Updated: Nov 6, 2020
Pharaoh Amenhotep III ruled during one of the most prosperous and stable periods in Egyptian history. The 18th Dynasty is considered the high-point of Ancient Egyptian civilization. Amenhotep III rules at the high-point of this dynasty, making this the pinnacle of Egyptian power; during a time that the Egyptologists call 'The Golden Age of Ancient Egypt'.
Amenhotep III's great-grandfather, Tuthmosis III, as noted in the previous episode, had laid the foundations of the Egyptian Empire by his campaigns into Syria, Nubia, and Libya. Hardly any military activity was called for under Amenhotep III during his 30 years of rule. Only Nubia required minor attention, which was handled by his son and Viceroy of Kush, Merymose.
A striking characteristic of Amenhotep III's reign is a series of over 200 large commemorative stone scarabs that document the first 12 years of his reign. These scarabs should be considered the first 'telegrams' in history. These are stone carved beetles that announce key events on the bottom in hieroglyphs. About 100,000 were carved at a time and distributed throughout the kingdom, including Syria, Palestine, and Nubia.
The earliest one, of Year 2, is known as the marriage scarab and records his marriage to his non-royal wife, Queen Tiye. Although a commoner, Queen Tiye came from a prominent family. Her father was a military official and her brother was vizier of Lower Egypt under Amenhotep III. Another set of scarabs, also of Year 2, records how Amenhotep III captured 56 head of wild cattle in a single day. This is known as 'The Wild Bull Hunt' scarab. On a third collection of scarabs, Tuthmosis III records how he killed 102 lions in the first ten years of reign. This lion hunt scarab is the most common and many have been found outside the boundaries of Egypt, where they obviously served as a type of imperial newspaper.
The Amarna Letters
Another type of correspondence at this time was the Amarna letters. These cuneiform tablets, written primarily in Akkadian, the regional language of diplomacy for this time period, consisted of over 300 diplomatic letters. These were to and from the heads of state from Egypt to Babylonia, Assyria, Syria, Canaan, Cyprus, Mitanni, and the Hittites. Begun by Amenhotep III, they would greatly increase during the reign of his successor, Akhenaten.
This archive contains a wealth of information about cultures, kingdoms, events, and individuals in a period from which few written sources survive. They also contain the first mention of a Near Eastern group known as the Habiru, which may be linked to the Hebrews. These letters document frequent requests by these rulers for gold and other numerous gifts from the Pharaoh. In one famous correspondence, Amenhotep III is quoted, by the Babylonian king Kadashman Enlil I, in firmly rejecting the latter's entreaty to marry one of the Pharaoh's daughters:
'From time immemorial, no daughter of the King of Egypt
is given to anyone.'
The Portraits of the Pharaoh
The wealth of Egypt during this period came from international trade and the abundant supply of gold from the land of Kush and from the mines of the Wadi Hammamat. It was this great wealth and booming economy that led to such an outpouring of artistic talent in all aspects of the arts.
Amenhotep III has the distinction of having the most surviving statues of any Egyptian Pharaoh, with over 250 of his statues having been discovered. These statues span his entire life and provide a series of portraits covering the entire length of his reign.
Major examples of this artwork include the orange alabaster statue of Amenhotep III standing beside Sobek, the crocodile god; the wooden coffin of Tuya, the mother of Queen Tiye, which was gilded in gold; the colossal statue of Amenhotep III; the fine quartzite statue of Amenhotep III from the Luxor Temple; and the amazing green-stone portrait of Queen Tiye which was discovered in a temple in the Sinai by Finders Petrie, in 1904.
Amenhotep III's Mortuary Temple
Amenhotep III's enormous mortuary temple on the west bank of the Nile was, in its day, the largest religious complex in Thebes. Unfortunately he chose to build it too close to the flood plain and less than 200 years later, it stood in ruins. Much of the masonry was stolen by the later pharaohs for their own building projects. All that remains now of this temple are the two imposing statues of the king.
At 18 meters high, these statues are known as the Colossi of Memnon. This is in fact a complete misnomer, arising from the classical recognition of the statues as the Ethiopian prince Memnon who fought at Troy. In 27 B.C., a large earthquake shattered the northern statue, collapsing it from the waist up and cracking the lower half. Following its rupture, the remaining lower half of this statue was then reputed to sing at dawn and dusk. The phenomenon was probably caused by the effect on the stone at the radical temperature changes at dawn and dusk. These sounds ceased after later repairs were carried out by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, around 196 A.D.
The Malkata Palace
In his later years, Amenhotep III moved permanently to Thebes. Normally the Pharaoh would have lived in Memphis, which had always been the administrative capital. Now, Thebes was gaining importance as a religious capital and future kings would spend their time in both places.
At Thebes, Amenhotep III built his residence, called the Malkata Palace, on the west bank of the Nile. Made of painted mud-brick, much of it has disappeared. At this same location, he dug a huge pleasure lake for his wife, Queen Tiye, so she could sail around on their barge. This boat was called the 'Aten Gleams'. The lake was over a mile long and a quarter-mile wide. The sun cult of Aten appears to have been growing toward the end of his reign, for it was also at this time that Amenhotep III took another name, 'the Dazzling Sun Disk of All Lands'. This worship of Aten would become radicalized by his son during the next reign and have drastic consequences for the priests of Amun.
The teeth of Amenhotep III were so bad, he may have been sedated during his last years and my not have been able to rule effectively. As a result, he established a co-regency with Crown Prince Tuthmosis before his death.
Amenhotep III was buried in the first tomb created in the West Valley of the Kings (WV22). In plan, it is very similar to the tomb of Thutmosis IV ( KV 43). It consisted of two corridors (B, D), separated by a stairwell (C), leading to a well chamber (E) with a shaft and side chamber (Ea), a pillared chamber (F) with side descent, a corridor (G), a stairwell (H), another chamber (I), and the burial chamber (J).
The burial chamber had several side chambers leading off it (Ja-Je). The tomb was decorated with representations of the deceased with deities. Sometime during the Third Intermediate Period, his mummy was moved to tomb (KV35) along with
several other Pharaohs. Queen Tiye would outlive Amenhotep III by at least 12 years. He would also leave behind a country that was at the very height of its power and influence. The resulting upheavals from his son, Akhenaten, would shake the very foundations of Egyptian belief and bring forth the question of whether a pharaoh was more powerful than the existing domestic order, as represented by the Amun
priests and their numerous estates.
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