Tutankhamun’s War

Suppililiuma’s one-year campaign, often called ‘The Great Syrian War’ devastated The Hurrian Kingdom of Mitanni and left the Mitanni King Tushratta struggling to hold onto his throne from feuding factions. Over a period of a several decades beginning around 1350 BCE Suppililiuma launched an additional series of campaigns into Western Syria that eventually stripped away all Mitanni possessions west of the Euphrates and left only a narrow strip of northern Mesopotamia and the central stronghold of Karkemish in Mitanni hands. As a consequence of this conquest Suppililiuma was able to bind many Syrian states into vassalage. Niqmaddu II of Ugarit, Aziru of Amurru, and Tette of Nuhashe all signed treaties, copies of which have survived more or less intact.

Map of the Ancient Near East Showing the Hittite Invasion at the time of Tutankhamun's death.. - by Arianna Ravenswood

Map of the Ancient Near East Showing the Hittite Invasion at the time of Tutankhamun’s death. – by Arianna Ravenswood

Hittite and Egyptian Vassals

The arrangements Suppililiuma made with Niqmaddu and Aziru have sparked particular attention, as these rulers are also known to have each had diplomatic dealings with Egypt. In fact, Aziru was in Egypt at Akhenaten’s court for an extended time before signing a treaty with the Hittite King. Similarly, Niqmaddu is known to have wed an Egyptian noblewoman around the same time that he was entering into his alliance with Suppililiuma. Missing from the accounts of this period is a straightforward description of the double-sided diplomatic relationship that existed between Hatti and Egypt itself.

There are some fragmented texts that indicate a treaty arrangement did exist between Egypt and Hatti at this time. The exploits of the Egyptian Pharaoh Tuthmoses III in Syria during the 15th Century BCE are well known and he is largely credited for firmly establishing the 18Ith Dynasty’s empire in Syria and Palestine. After Tuthmoses’ eighth campaign, a Hittite King, whose name is unknown, is recorded in the Egyptian texts as having joined the ranks of kings throughout the region who sent tribute to the pharaoh. It may have been at this time that a treaty was first agreed upon between the Hittites and the Egyptians.

The Kuruštama Treaty

Whether this early contact between the two kingdoms actually resulted in a formal treaty or merely opened a diplomatic channel is for now an open question. Yet, from references in the Deeds of Suppililiuma and the Plague Prayers of Mursili II, it is known that a treaty of sorts between a pharaoh, presumably of the 18th Dynasty, and a Hittite king was drawn up at the town of Kuruštama in northern Syria. Unfortunately it is unknown which pharaoh and which Hittite king concluded this agreement. Nevertheless, at some point, before Suppililiuma’s conquest of Syria, a group of Hittites, probably acting as mercenaries, entered into the service of the pharaoh and served to guard the imperial frontier. As part of this agreement sacred oaths were sworn by the kings to respect each others territory in perpetuity.

Some generations later Suppililiuma’s venture into Syria opened up a new front line with the Egyptians. The region around Kadesh/Qadesh and southward into a land called Amka/Amqi, which is located along the valleys of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, would develop into a zone of conflict for over 50 years between the Hittite and Egyptian forces.

We have no detailed account of any major armed clashes between the Egyptian and the Hittite armies during this period, but there are indications that some fighting and plotting was ongoing. The Deeds of Suppililiuma reveal the Hittite King’s own reluctance to attack Egyptian territory during his initial invasion of Syria. It was only after Shuttarna, King of Kadesh, attacked the Hittite invasion force that Suppililiuma felt justified in retaliating by attacking Kadesh, a recognized Egyptian vassal. The technicality of Kadesh attacking first appears to have allowed Suppililiuma an opportunity to overlook the existing treaty. However, this fortunate technicality seems almost too convenient, given the strategic importance of Kadesh in the region.

Even before the attack on Kadesh Suppililiuma was manipulating events in order to win the loyalty of Egyptian vassals, as demonstrated in the cases of Niqmaddu II of Ugarit and Aziru of Amurru. It would therefore seem that protocol could be satisfied by using proxy warfare and intrigue in lieu of direct conflict. Of particular interest are the events that begin to unfold in Kadesh as a series of pharaohs begin to struggle, first with Suppililiuma and then with his successors, over possession of the city.

The valley northeast of Qadesh.

The valley northeast of Qadesh.

After originally deporting the royal family of Kadesh to Anatolia, Suppililiuma placed Aittakama, the son of the former king Shuttarna, in charge of this strategically vital city. Almost immediately, Aittakama began conspiring with his neighbors, working to extend Hittite influence in the region while, at the same time, reaffirming his loyalty to the pharaoh.

The bold intrigue against Egyptian interests raises the question: what type of treaty arrangement, if any, could have existed between these empires? On the surface, Suppililiuma seems to have been interested in maintaining a legal facade. It was a foundational part of his image as a proper king to justify warfare in legal terms. Suppililiuma was clearly hesitant to outwardly attack Egyptian lands. However, his alleged involvement in numerous plots against Egyptian interests was certainly known to the pharaoh, as is verified in the text of the Amarna Letters.

The Egyptian and Mitanni kingdoms had, for several generations (between ca. 1400 – 1350 B.C.), formed a strong alliance through a series of diplomatic marriages, and the countries were frequent partners in trade and correspondence. In fact, some frontier cities such as Qatna and Kadesh saw decades of co-mingling between Egyptian and Mitanni/Hurrian influences. If the Egyptians and Hittites were engaged in the type of alliance that had existed between Egypt and Mitanni, then the duel loyalties of the vassals would not have been a conflict.

This type of strong alliance clearly did not, in fact, exist between the Hittites and the Egyptians. The Hittites are routinely depicted in the Egyptian diplomatic records from the Amarna archives as having been adversaries of Egypt. The Amarna Letters show that a pharaoh, likely Akhenaten, was planning a military venture into Syria as a counterstrike against the Hittite king’s advances. What became of this expedition beyond its lack of success, if it even made it beyond the final planning stages, is unclear.

Egypt Counterattacks

This first Egyptian expedition, or attempt at one, can be placed sometime after Suppililiuma’s conquest of the region during the twelfth year of the Pharaoh Akhenaten’s reign and the year when Akhenaten is believed to have died, giving us a window of ca. 1340 – 1336. Akhenaten’s successor, Tutankhamen, records in his Restoration Stele that “no campaign of the Aten” regime, meaning the previous pharaoh, “could have succeeded in Syria.” However, imperial Egypt was undaunted. Hittite accounts indicate that a decade later the Egyptians, under the rule of King Tutankhamen, moved against Kadesh once again. Suppililiuma retaliated by striking back against the Egyptian land of Amka in the extreme south of Syria.

The Restoration Stele of Tutankhamun.

The Restoration Stele of Tutankhamun.

What is perhaps most interesting about Tutankhamen’s offensive against Kadesh is the apparent co-ordination of the timing of the attack to coincide with a Mitanni attack from Karkemish against Hittite defenses at Murmuriga. According to the Deeds;

“But then the Hurrians saw that the Priest [Suppililiuma’s son Telepinu] was gone, the troops and chariots of the Hurrian country came – and Takuhli, the amumikuni, was among them – and surrounded Murmuriga. And they were superior to the troops and chariots of Hatti who were (there).” “To the country of Kinza,[Qadesh] which my father had conquered, troops and chariots of Egypt came and attacked the country of Kinza. Word was brought [of] Kinza to my father: The troops and chariots which are up in Murmuriga, the Hurrians have surrounded them!”

Whether these exchanges amounted to full scale invasions or were simply limited raiding expeditions is a mystery as is any personal role played by Tutankhamun in the events. Still it does appear that Egypt and Mitanni made a formidable attempt to turn back the Hittite tide. The veteran commander Suppililiuma however quickly rallied his troops and sent the attackers to flight on both fronts. The Hittite king then followed through with attacks into the Egyptian territory of Amka. 

Regardless of the scope of these martial maneuvers, it can be judged from the Plague Prayers that the son of Suppililiuma himself deemed his father’s retaliatory incursions into Amka as unlawful. This indicates that, under Late Bronze Age diplomatic protocol, a land like Kadesh could be taken over through a technicality of international law, as was done by Suppililiuma, without violating existing arrangements; thereby without risking the wrath of the gods which was the price of breaking a sworn compact. The Egyptian Pharaoh could then, properly and within protocol, try to retake this land once lost. However, it seems that retaliation against the Egyptian land of Amka was out of legal bounds.

This point of diplomatic minutia should not suggest that a treaty arrangement would necessarily restrain a Late Bronze Age monarch. Yet all the available sources on Suppililiuma do indicate a particular attention to recognized international norms. This would have been necessary if the Hittite king desired his growing number of vassals to honor their agreements with him.

If we are to take these Hittite reports on face value, then it would seem that, in the final years of the reign of Tutankhamun, the alliance between Mitanni King Tushratta and Egypt’s 18th Dynasty was given one final breath of life. It is obvious that the writers of the Deeds and the Plague Prayers gave some priority to the relationship with Egypt. Egypt, at the time these documents were written, was recovering from a period of weakness and was only beginning its Ramesside renaissance of power. Still, only Egypt could effectively rival Hatti for hegemony in Syria.

Tutankhamun would die young and mysteriously with any Asian aspirations unfulfilled. His death coupled with the timing and success of the Hittite attacks shook the Egyptian royal court to its foundations. Panic ensued as different factions scrambled to fill the prematurely vacant throne. Two men, the General Horemheb and the Vizier Ay, both had claims as heir apparent but the Queen Ankhesenamun struggled to rule in her own right.

Whatever Suppililiuma’s reasoning or reservations may have been, it is the second of these retaliatory, yet unlawful strikes into Amka by the Hittites that set into motion events that led the Egyptian Queen Ankhesenamun to look for a Hittite prince to be her husband.

“My father sent infantry and chariotry, and they attacked the border region of Egyptian territory in the land of Amka. He sent (them) again, and they attacked again. When the Egyptians became frightened, they came and actually asked my father for his son for kingship.” -Plague Prayers of Mursili II

Suppililiuma was on the brink of total victory.

….to be continued in “The Death of Tutankhamun; The Zannanza Incident