Context of Marriage Diplomacy Between the Two Empires

A rebuttal from the king of Egypt

Letter EA1: A rebuttal from the king of Egypt

Egyptian pharaohs were no strangers to marriage diplomacy, the prime example being Amenhotep III’s several marriages to foreign women. Though Egypt was not as susceptible to foreign attack as those of the Near East until the decline of the New Kingdom, they did understand the importance of maintaining peaceful ties with powerful neighboring empires. Indeed, according to Schulman, Amenhotep III was “the best-attested practitioner of diplomatic marriage during the Eighteenth Dynasty” (Schulman 183).

The first few letters reveal a complex negotiation with regards to the intermarriage of their two kingdoms, and thus their power dynamics and relationship as trading partners. The letters seem to indicate that the Egyptian pharaoh approached the negotiations from a position of power, as Kadashman-Enlil often complains and grovels about his unsuccessful attempt to marry one of Amenhotep’s daughters; when Amenhotep III says that no Egyptian princesses are married off abroad, Kadashman-Enlil responds, “Why not. You are king you do as you please. Were you to give a daughter who would say anything” (EA 4). Though Amenhotep was unwilling to compromise on this matter, Kadashman-Enlil does often indicate that there is an expectation of Egyptian gold; “the primary interest of the king of Egypt was in acquiring foreign princesses, and that the focus of the foreign rulers was Egyptian gold” (O’Connor, Cline 20). The conversations may also indicate that Amenhotep III perceived a change in the power dynamics of Mesopotamia itself, where Babylonia was no longer a power player in the Near East in the same way as the powerful Mitanni or Assyrian empires. This partly explains why he would be unwilling to send one of his daughters to be married in Babylonia, for in his calculus, it may simply not have been worth the sacrifice. 

            The saga of the marriage negotiations between Amenhotep III and Kadashman Enlil I actually begins with the marriage of the Babylonian king’s sister to the Egyptian pharaoh even before Kadashman-Enlil I took power. Indeed, his father, Kurigalzu I, had agreed to send his daughter off to marry Amenhotep III. Thus, the alliance between the Babylonians and the Egyptians was deemed favorable even before the negotiations in the Amarna Letters began. The prior marriage indicates that there was a mutual desire for peace and trade between the two empires.

That said, the treatment of this Babylonian princess (daughter of Kurigalzu I) is later discussed in EA 1 when Kadashman-Enlil inquires as to her whereabouts and well being; “my sister whom my father gave you, is there with you. Nobody has seen her. Is she dead or alive?” Kadashman-Enlil’s envoys indicated to him that they did not see or make contact with his sister when they visited Amenhotep III, leading the Babylonian king to question Amenhotep’s treatment of her before he entertains another marriage proposal. Though this dialogue may seem almost petty upon initial examination, it does constitute some of the only known diplomatic relations between these two great empires, so it would be a mistake to assume that these were not among the most important discussions to be had. After all, marriage diplomacy would have gone a long way in assuring the security of each state.

Amenhotep responds to this claim regarding the king’s sister by rather bluntly calling Kadashman-Enlil’s envoys liars and accusing them of dishonestly portraying the events of their visit to the king himself. He goes on to say this angered him, particularly because it was not the first time a miscommunication of the sort had happened; “The first time the envoys had gone to your father, their mouths told lies. The next time they went, they told you lies… So I promised them I would not give them anything else” (EA 1). While it is unclear whether the envoys had an incentive to be or were indeed liars, Amenhotep is rather vexed by the Babylonian king’s implied accusation. There does, however, seem to be a logical inconsistency in Amenhotep’s position. Before he accuses the envoys of being liars, Amenhotep suggests that “There is not one among them who knows her, who is close to your father, and who could identify her.”  It seems rather unusual to accuse the envoys of being both unable to recognize the queen as well as being liars who are deliberately misrepresenting the truth, for if they truly did not recognize her, would they still be liars? One of these two arguments arguments would have sufficed, but the inclusion of both does not seem logical, thus casting a shadow of doubt on the pharaoh’s claims. Though Amenhotep’s position with regards to the well-being of Kadashman-Enlil’s sister seems dubious, it is certainly possible that the intricacies and definitional inconsistencies of language may obscure this interpretation of the tablet. That said, this exchange marks the beginning of a tone of mutual skepticism between the two kings as they continue to squabble over their treatment of each other.

Furthermore, Amenhotep III uses the rough equivalent of the term “ass-herder” to describe the Babylonian envoy Kadashman-Enlil had sent. The historical context here is important to note because these Babylonians were not actually real Babylonians, per se. Kadashman-Enlil was part of a dynasty of Kassite kings who had gained control after the Hittites sacked Babylon and adopted its customs. As such, they were not thought to be as sophisticated or cultured as the native people of Babylon. Kozloff deems the use of the term ‘ass-herder’ as an “ethnic slur on the Kassites' pastoral past and garb they continued to wear, an insult that required Kadashman either sever relations or to swallow the obvious bluff and accept that his sister was likely dead” (Kozloff 222). It would seem that Kadashman-Enlil would ultimately be willing to accept this insult, so long as he received gold from the Egyptian pharaoh.