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Ancient Egypt - Pharaoh Amenhotep III

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.

Commemorative Scarabs

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