Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Gender and Politics at Ugarit: The Undoing of the Daughter of the Great Lady

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Gender and Politics at Ugarit: The Undoing of the Daughter of the Great Lady

Article excerpt

Legal texts that document the divorce, exile, and execution of a royal woman in Late Bronze Age Ugarit provide rare insight into the politics of a world woven together by diplomatic marriages. (1) This woman's loss of status and, eventually, loss of life lay bare the way in which women mediated power relationships among men. The verdicts that document her case never reveal her name. She was identified purely in terms of her relationships to major political figures in Hittite-controlled Syria. She was called both the "daughter of Bentesina" and the "daughter of the Great Lady," as she was the offspring of the imperial-vassal marriage between Bentesina, king of Amurru, and Gassuliyawiya, daughter of the Hittite Great King, Hattusili III. She became the wife of Ammistamru II, king of Ugarit. She was the sister of Sausga-muwa, who ruled as king of Amurru during the period in which her case unfolded. The Hittite Great King, Tudhaliya IV, who was her maternal uncle, adjudicated her case. Within the very structures of Hittite rule that might have been expected to protect her, Ammistamru II divorced her, exiled her from Ugarit to Amurru, and then took her back to Ugarit and killed her.

Her case was dramatic, but the framework of alliances the woman mediated was not unusual. The capacity of a single royal woman to function simultaneously as a daughter, wife, sister, and mother provided a framework for political relatedness among multiple men. Royal households were constituted by relationships forged by the immediate parties to a marriage alliance and by the relationships such alliances created in subsequent generations. Women functioned on two axes. On the one hand, by virtue of their simultaneous roles as daughter, wife, and sister they provided points of contact between royal houses. On the other hand, by virtue of their roles as mothers they mediated dynastic transitions across generations of male rulers. The relative positions of royal men were shaped by their relationships to royal women. In this case, Ammistamru II, king of Ugarit, and Sausga-muwa, king of Amurru, negotiated their relative power through their relationship to the woman who was respectively their wife and sister. The stakes of their negotiations were high. As the daughter of a Hittite princess and the former king of Amurru, the wife of the king of Ugarit, the mother of his heir, and the sister of the reigning king of Amurru, this woman was the pivot point of generations of political alliances among Hatti, Amurru, and Ugarit.

The case generated a dossier of Hittite imperial verdicts and regional accords that outnumber any other surviving group of texts at Ugarit that document a political incident. The dossier includes Hittite imperial verdicts addressed to the woman herself, those addressed to Ammistamru II and Sausga-muwa, and regional accords between these two kings. (2) The two initial divorce texts--a lengthy decree authorized by Tudhaliya IV of Hatti (RS 17.159) and a shorter complementary decree authorized by the Hittite viceroy Ini-Tesub of Karkamis (RS 17.396)--were addressed to the woman. The decrees record her marriage to Ammistamru II. certify her divorce and exile, and dictate the consequences of the divorce in terms of her property and her relationship to her son, Ammistamru II's heir.

When she left Ugarit for Amurru, she was allowed to take the goods that she had brought with her from Amurru, but was forced to leave behind what she had acquired in Ugarit. Her son Utri-Sarruma was given the choice to remain in Ugarit as his father's heir or to follow his mother back to Amurru and surrender his right to succeed his father as king. An extraordinary measure further stipulated that should Utri-Sarruma attempt to reinstate his mother as queen after the death of his father, he would lose his position as king and be replaced by another of Ammistamru II's sons. Furthermore, his mother was forbidden from appealing to her other sons, daughters, or sons-in-law. …

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