Egypt: Tuthmosis III

Tuthmosis III

by Jimmy Dunn

Cartouche of Tuthmosis III in hieroglyphs

For different reasons, to different people, Egypt's 18th Dynasty is probably one of Egypt's most interesting periods. For the general public, This was the Dynasty of Tutankhamun, probably the best known, though certainly not the most powerful pharaoh of all time. To others, Akhenaten, the heretic king, will provide an everlasting curiosity. Closer to the beginning of this Dynasty, Hatshepsut ruled as perhaps the most powerful of all Egyptian queens, even though she often disguised and promoted herself though inscriptions as a man, and even though her predecessor, Tuthmosis II named his young son to succeed him upon his death. But upon Tuthmosis' death, his son, Tuthmosis III was still a young child, so there was little choice but for his stepmother and aunt Hatshepsut to initially act as his regent.His birth name was probably Djehutymes III in Egyptian, but he is frequently referred to by his Greek name of Tuthmosis (Born of the god Thoth). He is also known as Thutmose III, Thutmosis, and his Throne name was Men-kheper-re (Lasting is the Manifestation of Re).

By the second year of the young king's rule, Hatshepsut had usurped her stepson's position and so inscriptions and other art began to show her with all the regalia of kingship, even down to the official royal false beard. Yet, at the same time, she did little to really diminish Tuthmosis' rule, dating her own rule by his regnal years, and representing him frequently upon her monuments.

Statue of Tuthmosis The 3rd in Egypt

It is likely that Tuthmosis III, was lucky to have survived her rule, though there is some debate on this issue. He obviously stayed well in the background, and perhaps even demonstrated some amount of cunning in order to simply keep his life. Because of the prowess he would later demonstrate on the battlefield, we assume he probably spent much of Hatshepsut's rule in a military position. To an extent, they did rule together, he in a foreign military position, and her taking care of the homeland. When Hatshepsut finally died, outliving her powerful ministers, Tuthmosis III was at last able to truly inherit the thrown of Egypt, and in doing so, proved to be a very able ruler.

Interestingly, it was not until the last years of his reign that he demonstrated what must have been some anger with his stepmother by destroying as much of her memory as possible. Her images were expunged from monuments throughout Egypt. This is obvious to most visitors of Egypt because one of the most effected monuments was her temple at Deir el-Bahari, today a primary tourist site. There, Tuthmosis III destroyed her reliefs and smashed numerous statues into a quarry just in front of the temple. He even went so far as to attack the tombs of her courtiers. Yet if this was over the frustration of his youth when she ruled, why did he wait until such a late date to begin the destruction?

Carvings in the Karnak Temple of Tuthmosis in Luxor

Military Exploits

In any event, Tuthmosis III became a great pharaoh in his own right, and has been referred to as the Napoleon of ancient Egypt (by the Egyptologists, James Henry Breasted). But perhaps is reputation is due to the fact that his battles were recorded in great detail by the archivist, royal scribe and army commander, Thanuny. The battles were recorded on the inside walls surrounding the granite sanctuary at Karnak, and inscriptions on Thanuny's tomb on the west bank state that, "I recorded the victories he won in every land, putting them into writing according to the facts". Referred to as the Annals, the inscriptions were done during Tuthmosis' 42nd year as pharaoh, and describe both the battles and the booty that was taken. These events were recorded at Karnak because Tuthmosis's army marched under the banner of the god, Amun, and Amun's temples and estates would largely be the beneficiary of the spoils of Tuthmosis' wars.

Having close ties with his military, Tuthmosis undoubtedly received sage advice from his commanders. It was probably decided that the Levant offered the greatest potential for glory and wealth if the trade routes dominated by Syrian, Cypriot, Palestinian and Aegean rulers could be taken.

Tuthmosis III fought with considerable nerve and cunning. On one campaign, he marched to Gaza in ten days and from Yehem, planned the battle to take take Megiddo which was held by a rebellious prince named Kadesh. There were three possible approaches to Megiddo, two of which were fairly open, straightforward routes while the third was through a narrow pass that soldiers would only be able to march through in single file.

Though he was advised against this dangerous pass by his commanders, Tuthmosis not only took this dangerous route, but actually led the troops through. Whether by luck, or gifted intuition this gamble paid off, for when he emerged from the tight canyon, he saw that his enemies had arranged their armies to defend the easier routes. In fact, he emerged between the north and south wings of the enemy's armies, and the next day decisively beat them in battle. It apparently took a long siege (seven months) to take the city of Megiddo, but the rewards were great. The spoils were considerable, and included 894 chariots, including two covered with gold, 200 suites of armor including two of bronze, as well as over 2,000 horses and 25,000 other animals.

Tuthmosis III had marched from Thebes up the Syrian coast fighting decisive battles, capturing three cities, and then returned back to Thebes. Over the next 18 years, his armies would march against Syria every summer and by the end of that period, he established Egyptian dominance over Palestine. At Karnak he records the capture of 350 cities, and in the 42nd year of his rule, Kadesh itself was finally taken.

He also made campaigns into Nubia where he built temples at Amada and Semna and restored Senusret III's old canal in his 50th year of rule so that his armies could easily pass on their return to Egypt.

Queens and Vassals

Tuthmosis' main queen was Hatshepsut-Merytre, who survived him and lived as Queen Mother into the reign of her son. However, he also had several minor queens, some of whom had been acquired due to diplomatic exchanges. We know the names of three such minor queens, Menhet, Menwi and Merti from the discovery of their tomb west of Deir el-Bahri. He also took a number of foreign prices hostage, who then received training and indoctrination in Egyptian ways. They would later be returned to their homeland as obedient vassals of Egypt.

Building Projects

Tuthmosis is well attested in many parts of Egypt and outside of Egypt. We find blocks deep within Nubia at Gebel Barkal, and also at Sai, Pnubs at the third cataract, Uronarti, Buhen, Quban, Faras and Ellesiya, as well as his temples at Amada and Semna. He also built a temple dedicated to the goddess Satet at Elephantine, as well as projects at Kom Ombo, Edfu, El-Kab, Tod, Armant, Akhmim, Hermopolis and Heliopolis. From a list of one of Tuthmosis' overseers, we also know of projects at Asyut, Atfish and various locations in the delta.

Tuthmosis III built his own temple near Hatshepsut's on a ledge between her temple and that of Mentuhotep. His small temple was excavated recently by a polish mission. The excavation revealed stunningly fresh reliefs, perhaps because a rock fall from the cliffs above covered the temple shortly after its completion. Close by, Tuthmosis built a rock cut sanctuary to the goddess Hathor. This monument was accidentally discovered by a Swiss team when a rock fall exposed its opening. Apparently, the shrine was in use up to the Ramesside period, when it was destroyed by an earthquake.

Tuthmosis III's Temple of Hathor in Egypt

Tuthmosis III's Temple of Hathor

But of the many monuments associated with Tuthmosis III, none faired better than the temple of Karnak. Wall reliefs near the sanctuary record the many gifts of gold jewelry, furniture, rich oils and other gifts offered to the temple,. mostly from the spoils of war, by Tuthmosis III. He was responsible for the Sixth and Seventh Pylons at Karnak, as well as considerable reconstruction within the central areas of the temple. He erected two obelisks at the temple, one of which survives at the Hippodrom at Istanbul. There is also a great, black granite Victory Stele embellishing his military victories.

Drawings inside the Karnak Temple in Luxor

He also built a new and very unique temple at Karnak that is today referred to as his Festival Hall. The columns are believed to represent the poles of the king's campaign tent. In the rear is a a small room with representations of animals and plants bought back from Syria during the 25th year of his reign. For obvious reasons, this room is referred to as the Botanical Garden.

The opulence of his reign is also reflected in the quality tombs built by his high officials. The tome of his vizier, Rekhmire is notable, with many scenes of daily life, crafts as well as a long inscription concerning the office of vizier. However, the presence of a military elite is also attested by no less than eleven Theban tombs from the reign of Tuthmosis.

Inside Tuthmosis the Third's Tomb

From Tuthmosis III's Tomb

Tuthmosis III, we believe ruled Egypt from 1504 BC until his death in 1450 BC. He was buried in tomb KV 34 in the Valley of the kings. The tomb was halfway up a cliff face, and after his burial, masons destroyed the stone stairway leading up to it and concealed the tomb's entrance. However, it would seem that no matter what initiatives pharaohs took to protect their tombs, robbers were sure to find them. Indeed, in 1898 when his tomb was discovered by Victor Loret, all he found was the carved sarcophagus and some remains of smashed furniture and wooden statues. Tuthmosis III, mummy likewise was not in the tomb, for it had been found in 1881 in the great royal cache at Deir el-Bahari. However, the tomb is covered with black and red painted hieratic renditions of the netherworld texts.