The Hittite version (above, at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums) and Egyptian (below, at the Precinct of Amun-Re in Karnak)
The Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty, also known as the Eternal Treaty or the Silver Treaty, is the only ancient Near Eastern treaty for which both sides’ versions have survived. It is the earliest known surviving peace treaty and is sometimes called the Treaty of Kadesh after the well-documented Battle of Kadesh fought some sixteen years earlier, although Kadesh is not mentioned in the text. Both sides of the treaty have been the subject of intensive scholarly study. The treaty itself did not bring about a peace; in fact “an atmosphere of enmity between Hatti and Egypt lasted many years,” until the eventual treaty of alliance was signed.
Translation of the texts revealed that this engraving was originally translated from silver tablets given to each side, which have since been lost.
The Egyptian version of the peace treaty was engraved in hieroglyphics on the walls of two temples belonging to Pharaoh Ramesses II in Thebes: the Ramesseum and the Precinct of Amun-Re at the Temple of Karnak. The scribes who engraved the Egyptian version of the treaty included descriptions of the figures and seals that were on the tablet that the Hittites delivered.
The Hittite version was found in the Hittite capital of Hattusa (in present day Turkey), preserved on baked clay tablets uncovered among the Hittite royal palace’s sizable archives. Two of the Hittite tablets are today displayed at the Museum of the Ancient Orient, part of the Istanbul Archaeology Museums. The third is on display in the Berlin State Museums in Germany. A copy of this treaty is prominently displayed on a wall in the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.
The treaty was signed to end a long war between the Hittite Empire and the Egyptians, who had fought for over two centuries to gain mastery over the lands of the eastern Mediterranean. The conflict culminated with an attempted Egyptian invasion in 1274 BC that was stopped by the Hittites at the city of Kadesh on the Orontes River in what is now Syria. The Battle of Kadesh resulted in both sides suffering heavy casualties, but neither was able to prevail decisively in either the battle or the war. The conflict continued inconclusively for about fifteen more years before the treaty was signed. Although it is often referred to as the “Treaty of Kadesh”, it was actually signed long after the battle, and Kadesh is not mentioned in the text. The treaty is thought to have been negotiated by intermediaries without the two monarchs ever meeting in person. Both sides had common interests in making peace; Egypt faced a growing threat from the “Sea Peoples”, while the Hittites were concerned about the rising power of Assyria to the east. The treaty was ratified in the 21st year of Ramesses II’s reign (1258 BC) and continued in force until the Hittite Empire collapsed eighty years later.
Pre-Ramesses II relationship with the Hittites
Hittite-Egyptian relations officially began once Hatti took over Mitanni’s role as the ruling power in central Syria and from there tensions would continue to be high until the conclusion of the treaty nearly one hundred years later. During the invasion and eventual defeat of Mitanni, the Hittite armies poured into Syria and began to exert their rule over the Egyptian vassals of Kadesh and Amurru. The loss of these lands in northern Syria would never be forgotten by the Egyptian pharaohs and their later actions demonstrated that they never would fully concede this loss at the hands of the Hittite Empire. Egypt’s attempts to regain the territory lost during the rule of Akhenaten continued to be futile until under the leadership of Seti I, the father of Ramesses II, significant gains did start to be made. In his own Kadesh-Amurru campaign against the Hittite armies, Seti I vanquished his foes at a battle near Kadesh, but the gains proved short-lived since Kadesh was eventually given up by Seti in a later treaty. The short gain by the Egyptians was the “opening salvo” of a conflict between the two nations, which would drag on over the next two decades.
Battle of Kadesh
The accounts of this battle mainly are derived from Egyptian literary accounts known as the Bulletin (also known as the Record) and the Poem as well as pictorial Reliefs. Unfortunately for scholars and individuals interested in the Battle of Kadesh, the details that these sources provide are heavily biased interpretation of the events. Since Ramesses II had complete control over the building projects, the resources were used for propagandist purposes by the pharaoh, who used them to brag about his victory at Kadesh. It is still known that Ramesses marched through Syria with four divisions of troops in the hopes of destroying the Hittite presence there and restoring Egypt to the “preeminent position it had enjoyed under Tuthmosis III”.The Hittite king, Muwatalli II, gathered together an army of his allies to prevent the invasion of his territory. At the site of Kadesh, Ramesses foolishly outdistanced the remainder of his forces and, after hearing unreliable intelligence regarding the Hittite position from a pair of captured prisoners, the pharaoh pitched camp across from the town. The Hittite armies, hidden behind the town, launched a surprise attack against the Amun division and quickly sent the division scattering. Although Ramesses tried to rally his troops against the onslaught of the Hittite chariots, it was only after the arrival of relief forces from Amurru that the Hittite attack was thrown back.
Although the Egyptians were able to survive a terrible predicament in Kadesh it was not the splendid victory that Ramesses sought to portray but rather a stalemate in which both sides sustained heavily losses. After an unsuccessful attempt to gain further ground the following day, Ramesses headed back south to Egypt bragging about his individual achievements during Kadesh. Even though Ramesses technically won the battle, he ultimately lost the war, when Muwatallis and his army retook Amurru and extended the buffer zone with Egypt further southward.
Subsequent campaigns into Syria
Despite suffering the later losses during his invasion of Syria, Ramesses II launched another campaign in his eighth year of rule, which proved largely successful. Instead of launching an attack against the heavily fortified position of Kadesh or going through Amurru, Ramesses conquered the city of Dapur in the hope of using the city as a bridgehead for future campaigns. After the successful capture of Dapur, the army returned to Egypt, and so the recently acquired territory reverted to Hittite control. In the tenth year of his rule, he launched another attack on the Hittite holdings in central Syria, and yet again, all areas of conquest eventually returned to Hittite hands. The pharaoh now recognised the impossible task of holding Syria in such a fashion and so ended the northern campaign.
The period is notable in the relationship between the Hittites and the Egyptians because despite the hostilities between the two nations and military conquests in Syria, Kadesh had been the last direct, official military confrontation fought among the Hittites and Egyptians. In some regards, as historians have noted, the period could be considered ‘cold war’ between Hatti and Egypt.
The Egyptian treaty was found in two originals: one with 30 lines at the Temple of Karnak on the wall extending south of the Great Hypostyle Hall, and the second showing 10 lines, at the Ramesseum. Jean-François Champollion copied a portion of the accords in 1828 and his findings were published posthumously in 1844. The Egyptian account described a great battle against the “Great King of Khatti”.
In 1906–1908, the German archaeologist Hugo Winckler excavated the site of the Hittite capital, Hattusa (now Boğazkale in Turkey) in conjunction with Theodore Makridi, the second director of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. The joint Turkish-German team found the remains of the royal archives, where they discovered 10,000 clay tablets written with cuneiform documenting many of the Hittites’ diplomatic activities. The haul included three tablets on which the text of the treaty was inscribed in the Akkadian language, a lingua franca of the time. Winckler immediately grasped the significance of the discovery:
… a marvellously preserved tablet which immediately promised to be significant. One glance at it and all the achievement of my life faded into insignificance. Here it was – something I might have jokingly called a gift from the fairies. Here it was: Ramses writing to Hattusilis about their joint treaty … confirmation that the famous treaty which we knew from the version carved on the temple walls at Karnak might also be illuminated from the other wise. Ramses is identified by his royal titles and pedigree exactly as in the Karnak text of the treaty; Hattusilis is described in the same way – the content is identical, word for word with parts of the Egyptian version [and] written in beautiful cuneiform and excellent Babylonian … As with the history of the people of Hatti, the name of this place was completely forgotten. But the people of Hatti evidently played an important role in the evolution of the ancient Western world, and though the name of this city, and the name of the people were totally lost for so long, their rediscovery now opens up possibilities we cannot yet begin to think of.
The Hittite treaty was discovered by Hugo Winckler in 1906 at Boğazkale in Turkey. In 1921, Daniel David Luckenbill, crediting Bruno Meissner for the original observation, noted that “this badly broken text is evidently the Hittite version of the famous battle of Kadesh, described in prose and verse by the scribes of Ramses II”
The peace treaty of Ramesses II and Hattušiliš III is known as one of the most important official “international” peace treaties between two great powers from the ancient Near East because its exact wording is known to us. Divided into points, the treaty flows between the Egyptians and Hittites as each side makes pledges of brotherhood and peace to the other in terms of the objectives. The treaty can be seen as a promise of peace and alliance since both powers make the mutual guarantee that they would not invade the other’s land. This provision ensures that both participants would act in harmony regarding the disputed Syrian holdings and, in effect, establishes boundaries for the two conflicting claims. No longer, according to the treaty, would costly Syrian campaigns be waged between the two Near Eastern powers, as a formal renunciation of further hostilities is made.
A second clause promotes alliance by making reassurances of aid, most likely military support, if either party is attacked by a third party or by internal forces of rebellion or insurgency The other stipulations coincide with Hattušiliš’ aims (consult Hittite aims section) in that the Hittite ruler placed great emphasis on establishing legitimacy for his rule: each country swore to the other to extradite political refugees back to their home country and within the Hittite version of the treaty Ramesses II agreed to provide support to Hattušiliš’ successors in order to hold the Hittite throne against dissenters. After the conclusion of the provision detailing the extradition of emigrants to their land of origin, the two rulers call upon the respective gods of Hatti and Egypt to bear witness to their agreement. The inclusion of the gods is a common feature in major pieces of international law since only a direct appeal to the gods could provide the proper means to guarantee adherence to the treaty. Their noted ability to bestow curses and blessings to people is employed as a serious penalty that would be imposed in case of a violation.
It is the only ancient Near Eastern treaty for which both sides’ versions have survived, enabling the two to be compared directly. It was structured to be an almost entirely symmetrical treaty, treating both sides equally and requiring them to undertake mutual obligations. There are a few differences; for instance, the Hittite version adopts a somewhat evasive preamble, asserting that “as for the relationship between land of Egypt and the Hatti land, since eternity the god does not permit the making of hostility between them because of a treaty valid forever.” By contrast, the Egyptian version states straightforwardly that the two states had been at war.
The treaty proclaims that both sides would in future forever remain at peace, binding the children and grandchildren of the parties. They would not commit acts of aggression against each other, they would repatriate each other’s political refugees and criminals and they would assist each other in suppressing rebellions. Each would come to the other’s aid if threatened by outsiders: “And if another enemy come [against] the land of Hatti … the great king of Egypt shall send his troops and his chariots and shall slay his enemy and he shall restore confidence to the land of Hatti.
The text concludes with an oath before “a thousand gods, male gods and female gods” of the lands of Egypt and Hatti, witnessed by “the mountains and rivers of the lands of Egypt; the sky; the earth; the great sea; the winds; the clouds.” If the treaty was ever violated, the oath-breaker would be cursed by the gods who “shall destroy his house, his land and his servants.” Conversely, he who maintained his vows would be rewarded by the gods, who “will cause him to be healthy and to live.
Analysis and theories
Previous and contemporary Egyptologists have argued over the character of the treaty: some have interpreted it as a treaty of peace, while others have seen it as a treaty of alliance after a previous conclusion of hostilities. James Breasted in 1906 was one of the first to collect the historical documents of Ancient Egypt in an anthology and understood the treaty to be “not only a treaty of alliance, but also a treaty of peace, and the war [Ramesses’ Syrian campaigns] evidently continued until the negotiations for the treaty began”. For Breasted, the intermediate periods of conflict were directly resolved by the signing of the treaty and therefore required the treaty to be one of both alliance and peace. However later Egyptologists and other scholars began, even within twenty years of Breasted’s work, to question whether the treaty between Ramesses II and Hattušiliš III was one of peace at all. Alan Gardiner and his partner S. Langdon examined previous interpretations and determined that their predecessors had misinterpreted the line “to beg peace” in the text. The oversight in the language caused Egyptologists to incorrectly see the treaty terminating a war instead of seeking a beneficial alliance between Hatti and Egypt. Trevor Bryce further argues that within the Late Bronze Age treaties were established “for reasons of expediency and self-interest… their concern was much more with establishing strategic alliances than with peace for its own sake”. The emerging consensus is that although the treaty mentions establishing “brotherhood and peace forever”, its main purpose is to form a mutually beneficial alliance between the two powers.
Another matter of speculation is which of the two countries pursued negotiations first. As previously mentioned, Ramesses II had lost portions of his Syrian territory when he retreated to Egypt after the Battle of Kadesh. In this sense, Hattušiliš would have had the upper hand in the negotiations, considering Ramesses’ desires to emulate the military successes of Tuthmosis III. Until the 1920s, Egyptologists had mistaken the insecurity of Egypt’s Syrian holdings to mean that Ramesses had come to Hattušiliš begging for a solution to the Syria problem. Donald Magnetti brings up the point that the Pharaoh’s duty to bring mortal activity in line with the divine order through the maintenance of maat would have been reason enough for Ramesses II to pursue peace. However, the interpretation is incorrect since the questions about Hattušiliš’s legitimacy as monarch would demand recognition by his fellow royals in the Near East. The weak position abroad and at home that defined his reign suggests that it was the Hatti leader who sued for peace. In fact, Trevor Bryce interprets the opening lines of the treaty to be “Ramesses, Beloved of Amon, Great King, King of Egypt, hero, concluded on a tablet of silver with Hattušiliš, Great King, King of Hatti, his brother” to enforce that the incentives of the Hatti ruler had far greater implications that compelled him to sue for peace.
Considering his relatively stronger position over Hattušiliš, what did Ramesses hope to achieve by accepting an alliance with his hated Hittite enemies? After fifteen years of futile attempts at regaining his lost territory in Syria, scholars argue that Ramesses now realized that his opportunities to match the military achievements of Tuthmosis III were unrealizable. In that light, it became increasingly important for Ramesses to obtain an international victory through diplomacy to bolster his deeds as pharaoh. The attempts at regaining the lands which the Hittites had taken had ultimately failed to break the hold of the Hittites over the region. Instead, Ramesses would take his losses, so long as the Hittites would recognize the current division of Syria, give Egypt access to ports in the Hittite territory to boost commerce, and grant trading access as far north as Ugarit. The ability to advance Egypt’s financial and security interests by means other than war led to Ramesses’ willingness to pursue friendlier relations with the Hittites.
Maintaining the status quo in the region became a priority for Ramesses, considering the emergence of the Assyrian military power. Assyria’s military might was a force to be reckoned with, and therefore Ramesses would have found it desirable to ensure that Assyria would not have a presence in Syria. If the Assyrians were allowed to enter Syria, they would be an arm’s length from Egypt herself and pose a threat to Egypt proper. By accepting the Hittite overture of alliance, Ramesses would count on the fact that the newly-made allies would help safeguard their mutual holdings in Syria against this upstart power of Assyria.
Besides the added incentive of no longer depleting Egypt’s finances with expensive wars with Hatti and increasing the security of Egypt’s claims in Syria, signing the treaty with Hatti also provided Ramesses the opportunity to brag about his “defeat” of the Hittites. Since Hattušiliš had been the one to approach Ramesses, the pharaoh in his depictions at the Ramesseum represents the settlement as one that the Hittite king had asked for in a position of submission. Considering the official language of the treaties at the time was completely independent of one another, Ramesses was able to present the terms of the treaty from his perspective. This free control over the depictions of his role by the language of the treaty gave the pharaoh opportunity to present a greatly idealized point of view. His ability to assert a sense of supremacy as ruler of Egypt and his attempts to portray this strategic alliance as a victory over the Hittites demonstrate why Ramesses’ would be so willing to choose such a mutually beneficial peace. The conclusion of open hostilities between the two regional powers was a personal triumph for the aging pharaoh and, as his monument at Abu Simbel shows, the pharaoh made his subjects well aware of the fact that he, Ramesses, was the conqueror of the Hittites.
In opposition to Ramesses’ strength in international affairs, Hattušiliš III was disadvantaged by questions of legitimacy that raised doubts about his position as king of the Hittites. Although Hattušiliš had defeated his nephew, Urhi-Tesub, for the throne in all regards, he continued to be seen as a usurper of the kingship. Urhi-Tesub’s determination to regain the throne from his uncle caused the Hittite empire to enter into a period of instability both at home and abroad. The nephew had been banished after an unsuccessful coup and had ended up in Egypt. Ramesses II thereby posed a direct threat to Hattušiliš’ reign by harboring Urhi-Tesub within Egypt’s borders. Hattušiliš realized that only an alliance with Ramesses could prevent the monarch from unleashing his nephew back into contention with him for the throne. By concluding a treaty with Egypt, Hattušiliš also hoped that garnering the endorsement of Ramesses of his position as the true king of Hatti would effectively reconcile the disaffected elements in his kingdom that backed Urhi-Tesub as the rightful possessor of the kingship. In the Near Eastern world Ramesses wielded great power amongst the rulers of the day and formal recognition from him would give Hattušiliš credibility on the international stage.
The threat of his nephew staging another coup against him greatly worried Hattušiliš during a time when he faced a considerable threat from the Assyrians in the east. During the reign of Hattušiliš predecessor the Assyrian king had taken Hanigalbat, which had been a vassal territory under Hittite control. This aggression strained relations between the two countries, but even more importantly, the Assyrians appeared to put themselves in the position to launch further attacks across the Euphrates River. The perceived threat of Assyrian invasion proved a strong motivator for the Hittites to open up negotiations with Egypt. It was this sense of the ‘Assyrian danger’ that pushed Hatti into a relationship with Egypt. Under the terms of the treaty, the Egyptians would be obligated to join with their Hatti allies if Assyria invaded Hittite territory. Besides this threat from the east, Hattušiliš recognized the need to strengthen his relationship with his Egyptian neighbors. The competition that had existed between Hatti and Egypt over the Syrian lands no longer served the interests of Hattušiliš. In fact, Trevor Bryce argues that Hattušiliš was satisfied with his current holdings in Syria, and any further expansion of Hittite territory southward was both unjustifiable and undesirable.
After reaching the desired alliance with Hatti, Ramesses was now able to turn his energies to domestic building projects, such as the completion of his great, rock-hewn Abu Simbel temples. The warming of the relationship between Ramesses and the Hittite king enabled the pharaoh to divert resources from his army to his extensive construction projects. In year 34 of Ramesses II’s reign there is evidence that, in an effort to establish stronger, familial bonds with Hatti, the pharaoh married a Hittite princess. Evidence of the dynastic marriage as well as the lack of textual evidence of a deterioration of the friendly relationship demonstrates that peaceful dealings between Hatti and Egypt continued for the remainder of Ramesses’ reign. By furthering their bonds of friendship through marriage, the Hittites and Egyptians maintained a mutually beneficial peace that would exist between them until the fall of Hatti to Assyria nearly a century later.
- Langdon, Stephen H.; Gardiner, Alan H. (1920). “The Treaty of Alliance between Hattusili, King of the Hittites and the Pharaoh Ramesses II of Egypt”. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. 6 (3): 179–205. JSTOR 3853914.
- Bryce, Trevor (2006). “The ‘ethernal treaty’ from the Hittite perspective”. BMSAES. 6: 1–11.
- Elmar Edel (1997). Der Vertrag zwischen Ramses II. von Ägypten und ̮Hattušili III. von ̮Hatti. Gebr. Mann. ISBN 978-3-7861-1944-9.
- Breasted, James Edel (1906). Ancient Records of Egypt. Vol III, §367. The University of Chicago Press.
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- Karl Richard Lepsius. Denkmäler aus Ägypten und Äthiopien.
- Jana Mynářová, Lost in Translation. An Egyptological Perspective on the Egyptian-Hittite Treaties Archived 2017-03-05 at the Wayback Machine, ANNALS OF THE NÁPRSTEK MUSEUM 35/2 • 2014 • (p. 3–8), “It is important to stress that the “exclusiveness” of the “Eternal Treaty” rests largely in the fact that both versions – the Hittite one written in Akkadian and the Egyptian one – have been extensively preserved and thus remain the objects of an intense study.”
- Klengel, 51.
- Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, volume III, §367, p.163: “There are two originals: (I) At Karnak on wall extending south of the great hypostyle, published by Champollion, Notices descriptives, 11, 195–204 (only 30 lines); Rosellini, Monumenti Storici, 116; Burton, Excerpta hieroglyphica, 17 (not used); Lepsius, Denkmdtler, 111, 146; Brugsch, Reczceil de monuments, I, 28 (11. 1–20); Bouriant,Recueil,XIII, 153-60;collationof thegeographicalnamesby Sayce, Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archeology, XXI, 194 ff.; Miiller, ‘Crw&ra- siatische Gesellschaft,VII, 5, Taf. I-XVI; I had also photographs by Borchardt. (2) At the Ramesseum; only fragments of the last 10 lines; Champollion, Notices descriptives, I, 585, 586; Sharpe, Egyptian Inscriptions, 11,50; Bouriant, Recueil, XIV, 67–70. In spite of the mutilated condition of the two monuments, the fre- quent repetitions make restoration certain in almost all cases. Miiller’s edition is the only one which is done with care and accuracy; a number of readings may be added to Muller’s text from Sharpe’s copy, which seems to have escaped him. The following translation was already in my manuscript when Miiller’s publication appeared. His text added a few new readings, but otherwise the translation remains unchanged.”
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