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All in the Family: Ancient Near Eastern Diplomacy

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image of International Negotiation

An unusual perspective on international negotiation is obtainable from The Amarna Letters, a recently published 14th century B.C.E. archive of correspondence between pharaonic Egypt and its vassals and other contemporary great powers, known as 'Great Kings'. Although the language and ostensible content of the letters appear obscure, they involve detailed negotiations over dynastic, commercial, strategic, legal, and other issues. The prevailing metaphor in the correspondence, reflecting the world-view of the Ancient Near East, is that of brotherhood and the family. This was not simply a form of words but the way in which contemporary Great Kings conceived of international relationships. Viewing themselves as members of a community in the Gemeinschaft sense, Great Kings derived political obligation and action from friendship and kinship ties rather than abstractions such as the national interest. Negotiating, it is suggested, was conducted at two levels: minor issue subgames in which the nature of the relationship between the parties was assumed, and major relationship metagames in which the parties negotiated, crucially from their point of view, their relative status and mutual, 'familial' obligations.

Affiliations: 1: Department of International Relations, Hebrew University, Jerusalem 91905, Israel


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