Two types of writing can be seen on this clay tablet. The main text is written in the cuneiform (wedge-shaped) writing used in ancient Iraq and Syria. The short note at the end in black ink is written in Egyptian hieratic (simplified hieroglyphic handwriting). It is a clerical note from the pharaoh’s scribes recording that this letter arrived in year 36 of Amenhotep III’s reign. The letter came from Tushratta, king of Mitanni (centred in modern Syria).
Tushratta greets Amenhotep as his 'brother, son-in-law, whom I love and who loves me'. The bonds between these two great powers of the time had been sealed by a diplomatic marriage between Tushratta’s daughter (Tadu-hepa) and Amenhotep himself. After polite wishes of good health for Tadu-hepa, the pharaoh’s other wives, children, army and everything else that belonged to him, Tushratta got down to business.
The goddess Shaushka had told Tushratta that she wanted to visit Egypt (again). Her statue would travel to Egypt for Amenhotep to honour her. In return she would protect the two kings and bring them both joy. The sharing of divine favour was supposedly a way for Tushratta to include his son-in-law in the family.
This remarkable letter is part of a group of almost 400 such documents found at the site of el-Amarna in Egypt, capital of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV). They provide a tiny glimpse into the world of international diplomacy in the fourteenth century BC. The incoming mail and copies of outgoing mail show us how the major powers jostled with each other. They also reveal the dynamics between the pharaoh and Egypt’s vassals in the Levant.
It is noticeable that princesses were sent as wives only in one direction: to Egypt. Egypt was first among equals. On the other hand it is illuminating that all international correspondence was done in the Akkadian language of ancient Iraq, written in cuneiform on clay tablets.