Superpowers of the Ancient World (continued)


I finished my first historical course “Superpowers of the Ancient World” about the political struggle between Egypt, Mitanni, and Hatti over the Land of Canaan in the Late Bronze Age (1500-1200 BCE). A very comprehensive course of the lecturer of Liverpool University which included his mini-lectures, interviews with experts, scientific articles, and much more. The participants were supposed to leave comments, ask questions, and sometimes provided with the answers. We had to do an assignment evaluating Bob Brier’s theory about the murder of Tutankhamun. This is what I submitted:

“Bob Brier adheres to the theory of King Tutankhamun’s murder, linking the evidence to the broken bone at the head of the deceased monarch. His statement is based on the analysis of the 1968 x-ray of the pharaoh’s head. Though the writer refers to the reports of the poor condition of the mummy, he does not take into consideration other possibilities: the errors made during the embalming process conducted in haste and/ or the blunders committed by Howard Carter’s team which had to take off the gold mask from the king’s face. Nevertheless, the 2005 CT scan of the whole body revealed no skull fractures inflicted during King Tut’s lifetime. The thriller about the murder of the adolescent monarch bludgeoned during his sleep by a hired killer should, therefore, be classified as pure fiction.

At first glance, the letter sent by a widow queen to the king of Hatti looks suspicious. It is found only in a single source, King Suppiluliuma’s biography penned by his son King Mursili. The sender is referred merely as the pharaoh’s widow, but her ex-husband’s throne name gives a close match to Tutankhamon. The bereaved queen describes her desparate situation as King Tut left no heirs to the throne, and the widow loathes the idea of marrying someone who has no royal blood in his veins. As a daughter of King Akhenaten, she is the legimate successor but cannot rule alone. She offers not only the marriage deal but the kingship of Egypt. The king of the Hitties could not believe his eyes (or maybe ears). The proposal was too good to be true. The anxious king lingered hoping to buy time and check all the details. When he finally sent his son, it was too late: the Egyptian opposition staged a plot to destroy this marriage. The situation is psychologically understandable: the queen is desperate, the king of the Hitties is cautious especially after the relations between the empires deteriorated after the unsuccessful attempt of the Egyptians to assault Kadesh. The Egyptian copy of the letter was deliberately destroyed but as a result of this tragic “enterprese”, a full-scale conflict between the two superpowers broke out.

The treatment of the adviser Aye is biased by the writer’s murder theory. Aye, who succeeded King Tut on the throne, becomes the ringleader of the plot because he seems to covet the pharaoh’s power. However, Bob Brier does not consider the fact that in his old age Aye realized that he could not produce a heir and that the years of his reign would be obstructed by the opposition on behalf of his rival, general Horemheb. If the elderly politician set his eyes on seizing the throne, why didn’t he interfere to block the official correspondence between his fiance and the foreign ruler? Why didn’t he discuss his rights with the Hittite ambassador stopping preparations for the unusual royal marriage? It seems much more plausible that he gave his assent to the exchange of letters, probably introduced this idea. We can assume the rivalry between him and Horemheb. Only when the marriage proposal failed, he decided to pick up the abandoned reins of power.

I think that Bob Brier is trapped by a popular theory and does his best to prove it by all possible means. He ignores alternative explanations and makes no effort to confront his evidence with other facts not necessarily supporting his theory. These “stubborn” facts play a crucial role in the real story. The embalment process was delayed over mandatory seventy days after the death to give a chance for a weird royal marriage proposal. Aye rose to the throne only after the death of the Hittite prince who was murdered by a rival party. For more details of this story see T. Bryce. “Letters of the Great Kings of the Ancient Near East”, unit 11, An Extraordinary Request.”

Our host, Professor Glenn Godenho, launched a Facebook group and I will follow him and other participants there. I strongly recommend the futurelearn platform for individual studies. It gives you wide horizon and a good chance to check your ideas on the general public.


2 thoughts on “Superpowers of the Ancient World (continued)

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