The Ambitious Ruler Of Amurru Moves Against His Neighbors
As Warfare Spreads Throughout Late Bronze Age Syria The Egyptian Pharaoh Received Different Accounts From His Vassal Kings.
During the middle of the fourteenth century B.C.E. the lands of Canaan and Syria were the front line of conflict in a war between the Kingdoms of Egypt, Hatti (Land of the Hittites) and Mittani. As the Great Kingdoms vied for control over the regions key trade routes ambitious local rulers such as the Amorite chieftain Abdi-Ashirta used the chaos to carve out there own kingdoms. After several years of consolidating his hold over the land of Amurru on the Syrian coast Abdi-Ashirta was ready to challenge the authority of the Egyptian Pharaoh by seizing control of the Syrian port of Sumur, which was the seat of the Egyptian Commissioner in the region.
The Amarna Letters
Given the conflicting accounts in the ancient correspondence known as the Amarna Letters, how Abdi-Ashirta entered the city of Sumur, not far to the north of Gubla/Byblos, with little or no resistance can only be guessed. What is certain is that Rib-Hadda, the ruler of nearby Gubla began a scathing account of Abdi-Ashirta activities, protesting to Egypt that Abdi-Ashirta had not only broken his treaties and entered the city of Sumur with his troops, but that Egyptians were now fleeing that city and were seeking refuge in Gubla.
Rib-Hadda ask the Egyptian vizier, Haya, the classic rhetorical question; “just who does Abdi-Ashirta think he is?” Rib-Hadda also accused the Egyptian vizier of negligence, asking him why he did not convince the Pharaoh to send archers. The exchange of letters is largely one-sided, with a steady stream of pleas for help coming from the king of Gubla, coupled with protests about lack of support thus far.
The letters from Abdi-Ashirta, on the other hand, show an entirely different version of events. By his own account, Abdi-Ashirta was a loyal vassal of the Pharaoh who was doing his best to protect the Pharaoh’s interests in the region. There was an interesting exchange between Abdi-Ashirta and the Egyptian commissioner, Panhate, whose absence from Sumur seems to have been Abdi-Ashirta’s window of opportunity. At first, Abdi-Ashirta declared that his presence in Sumur was upon prior arrangement with the commissioner. Then, in response to Panhate’s accusation of his treachery, Abdi-Ashirta further expressed his role as the protector of the Pharaoh’s interests, declaring that he only occupied Sumur after the four officials left in the city had asked for his help.
Egyptian Imperial Policy
The exchange between the Egyptian court and its feuding Syrian vassals portrays a deepening chaos in the region, symptomatic of the turmoil stemming from the conflict between Kingdom of Mittani and the Hittites. Interestingly, there are several letters that indicate that Abdi-Ashirta was involved in dealings with the Mittani Kingdom, but the nature of this relationship is uncertain. The situation on the frontiers of these empires was such that vassal kings were almost obliged to divide their loyalties, and this was recognized by the Pharaoh as part of the political calculus of the region.
A further complication in administrating the frontiers was in the very nature of the imperial system of government, which was only as efficient as it needed to be. As long as the key luxury goods and commodities could move along the trade routes then the details of local politics mattered little to the Egyptian royal court. In the Egyptian mindset all the world was subject to the Pharaoh’s whim however the image of a universal empire could only be maintained by allowing for a certain amount of chaos at the periphery.
Abdi-Ashirta always maintained the formality of absolute allegiance to the Pharaoh, and that this made all the difference. Given the already stated notions of universal empire, a roguish vassal such as Abdi-Ashirta could be not only acceptable, but possibly desirable, considering the alternatives. The Egyptian court may well have seen Abdi-Ashirta’s ability to gain the loyalty of the normally independent bands of brigands and wanderers known as the habiru as a talent worth harnessing. There were threats that a strong Amurru could counter-balance, such as that of an increased Hittite reach into the resource rich Lebanon Mountains, a vital source of timber for Egypt. As the Hittite King Suppililiuma had already been making overtures, if not yet actual alliances, with the neighboring King of Ugarit, the Hittite threat was certainly very real.
Rib-Hadda Under Attack
Finally there comes a desperate plea from Rib-Hadda for the Pharaoh’s support against Abdi-Ashirta, who had him nearly under siege. The Amorite chieftain, having consolidated his homeland had now spread his influence down the coast to the ancient port of Gubla where habiru bands occupied the outlying towns. The loyal king of Gubla even contemplated making an alliance with Abdi-Ashirta in an effort to save his own neck. By this time, only the city of Gubla remained in the hands of its king, who had seen family members killed and had himself nearly been killed by an assassin. Now, as he was preparing to give in to the wishes of his last few supporters and make peace by submitting to Abdi-Ashirta, the Pharaoh’s troops arrived to deal with the renegade Amorite.