Diplomacy in Ancient Times: The Story of Udjahorresnet from International Relations Perspective

10.2.2021
ANEE's PhD Student Alex Aissaoui shares his ideas on the diplomatic figure of Udjahorresnet

What Is it About?

In the Museo Gregoriano of the Vatican Museums, we find a most intriguing artefact dating back to the First Persian Period (ca. 525−400 BCE): the naoforo vaticano. Inscribed upon the statue is the autobiography of Udjahorresnet, an Egyptian high official, physician, priest, and naval officer. The statue offers the best first-hand personal account of Persia’s conquest of Egypt at this moment in time. Udjahorresnet was the most prominent high official of the land of pharaohs to try to accommodate the power transition from the native Egyptian hands to the Achaemenid rule.

Why Is it Important?

The contemporary term to describe Udjahorresnet’s role would be to call him a ‘mediator’ between the two great states. However, academic scholars have been debating ever since the classical period what to make of Udjahorresnet – was he a traitor, collaborator, or, rather, an opportunist and mediator. These terms emphasize the different aspects of imperial power. If we treat Udjahorresnet as a traitor, then this interpretation conveys the picture of Persia as a hostile foreign power, which did not tolerate any dissent to its position as the new ruler of Egypt. If, on the other hand, we accept the fact that Udjahorresnet was able to mediate between Egyptians and Persians, then we can assume that the Achaemenid elite were genuinely willing to win the hearts and minds of the local people by giving them some leeway. These kinds of nuances matter because the popular perception of the ancient Near East has tended to see power as despotic. Concepts such as power balancing, soft power, and power transition theorized in international relations (IR) offer analytical tools for comprehending these power dynamics.

Perspectives

For international relations scholars, the story behind the figure of Udjahorresnet might seem as an obscure phase in international history. Yet the pre-Roman period is educative for testing constitutive IR concepts such as the balance of power theory, international system, or soft power, which are still widely assumed to have become relevant only in the post-Roman context rather than in the ancient civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean. Insights from IR theory offer ancient historians and Egyptologists theoretical tools by linking empirical facts to patterns rather than just unique events via conceptual analysis. Udjahorresnet as diplomatic figure is an exceptional primary source in its precision to understand the transition of power from native Egyptian hands to the Achaemenid rule, and thus it provides a case study where micro and macro levels of analyses find fertile ground in a cross-disciplinary framework.

Free access to Aissaoui's article on the subject is behind this link.