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Lettre de Biridiya, prince de Megiddo, au roi d'Egypte

© 2008 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities

Prévotat Arnaud, Caubet Annie

The letters discovered in the archives at Amarna - the short-lived capital of Egypt under the pharaoh Akhenaton - provide evidence about international relations in the Near East in the 14th century BC. Written in cuneiform, they use Akkadian, the diplomatic language of the time. This letter, from the governor of Megiddo, a city on the Syro-Palestinian coast, illuminates the way in which the pharaoh's Levantine territories were exploited for his benefit.

The Amarna archives

The "Amarna Letters" are cuneiform tablets discovered in the new capital built by Amenophis IV, who called himself Akhenaton (1365-1349 BC). The site is renowned for its frescoed palaces and for the royal sculpture workshop in which were found moving portraits of the pharaoh, his children, and his beautiful wife Nefertiti. These tablets are written in Akkadian, the diplomatic language of the time, and contain the official correspondence addressed to the pharaoh by the dynastic rulers of Syria and Palestine. Some date back to the reign of Amenophis III (1403-1365 BC), the most brilliant ruler of the New Kingdom; they were probably conveyed there along with the royal archives when Akhenaton decided to take his leave of Memphis and its conservative priesthood in order to promote the new religion of Aten (Aton), the solar disk.

Diplomatic correspondence

Rare are the ancient documents that speak in the voice of the actors themselves: from the whole of the 2nd millennium BC in the Levant there survive only the archives of Mari, Ugarit, and Amarna. These texts tell us less about current events than about the relationships between states and the subtle hierarchy that existed among them, reflected in strictly codified formulae of address and greeting, which testify to an implicit consensus regarding the recognition and status of suzerains, great states, and lesser principalities. The subjects covered by the letters are diverse, ranging from requests for protection to the regulation of the trade in goods and the circulation of caravans. The letters from Palestine were written by governors appointed by the pharaoh in territories then directly controlled by Egypt: Biridiya, governor of Megiddo, is also known from other documents. Two of the localities mentioned can probably be identified with the cities of Jaffa and Shunamma. This particular letter is interesting for the information it gives on the exploitation of these territories for the pharaoh's benefit and on the place of forced labor in this.

To the pharaoh, from Biridiya

One thus finds: "Say to the king, my lord, my sun: a message from Biridiya, loyal servant of the king. At the feet of the king my lord, my sun, I prostrate myself seven times and seven times. May the king my lord think upon his servant and his city. In fact, I alone am cultivating: ah-ri-shu in Shunamma and I alone furnish forced laborers. But behold the mayors near me. They do not do as I do. They do not cultivate in Shunamma, they do not furnish forced laborers. I alone ia-hu-du-un-ni I all alone furnish forced laborers. They come from Jaffa from among the men available and from Nuribta. And may the king my lord take thought of his city."

Technical description

  • Lettre de Biridiya, prince de Megiddo, au roi d'Egypte

    Milieu du XIVe siècle avant J.-C.

    El-Amarna (Egypte)

  • Terre cuite

    H. 6.5 cm; W. 6 cm

  • Acquisition 1918 , 1918

    AO 7098

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Room 303
    Vitrine 4 : L'âge du bronze récent 1550 - 1150 avant J.-C.

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