Once the Hittite language had been identified and its use of cuneiform writing understood, all sorts of fascinating things began to be discovered, such as the fact that the Hittites were among the first (if not the very first) to domesticate horses and harness them to chariots. However the most interesting feature to emerge from the Hittite archives was the details of the diplomatic relationships between Egypt and the Hittite empire.
For example, the Hittite records of the Battle of Kadesh threw a very different light upon that skirmish than what had hitherto been understood from the boastful accounts of Rameses II. Carved on temple walls all over Egypt were loud declamations of how Rameses had trampled all over the Hittites and by his personal bravery had slaughtered his enemies in heaps. Once the Hittites could present their side of the story, however, we discovered that the battle had been a very close run thing from the Egyptian point of view and Rameses was lucky to get out of it with a whole skin.
Perhaps the most poignant of all historical stories is the tale told by Mursilis of the fate of one of his brothers, sent down into Egypt at the request of the Egyptian queen. According to the Hittites, Queen Dahamunzu of Egypt wrote to the Hittite king Supiluliumas with a most surprising request.
“While my father was down in the country of Carchemish, he sent Lupakki and Tarhunda-zalma forth into the country of Amka. So they went to attack Amka and brought deportees, cattle and sheep back before my father. But when the people of Egypt heard of the attack on Amqa, they were afraid. And in addition, their lord, Nibhururiya, had died; therefore the queen of Egypt, who was Dahamunzu, sent a messenger to my father and wrote to him thus: ‘My husband died. A son I have not. But to thee, they say, the sons are many. If thou wouldst give me one son of thine, he would become my husband. Never shall I pick out a servant of mine and make him my husband!…I am afraid.’”
Even today, when international marriages are quite common, the request sounds odd – though even the most unimaginative can hear the desperation in the voice of the hard-pressed queen surrounded by courtiers greedy for power which they can only achieve through her body. The plaintive “I am afraid” speaks volumes for a young woman caught between greedy men and desperate to avoid losing her fragile hold on power – and possibly on life.
Unfortunately – but not unnaturally – Supiluliumas was cautious about the affair.
“When my father heard this, he called for the Great Ones for council saying: ‘Such a thing has never happened to me in my whole life!’ So it happened that my father sent forth to Egypt Hattusa-ziti, the chamberlain, with this order: ‘Go and bring thou the true word back to me! Maybe they deceive me! Maybe in fact they do have a son of their lord! Bring thou the true word back to me!’ (In the meantime) until Hattusa-ziti came back from Egypt, my father finally conquered the city of Carchemish.”
There were no jet planes in those days, even travelling by horse was slow and dangerous because of the lack of good roads. The journey to Egypt from northern Turkey and back again dragged out over the winter.
“But when it became spring, Hattusa-ziti [came back] from Egypt and the messenger of Egypt, Lord Hani, came with him. Now, since my father had, when he sent Hattusa-ziti to Egypt, given him orders as follows: ‘Maybe they have a son of their lord! Maybe they deceive me and do not want my son for the kingship!’ therefore the queen of Egypt wrote back to my father in a letter thus: ‘Why didst thou say “they deceive me” in that way? Had I a son, would I have written about my own and my country’s shame to a foreign land? Thou didst not believe me and hast even spoken thus to me. He who was my husband has died. A son I have not! Never shall I take a servant of mine and make him my husband! I have written to no other country, only to thee have I written! They say thy sons are many: so give me one son of thine! To me he will be husband, but in Egypt he will be king.’”
Despite such satisfactory answers, Supiluliumas took Hani, the Egyptian ambassador, to one side and interrogated him over another possibility that was troubling his mind.
“…Suppiluliuma speaks thus to Hani:’ “……I [myself] was friendly, (as if it were my) duty. [H]e will in some way become a hostage, but [king] you will not make him!’”
Clearly Supiluliumas had nothing to learn from Machiavelli! Hani, who must have had his instructions from Queen Dahamunzu, returned a diplomatic reply.
“[Thus spoke Hani to my father, ‘O my lord! This [is…] our country’s shame! If we had [a son of the king] at all, would we have come to a foreign country and kept asking for a lord for ourselves? Nibhururiya, who was our lord, died; a son he has not. Our lord’s wife is solitary. We are seeking a son of our lord for the kingship in Egypt and for the woman, our lady, we seek him as her husband. Furthermore, we went to no other country, only here did we come. Now, O our lord, give us a son of thine!’ So then my father concerned himself on their behalf with the matter of a son.”
With his doubts set at rest, Supiluliumas turned to the incredible opportunity this offered him of extending Hittite influence over Egypt.
“Then my father asked for the tablet of the treaty again, how formerly the Storm God took the people of Kurushtama, sons of Hatti, and carried them to Egypt and made them Egyptians and how the Storm God concluded a treaty between the countries of Egypt and Hatti, and how they were continuously friendly with each other. And when they read aloud the tablet before them, my father then addressed them thus: ‘Of old, Hattusas and Egypt were friendly with each other and now this too on our behalf has taken place between them. Thus Hatti and Egypt will continuously be friendly with each other!’”
Dynastic marriages, which were the best means known in the ancient world for guaranteeing peaceful relations between countries, usually involved the weaker nation sending a daughter to the royal harem of the stronger nation. Here, however, were two equal nations and the one was offering the other the throne itself – not just friendship, but rule.
“So since my father was kindhearted, he complied with the word of the woman and concerned himself with the matter of a son.”
Supiluliumas selected one of his sons, a young man called Zannanza, and dispatched him to Egypt with a suitable escort. They got as far as the border of Egypt – and then disappeared; a badly damaged tablet records the event from the Hittite point of view.
“…z]i, the king of Barga, H[u…], the man of … When they did not send …., then a tabl[et…] they…and they … one to another. [When] they brought this tablet, they spoke thus: ‘[The people of Egypt?] killed [Zannanza]‘ and brought word: ‘Zannanza [died?’. And when] my father he[ard of] the slaying of Zannanza, he began to lament for [Zannanza and] to the go[ds…] he spoke [th]us: ‘O Gods! I did [no e]vil, [yet] the people of Egy[pt d]id [this to me] and they also [attacked] the frontier of my country!’”
There is just one problem with this tale: there is no record in Egypt of a Queen Dahamunzu. This would not be much of a problem if we were dealing with something like the Bible, which can be easily dismissed as myth or legend, inaccurate, unreliable and so on. Cuneiform tablets, however, cannot be disregarded so easily. (Mind you, neither should the Bible, but that’s another story.)
Dr Katherine Griffis-Greenberg of the Univerity of Alabama remarks, “’Dahamunzu’ is likely the Hittite understanding of ‘/tA Hmt nsw/’ – ‘The King’s wife.’” If so, it would not be the first time that a title had been misunderstood as a proper name. However it does rather leave the field wide open as to who this “King’s wife” could be. Comparative dating narrows the setting of the story down to the end of the 18th Dynasty and most scholars have identified Dahamunzu as Ankhesenamun, the wife and widow of Tutankhamun.
Germans, however, are fond of alternative theories and the more outlandish, the greater the academic kudos that appears to result – irrespective of whether the theory has any academic merit or not. I think it was Rolf Krauss, in his “Das Ende die Amarnazeit”, who put forward the idea that the “recently deceased” king was, in fact, Akhenaton and therefore Dahamunzu is Nefertiti. Recently Professor Nicholas Reeves, who has written a number of books dealing with this period, has published “Akhenaten, the False Prophet”, in which he makes the same claim.
One argument in favour of this theory is Mursilis’ reference to the Egyptian king as Nibhururiya, a name which is similar to the name we render as Akhenaton rather than Tutankhamun. Another argument relies upon the exact dating of Egyptian and Hittite history. There were only two Hittite kings with the name Supiluliumas. Supiluliumas I reigned 1380-1345 BC while Supiluliumas II reigned1200-1190. The last one is obviously too late for any pharaoh or queen of the Eighteenth Dynasty. The Egyptian pharaoh whose reign falls within that of Supiluliumas is Amenhotep III, who ruled 1386-1349 BC, but as there is always a margin of error in dating, it is possible to argue that Akhenaton, who ruled 1350-1334 BC could be the king who had died and Dahamunzu would be his beautiful queen Nefertiti.
If we accept that Nibhururiya is Akhenaton – and I am not at all sure that I do – then we are left with the question of Tutankhamun. Dahamunzu clearly stated that her husband had died and she had no son, so Tutankhamun cannot be the son of Akhenaton and Nefertiti. (This is not an earth-shattering conclusion, for the Amarna records only show the royal pair with three daughters; there is no hint of a son.) Two candidates present themselves.
Some suggest that Tutankhamun could be the son of Amenhotep III, Akhenaton’s father. Against this is the fact that Akhenaton reigned for 16 years while Tutankhamun was only about 8 when he came to the throne. A more probable suggestion is that Tutankhamun was the son of Smenkare, who may have been Akhenaton’s brother but more likely his nephew. The theory that Akhenaton was the dead king of Mursilis’ story present another intriguing possibilty: might Tutankhamun really be Zannanza, the Hittite prince? The suggestion from other sources that Tutankhamun was murdered or assassinated would fit in with this theory very nicely.
(Mind you, there is a variant on the theory which claims that Nefertiti reigned for a short time after her husband’s death, taking the throne name of Smenkare! I don’t think we need to spend too much time on that idea.)
Unfortunately, there are a number of problems with this theory. Zannanza was sent to marry Queen Dahamunzu who, by the theory, would be Nefertiti. The Egyptian records, however, are clear that Tutankhamun was not married to a much older woman but to a girl of his own age, Ankhesenamun. We see them on the famous throne, a pair of teenagers, with Ankhesenamun reaching out lovingly to her boy-husband.
As well as the two letters written by Dahamunzu, the Hittite archives also preserve a note written by the Egyptian ambassador to Hattusas to accompany the second letter. In it Hani, the ambassador, confirms that his lord, Nibhururiya, had indeed died without a son and that the queen was on her own. Nefertiti was not on her own, for she had two living daughters and her husband’s brother (or nephew) Smenkare.
Finally there is the burial of Tutankhamun. Tutankhamun was followed by Ay, an elderly army general who so despised the whole Amarna era that he did his best to blot the period from history. His own records date his reign from immediately after the death of Amenhotep III and pass over Akhenaton and Tutankhamun in silence. Indeed, in the good old Egyptian way, there was even a certain amount of chiselling out of Akhenaton’s name. While it is understandable that this crotchety old general should give a lavish funeral to the legitimate pharaoh (whether or not he had assassinated his predecessor) it is highly unlikely that he would have done the same for a foreigner who had kept him from the throne for eight years!
The Hittite mail department not only kept the letters written by Queen Dahamunzu, it also kept copies of the letters written by the Hittite king in reply. One of these, KUB XIX 20, is a letter from Supiluliumas to the king of Egypt, demanding to know what had happened to his son. It is obvious from the terms of the letter that he is addressing a ruler who had taken the throne while the original correspondence was in progress.
Professor van de Hout, who translated this letter in 1993, renders it like this.
“…[When the queen of E]gypt wrote again and again, you(?) not […] was you/she(?). But if you [in the meanwhile? had seated yourself on the throne, then] you could have sent my son back home. […] Your [serva]nt Hani held us responsible […] What [have you done] with my son?!”
Despite the gaps in the text (indicated by the material between square brackets) it would seem that Hani, the Egyptian ambassador, had returned a robust answer to the Hittite king’s protest, something along the lines of “there was already a king on the throne when you sent your son, so you have no one to blame but yourself for whatever happened to him.” This seems obvious from the “But if you . . . you could have sent my son back.” Over the thousands of years since the letter was sent, we can still hear the anguished note in the father’s voice: “What have you done with my son?”
One suspects that Hani, who had so definitely informed Supiluliumas that there was no prospective heir to the throne, was desperately trying to extricate himself from the tight place in which he found himself. On the one hand there was the Hittite king, justly incensed over the disappearance of his son; on the other there was the new king in Egypt, making rumbling noises about the part Hani had played in nearly handing the country over to one of its traditional enemies.
The dating objection advanced against the Dahamunzu-Ankhesenamun theory must equally apply to the Tutankhamun-Zannanza theory. Tutankhamun is supposed to have died in 1325 BC, twenty years after the death of Supiluliumas. This proves, it is claimed, that Ankhesenamun cannot be Dhamunzu because Supiluliumas was not alive to receive her letters and send out his son. But equally Supiluliumas was not alive to protest over the death of his son and demand “What have you done with my son?” If we can disregard the dating in the one instance, we can disregard it in the other.
To me, the original theory still stands. Tutankhamun is the king who died leaving no son, Ankhesenamun is the Dahamunzu or King’s Wife who wrote to Supiluliumas and nearly brought about long-lasting peace in the Middle East between the two great empires.
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