Ambiguous Identities

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


  • Marian H. Feldman University of California, Berkeley



'Marriage' Vase of Niqmaddu II, Syria, role of women


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 Biography

Marian H. Feldman, University of California, Berkeley

Marian H. Feldman is an assistant professor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She received her PhD in art history from Harvard University in 1998. She has excavated in Turkey and Syria and is currently writing a book on artistic interconnections, prestige objects and gift exchange during the LBA.



How to Cite

Feldman, M. H. (2002). Ambiguous Identities: The ’Marriage’ Vase of Niqmaddu II and the Elusive Egyptian Princess. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 15(1), 75–99.