Egypt: Amenhotep II, 7th Pharaoh of Egypt's 18th Dynasty

Amenhotep II, 7th Pharaoh of Egypt's 18th Dynasty

by Jimmy Dunn

We believe Amenhotep II was the 7th Pharaoh of Egypt's 18th Dynasty. Amenhotep (heqaiunuwas) his birth name, meaning "Amun is Pleased, Ruler of Heliopolis". He is sometimes referred to by Amenhotpe II, or the Greek version of his name, Amenophis II. His throne name was A-kheperu-re, meaning "Great are the Manifestations of Re". He was the son of Tuthmosis III, with whom he may have served a short co-regency of about two years. His mother was probably Merytra, a daughter of Huy, who was a divine adoratrice of Amun and Atum and chief of choristers for Ra. Apparently, she also served as, at least his publicly acknowledge, wife.

Amenhotep II's reign is considered pivotal by many Egyptologists, though it is certainly popularly overshadowed by that of his two predecessors and some of his successors of the 18th Dynasty. He is generally acknowledged to have taken care of his military duties early on, thereafter establishing a peaceful and prosperous reign suitable to fairly extensive expansion of temple monuments.

Notably, Amenhotep II was well known for his athletic abilities as a young man. A number of representations of him depict his participation in successful sporting pursuits. He lived in the Memphite region where he trained horses in his father's stables, and one of his greatest athletic achievements was accomplished when he shot arrows through a copper plate while driving a chariot with the reins tied about his waist. This deed was recorded in numerous inscriptions, including a stele at Giza and depictions at Thebes. So famous was the act that it was also miniaturized on scarabs that have been found in the Levant. Sara Morris, a classical art historian, has even suggested that his target shooting success formed the basis hundreds of years later for the episode in the Iliad when Archilles is said to have shot arrows through a series of targets set up in a trench. He was also recorded as having wielded an oar of some 30 ft in length, rowing six times as fast as other crew members, though this may certainly be an exaggeration.

As a king, Amenhotep II's athletic abilities may have served him very well, for within a short period after gaining the throne, his metal would be tested. Various sources disagree on how many military expeditions he made into Syria, and in what year of his reign these occurred. These military actions are recorded on stele erected at Amada, Memphis and Karnak. Yet it is clear that there had been a revolt in the Syrian region, and possibly even in the ports on the Mediterranean sea. His father was well recognized as a military leader, sometimes referred to as the "Napoleon of ancient Egypt". Therefore it is perhaps not surprising that when a region in Syria known as Tikhsi heard of his father's death, they decided to test the new pharaoh (apparently not an uncommon practice).

Some references refer to his first expedition taking place as early as his 2nd year of rule, though others provide that it was during his 7th. Still other references indicate that he made both of these campaigns. Regardless, he fought his was across the Orontes river and claims to have subdued all before him. One city, Niy, apparently had learnt their lesson under his father, and welcomed Amenhotep II. But at Tikhsi (Takhsy, as mentioned in the Theban tomb of Amenemheb - TT85), he captured seven prices, returning with them in the autumn. They were hung face down on the prow of his ship on the return journey, and six of them were subsequently hung on the enclosure wall of the Theban temple. The other was taken south into Nubia where his was likewise hung on the walls of Napata, "in order to cause to be seen the victorious might of His Majesty for ever and ever".

According to the Stele recording these events, this first campaign netted booty consisting of 6,800 deben of gold and 500,000 deben of copper (about 1,643 and 120,833 pounds respectively), as well as 550 mariannu captives, 210 horses and 300 chariots.

All sources agree that he once again campaigned in Syria during his ninth year of rule, but only in Palestine as for as the Sea of Galilee.

Yet these stele, erected after year nine of Amenhotep II's rule, that provide us with this information do not bear hostile references to either Mitanni or Nahrin, the general regions of the campaigns. This is probably intentional, because apparently the king had finally made peace with these former foes. In fact, an addition at the end of the Memphis stele records that the chiefs of Nahrin, Hatti and Sangar (Babylon) arrived before the king bearing gifts and requesting offering gifts (hetepu) in exchange, as well as asking for the breath of life. Though good relations with Babylon existed during the reign of Tuthmosis III, this was the first mention of a Mitanni peace, and it is very possible that a treaty existed allowing Egypt to keep Palestine and part of the Mediterranean coast in exchange for Mitannian control of northern Syria. Underscoring this new alliance, with Nahrin, Amenhotep II had inscribed on a column between the fourth and fifth pylons at Karnak, "The chiefs (weru) of Mitanni (My-tn) come to him, their deliveries upon their backs, to request offering gifts from his majesty in quest of the breath of life". The location for this column in the Tuthmosid wadjyt, or columned hall, was significant, because the hall was venerated as the place where his father received a divine oracle proclaiming his future kingship. It is also associated with the Tuthmosid line going back to Tuthmosis I, who was the first king to campaign in Syria. Furthermore, we also learn that Amenhotep II at least asked for the hand of the Mitannian king, Artatama I, in marriage. By the end of Amenhotep II's reign, the Mitanni who had been so recently a vile enemy of Egypt, were being portrayed as a close friend.

After these initial campaigns, the remainder of Amenhotep II's long reign was characterized by peace in the Two Lands, including Nubia where his father settled matters during his reign. This allowed him to somewhat aggressively pursue a building program that left his mark at nearly all the major sites where his father had worked. Some of these projects may have even been initiated during his co-regency with his father, for at Amada in Lower Nubia dedicated to Amun and Ra-Horakhty celebrated both equally, and at Karnak, he participated in his father's elimination of any vestiges of his hated stepmother, Hatshepsut. There was also a bark chapel built celebrating his co-regency at Tod.

However, he also left monuments at Pnub on Argo Island, at Sai, Uronarti, Kumma, Buhen, Qasr Ibrim, Sehel, Elephantine, Gebel Tingar, Gebel el-Silsila, Elkab, Armant, Karnak, Thebes, including his tomb and a funerary temple, Medamud, Dendera, Giza and Heliopolis.

Of these, his building work at Giza and Karnak are particularly notable. At Giza he built a temple dedicated to the god Horemakhet, a sun-god identified with the Great Sphinx. This Sphinx and its adjoining amphitheater became the site of a cult of royal ancestors, including Amenhotep II himself and his son, Tuthmosis IV, who set up the great dream stele between its paws. The Sphinx's (Horemakhet) cult lasted well into Roman times and pilgrims left votive offerings in the enclosure wall of the amphitheater or in the chapels if possible. Hence, Amenhotep II's addition of a chapel to the cult was significant.

At Karnak, after finishing his father's work of eliminating Hatshepsut's name, he set about creating his sed-festival just as his father had done before him. This pavilion, reconstructed in modern times by Charles Van Siclen, was a court of relief carved square pillars with decorated walls on the sides, and has been dated to the late part of his reign. Following an old tradition, the decorations featured elaborate royal regalia for the king, especially emphasizing solar connections, including multiple sun discs on top of crowns, and tiny falcons set above the sun discs, creating an association with Ra-Horakhty. It also included scenes of his mother. The building was built in front of Karnak's south entrance at the eighth pylon, which in effect, created a new main gateway to the complex. An inscription on one of the pillars implies that this may not have been to celebrate his first sed festival, though such text is difficult to interpret, and is sometimes though to simply imply wishes expressed for the king's coming jubilees. The gardens of Amun were directly in front of this chapel, but the building was dismantled at the end of the 18th Dynasty to accommodate alterations made by Horemheb. The material was later reused for a different building constructed by Seti I at the beginning of the 19th Dynasty.

Amenhotep II also built another temple to Amun in the northern Karnak district, a precinct that was later dedicated to Montu of Thebes. However, the material from this project was also later used to form part of the foundations of a temple constructed by Amenhotep III, which was still later adapted to building projects during the Greek Period. However, he apparently participated in several other building projects in the area of Karnak including probably building a ceremonial residence or palace.

Also notable was his additions to nearby temple of Montu at Medamud about eight kilometers north, particularly since later there was a processional way between northern Karnak and Medamud.

Other than his mother, Amenhotep II made public none of his wives, though he certainly demonstrated his procreative powers. A number of princes are attested to, including another Amenhotep, Tuthmosis, Khaemwaset (possibly), Amenemopet, Ahmose, Webensenu and Nedjem, among others. Yet though he probably also sired a number of princesses, they like his queens, are difficult to document.

The lack of documentary evidence of his queens and princesses was doubtless a conscious rejection of the dynastic role played by woman as "god's wives of Amun". Perhaps he (as well as his father) realized that queens such as Hatshepsut, who represented the dynastic family, could be dangerous if they became too powerful.

As usual, different resources provide different time frames for Amenhotep II's reign. While the Chronicle of the Pharaohs by Peter A. Clayton gives his reign lasting from 1453 until 1419 BC, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt provides a reign between 1427 until 1400 BC. Regardless, upon his death he was buried in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes) in tomb KV35. Prior to the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb by Howard Carter, KV35 was the only royal burial in Egypt where the pharaoh was discovered in his own sarcophagus. However, he was not alone in his tomb for the priests in antiquity had used it for a hiding place for other royal mummies.


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