Gender and Politics at Ugarit: The Undoing of the Daughter of the Great Lady.

Author:Thomas, Christine Neal

Legal texts that document the divorce, exile, and execution of a royal woman in Late Bronze Age Ugarit provide rare insight into the politics of a world woven together by diplomatic marriages. (1) This woman's loss of status and, eventually, loss of life lay bare the way in which women mediated power relationships among men. The verdicts that document her case never reveal her name. She was identified purely in terms of her relationships to major political figures in Hittite-controlled Syria. She was called both the "daughter of Bentesina" and the "daughter of the Great Lady," as she was the offspring of the imperial-vassal marriage between Bentesina, king of Amurru, and Gassuliyawiya, daughter of the Hittite Great King, Hattusili III. She became the wife of Ammistamru II, king of Ugarit. She was the sister of Sausga-muwa, who ruled as king of Amurru during the period in which her case unfolded. The Hittite Great King, Tudhaliya IV, who was her maternal uncle, adjudicated her case. Within the very structures of Hittite rule that might have been expected to protect her, Ammistamru II divorced her, exiled her from Ugarit to Amurru, and then took her back to Ugarit and killed her.

Her case was dramatic, but the framework of alliances the woman mediated was not unusual. The capacity of a single royal woman to function simultaneously as a daughter, wife, sister, and mother provided a framework for political relatedness among multiple men. Royal households were constituted by relationships forged by the immediate parties to a marriage alliance and by the relationships such alliances created in subsequent generations. Women functioned on two axes. On the one hand, by virtue of their simultaneous roles as daughter, wife, and sister they provided points of contact between royal houses. On the other hand, by virtue of their roles as mothers they mediated dynastic transitions across generations of male rulers. The relative positions of royal men were shaped by their relationships to royal women. In this case, Ammistamru II, king of Ugarit, and Sausga-muwa, king of Amurru, negotiated their relative power through their relationship to the woman who was respectively their wife and sister. The stakes of their negotiations were high. As the daughter of a Hittite princess and the former king of Amurru, the wife of the king of Ugarit, the mother of his heir, and the sister of the reigning king of Amurru, this woman was the pivot point of generations of political alliances among Hatti, Amurru, and Ugarit.

The case generated a dossier of Hittite imperial verdicts and regional accords that outnumber any other surviving group of texts at Ugarit that document a political incident. The dossier includes Hittite imperial verdicts addressed to the woman herself, those addressed to Ammistamru II and Sausga-muwa, and regional accords between these two kings. (2) The two initial divorce texts--a lengthy decree authorized by Tudhaliya IV of Hatti (RS 17.159) and a shorter complementary decree authorized by the Hittite viceroy Ini-Tesub of Karkamis (RS 17.396)--were addressed to the woman. The decrees record her marriage to Ammistamru II. certify her divorce and exile, and dictate the consequences of the divorce in terms of her property and her relationship to her son, Ammistamru II's heir.

When she left Ugarit for Amurru, she was allowed to take the goods that she had brought with her from Amurru, but was forced to leave behind what she had acquired in Ugarit. Her son Utri-Sarruma was given the choice to remain in Ugarit as his father's heir or to follow his mother back to Amurru and surrender his right to succeed his father as king. An extraordinary measure further stipulated that should Utri-Sarruma attempt to reinstate his mother as queen after the death of his father, he would lose his position as king and be replaced by another of Ammistamru II's sons. Furthermore, his mother was forbidden from appealing to her other sons, daughters, or sons-in-law. The purpose of the initial arbitration was the total removal of the woman from the constellation of power in Ugarit, during the reign of her husband and beyond.

As the case progressed, however, the legal negotiations were carried on exclusively between Ammistamru II and Sausga-muwa. What ultimately came to be at stake in this conflict was the power of each king to assert and defend the parameters of his royal household. Ammistamru II was not content to assert his will over his own household and kingdom. He also sought to assert his will over Sausga-muwa's royal house. Ammistamru II extricated his wife from the network of relationships in which she was situated. He successfully stripped her of status in Amurru as well as in Ugarit, then brought her back to Ugarit and executed her.

The stipulations of two imperial verdicts, RS 1957.1 and RS 18.06-17.365, indicate that Sausga-muwa initially resisted Ammistamru II's incursion into his sphere of authority. However, faced with a situation in which he could not keep his sister within his household. Sausga-muwa countered his loss of authority by negating his affiliation with his sister in three accords negotiated between the two kings (RS 17.228, RS 17.372 A-17.360 A. and RS 17.318-17.349 A). The terms of these accords shift from the language of divorce and succession found in the imperial texts to terms commonly found only in royal grants and property transfers. This aspect of the accords functions on two levels. First, the woman was rendered as property owned by one king and transferred to another, rather than being a political actor sent as a representative of one royal household to another. Second, by positioning the woman as property, the legal framework of the royal land grant reconfigured the relationship between the two kings into one of grantor and grantee. Sausga-muwa's status was restored by being positioned as the royal grantor with the power to give his sister to Ammistamru II. The considerable compensation in gold that Ammistamru II gave Sausga-muwa in exchange for the woman's life indicated the stakes of the agreement. This exchange between Ammistamru II and Sausga-muwa constituted a process by which the regular means of forming interdynastic alliances were inverted. Rather than an alliance between two royal men being forged by the transfer of a royal woman in a diplomatic marriage, the alliance between these men was renewed by sending a woman to her death.


    A closer look at the practice of diplomatic marriages reveals the political significance of this case. From the first onslaught of Suppiluliuma I's mid-fourteenth-century military conquests, which re-established Hittite rule in Syria, a primary strategy by which the Hittite Great Kings consolidated their power was to give their daughters and sisters as wives to subjugated kings. (3) When such alliances were made, treaties stipulated the primacy of the Hittite royal women as ruling queens in the subjugated kingdom and the primacy of their offspring as royal heirs. The political dominance of the Hittite Great Kings was embodied in the position of their sisters and daughters in vassal kingdoms. The relationships forged between Hittite royal women and vassal rulers were not simply signs of an agreement; they were fundamental to the symbolic and human architecture of imperial rule. In the case of the kingdom of Amurru, both Bentesma and his son, Sausga-muwa, married Hittite royal women as part of vassal alliances with Hatti. (4)

    The treaty between the Hittite Great King Hattusili III and Bentesina, king of Amurru, was critical to the configuration of Hittite rule in Syria and to the cultural and political orientation of the kingdom of Amurru. Prior to the treaty, when the armies of the Hittite Great King Muwattalli II defeated Rameses II's forces at Qades, Muwattalli II took measures to reestablish dominance in Syria by retaliating against vassals like Bentesina who had capitulated to the Egyptians. Muwattalli II removed Bentesina from his throne and took him to Hatti as a prisoner in recompense for his disloyalty. However, Hattusili III requested that his brother Muwattalli II give Bentesina into his protection, and he subsequently brought him to Hakpis and gave him a household. (5) Itamar Singer considered Bentesina's residence in Hakpis under the tutelage of Hattusili III as a period of "political re-education" that instigated the Hittite acculturation of the royal family of Amurru. (6) The alliance between Bentesina and Hattusili III was brought to fruition when Hattusili III gained control of Hatti. Hattusili III asserts in the treaty that "When Muwattalli, Great King, went [to] his fate, I, Hattusili, took my seat upon the throne of my father. I released Bentesina for a second time to(!) [the land of Amurru]. I assigned to him the household of his father and the throne of kingship." (7)

    Bentesina's reinstatement in Amurru under Hattusili III's protection was inaugurated with marriages between Bentesina and Hattusili Ill's daughter Gassuliyawiya and between Hattusili III's son Nerikkaili and a daughter of Bentesina. Yet these marriages were no more equal than the terms of the treaty. The only bride whose future status was secured was Hattusili III's daughter. The treaty stipulates:

    [I have given] Princess Gassuliyawiya to the land of Amurru, to the royal house, to Bentesina, [as] his wife. She now possesses queenship [in the land] of Amurru. In the future the son and grandson of my daughter shall [exercise] kingship in the land of Amurru... No one shall take the kingship of the land of Amurru from Bentesina, or from the hand of his son or his grandson, the progeny of Bentesina and the progeny of my daughter. The son of Bentesina and his grandson, the progeny of Bentesina and the son of my daughter, shall hold the kingship in the land of Amurru. (8) Gassuliyawiya thus becomes the conduit for the rule of her father over the vassal...

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