Egypt: Amenhotep III, the Ninth King of Egypt's 18th Dynasty

Amenhotep III, the Ninth King of Egypt's 18th Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn

Amenhotep III's cartouche

We believe that Amenhotep III ruled for almost 40 years during the 18th Dynasty of Egypt's history that represented one of its most prosperous and stable periods. We must grant to Amenhotep III's grandfather, Tuthmosis III, who is sometimes referred to as the Napoleon of ancient Egypt, the foundation of this success by dominating through military action Egypt's Syrian, Nubian and Libyan neighbors. Because of that, little or no military actions were called for during his grandson's reign. The small police actions in Nubia that did take place were directed by his son and viceroy of Kush, Merymose (or perhaps an earlier viceroy) .

Amenhotep (or heqawaset) was this kings birth name, meaning "Amun is Pleased, Ruler of Thebes. His throne name was Nub-maat-re, which means "Lord of Truth is Re. Amenhotep III's birth is splendidly depicted in a series of reliefs inside a room on the east side of the temple of Luxor. Built by Amenhotep III, the room was dedicated to Amun. However, it portrays the creator god, Khnum of Elephantine (at modern Aswan) with his ram head, fashioning the child and his ka on a potter's wheel under the supervision of the goddess Isis. The god Amun is then led to Amenhotep III's mother by Thoth, god of wisdom, after which Amun is shown in the presence of the goddesses Hathor and Mut while they nurse the future king.

Tula, mother of Tiy  (Tiye) who was the principle queen of Amenhotep III

Tuya, mother of Amenhotep III's wife, Tiy

His father was Tuthmosis IV by one of that king's chief queens, Mutemwiya. She may have, though mostly in doubt now, been the daughter of the Mitannian king, Artatama. That queen was indeed probably sent to Egypt for the purposes of a diplomatic marriage.

It is more than likely that Amenhotep III succeeded to the throne of Egypt as a child, sometime between the ages of two and twelve years of age. There is a statue of the treasurer Sobekhotep holding a prince Amenhotep-mer-khepseh that was most likely executed shortly before Tuthmosis IV's death, as well as a painting in the tomb of the royal nurse, Hekarnehhe (TT64) portraying the prince as a young boy, though not a small child. This, and the fact that his mother is not so very prominently visible, along with other factors, suggests that he was more likely between six and twelve years of age at the time of his father's death.

It is unlikely that his mother, Mutemwiya, served as a regent for the young king, and whoever may have been in charge at the beginning of his reign seems to have remained in the background.

Monumental statue of  Amenhotep III and Tiy

Monumental statue of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiy, along with daughters

Amenhotep III's own chief queen, who he married in year two of his reign, was not of royal blood, but came from a very substantial family. She was Tiy, the daughter of Yuya and his wife, Tuya, who owned vast holdings in the Delta. Yuya was also a powerful military leader. Their tomb, numbered KV46 in the Valley of the Kings, is well known. His brother-in-law by this marriage, Anen, would during his reign also rise to great power as Chancellor of Lower Egypt, Second Prophet of Amun, sem-priest of Heliopolis, and Divine Father. It is possible that the king's early regency was carried out by his wife's family.

However, it would seem that Amenhotep collected a large harem of ladies over the years, including several from diplomatic marriages, including Gilukhepa, a princess of Naharin, as well as two of his daughters (Isis and in year 30 of his reign, Sitamun or Satamun, who bore the title "great royal wife" simultaneously with her mother). We can document at least six of his children consisting of two sons and four daughters (other daughters including Henuttaneb and Nebetiah). However, his probable oldest son, Tuthmosis who was a sem-priest, died early leaving the future heretic king, Amenhotep IV, otherwise known as Akhenaten, as the crown prince.

The King's Early Years

In essence, we may split Amenhotep III's reign into two parts, with his earliest years given much to sportsmanship with a few minor military activities. While as usual, an expedition into Nubia in year five of his reign was given grandiose attention on some reliefs, it probably amounted to nothing more than a low key police action. However, it may have pushed as for as south of the fifth cataract. It was recorded on inscriptions near Aswan and at Konosso in Nubia. There is also a stele in the British Museum recording a Nubian campaign, but it is unclear whether it references this first action, or one later in his reign.

There was also a Nubian rebellion reported at Ibhet, crushed by his son. While Amenhotep III was almost certainly not directly involved in this conflict, he records having slaughtered many within the space of a single hour. We learn from inscriptions that this campaign resulted in the capture of 150 Nubian men, 250 women, 175 children, 110 archers and 55 servants, added to the 312 right hands of the slain. Perhaps to underscore the Kushite subjection to Egypt, he had built at Soleb, almost directly across the Nile from the Nubian capital at Kerma, a fortress known as Khaemmaat, along with a temple.

The Prosperity and International Relationships

However, by year 25 of Amenhotep III's reign, military problems seem to have been settled, and we find a long period of great building works and high art. It was also a period of lavish luxury at the royal court. The wealth needed to accomplish all of this did not come from conquests, but rather from foreign trade and an abundant supply of gold, mostly from the mines in the Wadi Hammamat and further south in Nubia.

Amenhotep III was unquestionably involved with international diplomatic efforts, which led to increased foreign trade. During his reign, we find a marked increase in Egyptian materials found on the Greek mainland. We also find many Egyptian place names, including Mycenae, Phaistos and Knossos first appearing in Egyptian inscriptions We also find letters written between Amenhotep III and his peers in Babylon, Mitanni and Arzawa preserved in cuneiform writing on clay tablets.From a stele in his mortuary temple, we further learn that he sent at least one expedition to punt.

It is rather clear that the nobility prospered during the reign of Amenhotep III. However, the plight of common Egyptians is less sure, and we have little evidence to suggest that they shared in Egypt's prosperity. Yet, Amenhotep III and his granary official Khaemhet boasted of the great crops of grain harvested in the kings 30th (jubilee) year. And while such evidence is hardly unbiased, the king was remembered even 1,000 years later as a fertility god, associated with agricultural success.

Building Projects

Though a number of Amenhotep III's building projects no longer exist, we find at Karnak almost a complete makeover of the temple, including his efforts to embellish the already monumental temple to Amun, as well as his the East Temple for the sun god and his own festival building. His impact in the Karnak temple was thematic, leaving the impression of a warrior king whose victories honored both himself and the God Amun, and he changed the face of this temple almost completely. He had his workers dismantle the peristyle court in front of the Fourth Pylon, as well as the shrines associated with it, using them as fill for a new Pylon, the Third, on the east-west axis. This created a new entrance to the temple, and he had two rows of columns with open papyrus capitals erected down the center of the newly formed forecourt. At the south end of Karnak, he began construction on the Tenth Pylon, with a slightly different orientation then that of the Seventh and Eighth, in order for it to lead to a new entrance for the percent of the goddess Mut. He may have even started a new temple for her. To balance the south temple complex, he built a new shrine to the goddess Ma'at, the daughter of the sun-god, to the north of central Karnak.

At Luxor he built a new temple to the same god, including the still standing colonnaded court. That effort is considered a masterpiece of elegance and design and particular credit must be given to his mater architect, Amenhotep son of Hapu.

The Colossi of  Memnon, actually statues of Amenhotep III

The Colossi of Memnon

He also built a monumental mortuary temple on the West Bank at Thebes (modern Luxor) that is the single largest royal temple known to us from ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, it was built much too close to the flood plain and was in ruins by the 19th Dynasty, when material was quarried from it for new building projects. While some of the ground plan of the temple may be made out, the only material remains are the Colossi of Memnon. These statues were misnamed by the Greeks, but actually depict Amenhotep III. The southern of the statues also depicts the two most important women in the king's life, his mother Mutemwiya and his wife, Queen Tiy. However, it should be noted that within the grounds of the temple, more fragments of colossal statuary have been found than in any other known sacred precinct. In the fields behind the statues, also stands a great, repaired stele that was once in the sanctuary of his temple, around which are located fragments of sculptures.

The West Bank was also the site of Amenhotep III's huge palace, called Malkata. Fragments of this building remain, unlike most other royal residences. From this scant evidence, it would seem that the walls were plastered and painted with lively scenes from nature. Next to the palace complex he also built a great harbor.

Further south on the west bank at Kom el-Samak, Amenhotep III also built a jubilee pavilion of painted mud brick and at Sumenu, some twenty kilometers south of Thebes the king built a temple dedicated to the cult of the crocodile god, Sobek.

Amenhotep III with  Sobek

A statue of Amenhotep III and Sobek

Along with these building projects, we also know that he developed and expanded cults at a number of other locations including Amada (for Amun and Ra-Horakhty), Hebenu and Hermopolis, where we find two colossus statues of baboons and an altar. There were other building projects in Egypt proper at Memphis, where blocks of brown quartzite remain from the king's great temple called "Nebmaatra United with Ptah", Elephantine (now destroyed) and a completed chapel at Elkab. Building elements at Bubastis, Athribis, Letopolis and Heliopolis also attest to the king's interest in the eastern Delta. He also built temples are shrines in Nubia at Quban, Wadi es-Sebua, Sedinga, Soleb and Tabo Island. There were also building elements or stele in his name at Aniba, Buhen, Mirgissa, Kawa and Gebel Barkal.

Artistry of the Period

Artistically, many of the royal portraits of the king in sculptor are truly masterpieces of any historical age. After the Colossi of Memnon, the largest of these is the limestone statue of the king and queen with three small standing princesses discovered at Medinet Habu. However, many other statues give the king a look of reflection, and bringing to life emotional emphasis. We find grand statues of black granite depicting a seated Amenhotep wearing the nemes headdress, unearthed by Belzoni from behind the Colossi of Memnon and from Tanis in the Delta. Others statues and some reliefs and paintings depict the king wearing the more helmet like khepresh, sometimes referred to as the Blue, or War Crown.

Amenhotep III wearing  the Blue Crown

Amenhotep III wearing the Blue Crown

Even in recent years, some statuary of Amenhotep III continues to be discovered, such as an incredible six foot (1.83 meter) high pink quartzite statue of the king standing on a sledge and wearing the Double Crown of Egypt. It was discovered in the courtyard of Amenhotep III colonnade of the Luxor temple in 1989. This particular statue was unearthed completely intact, with the only damage resulting from a careful removal of the name Amun during the reign of his son. This statue was probably executed late in his reign, regardless of the fact that is shows a youthful king.

So good were many of his statues that they were later usurped by kings, sometimes by them simply overwriting his cartouche with their own. At other times, such as in the case of the huge red granite head found by Belzoni and initially identified as representing Tuthmosis III, his statues were more extensively reworked (this example by Ramesses II).

We also find many other fine statues, paintings and reliefs executed during the life of Amenhotep III. Two well known portraits of his principle queen include a small ebony head now in Berlin, and a small faced and crowned head found by Petrie at the temple of Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai. A cartouche on the front of the crown allowed precise identification as that of Tiy. We also find Tiy appearing with the king on temple walls at Soleb and west Thebes. However, there are also fine reliefs of her in some of the courtier tombs, such as TT47 belonging to Userhet and TT192 of Khereuf.

Recently discovered  statue of Amenhotep III

Recently discovered and almost completely undamaged statue of Amenhotep III on a sledge

There was also a proliferation of private statues, as well as many fine private tombs with excellent artwork (such as TT55, the Tomb of Ramose) during the reign of Amenhotep III, including a number representing Amenhotep son of Hapu, his well known architect, but also of other nobles and dignitaries. Other notable items include the set of rose granite lions originally placed before the temple at Soleb in Nubia, but later moved to the Temple at Gebel Barkal.

Religion and the King's Deification

It is likely that Amenhotep III was deified during his own lifetime, and that the worship of the sun god, Aten, by his son may have directly or indirectly also involved the worship of his father. Amenhotep III was somewhat insistent that he be identified with this sun god during his lifetime. From the time of his first jubilee in his 30 years of reign, we find scenes where he is depicted taking the role of Ra riding in his solar boat. Of course, the king was expected to merge with the sun after his death, but in Amenhotep III's case, we find that he named his palace complex "the gleaming Aten", and used stamp seals for commodities that may be read, "Nebmaatra (one of his names) is the gleaming Aten". He consistently identified himself with the national deities rather than his royal predecessors, even representing himself as the substitute for major gods in a few instances. We even find during his reign the solorization of many well known gods, including Nekhbet, Amun, Thoth and Horus-khenty-khety.

Scarab bearing  inscriptions to Amenhotep III

Scarab inscribed, "Nebmaatre, beloved of Bastet"; Below left: Queen Tiy (Tiye)

Yet, no stele or statues we know for certain were dedicated to Amenhotep III as a major deity during his lifetime.

It is notable that the deification of Ramesses II only 100 years later carried with it a significant number of monuments identifying him as a deity during his lifetime. Nevertheless, it has been argued that his son, best known as Akhenaten, may have worshipped his father as Aten. There are many arguments against this, but it is clear that at least to some degree, it is true. After all, the deceased king was identified with the Aten upon his death. But whether he was worshipped as such during his lifetime may ultimately depend on whether or not Akhenaten ruled as a co-regent before his father's death. If they did rule together, than objects venerating Amenhotep III during Akhenaten's reign could be seen as worship of a living deity, though not necessarily as the Aten. Regardless, this is all a mater of hot debate within Egyptology circles, thought the answers today seem no clearer.

The End of the Reign

Queen Tiy (Tiye), Amenhotep III's chief Queen

From clay dockets at his Malkata palace, we believe Amenhotep III may have died in about the 39th year of his rule, perhaps when he was only 45 years old. His wife, Tiy, apparently outlived him by as many as twelve years. She is shown, along with her youngest daughter, Beket-Aten, in a relief on an Amarna Tomb that may be dated to between year nine and twelve of Akhetaten's reign. From a group of well known documents called the Amarna Letters, we find inquires about her health that lead us to believe that she may have lived in her son's capital for a time prior to her death. Regardless, upon her death, she may have first been buried at Amarna but was then returned to Thebes where she was buried along with her husband in tomb WV22 in the Valley of the Kings. However, it is also possible that she may have been buried in tomb KV55, where objects bearing her name have also been discovered. Neither the king or his queen were discovered in that tomb, but it is very possible Queen Tiy may be the "Elder Woman) from the cache of mummies found by Loret in KV35, the tomb of Amenhotep II. For many years, it was also though that Amenhotep III's body was also a part of that cache, but fairly recent analysis indicates that the body thought to be his may instead by that of his son, or possibly even Ay, one of the last kings of the 18th Dynasty.


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Chronicle of the Pharaohs (The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt) Clayton, Peter A. 1994 Thames and Hudson Ltd ISBN 0-500-05074-0
History of Ancient Egypt, A Grimal, Nicolas 1988 Blackwell None Stated
Monarchs of the Nile Dodson, Aidan 1995 Rubicon Press ISBN 0-948695-20-x
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2

Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011