Amenhotep III

Ancient Egypt, Amenhotep III


Robert Guisepi, 1984

The Valley of the Nile

Thutmose IV's son Amenhotep III (ruled 1390-53 BC) acceded to the throne at about the age of 12. He soon wed Tiy, who became his queen. Earlier in the dynasty military men had served as royal tutors; but Tiy's father was a commander of the chariotry, and through this link the royal line became even more directly influenced by the military. In his fifth year Amenhotep III claimed a victory over Cushite rebels, but the Viceroy of Cush, the southern portion of Nubia, probably actually led the troops. The campaign may have led into the Butana, west of the 'Atbarah River, farther south than any previous Egyptian military expedition had gone. Several temples erected under Amenhotep III in Upper Nubia between the Second and Third cataracts attest to the importance of the region.

Peaceful relations prevailed with Asia, where control of Egypt's vassals was successfully maintained. A commemorative scarab from the king's 10th year announced the arrival in Egypt of the Mitannian princess Gilukhepa, along with 317 women; thus, another diplomatic marriage helped maintain friendly relations between Egypt and its former foe. Another Mitannian princess was later received into Amenhotep III's harem, and during his final illness the Hurrian goddess Ishtar of Nineveh was sent to his aid. At the expense of older bureaucratic families and the principle of inheritance of office, military men acquired high posts in the civil administration. Most influential was the aged scribe and commander of the elite troops, Amenhotep, son of Hapu, whose reputation as a sage survived into the Ptolemaic period.

Amenhotep III sponsored building on a colossal scale, especially in the Theban area. At Karnak he erected the huge third pylon, and at Luxor he dedicated a magnificent new temple to Amon. The King's own mortuary temple in western Thebes was unrivaled in its size; little remains of it today, but its famous Colossi of Memnon testify to its proportions. He also built a huge harbor and palace complex nearby. Some colossal statues served as objects of public veneration, before which men could appeal to the king's ka, which represented the transcendent aspect of kingship. In Karnak, statues of Amenhotep, son of Hapu, were placed to act as intermediaries between supplicants and the gods.

Among the highest-ranking officials at Thebes were men of Lower Egyptian background, who constructed large tombs with highly refined decoration. An eclectic quality is visible in the tombs, certain scenes of which were inspired by Old Kingdom reliefs. The revolutionary art of the succeeding Amarna period perhaps reflects a reaction against the studied perfection of Theban art. The earliest preserved important New Kingdom monuments from Memphis also date from this reign. Antiquarianism is evidenced in Amenhotep III's celebration of his sed festivals (rituals of renewal celebrated after 30 years of rule), which were performed at his Theban palace in accordance, it was claimed, with ancient writings. Tiy, whose role was much more prominent than that of earlier queens, participated in these ceremonies.

Amenhotep III's last years were spent in ill health. To judge from his mummy and less formal representations of him from Amarna, he was obese when, in his 38th regnal year, he died and was succeeded by his son Amenhotep IV (ruled 1353-36 BC), the most controversial of all the kings of Egypt.

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