Friday, August 17, 2012

Amarna, Letters, and Nefertiti

The Amarna Letters are ancient Egyptian letters written on clay tablets. They were written in Akkadian because that was the common international language of the time. Their script is called cuneiform, which means “wedge-shaped,” because that is what the letters look like. In them the Egyptian ruler and regional leaders exchanged ideas.

The letters were found amidst the ruins of the ancient capital city of Akhetaten which is now called Amarna. Most of the letters were written during the rule of Akhenaten.

Akhenaten ruled Egypt from 1351 to 1334 BC. He was the most unusual ruler of Egypt ever.

In 1346 Akhenaten ordered the construction of a new capital city he named Akhetaten. He had it built on the east bank of the Nile about 250 miles (400 km) north of the old capital city of Thebes. It is about 190 miles (310 km) south of today’s Cairo. In the center of the city stood a large temple, Akhenaten’s palace, and an office building. It was in this office building that the Amarna Letters were found.

The city was built in only five years. It was also short-lived, being abandoned in 1332 only two years after Akhenaten’s death. In that year his son, Tutankhamen, moved the capital of Egypt back to Thebes. Then Akhenaten's city was lost for over 3,000 years.

The city was first rediscovered in modern times by a French Jesuit in 1714. Some of the intellectuals traveling with Napoleon took another look in 1798. English explorers visited it in 1824 and 1833. Prussians came in 1843 and 1845.

Only in 1887 did Amarna become important. In that year a local woman was digging around its ruins. She was looking for decomposed mud brick from its ancient buildings to use as modern fertilizer. Instead she found the Amarna Letters. Over time she and others dug up 300 of these letters and sold them to collectors. Today, over 200 of the letters are in the Vorderasiatisches (Near East) Museum in Berlin, 80 are in the British Museum in London, and 50 are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

After that, interest in the site grew much more serious. Several archeologists from different countries came at different times and did extensive digging and clearing. In 1912 a German archeological team accidently found the bust of Nefertiti buried in the rubble. Nefertiti was Akhenaten’s wife and queen of Egypt. Her bust is now on display in the Neues Museum in Berlin.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.