The Amarna letters or tablets are clay tablet-form letters of the Egyptian New Kingdom pharaohs Amenhotep III and Akhenaten, with some letters from Tutankhamen's reign. The correspondents were mostly Great Kings of Syria-Palestine, as well as Egyptian vassals, but letters also came from the Egyptian rulers. The Amarna correspondence is a set of mostly diplomatic letters, on topics like exchanges of gifts, disputes, requests for resources, and marriage. [For topics, see The Encyclopedia of El Amarna Research Tool.] The tablets were first revealed in the late 19th Century by local peasants at Amarna, a site close to the Nile's east bank, between Memphis and Thebes (Cairo and Luxor [from The Amarna Project]). Before archaeologists entered the hunt for Amarna letters, locals sold them, and there may be others yet to find or in unknown locations, but there are 382 such letters known, according to Shlomo Izre'el's 'The Amarna Tablets'. These 2300-year-old artifacts are now housed in Egyptian, European and United States museums.
In 1891-92 archaeologists started looking for the Amarna letters, and William Matthew Flinders recovered 21 fragments. The standard edition of the first 358 of the tablets was published in 1907 (and 1915), by J.A. Knudtzon. Anson F. Rainey published most of the remaining letters in the 1970s [Shlomo Izre'el].
Berlin's Vorderasiatisches Museum has put high resolution images of the Amarna letters online at The El-Amarna Letters at Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin. The museum houses more than 200 of the letters.
Although Egypt is known for its hieroglyphs and papyrus, most of the Amarna Letters came from abroad, inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform, on clay tablets. The letters were found, in 1887 ,at Tel-el-Amarna, which was the short-lived capital city during the period that the so-called heretic king, Akhenaten -- who was the spouse of the beautiful, swan-necked Nefertiti -- ruled Egypt.
The correspondence provides insight into trade, the politics of the time, marriage, and the social hierarchy. Some letters come from kings who evidently regarded themselves as equals to the pharaohs, while other letters, from social inferiors, were more humble and self-debasing in tone.
1. (Also see for other useful online sites connected with the Amarna letters and the archaeological site): "Ancient Amarna Letters of Egypt Now Online" in Popular Archaeology Vol. 4 September 2011.
2. Tour Egypt: The Discovery of the Amarna Letters
3. Amarna Letters
4. The El-Amarna Letters at Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin
5. The Amarna Project