I am reading Aidan Dodson’s Amarna Sunset.
Dodson talks about Egypt’s ”northern problem”. He talks about a cold war between Egypt and the Hittite Empire that focused on the Syrian region. That cold war took place during King Ak’s reign and apparently became a hot war very late in his reign or during Queen Nefertiti’s regency. The cold war is reflected in the Amarna Letters. But the picture is filled out by a document, the Deeds of Shuppilulumash. This is a chronicle published by a son of this Hittite king. (I am obviously going to call him King Shupp. His name is spelled different ways. If you want to Google him, it would be best to spell it Suppiluliuma. ) The Deeds is fragmentary and in bad shape. Also it is in cuneiform in the Hittite language, which a tiny number of scholars can read.
Nevertheless, you can go here for the translation of a large excerpt.
The point is that Egypt’s main geopolitical problem centered on the Hittites, who had defeated Egypt’s ally, Mitanni, and now posed a threat in the north. King Ak did not want to send Egyptian troops up there. He took steps, though, to keep the Lebanese port of Byblos open. Egypt imported wood for construction (the cedars of Lebanon) through this port. Eventually, though, former Egyptian buffer states defected and open war broke out during the Nefertiti/Tut period. Egypt sent a force north, but the campaign failed.
This map may help to orient you:
Certain facts set the stage for Dodson’s reconstruction of what happened next. Fact 1: Nefertiti suddenly disappears from the record. Fact 2: Generals Horemheb and Ay, commanders of the infantry and the cavalry, suddenly seem to be running everything. Fact 3: In about year 4 of the teenaged Tut’s rule a stele proclaimed a recovery from a terrible situation. Tut’s restoration stele was published in his name but reflected his handler’s position:
Now when His Majesty was crowned King the temples and the estates of the gods and goddesses from Elephantine as far as the swamps of Lower Egypt had fallen into ruin. Their shrines had fallen down, turned into piles of rubble and overgrown with weeds. Their sanctuaries were as if they had never existed at all. Their temples had become footpaths. The world was in chaos and the gods had turned their backs on this land. If an army was sent to Djahy to extend the boundaries if Egypt, it would have no success. If you asked a god for advice, he would not attend; and if one spoke to a goddess likewise she would not attend. Hearts were faint in bodies because everything that had been, was destroyed.
This is commentary on the previous administrations of Ak and Nefertiti. The army sent to Djahy was, according to Dodson, the one sent to Syria by Nefertiti. Its failure may have led to her being deposed by the generals. A major part of the reason for this according to the stele, is that the traditional religion of Egypt had been oppressed and allowed to decline. Reading between the lines, it looks like the generals and the priests of Amen joined together to overthrow King Ak’s heritage. They interpreted plague followed by military humiliation as the disfavor of the old gods.
The border war, though, did not suddenly start going well. A Mitanni rebellion failed. The Hittites attacked Amqa (now Hama) in Syria. When Tut died (from complications from a fractured femur due to a horse or chariot accident many now think) a peace overture was made to the Hittites. Tut’s widow sent a letter to King Shupp asking that he send one of his sons to marry her and become King of Egypt!!!
It is hard to argue with Dodson’s opinion that this plan was doomed from the start. How likely is it that it ever had the support of Ay and Horemheb? To complicate matters, King Shupp hesitated. He was suspicious. Dodson makes much of the evidence that King Tut’s funeral was delayed for months. Was his family waiting for a response from Hatti (that is what the land of the Hittites is called)? This delay gave time for a conspiracy to develop. All we know is that when King Shupp finally sent a son, he was assassinated en rout.
For a long time no one knew that the Hittites were a major power located in Anatolia. They are mentioned in the Bible (Uriah the Hittite, for instance), but people used to think they were a local Canaanite tribe. Archeology has uncovered that they had a huge empire at the end of the Bronze Age.
I have visited some of the big exhibits from Ancient Egypt when they have toured the United States. In 1989 I went to the Ramses II exhibit when it was in Dallas. Just a few years ago, in 2010, I went to the King Tut exhibit when it was in Denver. Mostly, the exhibits show off the treasure found in these guy’s tombs. But it is fascinating to see this and the art work of Ancient Egypt up close. It gives one an impression of just how much someone way back then appreciated beauty.
At the King Tut exhibit there was a presentation about the conspiracy theories surrounding his death. The conclusion that he died of an accidental broken leg that got infected was presented as the best and latest understanding. Dodson puts it that way too. But there seem to have been a whole bunch of conspiracies going on. Maybe Tut was the only one of these people who wasn’t murdered. That would be ironic. Although it is probably true, because it is hard to see who benefited from his death at that time. His death seems to have been a problem for almost everybody.
Pharaohs Seti I and Ramses II campaigned against the Hittites in the next (13th) century. There was a huge chariot battle at Qadesh. Then there was finally a peace treaty. We have the stele commemorating that treaty. It is on display at the United Nations as the first record of an international peace treaty.
But the events involving King Ak, King Tut, and King Shupp set the stage for a half century of hostility between the two powers.