Treaty of Kadesh: The World’s First Peace Treaty

Mar 10, 2022 0 comments

On the walls of the Temple of Karnak near Luxor, Egypt, and on the temple of Pharaoh Ramesses II in Thebes, are engravings that describe a great battle against the “Great King of Khatti” and a peace treaty that was forged with them. The hieroglyphics, which were known since antiquity, was first translated by Jean-François Champollion in the early 19th century, triggering a renewed interest among westerns in Ancient Egypt. In 1858, it was identified that the Great King of Khatti were the Hittites which ruled in central Anatolia in modern-day Turkey.

Part of the clay tablet of the Kadesh Treaty, circa 1269 BCE. Photo: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin/Wikimedia

Eight years later, in 1906, the German archaeologist Hugo Winckler discovered and excavated the capital of the Hittite capital, Hattusa, in the fortified ruins of Boğazkale in Turkey. In the remains of the largest palace, they unearthed 10,000 clay tablets written with cuneiform documenting many of the Hittites' diplomatic activities. The haul also included three tablets on which the text of a treaty was inscribed whose text corresponded to those found on the walls of the Egyptian temples. Winckler immediately grasped the significance of the discovery. He wrote:

...a marvelously 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 otherwise. 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.

The Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty, also known as the Treaty of Kadesh, is the world’s first recorded peace treaty. It is also the only Ancient Near Eastern treaty for which the versions of both sides have survived. The treaty was signed to end the long animosity 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.

A relief inside Abu Simbel temple depicts Ramses II slaying an enemy while trampling on another in the battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC. Photo: Wikimedia

The treaty is thought to have been negotiated by intermediaries without the two monarchs ever meeting in person. 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 Ramesses II's reign (1258 BC) and continued in force until the Hittite Empire collapsed to the Assyrians, nearly a century later

The peace treaty of Ramesses II and Hattušiliš III is remarkable because its exact wording is known to us. Like any modern agreement, the treaty is divided into points and each side makes pledges of brotherhood and peace to the other in terms of the objectives. They agreed that they would not commit acts of aggression against each other, would repatriate each other's political refugees and criminals and they would assist each other in suppressing rebellions.

In the event when an outsider attacked Egypt or the Hittites, the other would provide military assistance:

And if another enemy come the lands of the great ruler of Egypt, and he send to the great chief of Hatti saying ‘Come with me as help against him’; the great chief of Hatti shall [come to him], the great chief of Hatti [shall] slay his enemy. But if it be not the desire of the great chief of Hatti to come, he shall send his troops and his chariotry and shall slay his enemy.

The treaty ends with a declaration calling the gods to bear witness, and should the treaty be violated, it would be met with punishment from the gods:

As to these words which are upon this tablet of silver of the land of Hatti and of the land Egypt, as to him who shall not keep them, a thousand gods of the land of Hatti and a thousand gods from the land of Egypt shall destroy his house, his land and his servants. But he who shall keep these words which are on this tablet of silver, be they Hatti or be that Egyptians, and who do not neglect them, a thousand gods of the land of Hatti and thousand gods of the land of Egypt will cause him to be be healthy and to live, together with his houses and his land and his servants.

After forming an alliance with Hatti, Ramesses began directing his wealth and energies towards domestic building projects, leading to extensive construction projects such as the completion of his great, rock-hewn Abu Simbel temples. There is also evidence that Ramesses tried to establish stronger familial bonds with Hatti by marrying a Hittite princess.

A clay tablet where the Treaty of Kadesh is inscribed at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums. Photo: Iocanus/Wikimedia

The Treaty of Kadesh inscribed on the outer wall of the courtyard in the Temple of Karnak, Luxor, Egypt. Photo: Olaf swap/Wikimedia

The treaty in its final form was drawn up at Kadesh in consultation with the Egyptian ambassadors. When it had assumed a final shape, it was inscribed upon a tablet of silver and brought to Egypt. Upon Ramesses’ approval, a counterpart in his own name was drawn, borrowing phrases from the Hittite original and making only a few minor modifications. Finally the version complied on behalf of Ramesses was engraved on another silver tablet, stamped with the seal of the Pharaoh, and forwarded to Hatti. The scribes at Hatti then prepared copies written on clay tablets for preservation in the royal archives. It was these copies that Hugo Winckler disovered. The original silver tablets have been lost, most likely looted and melted a long time ago.

Two of the clay tablets are now on display at the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul, while the third is displayed in the Berlin State Museums in Germany. A copy of the treaty is prominently displayed on a wall in the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

A copy of the Egyptian version, as mentioned in the beginning of the article, is engraved in hieroglyphics on the walls of two temples belonging to Pharaoh Ramesses II in Thebes—the Ramesseum and the Temple of Karnak.

# S. Langdon and Alan H. Gardiner, The Treaty of Alliance between Ḫattušili, King of the Hittites, and the Pharaoh Ramesses II of Egypt, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology
# Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty, Wikipedia


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