Making Peace in Ancient Syria: A Long-Awaited Egyptian–Hittite Peace Treaty
In 1259 BC two of the most powerful ancient armies met near the city of Kadesh in what is now Syria. The number of victims and descriptions of the epic battle are still the cause of scientific debate, but the document that ended this warring phase between the Egyptians and Hittites is recognized as one of the best preserved ancient peace treaties showing the power of ancient diplomacy.
It should be noted that the document itself was created more than 16 years after the battle. In fact, the battle isn't even mentioned in the text, suggesting that the treaty is more about the consequences of the battle than the fight itself. This treaty wanted to do more than just stop a war, it sought to change the whole relationship between ancient Egyptians and Hittites.
The Egyptian Empire under Ramesses II (green) bordering on the Hittite Empire (red) at the height of its power in ca. 1279 BC. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
An Amazing Discovery
The first evidence of the treaty was discovered in the Ramesseum and the Temple of Amun in Karnak. The lines of the treaty were copied by Jean-Francois Champollion in 1828 and published in 1844.
Photograph of the temple complex taken in 1914 - Cornell University Library. ( CC BY 2.0 )
A German archaeologist named Hugo Winckler dug in Hattusa in the seasons between 1906 and 1908. His work was completed in collaboration with the director of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, Theodore Makridi. At that time, the Turks wanted to control his discoveries of archaeological treasures for the Ottoman Empire.
The men discovered the magnificent ruins of the royal Hittite archives. The collection consisted of about 10,000 clay tablets documenting the advanced diplomacy of their capital. There was a rare document among the texts that started with words that thrilled the researchers - they had unearthed the lost Hittite treaty created after the Battle of Kadesh.
Relief in Abu Simbel depicting the city of Kadesh. The Orontes river surrounds the fortified city, which appears to be garrisoned by Hittites, one of whom bears a standard. Reign of Ramesses II, 19th dynasty, New Kingdom. ( Public Domain )
No More War
The tablet was a copy of the treaty belonging to the Anatolian people. The Hittite version had probably been rewritten from the original Egyptian version of the text. This belief is based on the use of some specific Egyptian diplomacy terms. The importance of the text is visible in the preamble to the peace treaty:
“Year 21, 1st month of the second season, day 21, under the majesty of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt: User-maat-Re; Son of Re: Ramses Meri-Amon, given life forever, beloved of Amon-Re; Har-akhti; Ptah, South-of-His-Wall, Lord of Life of the Two Lands; Mut, the Lady of Ishru; and Khonsu Neferhotep; appearing on the Horus-Throne of the Living, tike his father Har-akhti forever and ever. On this day, while his majesty was in the town of Per-Ramses Meri-Amon, doing the pleasure of his father Amon-Re; Har-akhti; Atum, Lord of the Two Lands, the, Heliopolitan; Amon of Ramses Meri-Amon; Ptah of Ramses Meri-Amon; and Seth, the Great of Strength, the Son of Nut, according as they give him an eternity of jubilees and an infinity of years of peace, while all lands and all foreign countries are prostrate under his soles forever--there came the Royal Envoy and Deputy . . . Royal Envoy . . . User-maat-Re Setep-en-Re . . . Tar-Teshub, and the Messenger of Hatti, carrying the tablet of silver which the Great Prince of Hatti, Hattusilis caused to be brought to Pharaoh--life, prosperity, health!--in order to beg peace from the majesty of User-maat-Re Setep-en-Re, the Son of Re: Ramses Meri-Amon, given life forever like his father Re every day. Copy of the tablet of silver which the Great Prince of Hatti, Hattusilis, caused to be brought to Pharaoh -- life, prosperity, health! -- by the hand of his envoy Tar-Teshub, and his envoy Ra-mose, in order to beg peace from the majesty of User-maat-Re, Son of Re: Ramses Meri-Amon, the bull of rulers, who has made his frontier where he wished in very land. The regulations which the Great Prince of Hatti, Hattusilis, the powerful, the son of Mursilis, the Great Prince of Hatti, the powerful, the son of the son of Suppiluliumas, the Great Prince of Hatti, the powerful, made upon a tablet of silver for User-maat-Re, the great ruler of Egypt, the powerful, the son of Men-maat-Re, the great ruler of Egypt, the powerful, the son of Men-pehti-Re, the great ruler of Egypt, the powerful; the good regulations of peace and of brotherhood, giving peace . . . forever.”
In this ground-breaking treaty, both sides promised to remain at peace forever and raise their children in friendship across their nations. They also agreed to repatriate political refugees and help stop criminal activities in both regions. The text also declared that the Egyptians and Hittites would not start any aggressive actions against each other until the end of time, and instead support each other in the face of danger. It opened a new chapter in the relationship between these powerful civilizations.
Hieroglyphic text of the peace treaty between Ramesses II and Hattusili III. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Remembering an Ancient Treaty
The text of the treaty is a wonderful example of ancient diplomacy. This version of the text was found in the Hittite capital of Hatussa. Two of the tablets are now in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum’s collection and the third is in the Berlin State Museum in Germany. However, the tablets are so significant that Americans also wanted copies to put on display in New York.
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The ancient peace treaty provides an interesting insight into how rulers communicated with each other millennia ago. Next to the Amarna letters and a few other rare documents, this peace treaty is one of the most precious ancient political texts. However, in this case the most incredible aspect of the text is examining the work of the ancient diplomatic geniuses who created a document which should be looked upon as an example for resolving conflict between any two countries.
Top image: Smaller tablet of Treaty of Kadesh, discovered at Boğazköy, Turkey. Museum of the Ancient Orient, one of the Istanbul Archaeology Museums. ( CC BY 3.0 )
Kitchen, K.A. Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II, King of Egypt, 1982.
Daniel David Luckenbill, Hittite Treaties and Letters, available at:
Daniel David Luckenbill, Hittite Treaties and Letters, available at:
Treaty Between The Hittites And Egypt, available at:
Now I see that the text was originally in Egyptian, but I have read elsewhere that it was originally in Akkadian. Sorry to bother you all.
I read this to find out what language the treaty was in, but that isn't mentioned anywhere.