Where’s my gold? A King Complains about an Egyptian Pharaoh
In one of my previous newsletters, I wrote of a princess complaining that her sister-in-law was not paying attention to homework
In the vein of royal complaints, this time let me take you back nearly 3300 years. Now the chief complainant is Burnaburias, Kassite king of Babylon, who is not terribly pleased by the conduct of “his brother,” Pharaoh of Egypt, Amenhotep IV (the in/famous Akhenaten). The two kings were in an alliance (as were their fathers). But it seems the relationship had somewhat soured over the years.
The source for the translation of these letters is “Letters from Mesopotamia” from the University of Chicago Press, and the author is A. Leo Oppenheim. If you are interested in looking at all the fascinating letters, you’ll find a link at the bottom of this post.
Burnaburias has more than one grievance. In one, he says
I was so sick that I was about to die… but why didn’t my brother inquire of my well-being? Why did you not send a “special messenger?”
But Burnaburias also then says that the Egyptian envoy gave a satisfactory answer:
Egypt is quite far, m’lord, he just didn’t know!
(to put it into perspective, the distance from Amarna—which would have been the capital of Akhenaten then, and Babylon, in Iraq, would be over 1,000 miles; even a no-hindrance, uninterrupted walk between the places would take a month and over two-months for a round-trip, and this is a very aggressive estimate)
And then the king of Babylon says
I am no longer angry with my brother. We do not know the response from Egypt.
But Burnaburias is quite the complainer—and this time the cause for his grievance is gold. In another letter, he indirectly suggests the Pharaoh of not having provided adequate security to the gold carriers, because apparently:
When I put forty pounds of gold into the kiln, nothing came out!
So someone dastardly got involved in the middle and it seems Burnaburias received something that wasn’t gold. So he suggests to the Pharaoh that
My brother should see to it personally that the gold is sealed and sent on.
Right. The Pharaoh of Egypt is going to carry the gold, make sure it’s authentic, put it in a bag, and tell his haulers—’alright boys, move it!’
Well, the gold saga did not end there. There’s more. This time, he is unhappy with how much gold he received from Egypt. In context, Egypt was known to have rich gold reserves and the other kingdoms knew of it.
Here we go:
But you sent me only two pounds of gold!… Your father sent us much more… and if you can’t send that much, at least send half. But why on earth would you send me just two pounds?
But why does he want more gold? Because
I have undertaken some temple-building work and I am anxious…
The Babylonian king wants more gold for the temple but the Egyptian Pharaoh isn’t being quite generous, unfortunately. But having complained, Burnaburias did send some lapis-lazuli and five teams of horses and chariots as gifts. Was his complaint reciprocated? Unfortunately, we don’t know.
The Amarna letters are an amazing collection of letters between Egypt and its neighbors around the time of Akhenaten (circa 1350 BC). There is a lot more in that—I will perhaps cover a few more eventually.