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Ambiguous Identities: The 'Marriage' Vase of Niqmaddu II and the Elusive Egyptian Princess

Issue: Vol 15 No. 1 (2002) June 2002

Journal: Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology

Subject Areas: Ancient History Archaeology

DOI: 10.1558/jmea.v15i1.75


A fourteenth century BC alabaster vase found at Ugarit on the coast of Syria bears a representation of a man and a woman often interpreted as husband and wife. The man is identified as Syrian both in an inscription stating he is Niqmaddu, ruler of Ugarit, and in his physical rendering. The identity of the lady, dressed in Egyptian court fashion, remains uncertain. The image has been used both to support and refute a claim made in a contemporary international letter that Egypt never gave its princesses in marriage to foreign rulers. This article examines how the image deploys the indeterminate identity of the woman within an explicitly identified scene of royal representation. The rationale for such intentional ambiguity lies in Ugarit's role in the political relations of the Late Bronze Age, a world of diplomacy in which the Ugaritic king operated on both the foreign and domestic levels. The element of ambiguity serves as a critical component in status negotiations, and images present an ideal vehicle for coding flexible messages in diplomatic maneuvers.

Author: Marian H. Feldman

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