Ancient Egypt - Foreign politics and political marriages: Scarab inscription commemorating the arrival of Kelu Heba in Egypt; reasons for dynastic marriages; the position of the foreign princesses in Egypt; Egyptian princesses and foreign royals.
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Marriage as a tool of foreign politics during the New Kingdom

    Year ten under the majesty of the Powerful Bull Horus who appears in the Truth [...] endowed with life, the great Royal Wife Tiye [1], endowed with life. The name of her father is Yuya, the name of her mother is Tuya. A wonder succeeding Her Majesty: of [2] the Prince of Naharina [3], Shuttarna, Kelu Heba. Women of his harem: 317 women.
Scarab inscription commemorating the arrival of Kelu Heba in Egypt [4]
[Map of the eastern Mediterranean]
The eastern Mediterranean

    One of the sadder aspects of dynastic politics has always been the marrying off of princesses to foreign rulers in order to cement a bond between two royal houses. As young girls they were sent abroad with a small entourage to a strange country, where people spoke a language they did not understand, ate funny tasting food, worshipped incomprehensible gods and where they generally disappeared among a host of wives. The chances of their ever seeing their families again were slim; and contact with their loved ones was often restricted to a few letters and presents.
And as a gift for Kelu-Heba, my sister, one set of gold pins, one set of gold earrings, one gold idol, and one container of "sweet oil." I have sent her.
Letter from Tushratta to Amenhotep III
K.C.Hanson after W. Moran, The Amarna Letters, 1992, and Samuel A. B. Mercer, The Tell El-Amarna Tablets, 1939

    Tushratta, the king of Mitanni always mentioned his sister and later his daughter, both married to the pharaoh, in his letters; but he was probably at least as much concerned about the political alliance the marriage was supposed to strengthen as about the girls' well-being.
May everything be well for you, for your house, for Tadu-Heba, my daughter, your wife whom you love.
Letter from Tushratta to Amenhotep III
K.C.Hanson after W. Moran, The Amarna Letters, 1992, and Samuel A. B. Mercer, The Tell El-Amarna Tablets, 1939
Your houses, Tiye your mother, Lady of Egypt, Tadu-Heba, my daughter, your wife, your other wives, your sons, your noblemen, your chariots, your horses, your soldiers, your country and everything belonging to you, may they all enjoy excellent health.
    The rulers of the Middle East, where skulduggery, treachery, and fratricide were not rare, must have mistrusted the effectiveness of diplomacy, friendship, and even of a family relationship created by marriage, despite their insistent declarations of amity and love:
To Napkhuria, king of Egypt, my brother, my son-in-law, who loves me and whom I love, thus speaks Tushratta, king of Mitanni, your father-in-law who loves you, your brother.
    They rather relied on the fact that a contented naked man lying in bed was more easily swayed by one woman than a king in full state regalia sitting on a throne by an army of ambassadors.

Reasons for dynastic marriages

    The alliances formed by the various countries of the region changed over the decades. The outcome of the early New Kingdom conflicts was an equilibrium between Egypt and Mitanni, which became a buffer state against Hatti and Assyria (ca.1420 BCE). After the murder of its king, Tushratta (ca.1360), Mitanni was finally incorporated into Assyria (ca.1300) [5]. Hatti's expansion was checked, and it became Egypt's major ally against Assyria (ca.1280), until it collapsed and disappeared in the early 12th century BCE [6].
    Under Thutmose III the Egyptians had achieved a position of political predominance in Canaan and southern Syria without having threatening forces stationed there permanently. Their military force and diplomatic clout were important to Artatama, king of Mitanni, and vital to Tushratta, his son, beset by enemies from within and without, though they could save neither him nor his country.
May it be well with you; with Kelu-Heba, my sister, may it be well; with your household, your wives, your sons, your nobles, your warriors, your horses, your chariots, and throughout your land may it be very well.
Letter from Tushratta to Amenhotep III (EA 17)
K.C.Hanson after W. Moran, The Amarna Letters, 1992, and Samuel A. B. Mercer, The Tell El-Amarna Tablets, 1939
    Economic interests guided the rulers of kingdoms outside the Egyptian sphere of influence, where Egypt could not interfere militarily. Egypt was the major producer of gold in the region, a metal not easily come by.
If you send me this summer [...] the gold concerning which I've written to you, I shall give you my daughter in marriage. Therefore, send gold, willingly, as much as you please. But if you do not send me gold [...] so I can achieve the task I have undertaken , why haven't you sent me any earlier willingly? After I have finished the task I have undertaken , why would I wish for gold? Even if you sent me 3000 talents of gold I would not accept them. I would return them and would not give you my daughter in marriage.
Letter from Kadashman Enlil II of Babylon
After a French translation by Claire Lalouette, Thèbes ou la naissance dun empire, Fayard, Paris 1986

The position of the foreign princesses in Egypt

    The treatment foreign wives received depended on the circumstances. Daughters of minor rulers disappeared in the harem, where at times hundreds of wives lived; but princesses of important powers must have been given more prominent positions.
    It seems that during the early New Kingdom, the Egyptians were more eager than the kings of Mitanni to conclude an alliance. Thutmose IV sent six requests before Artama I relented and gave him a daughter in marriage [7]. Her name is Queen Tiye; Source: © Dr.K.Cohen, San Jose State University unknown, as is her social position; but given the importance Thutmose appears to have attributed to this relationship, she could not have been completely neglected at court. It has been surmised that she was Mutemwiya, mother of Amenhotep III.
    By the time Tushratta became king of Mitanni, Egypt's power was in the ascendancy. The Mitanni princesses Kelu Heba and later Tadu Heba were married to Amenhotep III, when the Great King's wife was Tiye [8]. Akhenaten inherited his father's harem, among them Tadu Heba. His Great King's Wife and possibly his co-ruler was Nefertiti, which seems to have left the Mitannian little scope in her second marriage as well.
    The first Hittite princess which Ramses II married and the only one known by name, Maat-Hor-Neferu-Re, was a daughter of Hattusili III. The marriage took place in the 34th year of the pharaoh's reign and was part of the consolidation of the peace settlement concluded more than a decade earlier. Maat-Hor-Neferu-Re became Ramses' seventh Great King's Wife, succeeding Henutmire, his sister [12]. It was part of the arrangement that she could receive Hittite emissaries freely. After their daughter Nofrure had been born, the Hittite king wrote to his daughter that, if her child had been a boy, he would have become his successor. Six years into her marriage she ceased being mentioned. The extent of her influence on Egyptian policies is not known. The Egyptian-Hittite relations remained close - it being in the interest of both countries to contain Assyria.
    In his 44th year Ramses married a second Hittite princess. Later there was a third marriage to another one of Hattusili's daughters. About these very little is known.

Egyptian princesses and foreign royals

    No Egyptian princess seems to have been given in marriage to a foreign ruler [11]. Maybe the Egyptians really believed that foreigners were not good enough or the princesses, more independent than their counterparts in other countries, would not agree to being pawns in the political chess game of the ancient Middle East? The Babylonian king, for one, was not convinced by the pharaoh's arguments:
How is it possible that, having written to you in order to ask for the hand of your daughter - O my brother, you should have written me using such language, telling me that you will not give her to me, as since earliest times no daughter of the king of Egypt has ever been given in marriage? Why are you telling me such things? You are the king. You may do as you wish. If you wanted to give me your daughter in marriage who could say you nay?
Letter from Kadashman Enlil II of Babylon
After a French translation by Claire Lalouette, Thèbes ou la naissance dun empire, Fayard, Paris 1986
Ankhesenamen; Excerpt; Source: Cairo Museum website     Ankhesenamen, widow of Tutankhamen, Queen Dakhamunzu to the Hittites [10], at any rate seems to have thought marriage to a foreign royal preferrable to a marriage with an Egyptian subordinate, or at least that is what she wants the Hittites to believe. In her letter to Suppiliuma, King of the Hittites, she relates:
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!"
From the Annals of Suppiluliuma as told by his son, Mursili II [9]
Accessed at http://www.geocities.com/Paris/LeftBank/5210/zannanza.htm, 2002
This may have been an attempt on Ankhesenamen's part to keep royal power to herself. A foreigner might have found it more difficult to reduce her influence than an Egyptian courtier would have.
    Egyptians were as adept as anybody at finding reasons for changing ancient usages, if it suited their needs. On the whole they did not need to sacrifice their princesses during the New Kingdom, when they were separated from any major enemy by a string of Canaanite client states; and even after these had escaped their tutelage during the decline of Egyptian power under the late 20th dynasty, there were always the deserts crossable only by a very determined army commander.


Picture sources:
[  ] Queen Tiye: © Dr.K.Cohen, San Jose State University
[  ] Ankhesenamen: Cairo Museum website
[1] Wife of Amenhotep III, mother of Akhenaten
[2] daughter of
[3] Naharina: Mitanni
[4] Source: Cartas de Amarna y otros textos, http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Atlantis/8322/cap-23.pdf - unavailable at least since January 2003
[10] Dakhamunzu: seemingly from the Egyptian TA Hm.t nsw (Tahemnesu), i.e. the King's Wife. Circumstances appear to fit Ankhesenamen best, though other names have been put forward such as Nefertiti or Kiya.
[11] Such a claim is made in the Bible for the Third Intermediate Period when Egypt was not at its best. But, despite its deceptively detailed descriptions, the bible is not a very reliable historical source for the second and beginning of the first millennium BCE. Solomon, archaeologically a very murky character, is reported as having taken an Egyptian wife:
1 And Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh's daughter, and brought her into the city of David until he had made an end of building his own house, and the house of the Lord, and the wall of Jerusalem round about.
1 Kings 3
It has also been proposed that the practice of sending Egyptian princesses abroad existed during the New Kingdom, despite Amenhotep III's statement to the contrary as quoted by Kadashman Enlil. The basis for such claims is tenuous.
It appears that pharaohs made no exceptions where their own daughters were concerned, not even in the declining years of Egypt. Athenaios of Naucratis explains the invasion of Egypt by Cambyses as follows:
For Cambyses, hearing that Egyptian women excelled all others in passionate embraces, sent to Amasis, the king of Egypt, a demand for one of his daughters in marriage. But Amasis did not give one of his own, suspecting that she would not have the station of a wife, but that of a concubine; and so he sent the daughter of Aprias, Neitetis. Now Aprias had been deposed from his kingship over Egypt because of his defeat at the hands of the Cyrenaeans, and had been killed by Amasis. Cambyses, then, having found pleasure in Neitetis and being very much stirred up by her, learned the whole story from her, and when she entreated him to avenge the murder of Aprias he consented to make war on the Egyptians.
Athenaios The Deipnosophists, Book XIII
Translated by Charles Burton Gulick for the Loeb Classical Library, 1937

- -The marriage stela of Ramses II
-[12] Egyptian-Hittite Correspondence
-History contents page
-Dynasty List
-Main index and search page
Links(Opening in a new window)
These are just suggestions for further reading. I do not assume any responsibility for the availability or content of these websites.
-[5] The Mitanni (Naharin)
-[6] Hatti
-[7] The immortal beauty of Thutmose IV by Marianne Luban
-[8] Queen Tiye and the co-regency by Marianne Luban
-[9] The Zannanza affair

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© January 2002
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