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Illuminating the Past: Contemporary Perspectives

Contemporary Perpsective
Welcome back again. I’m with Dr. Alex Mackenzie again. And the main theme this week is diplomacy and warfare. We’ve seen the evidence of Amarna letters. They were a variety of letters being sent to Egypt from Syria Palestinian city-states and from the other superpowers, as well. Now these cover a variety of topics. The big comparable superpowers, like Egypt and Mitanni, for example, correspond with each other in politically tactile ways where Kings refer to each other as Brother and send diplomatic gifts to each other, including daughters to marry into another state’s royalty– so diplomatic hostages, I suppose, in a way.
Then there were the letters between the smaller Palestinian vassal states and Egypt, which are usually pleas for help or aid from Egypt. So the idea of building alliances with various other states to counter particular threats, problems– that seems to be what’s really happening with the Amarna letters. Is that something that you kind of see elsewhere? There are plenty of good examples, European examples in this answer. If we look prior to the First World War, for example, one of the main reasons of the First World War is often to do with the alliance system that’s emerged. Of course, prior to the 1870, Germany didn’t exist. Germany only came into existence after then.
Then it set about attempting to be the main power on the continent. As a result, of course, it signed an alliance treaty, creating an alliance with the Austro-Hungarian empire and Russia. But when the alliance with Russia lapsed, France, of course, was crying out for an ally to kind of try and balance Germany. So Germany created this alliance system, and then was also allies with Italy. Well, at the same time, France reacted to this by allying, first of all, with Russia and then, of course, trying to draw the UK into the alliance system. Fantastic. That makes a lot of sense. It’s very similar to the types of things that we see through the Amarna letters, as well.
Clearly the one thing these examples have in common is a volatile state of affairs when a country takes advantage and starts to grow and exert its influence on other countries or states. What if those lesser states feel threatened? War could be one outcome, but a small state is unlikely to attack a larger, better-equipped state. So to restore the balance of power, alliances might start to form. And that’s what we see, for example, in the Amarna letters, smaller states calling for help in times of need. International relation realist theory shows that exactly this should happen. Smaller Syria Palestinian states might also ally with each other. Think back to last week.
And at the Battle of Magedan, we saw in that location how city-states formed a coalition against the perceived Egyptian threat, which the Egyptians were quick to crush. But the superpowers might also form alliances directly with each other if a significant threat emerged. And that’s what we start to see as the Hittite power arises, and we’ll see that next week. Egypt and Mitanni become allies to maintain balance and secure their survival in the face of a new threat.

This week in our contemporary history section Alex considers modern examples of the alliance system that existed between smaller city states and superpowers in the ancient Near East.

In the following step you will be asked to give your own examples of how alliances between countries have played a role in more contemporary history.

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Superpowers of the Ancient World: the Near East

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