengers could be used to gain insight into their empire. Sometimes, the ruler even detained messengers to either get more information, hinder the flow of information, or force the messaging kingdom into some agreement.

Aside from delivering, interpreting, and defending royal letters, the messengers were also diplomats sent to foreign countries to renew relationships. They sent the messengers as diplomats to create ties with foreign empires. For example, Egypt sent the previously named messenger Mane to renew their diplomacy with Tushratta of Mitanni at a time when a new pharaoh was rising into power. Suppilluiuma from the Hittites sent his messenger to Egypt to establish the “mutual relationship between us” (Holmes 377). Messengers could be sent when a new king rose to power, sending greeting gifts, and showing the correct attitude. Messengers were their master’s voice and spoke authoritatively to the other kings; they established connections and dictated the relationships.

Additionally, they scouted princesses and reviewed the potential brides to marry politically. During the Amarna period, many political relationships were forged with marriage. The messengers were an integral asset to preview the princesses and offer critical insight to the ruler of whom to marry. In EA4, a correspondence between two empires stated, “And as to the gold I wrote you about, send me whatever is on hand . . . you send the gold I wrote you about, I will give you my daughter. So please send me the gold you feel prompted to.”(Moran 9) Tushratta of Mitanni requested the trade of his princess for Akhenaten III’s gold, which he needed to complete a building project. Trading princesses was quite common in Amarna times; kings might use them for monetary value, for acquiring support, or for forging bonds with another kingdom. Mitanni was declining in power and had to ask for Egypt’s support, which was why throughout the Amarna letters Tushratta complained and sent gifts to Egypt. This illustrated the importance of “princess-trade” that could provide beneficial to both sides. The messenger’s role was even more significant because of the necessity of selecting ideal brides for their kings.

Besides gifts, trading itself was also an essential asset to the imperial relations between the Great Powers. A Great Power had a strong economy to back it. Trading was one way to ensure the quality of life and an economic boost.

Trading and economy were of critical importance. One of the clearest examples was Egypt; the kingdom still maintained dominance and relevance among the Great Powers, even as they moved the capital and reformed their religion, due to the sheer abundance of gold in the Nile River, which was traded for by Tushratta and many rulers of the Great Powers. The rich finances of an empire were needed to back this exchange. As mentioned before, more valuable gifts tended to encourage better alliances. During the Amarna Period, Egypt allied with the Great Powers effortlessly. Despite his disrespectful, low effort gifts, Akhenaten married Mittanian and Babylonian princesses in exchange for gold. Thus the bond was sealed between Mitanni and the power of gold throughout empires.

The influence that gold had on surrounding kingdoms was immense. Mitanni was an enemy but converted to Egypt’s ally because of the need of gold for Tushratta’s construction projects. Throughout multiple letters, it was clear that Tushratta had put much effort into gifts and being on good terms with Egypt, partly for the political alliance and partly for the gold that he craved. In EA 29, Tushratta stated, “And the bride-price that Nimmureya, your father, sent, was beyond measure, rivaling in height heaven and earth. . . . He sent along 4 sacks’ full of gold, not to mention the jewelry . . .” (Moran 93) With the gold and Egypt’s support, Mitanni could better arm itself against the Hittites and the neighbor Amurru.

Not only were messengers important, but so also were general traders and merchants. In EA8, Babylonian king Burna-Buriyash demanded vengeance for merchange who had been murdered in Egyptian lands. He said, “In your country, I have been despoiled. Bring them to account and make compensation for the money that they took away. Put to death the men who put my servants to death, and so avenge their blood.” (Moran 16) Merchants were citizens traveling outside of their kingdoms. The host kingdom had a liability that was decided when messengers renewed terms of diplomacy on behalf of their rulers. Merchants’ goods were money from another country. If the caravan or the trade route was ambushed and attacked, it was a considerable loss to both empires. In EA8, the Babylonian king also stated that these bandits might continue harassing this route if the pharaoh did not put them to death. This would result in “messengers between us will thereby be cut off.” (Moran 16) The loss of correspondence was dangerous as it was one of the only ways empires communicated with each other. If Egypt captured the bandits immediately, then they gave a lot of respect for Babylon. If Egypt was unresponsive, Babylon might want to indulge in less valuable trades with Egypt. Therefore, the way an empire reacted when a caravan was attacked within their domain depicted the power and relationship of the trader’s country to the host empire.

Economic relations between countries did not always result in positive bonds. Economic relations could even bring conflict and war. The importance of trading in diplomacy led to a greater demand for  trade routes, old and new. The need for escorts for caravans was greatly demanded, as a sign of security but also as a sign of respect. Conflicts and friction between empires stemmed from such concern. For example, bandits constantly disturbed the caravans throughout the trading passages. So great was Burna-Buriyash’s concern about the feeble escort his daughter was receiving in a transport to an important marriage, he wrote to Akhenaten, “When I presented my daughter to Haamassi, your messenger . . . Are they going to take her to you in 5 chariots? Should I in these circumstances allow her to be brought to you from my house, my neighboring kings would say, ‘They have transported the daughter of a Great King to Egypt in 5 chariots’.” (Moran 21) This simple trade for princesses had suddenly created an unhappy tension between Egypt and Babylon because of the little respect and importance Egypt gave to the safety of the Babylonian princess.

In the Amarna times, the Great Powers had differences in power. In the letters that Tushratta wrote to Egypt, he frequently brought up the previous pharaoh, trying to show Akhenaten how their bond was “back in the days” with his father Amenhotep III. (Moran 41) He also frequently mentioned the pharaoh’s mother Teye, as Tushratta was on good terms with Teye. He first sent a letter to Teye complaining about the cheap statues and disrespect he received from Akhenaten. (Moran 84-85) He had hoped that Teye would be able to persuade the pharaoh to be amiable in their alliance and not look down on Mitanni. Sadly, that would not be the case. Egypt’s gold trade singlehandedly provided a massive advantage in the imperial diplomacies, giving Egypt the upper hand when talking to Mitanni. Egypt could afford to ignore the protests from Babylon and Mitanni. Mitanni was declining in power during that time; the Babylonians and Hittites were waiting for the right time to reap the weakening kingdom. Mitanni had to be on Egypt’s side to seek protection. Egypt knew this reliance and capitalized on it.

Respect and attitude was a point from which tensions originated. When Tushratta wrote in EA27, “But my brother has not sent the solid (gold) statues that your father was going to send. You have sent plated ones of wood. Nor have you sent me the goods that your father was going to send me, but you have reduced (them) greatly.” (Moran 87) Tushratta sent gifts to Egypt to secure their alliance, and he was expecting gold of equal value and respect back. What he received were not pure solid gold statues, but gold-plated ones. He felt disrespected and wrote a letter to Egypt complaining. His next letter revealed that the pharaoh detained his two messengers, creating even more friction between the allies.

A conflict between The Hittites and the Egyptians eventually erupted; after some turbulence during the Amarna period, the Hittite rose in power and felt ready to take on Egypt. Also during the Amarna period, Mitanni allied with Egypt and was wracked  with political unrest. (Niebuhr 59) Akhenaten’s negligence about his politics created a terrible a danger to the empire. One of Egypt’s allies, Amurru, had been growing more powerful by the will of the pharaoh. Intending to have Amurru shield against potential Hittite attacks, Akhenaten dismissed Mitanni’s pleas of support. However, kings switched and the new ruler of Amurru sided with the Hittites. Later, Tushratta was removed by his son who then allied with the Assyrians. Egypt, weak from religious reform and a non-militaristic pharaoh, lost its allies and protection against the wolves near the Euphrates.

The Great Powers during the Amarna Period used diplomacy to try  to maintain peace. The influence of trade and economy was immense. Many small conflicts were pacified with gifts and princesses, and a healthy rotation of goods circulated throughout the rulers’ inventories. However, the influence of wealth and power also affected relations negatively, bringing in more conflicts to weakened empires; Egypt became less powerful due to fewer campaigns and the pharaoh’s religious reforms. It didn’t help that its ally Mitanni was declining in power. The power-hungry empires broke the peace and ultimately fought for Egypt’s gold and Tushratta’s wealth.



Holmes, Y. Lynn. “The Messengers of the Amarna Letters.” Journal of the American Oriental     Society, vol. 95, no. 3, American Oriental Society, 1975, pp. 376–81. JSTOR, JSTOR, doi:10.2307/599349.

Moran, William L. The Amarna Letters. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Niebuhr, Carl. The Tell El Amarna Period. Project Gutenberg, 29 July 2008.,

Westbrook, Raymond, and Amarna. “Babylonian Diplomacy in the Amarna Letters.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 120, no. 3, American Oriental Society, 2000, pp.377–82. JSTOR, JSTOR, doi:10.2307/606009.

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