The Eternal Treaty

The Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty, also known as the Eternal Treaty or the Silver Treaty, is the oldest known peace treaty signed between two sovereign nations, dating back to the 13th century B.C.E. (Left photo: Hittite version; Right photo: Egyptian version.)

The treaty followed over 200 years of fighting between the two empires, which culminated in the Battle of Kadesh, a massive engagement that involved anywhere from 40,000 to 70,000 men. (It is also the most well-documented ancient battle.) Both sides sustained heavy casualties with no decisive strategic gain, and the conflict grinded on for another fifteen years without avail.

In the face of an endless stalemate, as well as threats to each side from other rivals, the ancient enemies opted for peace. The subsequent treaty was comprehensive and groundbreaking, even by today’s standards. Its eighteen articles include a formal renunciation of hostilities; the establishment of borders for their competing territorial claims; mutual pledges of brotherhood and peace; an agreement to resolve any future border disputes amicably; a defensive alliance to protect one another from external and internal threats; and even a promise to treat one another’s refugees humanely and to repatriate them to their country of origin.

It is also called the Eternal Treaty because children and grandchildren were bound to observe it. To guarantee adherence to the terms and obligations, an oath was made to both Hittite and Egyptian gods, calling on them to bear witness to their promises, punish violators with curses, and reward oath-keepers with blessings.

As with modern treaties, both sides translated the treaty in their respective language, and each version was almost entirely symmetrical in its duties and obligations. In short, it was an honest and faithful agreement. (You can read translations of both versions here.)

Granted, the treaty was not followed to the letter, as some minor skirmishes continued. However, outright conflict never again occurred, and both sides continued to strengthen their platonic and familial bonds (some of their rulers intermarried), to their mutual benefit and prosperity (since attention and resources could now be invested into nation-building). Despite two centuries of enmity, the treaty more or less held until the collapse of the Hittite Empire nearly a century later.

Due to its excellent preservation, substantive sophistication, and inspiring demonstration of good faith during a seemingly savage time, the Egyptian–Hittite peace treaty has been intensively studied by scholars of international relations, and a copy of it is prominently displayed in the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

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