The Lab'aya Affair
as seen in the el-Amarna letters
The el-Amarna letters, a collection of correspondence between various states and Egypt, were found in the remains of the ancient city of Akhetaten, built by Akhenaten around 1370 BCE. Some of the documents belong to the time of Amenhotep III, while others are from the time of Akhenaten. They provide invaluable insight into the foreign affairs of several countries in the Late Bronze Age.

Below is a collection of the letters which mention Lab'aya of Shechem, some sent to the pharaoh by Lab'aya himself, others sent by kings of Palestine who polemicize against him and against his sons after his death.

Lab'aya, it seems, is more interested in personal aggrandizement than doing the bidding of the king his lord, the pharaoh of Egypt. He captures cities that don't belong to him and has dealings with the "enemy" (the habiru).



Lab'aya is the troublesome king who is apparently from Shechem. (Lab'aya never mentions his own realm.)

EA 253: Lab'aya to pharaoh

To the king [my lord,] my [sun]: message from Lab'aya, your servant, the ground on which you walk. At the feet of the king my lord and my sun, seven and seven times I throw myself. I have heard the words that the king has sent me on a tablet. Look, I am servant of the king, like my father and my grandfather, I was servant of the king already before. I have not sinned, I am not guilty. This is my sin, this is my guilt: that I have entered Gezer. But I say, "The king be favourable! I have no other intention than to serve the king!" All that the king says, I listen to. The king trust me in my commission, to protect the city of the king!


EA 254: Lab'aya to pharaoh

To the king my lord, my sun: message from Lab'aya, your servant, the ground on which you walk. At the feet of the king my lord and my sun, seven and seven times I throw myself. I have heard the words that the king has sent me. Who am I that the king loses his land on my account!? Look, I am a faithful servant of the king. I have not sinned, I am not guilty, I have not withheld my tribute, I have not refused the desires of my commission. They calumniate against me to oppress me. But the king has not examined my guilt. Furthermore, this is my guilt: that I have entered Gezer. But I say publicly: "The king has taken all that I have; but all that which is Milki-Ilu's, where is it?" I know the action of Milki-Ilu: more than me. Furthermore, the king has written for my son. I didn't know that my son had gone with the enemy {habiru}. Perhaps I don't hand him over to Addaya? Further, if the king writes for me, "Put a sword of bronze in your heart and die!", how could I not execute the dispatch of the king?

Written in hieratic: "year [1]2".

Addaya is an Egyptian commissioner known from other letters.


EA 252: Lab'aya to pharaoh

To the king my lord: message from Lab'aya, your servant. At the feet of the king, I throw myself. Since you have written: "Protect the men who have occupied the city!", how can I protect (those) men? The city has been occupied in war. When I pledged peace -- and when I pledged, a Grandee pledged with me -- the city was occupied. And he was capable of calumniating against me (gloss:) 'I was denigrated' in front of the king, my lord. Further, an ant, when it is squashed, doesn't revolt perhaps and bite the hand of the man who squashes it? If I had acted timidly, another city would have been taken today! Further, if you say to me, despite all, "Fall before them, that they can strike!", I will do it. I will protect the men who have occupied the city: I could dislodge my enemies, and I protect them!



Mutba'lu, the king of Pihili (Pella), is a son of Lab'aya.

EA 255: Mutba`lu to pharaoh

To the king my lord, my sun: message from Mutba`lu, your servant, the ground for your feet, soil on which you walk. At the feet of the king my lord, seven and seven times I throw myself. The king my lord has sent me Haya to say: "They have sent this caravan of Khanigalbat, let it pass!" Who am I not to let pass the caravan of the king my lord? Look, my father Lab'aya served the king my lord; he let pass [all the cara]vans that the king sent to Khanigalbat, to Karduniash. Let the king my lord send the caravan, I will send it on, protected to the maximum!

Khanigalbat is the Mitannian realm in the upper Euphrates region.
Karduniash is the Kassite name for Babylon.



Abdi-Heba is the king of Jerusalem (where the pharaoh maintains a garrison.

EA 287: Abdi-Heba to pharaoh

[To the king] my lord, [say: message from Ab]di-Heba, your servant. [At the feet] of the king my lord seven [and seven times I throw myself. Look], the entire question [..] they have introduced [.. Look] at the thing they have done [against me, which ..] arrows of bronze (?) [..] they have introduced into Qiltu. Let the king know that all the lands are allied, they are enemies against me. May the king provide for his land! Look, the country of Gezer, the country of Ascalon, and Lachish have given food, oil, and every (gloss:) "their need'. May the king provide troops, send troops against the men who have committed treason against the king my lord. If within this year there are troops, the lands and the regents will stay with the king my lord, but if there are not troops, there will not be lands or regents for the king. Look, this land of Jerusalem, neither my father nor my mother gave me the strong hand (gloss:) 'arm' [the king] has given me! Look, this action is an action of Milki-Ilu and an action of the sons of Lab'aya, who have given the land of the king to the enemy (habiru).

This long text goes on to account for Abdi-Heba's dealings with the pharaoh's Kushite troops that were stationed at Jerusalem.


EA 289: Abdi-Heba to pharaoh

To the king my lord, [say]: message from Abdi-Heba, your servant. At the feet of the king my lord I throw myself, seven and seven times. Look, Milki-Ilu does not separate himself from the sons of Lab'aya and the sons of Arzaya, in the desire of the king's land for themselves. A regent who commits a similar act, why does the king not interrogate him? Look, Milki-Ilu and Tagi, the action which they have committed is this, that they took Rubuta. And now Jerusalem: if this land belongs to the king, then why ever -- while Gaza remained the king's -- look: the land of Ginti-kirmil to Tagi and the men of Ginti are the garrison at Beth-Shean!? Should we do as Lab'aya, who gave Shechem to the enemy {habiru}? Milki-Ilu wrote to Tagi and to the sons: "Be men! Give to the men of Qiltu that which they desire! Let us abandon Jerusalem!" The garrison troops that you sent, by the hand of Haya son of Miyare, were taken by Addaya, and he put them in his house at Gaza, and sent twenty men to Egypt. Let the king know that there are no garrison troops with me. So live the king, his nobleman. Pawuru has left me and is at Gaza. May the king remember, with him (Pawuru) before him. May the king send fifty garrison men to protect the land. All the king's land deserted! Send Yanhamu, who knows the land of the king. To the scribe of the king [my lord], message of Abdi-Heba your esrvant. Present good words before the king. I would really die for you, I am your servant!



Bayardi is king of an unspecified realm in the north of Palestine

EA 237: [Bayadi?] to pharaoh

[..] have taken Lab'aya and they have set themselves against the cities of the king my lord that the king my lord had entrusted to me to protect. Let the king my lord know that they have taken the cities of the king my lord; but the city in which I reside, I protect, until I see the eyes of the regent of the king my lord. From the day which I sent these tablets to the palace, they have been against me [..]

This text is badly preserved and the attribution to Bayadi is through the text's close similarities to EA 238 (not given here).



Biridiya is the king of Megiddo

EA 244: Biridiya to pharaoh

To the king, my lord, my sun, say: message from Biridiya, your faithful servant of the king. At the feet of the king my lord and my sun, seven and seven times I throw myself. Let the king know that from the time when the troops returned, Lab'aya has committed hostility against me. We cannot shear and (gloss:) "harvest"; we cannot leave the gate in the face of Lab'aya. When he knew that there would not be given troops, he has demonstrated his intention to take Megiddo. May the king rescue his city, so that Lab'aya will not take it! Truly the city is exhausted, to die from pestilence, from the plague. Let the king give a hundred garrison men to protect the city. Truly, Lab'aya has no other intention: to take Megiddo is that which he seeks!

EA 245: Biridiya to pharaoh

(Tablet 1 is missing)

Further, I have declared to my colleagues: "If the god of our lord consents that we capture Lab'aya, we must consign him alive (gloss:) 'alive' to the king our lord." My horse has been put out (gloss:) "hit". I have put myself to the hunt (gloss:) "after him", I mounted together with Yashdata, but when I reached him he had been defeated (gloss:) "hit". Perhaps that Yashdata is not one of your servants? it was he who entered into battle together with me, but he didn't [..] Let the life of the king my lord pac[ify] all in the [land] of the king my lord [..] Zurata took Lab'aya from Megiddo and told me: "I will send him to the king on one of the ships (gloss:) 'ships'." Zurata took him and sent him back to Hinnatuna to his house; Zurata took the silver of his ransom from his hand (gloss:) 'of his hand'. Further, what have I done to the king my lord, that he despises of me (gloss:) 'despises', and honours (gloss:) 'honours' my minor brothers (colleagues)? Zurata has releases Lab'aya, Zurata has released Ba'lu-mehir, to their house. Let theking my lord know it!


EA 246: Biridiya to pharaoh

To the king my lord, my sun, say: message from Biridiya, your servant. At the feet of the king my lord and my sun, seven and seven times I throw myself. I heard the despatch of the king [..]. And here you (plur.) are [..]. Let the king know [it]!And that the two sons of Lab'aya have given their gold to the habiru and to the Sutei, because the do hostile acts against me. [Let the k]ing [know], let him look upon [his land]!



Addu-qarrad is the king of an unspecified realm in the Jezreel area.

EA 250: Addu-qarrad (of Gitti-padalla) to pharaoh

To the king my lord, say: message from Addu-qarrad your servant. At the feet of the king my lord, seven and seven times I throw myself. Let the king my lord know that the two sons of the traitor of the king my lord, the two sons of Lab'aya, have directed their intentions to sending the land of the king into ruin, in addition to that which their father had sent into ruin. Let the king my lord know that the two sons of Lab'aya continually seek me: "Why did you give into the hand of the king your lord Gitti-padalla, a city that Lab'aya our father had taken?" Thus the two sons of Lab'aya said to me: "Make war against the men of Qina, because they killed our father! And if you don't make way we will be your enemies!" But I responded to those two: "The god of the king my lord will save me from making war with the men of Qina, servants of the king my lord!" If it seems opportune to the king my lord to send one of his Grandees to Biryawaza, who tells him: "Go against the two sons of Lab'aya, (otherwise) you are a traitor to the king!" And beyond that the king my lord writes to me: "D[o] the work of the king your lord against the two sons of Lab'aya!" [..]. Milki-Ilu concerning those two, has become [..] amongst those two. So the life of Milki-Ilu is lit up at the introduction of the two sons of Lab'aya into the city of Pi(hi)li to send the rest of the land of the king my lord into ruin, by means of those two, in addition to that which was sent into ruin by Milki-Ilu and Lab'aya! Thus say the two sons of Lab'aya: "Make war against the king your lord, as our father, when he was against Shunamu and against Burquna and against Harabu, deport the bad and exalt the faithful! He took Gitti-rimunima and opened the camps of the king your lord!" But I responded to those two: "The god of the king my lord is my salvation from making war against the king my lord! I serve the king my lord and my brothers who obey me!" But the messenger of Milki-Ilu doesn't distance himself from the two sons of Lab'aya. Who today looks to send the land of the king my lord into ruin is Milki-Ilu, while I have no other intention than to serve the king my lord. The words that the king my lord says I hear!



Shuwardata is king of an unspecified realm in southern Palestine, perhaps Qiltu or Gath.

EA 280: Shuwardata to pharaoh

To the king, my lord, my sun, say: message from Shuwardata, your servant, the ground for your feet. At the feet of the king my lord and my sun, seven and seven times I throw myself. The king my lord has permitted us to make war against Qiltu, and I have made war: it is saved for me, my city has been restored to me. Why ever did Abdi-Heba write to the men of Qiltu: "Take silver and be my followers!"? Let the king my lord know that Abdi-Heba took my city from my hands. Further, the king my lord ask if I have taken from him one man or one cow or one ass, he is right! Further, Lab'aya is dead who took our cities, but here is Abdi-Heba who is a second Lab'aya, and takes our cities. May the king think of his servant regarding this fact. I will do nothing, until the king responds with a word to his servant!



These texts are translated from an Italian edition of the El-Amarna letters: "Le lettere di el-Amarna," edited by Mario Liverani, Paideia, 1998, 2 volumes. All scholarly efforts behind these texts belong to Liverani and the many others found in his bibliography.

These texts are supplied for interest, as it is difficult to access the Amarna texts. The present scholarly reference work on the el-Amarna letters in English is:

     Moran, W.L., "The Amarna Letters," Baltimore, 1992.

Related link:

     Mineralogical and Chemical Study of the Amarna Tablets


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Page prepared by Ian Hutchesson
05/02/2000

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