Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East

Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East

Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East

Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East


Amanda Podany here takes readers on a vivid tour through a thousand years of ancient Near Eastern history, from 2300 to 1300 BCE, paying particular attention to the lively interactions that took place between the great kings of the day.

Allowing them to speak in their own words, Podany reveals how these leaders and their ambassadors devised a remarkably sophisticated system of diplomacy and trade. What the kings forged, as they saw it, was a relationship of friends-brothers-across hundreds of miles. Over centuries they worked out ways for their ambassadors to travel safely to one another's capitals, they created formal rules of interaction and ways to work out disagreements, they agreed to treaties and abided by them, and their efforts had paid off with the exchange of luxury goods that each country wanted from the other. Tied to one another through peace treaties and powerful obligations, they were also often bound together as in-laws, as a result of marrying one another's daughters. These rulers had almost never met one another in person, but they felt a strong connection--a real brotherhood--which gradually made wars between them less common. Indeed, any one of the great powers of the time could have tried to take over the others through warfare, but diplomacy usually prevailed and provided a respite from bloodshed. Instead of fighting, the kings learned from one another, and cooperated in peace.

A remarkable account of a pivotal moment in world history--the establishment of international diplomacy thousands of years before the United Nations--Brotherhood of Kings offers a vibrantly written history of the region often known as the "cradle of civilization."


On the second floor of the British Museum, Gallery 55 attracts fewer visitors than the cathedral-like halls of Egyptian and Assyrian statuary downstairs. It is an unassuming gallery, recently redesigned, full of small objects from the later years of ancient Mesopotamian history. Those visitors who haven’t been seduced by the nearby rooms of mummies and objects from Egyptian tombs sometimes stop to admire the tiny Mesopotamian cylinder seals with their intricate designs, or to take in the fine workmanship of some Assyrian ivories and glass vases, and then wander on. in past years, on days when guards were in short supply, the gallery was sometimes roped off. It’s not one that many tourists clamor to see.

Yet object E 29793, in Gallery 55, is worth a special visit. It’s under a glass cover, tucked next to some cylinder seals: an almost square tablet of baked clay, about three inches on each side. Its slightly shiny reddish-brown surface is covered in cuneiform writing. It has survived the three thousand years that have passed since it was written without so much as a scratch. the label says that it was found in El-Amarna in Egypt, and that “it is addressed to Amenhotep iii from Tushratta, king of Mitanni (centred in modern Syria).” the date of the letter is about 1350 bc.

This object has had a fascinating history. Its recent quiet years in a display case were preceded by thousands of years lost in the ground in Egypt. But before that were its days of glory. Tracing its history takes us to the heart of an era of international cooperation unlike anything seen before or, until quite . . .

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