Ankhesenamun’s End Game – The Zannanza Incident part 2

 – Suppililiuma’s response to Ankhesenamun’s request for a Hittite prince expresses not only his surprise, but also his disbelief. In this episode we see a rare example of a Bronze Age king sharing his diplomatic prerogative with his court. Suppililiuma saw the Egyptian queen’s letter to be of such note that he assembled his commanders and high ranking nobles at his field camp near Carchemish to advise them of his actions.

The Queen’s Gambit

Clearly, Suppililiuma was suspicious of the Egyptian Queen’s true motives, but the offer still needed to be considered. In response he sent his chamberlain, Hattuša-ziti, a member of his own household and someone he could personally trust, to Egypt in an effort to verify the validity of the offer.

“When my father heard this he called forth the Great Ones for counsel (saying): “Such a thing has never happened to me in my whole life!” So it happened that my father sent forth to Egypt Hattuša-ziti, the chamberlain, (with this order): “Go and bring thou the true word back to me! Maybe they deceive me! Maybe (in fact) they have a son of their lord! Bring thou the true word back to me!” -The Plague Prayers

A Statue of Ankhesenamun

A Statue of Ankhesenamun

The rate of travel that Hattuša-ziti could have made to Egypt would have been slower than that of simple couriers, but we can still assume that speed was a priority. Given this, Hattusa-zita could have arrived in Egypt before Tutankhamun was actually buried. The normal 70 day period of ritual preparation and mummification of the corpse would have begun immediately after the death the pharaoh. If we allow for the latest possible time of death for Tutankhamun – sometime in mid summer just before news of the attack on Amka had reached Egypt but after the attack had actually occurred – then Hattusa-zita could have arrived before the dead pharaoh was laid to rest. This is significant since normal Egyptian practice involves the designation of the new pharaoh upon the death of a deceased one and presumably Ankesenamun had retained this power as her own during this time.

Pirc Defense

Meanwhile, with Hattuša-ziti well on his way to Egypt, Suppililiuma finally completed his encirclement of Carchemish.

“(In the meantime) until Hattuša-ziti came back from Egypt, my father finally conquered the city of Karkemesh. He had besieged it for seven days, and on the eighth day he fought a battle against it for one day and [took(?)] in a terrific battle on the eighth day, in [one] day.” The Deeds

It is clear that efforts to besiege the city had been ongoing for several months although the final encirclement may have indeed only taken a week. There is no doubt that the Hittites were required to exert considerable effort if they were going to effectively reduce a city that was completely surrounded by the Euphrates on one side and by defensive canals on the other. Such a long term siege effort is testified to only one other time in Hittite texts, that being in the older Hittite account of the siege of Urshu. This siege occurred during the reign of an unnamed Hittite king who was reportedly furious at his generals inability to prevent people from going “in and out of” of the besieged city. The siege of Urshu lasted for six months and was eventually successful. Nevertheless, the shoddy siege-craft seems to have led to many unnecessary casualties.

Suppililiuma appears to have learned from his predecessors mistakes. After taking several months to build his siege works, the attack began. The strategy was straightforward: encircle, wait seven days, attack. Ultimately, Suppililiuma’s patient approach succeeded, as his attack on the eighth day brought a hard fought victory. This small amount of information is all we possess on the battle for this key city. Nonetheless, due to the Hittites fastidious nature where religion is concerned, the aftermath of the battle offers a glimpse at the Hittite royal propaganda machine running at full tilt.

“And when he had conquered the city – since [my father] fear[ed] the gods – on the upper citadel he let no one in[to the presence(?)] of (the deity) [Kubaba(?)]and of (the deity) KAL, and he did not r[ush]close to any [one of the temples]. (Nay,) he even bowed (to them) and gave [……………..]” -The Deeds

Suppililiuma reveals his long term strategy for the city by showing reverence to its gods. Such a display makes it clear that Carchemish was viewed with all possible importance by the Hittites. Unlike many cities, such as Kadesh, which were controlled by loyal vassal kings, Carchemish was to become a viceroyalty, governed directly by one of Suppililiuma’s own sons. Centuries later, when the Hittites had abandoned their Anatolian homeland, Carchemish would remain steadfast until it was the last bastion of the Neo-Hittite world to fall before the Assyrians. In the long run, Suppililiuma’s show of piety would prove well worth the effort.

For all the restraint that may have been shown towards the cities sacred precinct, it seems that not all of it fared as well.

“But from the lower town he removed the inh[abitants], silver, gold and bronze utensils and carried them to Hattuša. And the deportees whom he brought to the palace were three thousand three hundred and thirty” The Deeds

It must have been late Fall when Suppililiuma headed north with his train of plunder and ‘deportees’. He would have made it just in time to officiate, as required, for the reaping festivals. Shortly thereafter, the passes south would have been closed for the winter. The sources are silent here as to the remaining Hittite force allocations in Syria, but whatever troops were left do not seem to have had difficulty keeping resurgent Mitanni activity at bay.

Map of the Ancient Near East Showing the Hittite Invasion. - by Arianna Ravenswood

Map of the Ancient Near East Showing the Hittite Invasion. – by Arianna Ravenswood

Two Knights Gambit

There is good reason to suspect that around this time in the winter of 1322-1321 the lifelong foe of Suppililiuma, King Tushratta of Mitanni, met his end. The death of Tushratta would set into motion a chain of events that are revealed in the treaty that Tushratta’s son, Shattiwaza, signed with Suppililiuma. This episode, near the end of the Kingdom of Mitanni’s history, provides us a rare glimpse at a dynasty in its final days. The fall of Mitanni and the ensuing Hurrian War would mark the beginning of Assyria’s imperial ambition beyond Iraq.

Tushratta met a violent death probably at the hands of one of his sons. Whether or not this was Shattiwaza or another son is unknown. What is certain is that what was left of the kingdom fell into turmoil. Aratarma, who had long challenged Tushratta’s rule, was now too aged to participate in the chaos himself, but his son, Shuttarna, moved quickly to seize control. It appears that Shuttarna had some backing, if not direct assistance, from Assyria when he entered Mitanni lands and forced Shattiwaza to flee.

Shuttarna plundered the Mitanni capital city Washukkani and sent the maryannu (chariot warriors) he had captured to the neighboring land of Alshe to be impaled, several thousand in all. The Mitanni dynasties professional soldierly was eradicated and the kingdom was lost. Shattiwaza did manage to escape with a handful of men and some 200 chariots. After arriving in Babylonia, Shattiwaza found that the Kassites were in alliance with the Assyrians and would offer no help. In fact they quickly arrested his entourage and confiscated all his chariots except the one in which he rode off into the desert making good his escape.

The Assyrian king, Ashur-uballit, had entered into a diplomatic marriage alliance with the Kassite king, Burna-buriash. Some years earlier, Burna-buriash had complained to the Egyptian pharaoh because the pharaoh had received diplomats from Assyria. The Babylonian Kassites had, for a time, tried to claim a sovereign prerogative over the Assyrian domain as it slipped from Mittanni control. Yet, animosity soon gave way to pragmatism, especially when Babylonia’s vital trade network was jeopardized by Sutean nomads who were best contained with Assyrian cooperation.

This alliance was jeopardized when Burna-buriash died and his son and heir was slain. Ashur-uballit invaded Babylonia and installed Kurigalzu II, likely another son of Burna-buriash, on the throne. Until Ashur-uballit’s death Assyria would exercise an extraordinary amount of control over its southern neighbor.

Timeline of Near Eastern Dynasties of the Late Bronze Age -by Arianna Ravenswood

Timeline of Near Eastern Dynasties of the Late Bronze Age -by Arianna Ravenswood

Having received no assistance and with the avenues east and south closed to him, Shattiwaza eventually found his way north into Hittite territory where he would meet with Suppililiuma near the Marassantiya River. Whether Suppililiuma was genuinely impressed with the Mitanni prince or merely saw an opportunity opening up to check Assyrian ambitions is uncertain, but the alliance turned out to be a success.

King’s Safety

Yet, we cannot say as much for the outcome of the diplomatic melange offered to the Hittites by the Egyptian Queen. Several months before he would meet Shattiwaza, in the spring of ca. 1321, Suppililiuma was in his capital in Hatti. There he would be joined by his chamberlain, Hattuša-ziti, who had newly returned from the several months long diplomatic mission to Egypt he had been sent on in response to Ankhesenamun’s initial plea.

“But when it became spring, Hattuša-ziti [came back]from Egypt and the messenger of Egypt, Lord Hani, came with him. Now, since my father had, when he sent Hattuša-ziti to Egypt, given him orders as follows: “Maybe they have a son of their lord! Maybe they deceive me and do not want my son for the kingship!” – therefore the queen of Egypt wrote back to my father in a letter thus: “Why didst thou say ‘they deceive me’ in that way? Had I a son, would I have written about my own and my country’s shame to a foreign land? Thou didst not believe me and hast even spoken thus to me! He who was my husband has died. A son I have not! Never shall I take a servant of mine and make him my husband! I have written to no other country, only to thee have I written! They say thine sons are many: so give me one son of thine! To me he will be husband, but in Egypt he will be king.” -The Deeds

This excerpt, depicting an emphatic Egyptian Queen who admits her own and her country’s shame, represents a diplomatic low for Egypt. No other comparable document from this period records Egyptian royalty admitting either their own or their kingdom’s shame.

There is good reason to believe that Egypt had, since the conquests of Tuthmoses III, been the undisputed mightiest of the great kingdoms. The attitude that pharaohs like Amunhotep III and Akhenaten take toward foreign kings was often belittling. There is also evidence of deferential attitudes being shown to the pharaohs in their received correspondence from such worthy kings as Ashur-uballit and Burna-buriash. In the case of the Assyrian and Arzawan kings, diplomatic recognition by Egypt was a way of securing their dynasties. There are also the well documented pleas for gold to be sent by the pharaoh to various needy parties, which shows a very real dependency on Egypt for this one particular highly valued resource.

Somehow, in order to prompt such an event as was unfolding, all of Egypt’s previous clout must have vanished. The once mighty Empire had admitted shame, in writing, to a rival. This admission, in light of the rest of 18th Dynasty’s record, is alone more stunning than the request for a prince to become pharaoh. It is clear that the Egyptians were content to allow themselves to be humiliated in an effort to have Suppililiuma take their plea seriously.

Suppililiuma was portrayed by his son’s scribes in typical noble fashion as they tell of his decision to acquiesce to the queens request. “So, since my father was kindhearted, he complied with the word of the woman and concerned himself with the matter of a son.” While this might have been a poetic way for the writer of the Deeds to conclude the tablet he was working on, the story was not over. The fact that the writer of the tablet skips ahead to the end of the story while omitting details due to space constraints is a lesson to all who study ancient texts. A longer a version of the negotiations in Hattuša is available in another tablet of the Deeds.

The beginning of the other tablet in the Deeds is damaged, but from what can be gleaned, Suppililiuma had a discussion with Hani, the Egyptian ambassador, who traveled back to Hatti with Hattuša-ziti. Suppililiuma is in the process of admonishing the Egyptian ambassador as the text becomes clear.

“ […]I (myself) was [……………..] friendly, but you, you did me evil. You [came (?)] and attacked the man of Kinza whom I had [taken away(?)] from the king of Hurri-land. When I heard (this), became angry, and I sent [forth] my own troops and chariots and the lords. So they came and attacked your territory, the country of Amka. And when they attacked Amka, which is your country, you probably were afraid;” The Deeds

Suppililiuma next does something rarely found in ancient texts. He offers a clear and concise explanation of his thoughts as he makes two more points to the Egyptian Hani. First, he objects to the attitude of the Egyptian requests. “….and (therefore) you keep asking for a son of mine (as if it were my) duty.” Then, Suppililiuma voices what is likely his underlying concern over the proposed marriage of his son to the Egyptian Queen. “[H]e will in some way become a hostage, but [king] you will not make him!”

The request and admission of shame contained in the Egyptian Queen’s second letter is then repeated by Hani to Suppililiuma in words that closely echo his queen’s.

“[Thus] (spoke) Hani to my father: “Oh my Lord! This [is….] our country’s shame! If we had [a son of the king] at all, would we have come to a foreign country and kept asking for a lord for ourselves? Nibhururiya, who was our lord, died; a son he has not. Our lord’s wife is solitary. We are seeking a son of our Lord for the kingship in Egypt, and for the woman, or lady, we seek him as her husband. Furthermore, we went to no other country, only here did we come! Now, oh our Lord, give us a son of thine!”

Once again Suppililiuma’s magnanimity is shown. “So then my father concerned himself on their behalf with the matter of a son”. However, after agreeing to the proposed marriage, Suppililiuma still has more to add. The Hittite king turns his attention to the legalities of the affair and, in this effort, he looks for precedent. Before he can formally proceed, existing accords must be accounted for. This may be altogether formulaic, as Hittite treaties traditionally include a historical prelude, yet this exercise in diplomatic recollection provides us with several valuable clues.

“Then my father asked for the tablet of the treaty again, (in which there was told) how formerly the Storm God took the people of Kuruštama, sons of Hatti, and carried them to Egypt and made the Egyptians; and how the Storm God concluded a treaty between the countries of Egypt and Hatti, and how they were continuously friends with each other.”

Once again we are provided with a unique glimpse into the workings of the Hittite monarchy. Suppililiuma saw it necessary, (or his son saw it necessary to say that he did), to have an old copy of a treaty brought forth from the archive and to have it read aloud before the court. The Hittites were eager to impress upon the Egyptians, and posterity, that there had been peace between the two kingdoms, and this had continued until the Egyptians had violated the agreement.

It is worth noting that while Suppililiuma was acting the part of the aggrieved party in the relationship, his own son, Mursili II, saw Suppililiuma as having broken the Kuruštama treaty by attacking the Egyptians in Amka. Suppililiuma showed no signs of feeling inclined to hold a grudge against the Egyptians however. Indeed, Suppililiuma now declares that a new era of amity has arrived.

“And when they had read aloud the tablet before them, father then addressed them thus “Of old, Hattuša and [Egypt] were friendly with each other, and how this, too, on our behalf has taken place between t[hem]. Thus Hatti and Egypt continuously be friendly with each other!”

The rest of the tablet is fragmented, but it is clear that it contains another ten or so lines of continued exhortation of the new arrangement. It is possible that this badly damaged tablet contains the conditions that Suppililiuma and Hani had agreed to in order for the marriage to proceed. Based on similar arrangements, such as Suppililiuma’s treaties with Niqmaddu II of Ugarit, Huqqana of Hayaza, and Shattiwaza of Mittani, it can be surmised that some formal conditions would have had to have been agreed upon. Typically there would have been agreements designed to promote peace along any existing frontiers, various promises of joint opposition to enemies, and, most importantly, the plans for the destiny of offspring that would come from the marriage between Suppililiuma’s son and the Egyptian Queen, Ankhesenamun. Unfortunately, this piece of history has been largely lost, and we are left with just enough to wet the imagination as to what Suppililiuma, at the height of his glory, hoped to gain from it all.

“(beginning broken)
 [……………..] to the land of Ha[tti………………] with each other [……………..]. And ..[………… the land of Hatti (?)] and the country of Egypt [……………..] with each other shall be!
 […………………………]. And to the country of Egypt [……………….. to the en]d of days with each oth[er………………………].
( end broken)

Timeline of Events -by Arianna Ravenswood

Timeline of Events -by Arianna Ravenswood

Check But Not Mate

Suppililiuma had five sons known to history. The eldest, Arnuwanda, had long since been his heir and had often served as a commander of the army. The next eldest was Telepinu, who had been made priest in Kizzuwanda and then viceroy in Halab/Aleppo. Then came Piyasili, who was recently appointed viceroy in Carchemish. Next was Zannanza, whose part in this affair is pivotal but short lived. Lastly, Suppililiuma’s youngest son, Mursili, who would eventually replace his father on the throne, document his father’s reign and write The Plague Prayers, was at the time of the ‘Incident’, only a young teenager.

Zannanza, as the only son Suppililiuma had available for such duty, was soon on his way to Egypt. He had very little, if any, time to prepare for such a drastic change of fate. To go from being fourth in line for the throne of Hatti to becoming pharaoh in Egypt would have been extraordinary. But, alas, it was not to be. Shortly after the young prince headed south into Syria, he was attacked and murdered. Suppililiuma’s original reservations were proven justified.

Intriguing research by the Near Eastern Scholar Mario Liverani has pointed to the theory that Zannanza, in the Deeds, is intentionally named with the appellate “king’s son” instead of his name. This could be a sign of the formality of the arrangement. If this is the case, then some form of ritual engagement process may have already been carried out even before the prince left Hatti. By the time of his departure for Egypt, Zannanza would have presumably been legally, and therefore religiously, ordained as a member of the Egyptian Royal House.

A similar precedent for this is shown in the Amarna letters, with the ritualistic anointing with oil of a Babylonian princess who was being sent to wed the pharaoh Akhenaten. If such an anointing of Zannanza did take place, then it would almost certainly have been conducted by Egyptian officials, possibly by Hani or some other emissary. We can then imagine an Egyptian entourage, perhaps with an ill-fated Hittite force as well, conducting the ‘king’s son’ south into Syria. When Suppililiuma received the news of his son’s death, the King of Hatti would know exactly upon whom to place the blame.

After a fragmented opening, another passage from the Deeds tells of the arrival of couriers bearing a message for Suppililiuma. “[When] they brought this tablet, they spoke thus: [“The people of Egypt (?)] killed [Zannanza] and brought word: ‘Zannanza [died(?)!” Who exactly it was that sent word to Suppililiuma is unknown, but he was given details indicating precisely who the killers were. His immediate response, a mixture of anger and grief, under the circumstances, is predictable. In a series of letters he would hold the new Egyptian pharaoh Ay to account but he gained no satisfaction.

Statue head of Ay

Statue head of Ay.

Even so, after expressing his outrage over his son’s death, Suppililiuma connects this treachery with the previous Egyptian attack on Kadesh as part of a pattern of Egyptian aggression. Following our chronology further, if Hattuša-ziti arrived back in Hattuša during the spring with Hani and Zannanza was killed sometime in late spring or summer, then Suppililiuma was mentioning an attack which occurred over a year before; unless we are to infer that another attack was made by the Egyptians around the time of, or directly coinciding with, Zannanza’s death.

“And when] my father he[ard] of the slaying of Zannanza, he began to lament for [Zanna]nza, [and] to the god[s………..] he spoke [th]us: “Oh gods! I did [no e]vil, [yet] the people of Egy[pt d]id [this to me], and they (also) [attacked] the frontier of my country!”
(12) [……………..] heard […………(broken)”

While the Deeds at this point become too fragmentary to offer more than glimpses of a chaotic situation in the region, the Plague Prayers tell us how the story ends.

“When my father gave them his son, and when they took him off, they killed him. My father became hostile, went to Egyptian territory, and attacked Egyptian territory. He killed the infantry, and chariotry of Egypt.” The Plague Prayers

Following the recounting of the lamentation of Suppililiuma over the death of his son, The Deeds finish in their telling of the Zannanza incident, leaving the Plague Prayers as the only source we have that narrates the final chapter. However, in the last relevant tablet of the Deeds, which is too broken for a reliable translation, the word ‘iš-hi-u-ul’ can be read in the middle of the fifth line. Most properly translated as ‘contract’, ‘iš-hi-u-ul’ is the word the Hittite scribes used throughout the Deeds to refer to the treaty with Egypt. Here, then, is yet another example of the Hittite obsession for expressing everything in proper legalese, even though any treaty arrangement with the Egyptians would seem to have been, for the moment, worth less than they clay it was written upon.

As fate would have it, Egyptian soldiers that were captured in Amki and carried off to Hatti were infected with a plague that had slowly been spreading through the region. Now it rapidly spread across the Hittite heartland, first killing Suppililiuma and then his eldest son the crown prince. This disaster beset the Hittites for almost 20 years and gave Egypt’s 18th Dynasty a few more decades of power under the pharaoh’s Ay and Horemheb. Ankesenamun fades from history after the events in the Zannanza Incident. Based on the inscription found on a ring some scholars think that Ay forced his great-niece, Ankesenamun to marry him so he could become pharaoh. In truth no one knows what happened to the Queen who tried to save herself and almost gave Suppililiuma the world.


Ackermans, Peter, M.M.G., Glenn M. Schwartz. The Archeology of Syria; From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Astour, Micheal. Hittite History and Absolute Chronology of the Bronze Age. Partille: Paul Astoms forlag, 1989.

Beale, Richard. The Organization of the Hittite Military. Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1992.

Beckman, Gary, Richard Beal, Gregory McMahan, Hittites Studies in Honor of Harry A. Hoffner. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2003.

Beckman, Gary, Hittite Diplomatic Texts. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999.

Bryce, Trevor. Kingdom of the Hittites. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Letters of the Great Kings of the Near East. London: Routledge, 2003.

Life and Society in the Hittite World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Darnell, John C., Colleen Manassa. Tutankhamen’s Armies; Hobokan, John Wiley and Son’s, 2007.

Drower, Margaret S. “Syria 1550-1400 B.C.” The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. II pt I; Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Gasche, H, J.A. Armstrong, S.W. Cole, V.G. Gurzadyan. Dating the Fall of Babylon. Ghent: University of Ghent, 1998.

Goetze, A. “The Struggle for the Domination of Syria” The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. II pt II; Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Grayson, A.K. Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. New York: J.J. Augustin Publisher, 1975.

Assyrian Royal Inscriptions. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1972.

Guterbock, H.G. “The Deeds of Suppililiuma as told by his son Mursili II,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies. Vol. X, number 2,3 and 4, New Haven: The American Schools of Oriental Research, 1956. 41-68, 75-98 and 107-130

Kitchen, K.A. Suppiluliuma and the Amarna Pharaoh’s. Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 1962.

Klengel, Horst. Syria: 3000-300 B.C. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1992.

Kozloff, Arielle., Bubonic Plague in the Reign of Amenhotep III, KMT vol. 17 no. 3 2006, 36-47.

Liverani, Mario. International Relations in the Ancient Near East, 1600-1100 B.C.. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Merola, Marco “Messages from the Dead” Archaeology January/February 2007: 20-26

Moran, William L. The Amarna Letters; Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Murnane, William. The Road To Kadesh; Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Oppenheim, Leo. Letters From Mesopotamia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1967.

Roaf, Micheal. Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East. New York: Facts on File, 2004.

Sayce, Archibald, H. The Hittites; The Story of a Forgotten Empire. London: Elibron Classics, (1903) 2005.
“What Happened After the Death of Tutankhamun”

Schulman, Alan R. “Ankhesenamun, Nofretity, and the Amka Affair.” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt; vol. XV, 1978.

“The Berlin ‘Trauerrelief’ (no. 12411) and Some Officials of Tutankhamen and Ay.” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt; vol. IV, 1965.

“Some Remarks on the Military Background of the Amarna Period.” Journal of the
American Research Center in Egypt; vol. III, 1964.

Splalinger, Anthony J. War in Ancient Egypt; Malden, Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

Tubinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients, hrsg. vom Sonderforschungsbereich 19 “Tubinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients” d. Univ. Tubingen. Wiesbaden : Reichert, 1977.

Van De Mieroop. The Eastern Mediterranean In The Age Rameses II; Malden, Blackwell
Publishing, 2007.

Westbrook, R. and R. Cohen, eds., Amarna Diplomacy: The Beginnings of International
Relations; Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Wilhelm, Gernot. The Hurrians. Warminster: Aris and Philips, 1989.