The occurrence of treaties throughout the Ancient Near East has been investigated on a number of occasions, generally in order to resolve certain questions arising in the biblical field. As a result of that focus, the existence of a similar institution in a number of different cultures has not been treated as a problem in itself. Generally the existence of treaties throughout the area has been taken for granted, or a simple borrowing model has been used to explain how similar forms came to be used in different cultures. Why forms were similar across the area has not been probed.
This work investigates treaty occurrences in different cultures and finds that the forms used correlate with ways of maintaining political control both internally and over vassals. Related concepts are projected in official accounts of history. Thus one can roughly distinguish threats based on power from persuasion based on benevolence and historical precedent, though various combinations of these two occur. There is a likely further connection of the means chosen to the degree of centralisation of power within the society. Underlying the local traditions is a common tradition which has to be dated to the pre-literate period. Biblical covenants fit within this pattern. The cultures treated are Mesopotamia, the Hittites, Egypt, Syrian centres and Israel.