The Amarna tablets (most are letters) archive mostly diplomatic correspondence between the Egyptian administration and its representatives in Canaan and Amurru during the New Kingdom. The letters were found in Upper Egypt at Amarna, the modern name for the Egyptian capital of Akhetaten (el-Amarna), founded by pharaoh Akhenaten (1350s – 1330s BC) during the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt. The correspondence spans a period of at most thirty years. The known tablets total 382.
Some of these letters, comprising cuneiform tablets mostly written in Akkadian – the regional language of diplomacy for this period – were first discovered around 1887 by local Egyptians. Once the location where they were found was determined, the ruins were explored for more.
The tablets have been scattered among museums: 202 or 203 are at the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin; 80 in the British Museum; 49 or 50 at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo; seven at the Louvre; three at the Pushkin Museum; and one in the collection of the Oriental Institute in Chicago.
These tablets shed much light on Egyptian relations with Babylonia, Assyria, the Mitanni, the Hittites, Syria, Canaan, and Alashiya (Cyprus). They are important for establishing both the history and the chronology of the period. Letters from the Babylonian king, Kadashman-Enlil I, anchor the timeframe of Akhenaten’s reign to the mid-14th century BC. Here was also found the first mention of a Near Eastern group known as the Habiru, possibly Hebrews — due to the similarity of the words and their geographic location.
Other rulers include Tushratta of Mittani, Lib’ayu of Shechem, Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem, and the quarrelsome king, Rib-Hadda, of Byblos, who, in over 58 letters, continuously pleads for Egyptian military help.
The standard edition of the Amarna tablets has been that of the Norwegian scholar J.A. Knudzton. His edition of the Amarna texts, published in 1907, is still the standard edition in use today. Knudzton’s edition includes 358 out of the known 382 itemized tablets and fragments discovered. Most of the remaining texts have been collected and republished by Anson F. Rainey of Tel-Aviv University.
A century after the discovery of the Amarna tablets and 80 years after their classical publication by Knudtzon, William L. Moran of Harvard University published new translations of the Amarna letters, first in French (Moran 1987), then in English (Moran 1992).
Since Knudtzon’s edition appeared, many developments have necessitated changes in his reading of the original tablets. Even transliteration practice has changed. Moran has not provided transliterations along with his translation of the Amarna letters, although his book is amply documented with new readings and new interpretations. Up-to-date transliterations of the Amarna letters have thus become a necessity.