Penpalling & Letters

Friday, 19 November 2010

Amarna letters

A few days ago I was reading about archaeology and I got to know about the existence of the "Amarna letters", written in the times of the ancient Egypt. We had already discussed that the art of writing and correspondence dates from those ancient times: Mail Trivia I and Mail & History I. However, I found fascinating to read about these letters and get to know all these information about them. Besides, isn't it wonderful that they made their way through so many centuries and we still have them nowadays so we can see how they are? I thought I would share the article here, in P&L. Below you can see where it was extracted from. Enjoy the reading!

The Amarna letters, "Amarna correspondence" or "Amarna tablets" are an archive of mostly diplomatic correspondence written on clay tablets, between the Egyptian administration and its representatives in Canaan and Amurru during the New Kingdom.
The letters were found in Upper Egypt at Amarna, the modern name for the Egyptian capital of Akhetaten (Akhetaton), founded by pharaoh Akhenaten (Akhnaton) during the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt.

The Amarna letters are unusual in Egyptological research, being mostly written in Akkadian cuneiform, the writing system of ancient Mesopotamia rather than ancient Egypt. The known tablets currently total 382 in number, 24 further tablets having been recovered since the Norwegian Assyriologist Jørgen Alexander Knudtzon's landmark edition of the Amarna correspondence, "Die El-Amarna-Tafeln" in two volumes (1907 and 1915). The correspondence spans a period of, at most, thirty years.

These letters, consisting of cuneiform tablets mostly written in Akkadian – the regional language of diplomacy for this period – were first discovered by local Egyptians around 1887, who secretly dug most of them from the ruined city (they were originally stored in an ancient building archaeologists have since called the Bureau of Correspondence of Pharaoh) and then sold them on the antiquities market. Once the location where they were found was determined, the ruins were explored for more. The first archaeologist who successfully recovered more tablets was William Matthew Flinders Petrie in 1891–92, who found 21 fragments. Émile Chassinat, then director of the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo, acquired two more tablets in 1903. Since Knudtzon's edition, some 24 more tablets or fragments of tablets have been found, either in Egypt, or identified in the collections of various museums.

The tablets originally recovered by local Egyptians have been scattered among museums in Cairo, Europe and the United States: 202 or 203 are at the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin; 80 in the British Museum; 49 or 50 at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo; 7 at the Louvre; 3 at the Pushkin Museum; and 1 is currently in the collection of the Oriental Institute in Chicago.

The full archive, which includes correspondence from the preceding reign of Amenhotep III as well, contained over three hundred diplomatic letters; the remainder are a miscellany of literary or educational materials. These tablets shed much light on Egyptian relations with Babylonia, Assyria, the Mitanni, the Hittites, Syria, Canaan, and Alashiya (Cyprus). They are important for establishing both the history and chronology of the period.

Map of the ancient Near East during the Amarna period, showing the great powers of the period: Egypt (green), Hatti (yellow), the Kassite Kingdom of Babylon (purple), Assyria (grey), and Mittani (red). Lighter areas show direct control, darker areas represent spheres of influence. The extent of the Achaean/Mycenaean Civilization is shown in orange.

[Information taken from History of Science]

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