A History of Translation Services: The Treaty of Kadesh

by brenton

One of the most famous translations in the history of translation services occurred around 1259 B.C. and was called the Treaty of Kadesh.  It was signed by the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II and the Hittite King Hattusili III.  Unfortunately, the treaty didn’t lead to peace between the two nations right away but it is still significant to us today because it’s the oldest surviving peace treaty in the world. A version of it is displayed at the U.N. headquarters in New York City.

Not only is this treaty significant because of its political ramifications, it’s also important because it’s one of the most famous translations in the world. Two versions of the treaty have been found, one in Egypt and one in present-day Turkey, where the capital of the Hittite empire was located.  In Egypt, the treaty was preserved through engravings on the wall of Pharoah Ramesses II’s mortuary temple in Thebes. In the Hittite empire, it was engraved on baked clay tablets.

The treaty stated that both parties would henceforth be at peace and that this peace would continue among the coming generations, including the children and grandchildren of both sides. It also stated that prisoners taken by the opposite side would be repatriated and that each side would come to the help of the other if they were attacked by outsiders.

The interesting thing about the treaty from the point of view of translations is that the Egyptian version and the Hittite version are slightly different. The Hittite version doesn’t directly say that the two sides have been at war for a while.  Instead, it uses evasive language, saying, “as for the relationship between the land of Egypt and the Hatti land, since eternity the god does not permit the making of hostility between them because of a treaty valid forever…” In contrast, the Egyptian version is blunt and direct, asserting the necessity of the treaty because the two sides have been at war.

This goes to show how, since ancient times, the same problems have existed in translation.  Sometimes, it’s impossible to state the same thing in two different languages. The words to do so actually do not exist!  So a translation can be made but it will sound slightly different. As long as the translation conveys the meaning of the original, it doesn’t have to be word-for-word.  It’s also a good idea for translations to take cultural backgrounds into account. This was, no doubt, the reason why the versions adopted by the Egyptians and the Hittites were different.

Contact us for translations that account for these challenges.

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