The history of international relations, as conceived by the majority of scholars engaged in it, is limited to the modern and contemporary worlds. An exact date for its beginning can be disputed, but historical research going back just a few centuries before contemporary events acquires the value of an antiquarian curiosity rather than a sound functional exercise. Yet the subject of the discipline, namely the formalized norms and procedures keeping states in mutual relation, can be applied to every society – wherever located in time and space – after the rise of ‘states’, these being defined as politically and administratively organized communities which underwent their first attested formative development in the Near East (Egypt and Mesopotamia) around the end of the fourth millennium BC. And in fact some handbooks or general histories of international relations do include ancient Near Eastern data in a first chapter. 1
While it is interesting to compare the ‘international relations’ formalized in early state formations with those obtaining in our modern world, 2 a correct historical evaluation of the ‘archaic’ systems can only be accomplished by embedding them in their own technological, social and cultural settings. The question is not about their similarity to modern systems, but about the functionality of their procedures to the needs of their time. This is as true of their diplomacy, or for that matter their international relations in general, as anything else – provided that their inter-state relations reached a level at which their norms and procedures were both formalized and shared.
In the course of the last century, archaeological discoveries in Egypt and the Near East brought to the attention of historians a variety of more and