The Babylonian King Writes to Akhenaten: Burnaburiash Requests a Menagerie and a Proper Escort for a Bride

The Babylonian King Writes to Akhenaten: Burnaburiash Requests a Menagerie and a Proper Escort for a Bride

March 15, 2019 Off By Tammy Schneider

A Diplomatic Marriage Negotiation is Finalized.

For some time the Babylonian King, Burnaburiash (ca. 1359-1333 B.C.E.), had been corresponding with his royal counterpart in Egypt, the Pharaoh Amenhotep III (ca. 1353 B.C.E.). Following the death of the pharaoh, Burnaburiash began a new relationship with his son, Amenhotep IV (ca.1353-1335 B.C.E.), who would soon change his name to Akhenaten. Records of this correspondence, known as the Amarna Letters, detail the final phases of a diplomatic marriage alliance between the two great kingdoms that had taken years to negotiate.

Burnaburiash begins Amarna Letter 10 (EA 10) with a standard greeting, but then breaks from the format he had displayed in earlier letters. The Babylonian King recalls a past relationship with Egypt, dating back to the founder of the Kassite Dynasty, Karaindash (ca.1415 B.C.E.), an ancestor now four generations removed. However, in the earlier EA 9 letter, for example, references harkening back only two generations had sufficed to validate the Babylonian Kings point.

Burnaburiash Asks for Carved Animals from Egypt

Despite the long standing relationship between the two powers, by the time of Letter 10 messengers had traveled between the kingdoms three times without an exchange of customary “greeting gifts.” To make matters worse, the last time gold was sent from Egypt it’s quality was so poor that it was almost unrecognizable as gold. Nevertheless, in this letter Burnaburiash appears ready to dismiss these transgressions, as long as his new requests are met.

After a break in the tablet, the text resumes with Burnaburiash's request for carved animals. "These can be either land animals or aquatic", he states. He goes on to tell Akhenaten that these carvings must be lifelike renderings. The King tells the Pharaoh that if there are no carvings available, then the finest craftsmen should be put to work right away, and if any are available then they are to be hurried to Babylonia without delay.

When this request is combined with a request for carved plant life that Burnaburiash makes in a later letter, Amarna Letter 11, it becomes conceivable that Burnaburiash was constructing a menagerie in Babylon. Scholars have formed no conclusions as to what the purpose of this collection of carved animals and plants could have been. However, it is possible that the Babylonian King was using these objects to gain further understanding of the Egyptian lands, or perhaps simply to enhance his own prestige.

The Death of a Queen and a Princess

Burnaburiash also sends along with his request for carved animals in EA 10 with a “greeting gift” for the Pharaoh. In an interesting twist the Babylonian King, who had at one time sought an Egyptian bride, makes a special gift to the princess Meritaten, one of Akhenaten’s daughters by Nefertiti. This unique gift is described as a necklace made of 1,048 “cricket-sized” gems of lapis-lazuli. Burnaburiash continues with a subtle reminder that neighboring kings may take notice if the amount of gold sent out of Egypt does not increase.

It is evident from the ancient texts that when Burnaburiash wrote again, in EA 11, much has transpired. The powerful wife of Amenhotep III, Queen Tiye, had died. Tiye had outlived her husband and moved with her son, Akhenaten, as he set out to build a new city named Akhetaten, at the site now know as Tell el Amarna. There are also indications that a Babylonian Princess, who was to be sent to Egypt to wed the pharaoh, had died in a plague. Fortunately another princess was available to be sent, and and the letter tells us that preparations were being made for this in Babylonia.

Waiting for More Troops in Babylonia

The Babylonian king wrote that several diplomats had already arrived from Egypt and had proceeded to ritually anoint the princess with oil, as was part of the official betrothal process. Yet Burnaburiash was concerned. The official who was to provide the escort, a man named Haya, who may actually be the future Pharaoh Ay (ca. 1322-1318 B.C.E.), only had a force of 5 chariots with him. The last time a bride had been sent to Egypt, an escort of 3,000 soldiers had been provided. Now, a mere 5 chariots was deemed by the King to be wholly inadequate. Burnaburiash also insisted that Haya had to be the one to take the princess to Egypt, and that he would remain in Babylon and await the arrival of more troops.

The complications over transporting the princess are eventually resolved and a large dowry is sent along with her to Egypt.Once again the diplomatic ties between Egypt and Babylon are strengthened by this marriage alliance between Akhenaten and the Babylonian Princess. Unfortunately, In a little more than a decade, Burnaburiash’s Babylonia would become consumed with affairs in Mesopotamia while Egypt would face a total war against the Hittites. These events would forever change the balance of power in the Near East and the alliance between the Pharaohs and the Kassite Kings would eventually fade into the past.