1-888-834-1448

Egypt: History - Dynasty XVIII (Eighteenth Dynasty)


Eighteenth Dynasty


To deal adequately with Tuthmosis III's military successes would demand much more space than has been devoted to them. Also we must pass over the far less interesting expeditions to Nubia, except to mention his capture there of a rhinoceros, a great rarity in Egyptian records. Nor can any attempt here be made to deal at length with his building activities and with the festivals that he instituted in favor of the gods. It must suffice to say that few towns did not receive benefactions of his. The funerary temple which he had built for himself on the edge of the western desert at Thebes is almost completely destroyed, but does not seem to have been particularly interesting, and his tomb in Biban el-Moluk differs but little from those of his predecessors. In the tomb are mentioned the names, not only of his mother Ese, but also of his chief wife Meryetre', who was a second Hashepsowe, and of two other wives. Yet three more,. with foreign names not improbably Asiatic, were found together with rich jewelry in a remote tomb which was doubtless intact ;until discovered and robbed by native Egyptians in 1916. The king's coffin and mummy were discovered in the Der el-Bahri cache, and if Virchow was right in speaking of the king's almost youthful appearance, he can have been no more than a child when his stepmother took over the government in their joint names, seeing that he died in his fifty-fourth year.

Among the noblemen of this reign none was greater than Rekhmire', whose well-preserved tomb is visited by every tourist to Thebes. He held the office of vizier in the 'Southern City', having his opposite number in the north at the 'Residence', by which Memphis must be meant. No more than a passing allusion can be made to the scenes of foreigners and craftsmen which adorn the walls, but there are pictures which cannot be so lightly dismissed of the officials of many towns from Senmut, the island of Bigga in the First Cataract, to Asyut in the XIIIth Upper Egyptian nome; these pictures display in most cases the mayor, the district registrar, some scribes, and other minor functionaries, bringing all manner of commodities as dues payable into the bureau of the vizier. One wall is devoted to a flowery eulogy of that great man's office with a brief description of his introduction into the royal presence. Far more important are two long inscriptions repeated verbatim in the tombs of several viziers. One of these, noted already in an earlier part of this book, records the speech supposed to have been spoken by the Pharaoh on the day of his chief magistrate's appointment. He is told, for example, that the vizierate is not sweet-tasting undertaking, but one as bitter as gall, and that a petitioner better likes to be allowed to pour out his grievances than that they should be put right. Valuable as is this text psychologically, it is not historically as illuminating as the companion inscription setting forth the manifold duties of the vizier. The only trouble is that we cannot be sure of the date when these evidently much-loved compositions were written; it is not inconceivable that they might even go back to the Middle Kingdom.

Of other outstanding personages known to have flourished in this reign the number cannot be much less than a hundred, many of them possessing fine tombs in the hill of Sheikh 'Abd el-Kurna, where paintings and inscriptions record their multifarious activities. Equal to Rekhmire' in importance was the high-priest of Amen Re' Menkheperra'sonb, whose duty towards the great temple of Karnak demanded the accumulation of treasures fro all the world. His wall-paintings show Hittite and Syrian princes bringing their tribute of costly vessels, while officials from Coptos offer gold in rings and bags as the contribution of the eastern desert and of Cush. The inscriptions speak of the obelisks and flagstaffs which it was his business to see erected, and there are pictures of carpenters and farmers adding their quota to the god's wealth. It is impossible here to do more than mention one or two other prominent functionaries of the age, nor can as yet a satisfactory synthesis of the whole be presented. The tomb of one Dhouti who was overseer of the northern countries and a general has not been discovered, but the Louver has a magnificent gold dish given him by the king, and various objects that belonged to him are in other museums. He is also the hero of a fragmentary tale which bears some resemblance to that of the Forty Thieves. A difficulty which will often be felt is when an official is found engaged in occupations not at all related to his principal functions. For example Minmose, an overseer of works who arranged building constructions in more than a dozen temples, accompanied Tuthmosis III on expeditions to both Nubia and Syria and collected taxes on his behalf; he was also made overseer of the prophets in the temples where he worked.

Amenophis II (c. 1436-1413 BC) was the son of the Hashepsowe-meryetre' already mentioned as Tuthmosis III's chief wife, and was born at Memphis. At an early age he was engaged in supervising deliveries of wood to the great dockyard of Peru-nufe near Memphis and at the same time seems to have held the office of setem, the high-priest in that northern capital. A great stela unearthed near the great Sphinx gives an exaggeratedly laudatory account of his accomplishments. His muscular strength was extraordinary: we are told that he could shoot at a metal target of one palm's thickness an and pierce it in such a way that his arrow would stick out on the other side; unhappily the like had been related of Tuthmosis III, though with less detail, so that we are not without excuse for skepticism. Nonetheless, there are other examples of his athletic prowess too individual to be rejected out of hand. When he was eighteen years of age he was already an expert in all the art of Mont, the god of War. As an oarsman wielding an oar 20 cubits long he was the equal of 200 men, rowing six times as far as they could without stopping. So admirable a horseman was he that his father Tuthmosis entrusted him with the finest steeds of his stable, and these he trained so skillfully that they could cover long distances without sweating. A strange inscription from Semna dating from year 23 gives an inkling of his character in later life. So far as it can be understood he seems while drinking to have given free expression to his contempt for his foreign enemies, declaring the northerners, including 'the old woman of Arpakh' and the people of Takhsy, to be useless lot, but he orders his viceroy in Nubia to beware of the people there and of their magicians, and urges him to replace any objectionable chief by some man of humble birth. A typically Egyptian combination of naivet and boastfulness!

The building activities of Tuthmosis III were continued energetically by his son. A Karnak so much honor had been done to Amen-Re' that without wholly neglecting the great Theban god Amenophis II preferred to devote his piety to the provinces. After the inevitable epithets proclaiming his power there comes a recital of the constructions in the temple, these repeated in identical terms in a fragmentary duplicate emanating from the temple of Chnum at Elephantine. Then follow some sentences recording an act of barbarity which in the crude moral atmosphere of that warlike age could be regarded as a ground for special pride. The stela, we learn, was erected..

after His Majesty had returned from Upper Retjnu and had overthrown all those disaffected towards him, extending the boundaries of Egypt in the first campaign of victory. His majesty returned joyful of heart to his father Amun when he had slain with his own club the seven chieftains who has been in the district of Takhsy, they being placed head downwards at the prow of His Majesty's ship of which the name is 'Akheprure'-the-Establisher-of-Two-Lands. Then six of these enemies were hanged on the face of the enclosure wall of Napata in order to cause to be seen the victorious might of His Majesty for ever and ever.

A very fragmentary and defective stela describing Amenophis II's victories had long been known at Karnak, but was practically useless until 1942 what is in part a duplicate and is in almost perfect condition was found at Memphis. In spite of considerable differences the two inscriptions supplement one another usefully. A blemish common to both is due to many sentences having been effaced by the partisans of the fanatical king Akhenaten, damage which the pundits employed by Sethos I, that great restorer of earlier monuments, were unable to make good. The following freely translated excerpts will illustrate one of the liveliest and most informative narratives which Egyptian history has to show.

After the date in year 7 and the inevitable epithets extolling the valor of the king a brief paragraph describes the destruction of a place called Shamash-Edom which was not more than a day's march from Katna, an important town 11 miles north-east of Homs. This quickly achieved victory left Egyptian hands a small number of Asiatics and cattle. Following a brief reference to the king's departure and to the booty taken, the Karnak text continues with a fuller version:

Second month of the Summer season, day 10, turning back southwards. His Majesty proceeded by chariot to the town of Niy, and the Asiatics of this town, men and women, were on their walls adoring His Majesty and showing wonderment at the goodly god.

Previously we have referred to Niy as the scene of an elephant hunt. The mention here is valuable as corroborating the view that this place was not on the Euphrates as some had supposed. The next paragraph presents a difficulty inasmuch as what must surely be understood as the town of Ugarit lacks an essential consonant. Ugarit is the present-day Ras esh-Shamra has excavated with great success, among other valuable finds being many clay tablets written in alphabetic cuneiform characters.

Now His Majesty had heard that some of the Asiatics who were in the town of Ukat were seeking to find a way of casting the garrison of His Majesty out of his town and to subvert the face of the prince who was loyal to His Majesty. Then His Majesty became cognizant of it in his heart, and surrounded everyone who defied him in this town and slew them at once. Thus he quelled this town and calmed the entire land.

Some response was needed at this juncture and after rest in a tent set up in the neighborhood of Thalkhi, the king went on to plunder some villages and at others to accept the submission of their headmen. On arrival at Kadesh some of the princes together with their children were made to take oaths of loyalty. by way of exhibiting his skill and at the same time manifesting his bonhomie

His majesty next shot at two targets of copper in their presence on the south side of this town, and they made excursions at Rebi in the forest, and brought back numberless gazelles, foxes, hares, and wild asses.

The second campaign, in year 9, was on a smaller scale than the first, the king-led Egyptian army not venturing farther north than the Sea of Galilee. Several of the places named, Apheq, Yehem, Socho, and Anaharath, are mentioned in the lists of Tuthmosis III, in the Old Testament, or in both and their sites have been identified with some probability. The recital is in much the same vein as that of the first campaign, but there are some novel features. The night's rest in the royal tent is again mentioned, but now the god Amun appears in a dream and promises victory. After an important capture of prisoners and plunder, we read of their being surrounded by two ditches filled with fire, and of the Pharaoh keeping watch over them the whole night through, attended only by his personal servants. This insistence on the personal bravery of the sovereign in the absence of his army is a commonplace of such inscriptions and characteristic of the large element of romance that they contain. Immediately preceding there is a reference to the 'Apiru, a much-discussed term which we cannot afford to ignore. A few years ago it was confidently asserted that these people were identical with the Hebrews of the Old Testament, but this is now denied by all but a few scholars; it is, however, generally accepted that they are to be equated with the Habiru (better Hapiru) of the 'Amarna tablets, apparently a generic term for 'outcasts' or 'bandits' belonging to no fixed ethnic groups. In Egyptian texts they appear a Asiatic prisoners employed in stone quarries. More agreement has been reached about the term Maryannu mentioned a number of times on our stele. This Indo-Iranian word indicates the highest rank of fighting men in the towns of Syria, those who were entrusted with chariots and horses of their own.

With the accession of Amenophis III (c. 1405-1367 BC) Dyn. XVIII attained the zenith of its magnificence, though the celebrity of this king is not founded upon any military achievement. Indeed, it is doubtful whether he himself ever took part in a warlike campaign. In his fifth year a rebellion in Nubia had to be suppressed, as we learn fro three bombastic records on rocks near the First Cataract. If this was the same occasion as that much more soberly described on a stela in the British Museum, the Egyptian army was under the command of the often-named viceroy Mermaose, and when it is said that 'the strong arm of Amenophis captured' the enemy. This does not mean that he was present in the flesh. The scene of the victory was the district of Ibhe whence King Merenre' of Dyn. VI had obtained the stone for his pyramid. The number of prisoners taken was small, all told no more than 1052. Nevertheless the Nubian province bears solid testimony to Amenophis III's greatness. Not only did he build stately temples at Sedeinga and Soleb a little distance to the North of the Third Cataract, but his 'living image' actually received a cult in the latter place, as his wife Tiye did at the former. On what is not quite appropriately known as the Marriage Scarab the names of Tiye and her parents are followed by the words:

She is the wife of a victorious king whose southern boundary is to Karoy, and his northern to Nahrin.

Karoy may have extended even beyond Napata and was the limit of the viceroy's administrative province. As regards Nahrin the claim here made was perhaps more of an aspiration than a fact. Nevertheless, friendship with Amenophis was of sufficient importance to the prince of Mitanni to entitle another scarab dated in year 10. A flood of light has been thrown on the relations of Egypt with Mitanni and the neighboring countries in this reign and the next by an extraordinary find now to be described. In 1887 a peasant woman gathering the fertilizer known as sabakh amid the ruins of El-'Amarna, a village about 190 miles south of Cairo, chanced upon a large number of clay tablets incised with wedge shaped characters. Nothing of the kind had ever been seen in Egypt before, and of these strange and apparently worthless objects some were sold for a song, others destroyed, and many more lost . The first antiquaries into whose hands they fell judged them to be forgeries, and it was only after much discussion and the acquisition of specimens by various national museums that they were recognized for what they really were, namely the actual correspondence of Amenophis III and his successor with the different Asiatic rulers of their time, both great and small. The writing was Babylonian cuneiform, which served as the diplomatic medium of those days. Here the names of the princess and her father appear as Gilukhipa and Shuttarna, while the Pharaoh, whose Prenomen in hieroglyphic we render as Nebma're', is addressed as Nummuaria, which was presumably nearer the real pronunciation. The writer is Tushratta, Shuttarna's son, who had acceded to the Mitanni throne after the murder of an elder brother. From one of Tushratta's letters we learn that his grandfather Artatama I had given a daughter in marriage to Tuthmosis IV, though only after repeated requests. Nothing more is heard about the host of damsels stated on the scarab t have accompanied Gilukhipa to Egypt, but it is clear that substantial gifts form both sides were always a concomitant of these much-desired matrimonial transactions. On the whole Amenophis III's relations with Tushratta were cordial, but those between him and Kadashman-Enlil I, the King of Babylonia, were less so, the latter complaining that he had been unsuccessful in finding out whether his sister, another lady sent as a bride to Egypt, was alive or dead. In this reign no letters passed between Egypt and Assyria, which had temporarily become a vassal of Mitanni, nor as yet was there any correspondence with the Hittites, though there are letters from Amenophis to the prince of Arzawa, an Anatolian land even farther afield. At the back of all this epistolary activity two motives stand out conspicuous, the enhancement of personal prestige and the desire for valuable commodities.

At the Egyptian Court there was one man whose outstanding ability obtained full recognition at the time, and later even led to his deification, as in the case of the wise Imhotep. This was Amenhotpe, the son of Hapu, born to unimportant parents in the Delta town of Athribis, the modern Benha. Although by far the most honored of Amenophis III's servants, he never attained any of the highest offices of state. The numerous statues which the king's favor caused to be erected in the temples of Amun and of Mut at Karnak all portray him as a 'royal scribe' seated on the ground with an open papyrus on his lap. His main title was that of a 'scribe of goodly young men', a term habitually used to describe the functionaries charged with finding able-bodied recruits for military or other purposes. The inscriptions engraved around the squatting figures are none too explicit in their information, but leave no doubt as to his responsibility for the transport and erection of the two great seated images of Amenophis III still to be seen near the road leading to the western desert from the Nile opposite Luxor. These had been quarried in the Gebel el-Ahmar to the north-east of Cairo, the source of the fine reddish crystalline sandstone so much affected in this reign.

The first half of Amenophis III's long reign was an era of prosperity such as Thebes had never previously enjoyed. The most costly products of Nubia and Asia flowed to the Southern City in an uninterrupted stream, to which Crete and even Mycenae seem to have added contributions. Many other dignitaries of the reign are known from fine tombs or statues of their owners or from the sealing of jars that had contained the food, beer, or wine which they contributed to the royal palace. Even if the proud Pharaoh's foremost thought was for the splendor of his own funerary temple and the adjacent palace, he by no means overlooked the claims of the temples in the southern capital. Long inscriptions recount his benefactions at Karnak and at Luxor, and one dedicatory text even furnishes details of the gold and semi-precious stones which he devoted to their adornment; needless to say, the figures given are quite incredible. The wealth of the temple of Amen -Re' must have been enormous, and its high-priest Ptahmose was the first to be able to add to his sacerdotal authority that inherent in the rank of vizier. Little could the Theban nobles have been aware of the storm so soon to break over their beloved homes and to work havoc in their most cherished ideals and beliefs.

THE RELIGIOUS REVOLUTION AND AFTER

In some respects the last years of Amenophis III seem to have followed a normal course. Surrounded by everything that wealth could give he continued to reside in his luxurious palace on the west of Thebes, whence he carried on his correspondence with the Asiatic kings and the lesser chieftains of Palestine. Doubtless Queen Tiye still exerted an important influence upon his counsels. Special favor was shown to a daughter of theirs named Sitamun, to whom there appears to have been given, with Amenhotpe son of Hapu as its steward, an establishment of her own in the palace area. Since this Sitamun adds to her title of 'king's daughter' that of 'king's great wife'--there is even a faience knob on which the cartouches of Tiye and herself face one another each preceded by this title--several scholars have maintained that the old king married his own daughter, and this unwelcome conclusion is difficult to resist. At all events he was not averse to replenishing his harem. There he already had a sister of the king of Babylonea, but was clamoring for a daughter as well. Of Gilukhipa nothing more is heard except greetings from her brother Tushratta. Several other letters, however, deal with the negotiations for the Egyptian king's marriage with Tadukhipa, the daughter of the same Mitannian king. In this case Tushratta insists on her becoming Amenophis's wife and the 'mistress of Egypt' and as an inducement sent with her a splendid assortment of gifts which are enumerated in great detail. The damsel's arrival was long delayed, but meanwhile Tushratta was , by anticipation, proudly proclaiming the Pharaoh as his 'son-in-law'. Perhaps the marriage was never consummated, for by this time Amenophis III was probably a sick old man. In the hope of bringing about his recovery Tushratta, adopting an expedient for which there are Egyptian parallels, sent to Thebes an image of the goddess 'Ishtar of Niniveh', praying that she should be treated as hospitably as on a previous occasion and be safely returned to her own country. The 'Amarna letter recording this is dated in year 36, and it is known from other sources that Amenophis III lived to complete his thirty-seventh if not his thirty-eighth year. But that was the end and the next letter from Tushratta is addressed to the all-powerful widow Tiye and, recalling the good relations which had persisted between him and her late husband, expresses the hope that those with her son may be ten times as cordial. A fine tomb or normal type had been excavated for Amenophis III in the western branch of the Biblan el-Moluk, and there is every reason to think that he was actually buried there. His own sepulcher was not, however, destined to be his final resting-place, for his mummy, showing plain signs of acute suffering from toothache, was found by Loret in the tomb of Amenophis II, whither it had been transferred by the high-priest of Amun Pinudjem three and a half centuries later.

Continuation of 18th Dynasty

Return to History

Last Updated: June 8th, 2011

Who are we?

Tour Egypt aims to offer the ultimate Egyptian adventure and intimate knowledge about the country. We offer this unique experience in two ways, the first one is by organizing a tour and coming to Egypt for a visit, whether alone or in a group, and living it firsthand. The second way to experience Egypt is from the comfort of your own home: online.