Flourished Circa 1390-1353 b.c.e.
King, dynasty 18
Historical Record. Amenhotep III ruled Egypt at the height of its prosperity and prestige. His nearly thirty-eight-year reign is well documented in comparison to that of most ancient Egyptian kings. Yet, outstanding problems in understanding the events of the reign, especially concerning his relationship with his son Amenhotep IV, cannot be solved because of the lack of data.
Family. Amenhotep III was the son of the preceding king, Thutmose IV, and a minor wife named Mutemwia. Amenhotep III was no older than twelve when he ascended the throne. Yet, by Year 2 he had married Tiye, his Great Royal Wife. Tiye was the daughter of Yuya and Tuya of Akhmim. Yuya was a high military official with responsibility for the chariots. The rich tomb given to Yuya and Tuya in the Valley of the Kings suggests their importance in this reign. Amenhotep III also married two Mitanni princesses named Giluhepa and Taduhepa, sealing the peace treaty with their country negotiated by his father. His children with Tiye included the next king, Amenhotep TV/ Akhenaten, and perhaps Tutankhamun, whose parentage remains uncertain. His daughters who reached prominence were Sit-amun and Isis, who both bore the title of Royal Wife. Betsy M. Bryan has suggested that the king married his daughters in order to maintain control over the estates they owned.
Military Actions. Amenhotep Ill’s reign was unusual because of its peaceful nature. In Year 5 three different stelae recorded a minor military action in the far south of Nubia, above the Fifth Cataract. Another text referred to a military action that might be the same one or another action near the Second Cataract. This record is the full extent of documentation for warlike activities during the reign. In contrast to his ancestors and his successors in Dynasty 19 (circa 1292-1190 b.c.e.) no major wars were fought in this reign.
Foreign Relations. Trade and gift exchange with rulers in the Near East dominated Amenhotep Ill’s foreign relations. Archaeologists have discovered trade goods from Amenhotep Ill’s reign in Mycenae (Greece), Yemen (Arabian Peninsula), and Assyria (modern Iraq). The Amarna letters, an archive of letters in the Akkadian language, document the petty competitions and demands for gifts that concerned Amenhotep III in Syria-Palestine. Egypt dominated these small city-states and had thoroughly Egyptianized the culture of Nubia. There was an effective peace treaty with Mitanni, and the Hittites had not yet asserted themselves. The coalition of Syro-Palestinian city-states led by Qadesh had been defeated by Thutmose III and would not reassert itself until prodded by the Hittites in the reign of Ramesses II (circa 1279-1213 b.c.e.).
Foreigners in Egypt. More and more foreigners resided in Egypt during this period. The prisoners of war who had entered the country in proceeding reigns were originally agricultural and construction workers. Over time some foreigners married Egyptians and rose in the bureaucracy and the army. Canaanites, Hurrians from Mitanni, and Nubians became fully integrated into Egyptian society. Not only are foreign names found in Egyptian genealogies in this period, but also foreign gods were worshiped in Egypt. The military use of foreign terms for equipment and ranks reflected this influence.
Administration. Growing wealth presented new problems in administration for the Egyptians. Many of the resources that entered Egypt from abroad came to the temples. Some scholars believe that an increasing amount of land passed from royal to temple control in this period. Though it was true that temples increased in wealth, it is not entirely clear that the temple’s wealth grew proportionately more than the royal family’s own wealth. Some scholars believe that a genuine power struggle arose between the royal family and the temples. This presumed power struggle would then explain some religious policies initiated by Amenhotep III and perhaps continued by his son Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten.
Divine King. Amenhotep III portrayed both Queen Tiye and himself as gods in their temples in Nubia. There remains no clear evidence that they extended this policy into Egypt itself. Some have argued that this policy was intended to counteract the influence of the cult of Amun. If the king and queen were themselves actual deities, the temple staff would hesitate to work against them. This policy then could be understood as the precursor of Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten’s abandonment of Amun’s cult.
No Real Evidence. The theory is attractive but not entirely supported by the evidence. First, it is not really clear that Amenhotep III went beyond his predecessors’ and successors’ policies of self-deification. As Bryan has noted, Amenhotep III did not establish actual cults for himself within Egypt in the same way that Ramesses II did in Dynasty 19. Furthermore, this theory would depend on the largely discredited hypothesis that Amenhotep III and his son Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten shared the throne for as long as twelve years in a co-regency. In this theory Akhenaten’s new god, the Aten, was his father Amenhotep III. In this view Amenhotep III cooperated with the plan to close Amun’s temples. However, there simply is no data to support this hypothesis.
Significance. Amenhotep Ill’s reign remains one of the most fascinating of all in ancient Egyptian history, though problems remain in interpreting it. The degree to which this reign anticipated the changes that Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten made in Egyptian religion will remain unresolved until further data emerges.
Arielle Kozloff and Bryan, Egypt’s Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III and his World (Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1992).
Christine El Mahdy, The World of the Pharaohs (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1987).
Amenhotep III (reigned 1417-1379 B.C.) was the ninth ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. The Pharaoh was a patron of the arts, and during his reign magnificent buildings and sculptures were created.
Amenhotep III came to the throne at a time when his country was at the height of its political power, economic prosperity, and cultural development. As a result of the conquests of his predecessors, particularly Thutmose I and III, Egypt was a dominant power in the Near East, and its sphere of influence stretched from the Fourth Cataract of the Nile to the banks of the Euphrates. Throughout his long and peaceful reign, Amenhotep combined the pursuit of worldly pleasures with a program of self-glorification on a scale grander than any undertaken before.
Amenhotep's reign may be divided into two phases. During his first 10 years he exhibited his skill and prowess as a sportsman in a series of big-game hunts, which were accorded wide publicity. His military career appears to have consisted of a single, relatively unimportant expedition into Upper Nubia in the fifth year of his reign. There is no mention of hunting expeditions after the tenth year or indeed of any activity involving the Pharaoh in physical exertion. In the tenth year Amenhotep arranged a marriage between himself and Gilukhipa, daughter of Shuttarna, King of Mitanni.
The second phase of Amenhotep's reign consisted of nearly 3 decades of luxurious ease, which witnessed an unparalleled output of splendid architectural works, sculpture, and fine craftsmanship. From the middle of his reign onward, Amenhotep probably spent much time amid the luxury of his great palace in western Thebes. Throughout this period the dominant influence in his life was his queen, Tiy, the daughter of a commoner. She occupied this unprecedented position not only in Amenhotep's reign but also in that of their son Ikhnaton.
Amenhotep's mortuary temple on the western plain at Thebes, which was demolished during the Nineteenth Dynasty, was apparently the largest of its class ever built. The two gigantic statues of the Pharaoh, the so-called Colossi of Memnon, which stood in front of the temple, still tower over the plain. Although the Aten (sun disk) probably emerged as a recognized member of the Egyptian pantheon during the reigns of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II, it was not until the reign of Amenhotep III that the new god was officially honored, when the Pharaoh named his flagship and a royal palace after the deity.
During the last decade of his reign Amenhotep was ill and prematurely senile, but there was no reduction in his building activities or the scale of luxury in which he lived. He died at the age of about 55 and was buried in a huge, rock-cut tomb prepared for him in the western branch of the Valley of the Kings.
A well-illustrated account of the reign of Amenhotep III is given in Cyril Aldred, Akhenaten, Pharaoh of Egypt: A New Study (1968). This should be read in conjunction with William C. Hayes's chapter "Egypt: Internal Affairs from Tuthmosis I to the Death of Amenophis III" in I.E.S. Edwards, C.J. Gadd, and N.G.L. Hammond, eds., The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 2 (2d ed. 1962).
Goedicke, Hans., Problems concerning Amenophis III., Baltimore, Md.: Halgo, 1992. □