Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty

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Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty
Istanbul - Museo archeol. - Trattato di Qadesh fra ittiti ed egizi (1269 a.C.) - Foto G. Dall'Orto 28-5-2006.jpg
The Hittite version (above, at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums) and Egyptian (below, at the Precinct of Amun-Re in Karnak)
Ägyptisch-Hethitischer Friedensvertrag Karnaktempel.jpg
Created c.1259 BC
Discovered 1828 (Egyptian) and 1906 (Hittite)
Present location Istanbul Archaeology Museums and Precinct of Amun-Re in Karnak

Sometimes called the Treaty of Kadesh, after the Battle of Kadesh fought some sixteen years earlier, the treaty itself did not bring about a peace; in fact "an atmosphere of enmity between Hatti and Egypt lasted many years," until the eventual treaty of alliance was signed.[1]

In Egypt it was inscribed on the walls of temples in hieroglyphics, while in the Hittite capital of Hattusa (in present day Turkey) it was preserved on baked clay tablets. Archaeological excavations at the Hittite royal palace uncovered it among the palace's sizable archives.

The Egyptian version of the peace treaty was engraved on the walls of Pharaoh Ramesses II's mortuary temple in Thebes. Translation of the text revealed that this engraving was originally translated from the silver tablet given to Ramesses II, but had since been lost to contemporary historians. The scribes who engraved the Egyptian version of the treaty included descriptions of the figures and seals that were on the tablet that the Hittites delivered.[2] Two of the tablets are today displayed at the Museum of the Ancient Orient, part of the Istanbul Archaeology Museums. The third is on display in the Berlin State Museums in Germany.[3] A copy of this treaty is prominently displayed on a wall in the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.


The treaty was signed to end a long war between the Hittite Empire and the Egyptians, who had fought for over two centuries to gain mastery over the lands of the eastern Mediterranean. The conflict culminated with an attempted Egyptian invasion in 1274 BC that was stopped by the Hittites at the city of Kadesh on the Orontes River in what is now Syria. The Battle of Kadesh resulted in both sides suffering heavy casualties, but neither was able to prevail decisively in either the battle or the war. The conflict continued inconclusively for about fifteen more years before the treaty was signed. Although it is often referred to as the "Treaty of Kadesh", it was actually signed long after the battle, and Kadesh is not mentioned in the text. The treaty is thought to have been negotiated by intermediaries without the two monarchs ever meeting in person.[4] Both sides had common interests in making peace; Egypt faced a growing threat from the "Sea Peoples", while the Hittites were concerned about the rising power of Assyria to the east. The treaty was ratified in the 21st year of Ramses II's reign (1258 BC) and continued in force until the Hittite Empire collapsed eighty years later.[5]

Pre-Ramesses II relationship with the Hittites

Hittite-Egyptian relations officially began once the Hatti took over Mitanni's role as the ruling power in central Syria and from there tensions would continue to be high until the conclusion of the treaty nearly one hundred years later.[6] During the invasion and eventual defeat of Mitanni, the Hittite armies poured into Syria and began to exert their rule over the Egyptian vassals of Kadesh and Amurru. The loss of these lands in northern Syria would never be forgotten by the Egyptian pharaohs and their later actions demonstrated that they never would fully concede this loss at the hands of the Hittite Empire.[7] Egypt's attempts to regain the territory lost during the rule of Akhenaten continued to be futile until under the leadership of Seti I, the father of Ramesses II, did significant gains start to be made. In his own Kadesh-Amurru campaign against the Hittite armies, Seti I vanquished his foes at a battle near Kadesh, but the gains proved short-lived since Kadesh was eventually given up by Seti in a later treaty.[8] The short gain by the Egyptians was the "opening salvo" of a conflict between the two nations, which would drag on over the next two decades.[9]

Battle of Kadesh

The accounts of this battle mainly are derived from Egyptian literary accounts known as the Bulletin (also known as the Record) and the Poem as well as pictorial reliefs on the Ramesseum.[10] Unfortunately for scholars and individuals interested in the Battle of Kadesh, the details that these sources provide are heavily biased interpretation of the events. Since Ramesses II had complete control over the building projects, the resources were used for propagandistic purposes by the pharaoh, who used them to brag about his victory at Kadesh.[11] It is still known that Ramesses marched through Syria with four divisions of troops in the hopes of destroying the Hittite presence there and restoring Egypt to the "preeminent position it had enjoyed under Tuthmosis III".[12] The Hittite king, Muwatalli II, gathered together an army of his allies to prevent the invasion of his territory. At the site of Kadesh, Ramesses foolishly outdistanced the remainder of his forces and, after hearing unreliable intelligence regarding the Hittite position from a pair of captured prisoners, the pharaoh pitched camp across from the town.[13] The Hittite armies, hidden behind the town, launched a surprise attack against the Amun division and quickly sent the division scattering. Although Ramesses tried to rally his troops against the onslaught of the Hittite chariots, it was only after the arrival of relief forces from Amurru that the Hittite attack was thrown back.[14]

Although the Egyptians were able to survive a terrible predicament in Kadesh it was not the splendid victory that Ramesses sought to portray but rather a stalemate in which both sides sustained heavily losses.[15] After an unsuccessful attempt to gain further ground the following day, Ramesses headed back south to Egypt bragging about his individual achievements during Kadesh. Even though Ramesses technically won the battle, he ultimately lost the war, when Muwatallis and his army retook Amurru and extended the buffer zone with Egypt further southward.[16]

Subsequent campaigns into Syria

Despite suffering the later losses during his invasion of Syria, Ramesses II launched another campaign in his eighth year of rule, which proved largely successful. Instead of launching an attack against the heavily fortified position of Kadesh or going through Amurru, Ramesses conquered the city of Dapur in the hope of using the city as a bridgehead for future campaigns.[17] After the successful capture of Dapur, the army returned to Egypt, and so the recently acquired territory reverted to Hittite control. In the tenth year of his rule, he launched another attack on the Hittite holdings in central Syria, and yet again, all areas of conquest eventually returned to Hittite hands. The pharaoh now recognised the impossible task of holding Syria in such a fashion and so ended the northern campaign.[18]

The period is notable in the relationship between the Hittites and the Egyptians because despite the hostilities between the two nations and military conquests in Syria, Kadesh had been the last direct, official military confrontation fought among the Hittites and Egyptians. In some regards, as historians have noted, the period could be considered 'cold war' between Hatti and Egypt.[19]


The Egyptian version of the peace treaty was preserved on a wall in the Temple of Amun at Karnak, and other copies are in temples at Luxor and Abydos. Jean-François Champollion copied a portion of the accord in 1828 and published his findings in 1844.[20] The Egyptian account described a great battle against the "Great King of Khatti", then an unknown figure, later confirmed by other archaeological evidence to be the Hittite monarch Muwatalli II.

In 1906-1908, the German archaeologist Hugo Winckler excavated the site of the Hittite capital, Hattusa (now Boğazkale in Turkey) in conjunction with Theodore Makridi, the second director of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. The joint Turkish-German team found the remains of the royal archives, where they discovered 10,000 clay tablets documenting many of the Hittites' diplomatic activities.[21] The haul included three tablets on which the text of the treaty was inscribed in the Akkadian language, a lingua franca of the time. Winckler immediately grasped the significance of the discovery:

... a marvellously preserved tablet which immediately promised to be significant. One glance at it and all the achievement of my life faded into insignificance. Here it was – something I might have jokingly called a gift from the fairies. Here it was: Ramses writing to Hattusilis about their joint treaty ... confirmation that the famous treaty which we knew from the version carved on the temple walls at Karnak might also be illuminated from the other wise. Ramses is identified by his royal titles and pedigree exactly as in the Karnak text of the treaty; Hattusilis is described in the same way – the content is identical, word for word with parts of the Egyptian version [and] written in beautiful cuneiform and excellent Babylonian ... As with the history of the people of Hatti, the name of this place was completely forgotten. But the people of Hatti evidently played an important role in the evolution of the ancient Western world, and though the name of this city, and the name of the people were totally lost for so long, their rediscovery now opens up possibilities we cannot yet begin to think of.[22]


The first translation of the Akkadian version of the treaty was published in 1916 by E.F. Weidner.[20] It is the only ancient Near Eastern treaty for which both sides' versions have survived, enabling the two to be compared directly. It was structured to be an almost entirely symmetrical treaty, treating both sides equally and requiring them to undertake mutual obligations. There are a few differences; for instance, the Hittite version adopts a somewhat evasive preamble, asserting that "as for the relationship between land of Egypt and the Hatti land, since eternity the god does not permit the making of hostility between them because of a treaty valid forever." By contrast, the Egyptian version states straightforwardly that the two states had been at war.[4]

The treaty proclaims that both sides would in future forever remain at peace, binding the children and grandchildren of the parties. They would not commit acts of aggression against each other, they would repatriate each other's political refugees and criminals and they would assist each other in suppressing rebellions. Each would come to the other's aid if threatened by outsiders: "And if another enemy come [against] the land of Hatti ... the great king of Egypt shall send his troops and his chariots and shall slay his enemy and he shall restore confidence to the land of Hatti."[4]

The text concludes with an oath before "a thousand gods, male gods and female gods" of the lands of Egypt and Hatti, witnessed by "the mountains and rivers of the lands of Egypt; the sky; the earth; the great sea; the winds; the clouds." If the treaty was ever violated, the oath-breaker would be cursed by the gods who "shall destroy his house, his land and his servants." Conversely, he who maintained his vows would be rewarded by the gods, who "will cause him to be healthy and to live."[4]


The peace treaty of Ramesses II and Hattušiliš III is known as one of the most important official "international" peace treaties between two great powers from the ancient Near East because its exact wording is known to us.[23] Divided into points the treaty flows between the Egyptians and Hittites as each side makes pledges of brotherhood and peace to the other in terms of the objectives. The treaty can be seen as a promise of peace and alliance since both powers make the mutual guarantee that neither would invade the other's land. This provision ensures that both participants would act in harmony regarding the disputed Syrian holdings and in effect establishes boundaries for the two conflicting claims.[24] No longer, according to the treaty, would costly Syrian campaigns be waged between the two Near Eastern powers as a formal renunciation of further hostilities is made.

A second clause promotes alliance by making reassurances of aid, most likely military support, if either party is attacked by a third party or by internal forces of rebellion or insurgency.[25] The other stipulations coincide with Hattušiliš' aims (consult Hittite aims section) in that the Hittite ruler placed great emphasis on establishing legitimacy for his rule: each country swore to the other to extradite political fugitives back to their home country and within the Hittite version of the treaty Ramesses II agreed to provide support to Hattušiliš' successors in order to hold the Hittite throne against dissenters.[25][26] After the conclusion of the provision detailing the extradition of emigrants to their land of origin, the two rulers call upon the respective gods of Hatti and Egypt to bear witness to their agreement. The inclusion of the gods is a common feature in major pieces of international law since only a direct appeal to the gods could provide the proper means to guarantee adherence to the treaty.[27] Their noted ability to bestow curses and blessings to people is employed as a serious penalty that would be imposed in case of a violation.

Analysis-theories about the treaty

Previous and contemporary Egyptologists have argued over the correct labeling of the treaty: some have interpreted it as a treaty of peace while others have seen it as a treaty of alliance between two hostile states. James Breasted in 1906 was one of the first people to collect the historical documents of Ancient Egypt in an anthology and understood the treaty to be "not only a treaty of alliance, but also a treaty of peace, and the war [Ramesses' Syrian campaigns] evidently continued until the negotiations for the treaty began".[28] For Breasted, the intermediate periods of conflict were directly resolved by the signing of the treaty and therefore required the treaty to be one of both alliance and peace. However later Egyptologists and other scholars began, even within twenty years of Breasted's publishing, to question whether or not the treaty between Ramesses II and Hattušiliš III was one of peace at all. Alan Gardiner and his partner S. Langdon examined previous interpretations and determined that their predecessors had misinterpreted the line "to beg peace" in the text. The oversight in the language caused Egyptologists to incorrectly see the treaty terminating a war instead of seeking a beneficial alliance between Hatti and Egypt.[29] Trevor Bryce further argues that within the Late Bronze Age treaties were established "for reasons of expediency and self-interest… their concern was much more with establishing strategic alliances than with peace for its own sake".[30] The consensus that is starting to emerge is that although the treaty mentions establishing "brotherhood and peace forever", it is not about peace but rather about forming a mutually beneficial alliance between the two powers.

Another matter that has caused scholars to speculate is which of the two countries pursued negotiations first. As previously mentioned, Ramesses II had lost portions of his Syrian territory when he retreated to Egypt at the conclusion of the Battle of Kadesh. In this sense, Hattušiliš would have had the upper hand in the negotiations, considering Ramesses' desires to emulate the militaristic successes of Tuthmosis III. Until the 1920s, Egyptologists had mistaken the insecurity of Egypt's Syrian holdings to mean that Ramesses had come to Hattušiliš begging for a solution to the Syria problem. Donald Magnetti brings up the point that the Pharaoh's duty to bring mortal activity in line with the divine order through the maintenance of maat would have been reason enough for Ramesses II to pursue peace.[31] However, the interpretation is incorrect since the questions about Hattušiliš's legitimacy as monarch would demand recognition by his fellow royals in the Near East. The weak position abroad and at home that defined his reign suggests that it was the Hatti leader who sued for peace.[32] In fact, Trevor Bryce interprets the opening lines of the treaty to be "Ramesses, Beloved of Amon, Great King, King of Egypt, hero, concluded on a tablet of silver with Hattušiliš, Great King, King of Hatti, his brother" to enforce that the incentives of the Hatti ruler had far greater implications that compelled him to sue for peace.[33]


Egyptian aims

Considering his relatively stronger position over Hattušiliš, what would Ramesses hope to achieve by accepting an alliance with his hated Hittite enemies? After fifteen years of futile attempts at regaining his lost territory in Syria, scholars argue that Ramesses now realized that his opportunities to match the military achievements of Tuthmosis III were unrealizable. In that light, it became increasingly important for Ramesses to obtain an international victory through diplomacy to bolster his deeds as pharaoh.[34] The attempts at regaining the lands that the Hittites had taken had ultimately failed to break the hold that the Hittites had over the region. Instead Ramesses would take his losses so long as the Hittites would recognize the current division of Syria, give Egypt access to ports in the Hittite territory to boost commerce, and grant trading access as far north as Ugarit.[35] Therefore the advancement Egypt's financial and security interests controlled Ramesses' willingness to pursue friendlier relations with the Hittites. Maintaining the status quo in the region became a priority for Ramesses considering the emergence of the Assyrian military power. Assyria as a military force was not to be reckoned with and thereby made it desirable to ensure that Assyria would not have a presence in Syria. If the Assyrians were allowed to enter Syria they would be an arm's length away from Egypt herself and pose a threat to Egypt proper.[36] By accepting the Hittite overture of alliance the newly made allies would help safeguard their mutual holdings in Syria against this upstart power.[37]

Besides the added incentive of no longer stressing the finances with expensive wars with Hatti and increasing the security of Egypt's claims in Syria, signing the treaty with Hatti also provided Ramesses the opportunity to brag about his "defeat" of the Hittites. Since Hattušiliš had been the one to approach Ramesses, the pharaoh in his depictions at the Ramesseum represents the settlement as one that the Hittite had asked for in a position of submission.[38] Considering the official language of the treaties at the time was completely independent of one another Ramesses was able to present the terms of the treaty from his perspective. This free control over the depictions of his role by the language of the treaty gave the pharaoh opportunity to present a greatly idealized point of view.[39] His ability to assert a sense of supremacy as ruler of Egypt and his attempts to portray this strategic alliance as a victory over the Hittites demonstrate why Ramesses' would be so willing to choose such a mutually beneficial peace. The conclusion of open hostilities between the two regional powers was a personal triumph for the aging pharaoh and as his monument at Abu Simbel shows the pharaoh made his subjects well aware of the fact that he, Ramesses, was the conqueror of the Hittites.[40]

Hittite aims

In opposition to Ramesses' strength in international affairs, Hattušiliš III was disadvantaged by questions of legitimacy that raised doubts about his position as king of the Hittites. Although Hattušiliš had defeated his nephew, Urhi-Tesub, for the throne in all regards he continued to be seen as a usurper of the kingship. Urhi-Tesub's determination to regain the throne from his uncle caused the Hittite empire to enter into a period of instability both at home and abroad.[41] The nephew had been banished after an unsuccessful coup and had ended up in Egypt. Ramesses II thereby posed a direct threat to Hattušiliš' reign by harboring Urhi-Tesub within Egypt's borders.[42] Hattušiliš realized that only an alliance with Ramesses could prevent the monarch from unleashing his nephew back into contention with him for the throne. By completing a treaty with Egypt, Hattušiliš also hoped that garnering the endorsement as the true king of Hatti by Ramesses would effectively reconcile the disaffected elements in his kingdom that backed Urhi-Tesub as the rightful possessor of the kingship.[43] In the Near Eastern world Ramesses wielded great power amongst the rulers of the day and formal recognition from him would give Hattušiliš credibility on the international scene as well.

The threat of his nephew staging another coup against him greatly worried Hattušiliš during a time when he faced a considerable threat from the Assyrians in the east. During the reign of his predecessor the Assyrian king had taken Hanigalbat which had been a vassal territory under Hittite control.[44] This aggression strained the relationship between the two countries however more importantly the Assyrians appeared to put themselves in the position to launch further attacks across the Euphrates River. The recognized threat of Assyrian invasion proved a strong motivator for the Hittites to open up negotiations with Egypt. It was this certainty about the 'Assyrian danger' that pushed the Hatti into a relationship with Egypt.[45] Under the terms of the treaty the Egyptians would be obligated to join with their Hatti allies if Assyria invaded Hittite territory. Besides this threat to the east, Hattušiliš recognized the need to strengthen his relationship with his Egyptian neighbors. The competition that had existed between Hatti and Egypt over the Syrian lands was no longer an interest to Hattušiliš. In fact, Trevor Bryce argues that Hattušiliš was satisfied with his current holdings in Syria, and any further expansion of Hittite territory southward was both unjustifiable and undesirable.[46]


After reaching the desired alliance with the Hatti, Ramesses was now able to turn his energies to domestic building projects, such as the completion of his great rock Abu Simbel temples.[47] The warming of the relationship between Ramesses and the Hittite king enabled the pharaoh to gather the necessary resources, which no longer were spent on the war effort but rather, for the extensive construction projects. In year 34 of Ramesses II's reign there is evidence that to continue the relationship between the two empires, the pharaoh married a Hittite princess in an effort to establish stronger, familial bonds with Hatti.[48] Evidence of the dynastic marriage as well as the lack of textual evidence of a deterioration of the friendly relationship demonstrates that peaceful dealings between Hatti and Egypt continued for the remainder of Ramesses' reign.[49] By furthering their bonds of friendship through marriage the Hittites and Egyptians ensured that a mutually beneficial peace would exist between them until the fall of Hatti to Assyria nearly a century later.[50]


  1. Klengel, 51.
  2. Breasted, James. Ancient Records of Egypt: Historical Documents from the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest Volume III The Nineteenth Dynasty. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1906 page 173
  3. "Kadesh Treaty". Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Bederman, David J. International law in antiquity, pp. 147-150. Cambridge University Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-521-79197-7
  5. Burney, p. 233
  6. Murnane, William J. "The Road to Kadesh: A Historical Interpretation of the Battle Reliefs of King Sety I at Karnak" Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 42, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago page 2-3
  7. Murnane "The Road to Kadesh" 24
  8. Kitchen, K.A. Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II, King of Egypt. Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 1982 page 51
  9. Murnane "Battle of Kadesh" 105
  10. Cline, Eric H. "Hittites" The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Ed. Donald B. Redford. Copyright © 2001, 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc.. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press.
  11. Murnane, William J., "Battle of Kadesh" The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Ed. Donald B. Redford. Copyright © 2001, 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press.
  12. Bryce The Kingdom of the Hittites 256
  13. Kitchen 54
  14. Murnane "Battle of Kadesh"
  15. Murnane, "The Road to Kadesh", 426.
  16. Kitchen 63
  17. Kitchen 68
  18. Kitchen 70
  19. Klengel 51
  20. 20.0 20.1 Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und vorderasiatische Archäologie. Walter de Gruyter & Co, 1999, p. 149.
  21. "Boğazköy: Excavations" in Historical dictionary of the Hittites, pp. 46-47. Burney, Charles Allen. Scarecrow Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-8108-4936-5
  22. Winckler, Hugo, quoted in Michael Wood, In search of the Trojan War, p. 174. University of California Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-520-21599-3
  23. Klengel 49
  24. Breasted 169
  25. 25.0 25.1 Bryce Kingdom of the Hittites 307
  26. Bryce, Trevor., "The 'Eternal Treaty' from the Hittite perspective", BMSAES 6 (2006), page 9
  27. Magnetti, Donald L., "The Function of the Oath in the Ancient Near Eastern International Treaty," The American Journal of International Law (October 1978) page 815
  28. Breasted 166
  29. Gardiner, Alan H., Langdon S., "The Treaty of Alliance between Ḫattušili, King of the Hittites, and the Pharaoh Ramesses II of Egypt," Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 6:3 (July 1920) page 186
  30. Bryce "The 'Eternal Treaty' from the Hittite perspective" 1
  31. Magnetti 823
  32. Gardiner, Alan H., Langdon S 201
  33. Bryce "The 'Eternal Treaty' from the Hittite perspective" 8
  34. Bryce The Kingdom of the Hittites 306
  35. Kitchen 75
  36. Rowton, M.B., "The Background of the Treaty between Ramesses II and Hattušiliš III," Journal of Cuneiform Studies 13:1 (1959) page 11
  37. Bryce The Kingdom of the Hittites 304
  38. Bryce "The 'Eternal Treaty' from the Hittite perspective" 3
  39. Bryce The Kingdom of the Hittites 307
  40. Breasted 174
  41. Bryce "The 'Eternal Treaty' from the Hittite Perspective" 6
  42. Kitchen 74
  43. Bryce "The 'Eternal Treaty' from the Hittite Perspective" 7
  44. Bryce The Kingdom of the Hittite 281
  45. Klengel 54
  46. Bryce, Trevor: "The 'Eternal Treaty' from the Hittite Perspective" 3
  47. Kitchen 81
  48. Cline, Eric H. "Hittites"
  49. Klengel 55
  50. Breasted 175