amenhotep III

Amenhotep III, Pharaoh of Egypt

Figure F-1. Portrait of Amenhotep III from the tomb of Khaimhat. The king wears golden shabyu collars, symbolic of the sun, as well as the Blue Crown or khaprash. This image dates from the last few years of Amenhotep’s reign, during the period of his jubilee festivals.

amenhotep III

Pharaoh of Egypt for 38 years, ca. 1390-1352 B.C. Reigned as Nibma‘atri‘a Amunhatpi hiqa Wasat &nbsp [nb-m3‘t-r‘ imn-Htp Hq3 wst] &nbsp “Lord of Ra’s justice, pleasing to Amun, ruler of Thebes,” or in more conventional form, Nebma‘atra Amenhotep III.

Amunhatpi &nbsp [imn-Htp], the king’s personal name (also called his nomen ), has no standard spelling in European languages. Popular alternatives include Amenhotep, Amenhetep, Amon-hotpe, and Amenophis.

Amenhotep III was the son of his predecessor, Thutmose IV, by a lesser wife; the husband of the Egyptian noblewoman Tiyi, as well as many foreign princesses; and the father of several daughters and two sons, including his successor, the radical pharaoh Akhenaten.

For pagan Egypt, Amenhotep III played much the same role that Elizabeth I did for England, or Louis XIV for France. He was a popular monarch whose glory was undisputed in his own day and whose era was afterward remembered as a golden age.

Amenhotep cultivated splendor by building and celebrating lavishly. In public works he rivaled Ramesses II of the Nineteenth Dynasty, and he surpassed his most prolific antecedents in the Eighteenth Dynasty, Hatshepsut and Thutmose III. Under his rule, Egypt reached its zenith of peace, prosperity, and international prestige.

This discussion of the life and reign of Amenhotep III is divided into the following sections:

i. &nbsp &nbsp childhood
ii. &nbsp &nbsp early reign
iii. &nbsp &nbsp yuya and tjuyu
iv. &nbsp &nbsp the nubian war
v. &nbsp &nbsp the scarab series
vi. &nbsp &nbsp divine kingship
vii. &nbsp &nbsp the royal family
viii. &nbsp &nbsp prince djahutimasi
ix. &nbsp &nbsp foreign relations
x. &nbsp &nbsp preparing for the jubilees
xi. &nbsp &nbsp the first jubilee
xii. &nbsp &nbsp the second jubilee
xiii. &nbsp &nbsp tadukhipa of mitanni
xiv. &nbsp &nbsp the third jubilee
xv. &nbsp &nbsp divine nebma’atra

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Figure F-2. Portrait of Amenhotep III as a youthful hero. Despite the king’s boyish appearance, this sculpture was actually made during the last decade of his reign, when he was about 40. Most portraiture executed after pharaoh’s First Jubilee in Year 30 complies with the canons of the so-called “Rejuvenation Style,” which represents adults as stocky, chubby-faced children.


The king’s given name, Amunhatpi, means “Amun is content” or “pleasing to Amun,” while his chosen epithet, hiqa Wasat, means “ruler of Wasat” or Thebes, the city in which the state cult of Amun was based. Nevertheless, the young Amenhotep apparently spent his childhood in the northern part of the country – that is, the region of Lower Egypt – instead of in Upper Egypt, where Thebes was located. If he visited the southern city at all, it would have been for state occasions such as the Feast of Ipat-Sut or the Beautiful Feast of the Valley, the principal holidays in the Theban calendar.

Amenhotep’s earliest home was probably in the district of Faiyum, an oasis on the shores of a lake just southwest of Memphis, the traditional capital of Egypt. Within Faiyum’s principal city, now known as Gurob, the prince’s great-grandfather Thutmose III had founded the so-called “harem-palace” of Mi-Uri (mi-wr, “Mi-Wer”) a few generations earlier.

For the rest of the Eighteenth Dynasty, the women and children of the royal family typically spent extended periods in this city-within-a-city. Mi-Uri was the residence of Amenhotep’s grandmother, Great Royal Wife Tiaa, and probably the childhood home of his father, Thutmose IV. Near this palace lay the Great Temple of Sobek (Sabik), the divine crocodile, whose cult was supreme in the Faiyum. Evidently Queen Tiaa had some personal involvement in the crocodile cult, as a black granite statue representing her was installed in the temple precinct during the reign of her son Thutmose (Bryan 103).

The year of Amenhotep’s birth remains unverified, with some writers speculating that he was born even before his father became pharaoh. But because Thutmose IV was still a young man when he died, after reigning a decade or more, it is more likely that his children appeared after his enthronement.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, therefore, we can assume that Prince Amenhotep was born in Year 1 or 2 of Thutmose IV. His mother was Mutimwiya, a minor member of the royal household. Her name means “The Goddess Mut is in Her Barque,” a reference to the wife of the god Amun. The cult of Mut, like that of her divine husband, centered in Thebes. The fact that both Mutimwiya and her son bore names referring to Amun’s cult may indicate a special connection between Mutimwiya and the southern capital.

For reasons unknown, Mutimwiya was never acknowledged as King’s Wife during Thutmose’s lifetime. Nonetheless, she must have had high ambitions for her son. The name that she gave him at birth suited him for kingship – two previous pharaohs of the dynasty carried it, among them the boy’s grandfather, Amenhotep II.

Figure F-3. Two generations of pharaohs and their guardians. Seated at left is the royal nurse Hiqarishu, who holds his fosterling, Thutmose IV, on his lap. Facing the old man is his son, Hiqarnahha, who offers a lotus bouquet. Before Hiqarnahha stands the King’s Son, Amenhotep, a small boy with a sidelock. Ranged behind Hiqarnahha are six more Sons of the King, standing in pairs in three registers. Adapted from a drawing by the expedition of Richard Lepsius of a relief in TT64, the tomb of Hiqarnahha in Western Thebes. Late reign of Thutmose IV.

The child received an education appropriate to his status. A young man named Hiqarnahha, one of his father’s personal friends, was his original “nurse” – i.e., the person in charge of his care. According to custom, Prince Amenhotep was raised by Hiqarnahha in the company of other “children of the inner palace” (Hrd n k3p), the sons of Egyptian and foreign dignitaries. Their number included a boy named Amunimipat, a little-known individual who evidently became a trusted friend of the future king. When Amenhotep assumed the throne and began a family of his own, Amunimipat became”nurse of the king’s children” (mn‘ n msw nsw) (Bryan 263).

The nurse Hiqarnahha died young, predeceasing his friend and patron Thutmose IV (Bryan 259). On his death, or perhaps somewhat earlier, Prince Amenhotep was sent to live with Sobekhotep (Sebekhetep, Sobk-hotpe, Sabikhatpi), Overseer of the Treasury and Mayor of Faiyum. Sobekhotep apparently remained the prince’s guardian for the rest of Thutmose’s reign. As one of the most distinguished men at the royal court, he was rewarded with an impressive tomb in Western Thebes (TT 63). His wife Marit held the notable cultic office of Greatest of Entertainers of Sobek, the chief god of the Faiyum, and she was also nurse to Tiaa, one of Prince Amenhotep’s sisters (Bryan 105).

Both Hiqarnahha and Sobekhotep are known to have accompanied Thutmose IV on his travels up and down Egypt to celebrate religious rites and inspect royal works in progress (Bryan 259). It is therefore likely that their charge, the crown prince, joined pharaoh’s entourage for at least some of these excursions.

In Year 7, the probable date of dowager queen Tiaa’s death, Thutmose recognized Amenhotep as Royal Heir (literally, “King’s Eldest Son”). Almost immediately, pharaoh began excavating a substantial tomb for his son in the Valley of the Kings.

These gestures of royal favor have no precedent in the Eighteenth Dynasty. Prince Amenhotep was probably about five or six at the time of his promotion, while King Thutmose was little more than 25. By contrast, neither the boy’s father nor his grandfather were recognized as heirs until they were adults and their fathers were elderly or dead.

Amenhotep was still a child when his father’s untimely death left him ruler of the most powerful country in the world. Aged about eight, he took the coronation name or prenomen of Nib-ma’at-Ri’a “Lord of Ra’s Justice,” more conventionally transcribed Nebma’atra. As Nib-Tawi, “Lord of the Two Lands,” he was the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

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Figure F-4. Amenhotep crowned as pharaoh by the god Amun, as shown in a relief from the Temple of Luxor.

early reign

Upon his enthronement, the boy-king repeated a gesture made by the three previous pharaohs: he gave his mother the title of Hmt nsw wrt or Great Royal Wife, the ultimate status available to an Egyptian woman. But because Amenhotep was a child younger than ten at the time, we have to question whether this honor was of his own inspiration, or whether he simply followed adult direction. This question is part of a more encompassing mystery – who actually governed Egypt when pharaoh was a child? Who was the able steward who handed the mature Amenhotep so prosperous and orderly a kingdom?

While such a question may be misguided – perhaps royal governance was enough of a “system” to maintain itself on automatic, with ranks of loyal officials efficiently fulfilling their functions out of reverence for tradition – it seems more likely that some individual or small group assumed executive functions.

Mutimwiya is the most obvious candidate for such a role. She was best placed to step in, and she received the most immediately visible benefit. In addition to becoming Great Royal Wife, she is prominently featured in a series of reliefs in the Temple of Luxor, which her son built early in his reign. The temple’s sandstone walls still preserve their depiction of the god Amun yearning after Mutimwiya’s beauty, and then descending to Earth in the shape of her husband, Thutmose IV, so that he can consummate his desire in the flesh. As soon as Amun reaches his destination, he fills the royal palace with incomparable perfumes, hallmark of divine presence. Mutimwiya swoons in delight and straightaway conceives the little prince Amenhotep.

Yet apart from these symbolic distinctions, few additional honors were conferred on Mutimwiya. She never succeeded to the office of God’s Wife of Amun (Hmt nTr nt imn), which in the earlier Eighteenth Dynasty represented the pinnacle of female success. That office fell vacant upon the death of Great Royal Wife Tiaa during the reign of Thutmose IV, and would not be renewed until the Nineteenth Dynasty, a century later.

Mutimwiya lived well into her son’s reign, as attested by her representation in the huge sculptural group known as the Colossi of Memnon, erected by Amenhotep in Year 30 to adorn his mortuary temple. She appears there along with Amenhotep’s other Great Royal Wife, Tiyi, and one of Tiyi’s daughters (probably Satamun, the third of his Great Royal Wives), as human-sized figures at the feet of the enormous seated statues of pharaoh. Since all the other individuals depicted in the Colossi were living at the time of their dedication, we may assume the same of Mutimwiya. She would have died at some point before Year 38, having reached her fifties or early sixties.

Existing evidence indicates that Mutimwiya lived a life of luxury and honor, playing respected roles in ceremonial functions and receiving her due as King’s Mother and Great Royal Wife – but it also portrays her as a secondary figure, especially in contrast with such Eighteenth Dynasty predecessors as Ahhatpi, Ahmasi-Nafritari, and Tiaa.

The role of de facto regent has no shortage of replacement candidates. Several ranking courtiers from the reign of Thutmose IV continued in office after his son’s accession. Among them were Ptahhatpi (Ptahhotep), Vizier of Lower Egypt, a region that included the royal residence at Memphis (Bryan 242); Amunhatpi, King’s Son of Kush, the royal governor of all lands south of Aswan (Bryan 251); Amunhatpi Si-sa, incumbent of the well-remunerated post of Second Servant of Amun (Bryan 269); and Ra, Chief Royal Herald, a trusted ambassador who probably conducted the negotiations between Thutmose IV and Artatama of Mitanni for the hand of Artatama’s daughter (Bryan 263). Perhaps one or more of these men enjoyed sufficient prestige and sufficient access to the boy-king to steer Egypt’s government.

Even more distinguished was Ptahmasi, Vizier of Upper Egypt under Thutmose IV, whom the old king named First Servant (High Priest) of Amun before his death (Bryan 244). Ptahmasi continued in both of his exalted positions under Amenhotep III, meanwhile accumulating the titles of Overseer of the Priests of Upper and Lower Egypt, Steward of Amun, Mayor of Wasat, Overseer of Works, and Fan-bearer on the King’s Right Hand. No other individual during the Eighteenth Dynasty held so many high offices, which encompass both sacred and secular hierarchies (Murnane 202-203).

Figure F-5. A shabti or funerary statuette from the burial of Ptahmasi, First Servant of Amun at Karnak during the early reign of Amenhotep III.

Yet Ptahmasi did not manage to pass his priestly office along to his son or to any other family member. This detail vividly illustrates the limits of his power. As we know, Egyptian officials liked nothing better than to bequeath their eminence to a personal heir. In the case of the lofty position of First Servant of Amun, however, this option was evidently not available. Not a single First Servant during the entire dynasty was succeeded by his son (Murnane 208). Ptahmasi must have died before Amenhotep’s Year 20, when the First Servant of Amun is specified as an unrelated individual named Mariptah, who retained the office for the rest of the reign. We hear no more of Ptahmasi or his family.

An equally likely candidate for the regency is Sobekhotep, Chief Treasurer and Mayor of Faiyum, who was the official guardian of Prince Amenhotep before his accession. After achieving success in the reign of Thutmose IV, Sobekhotep flourished during the early years of Amenhotep III, and thereafter both of his sons prospered: Paser as Mayor of Faiyum and Djahuti as First Servant of the moon-god Iah at an unknown cult center (Bryan 104, 245). Sobekhotep was extremely well-placed to exercise significant influence over the king.

But there were others in an even better position to steer Amenhotep’s decisions. They were a married couple named Yuya and Tjuyu. Members of the lesser nobility, they held priestly rank in the Great Temple of Min in Akhmim. Yuya was also Master of the Horse and Lieutenant-General of the King’s Chariots, important military offices, while Tjuyu was Chantress of Amun and Superior of the Harem of Amun. It is unknown how they attained their unique position among the boy-king’s courtiers, but he certainly held them in unusually high regard.

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yuya and tjuyu

Figure F-6. Gilded mummy masks of Yuya (right) and Tjuyu (left) in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

We have at least four reasons for regarding Yuya and Tjuyu as Amenhotep’s de facto regents.

First, their daughter Tiyi became Great Royal Wife, outranking even Mutimwiya, by Year 2 of the boy-king’s reign. Considering Amenhotep’s extreme youth, this was certainly an arranged marriage and not a love-match. How would it have been arranged, if not through the influence of the girl’s parents?

Second, the names of Yuya and Tjuyu figure prominently in a series of commemorative scarabs issued by the king about Year 11, when he was approximately 20 and thus in his majority as pharaoh. This was an unprecedented honor, never granted to the non-royal parents of any other queen in the dynasty. Its significance is magnified by the fact that Amenhotep’s own mother Mutimwiya is nowhere mentioned in this series, despite her position as King’s Mother and Great Royal Wife.

Figure F-7. Colossal limestone statue of Amenhotep and Tiyi, ca. Year 30. Seven meters (23 feet) high. Originally placed in Amenhotep’s mortuary temple at Kom el Hetan, now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

Third, Yuya and Tjuyu’s son ‘Anan became the Second Servant of Amun before Amenhotep’s Year 20, attaining a rank that was typically bestowed through special royal favor. Of course, ‘Anan was the queen’s brother, so his advancement may have been due primarily to Tiyi’s efforts. But ‘Anan’s success honored his father Yuya far more than it did his sister Tiyi. A father’s wish was traditionally to see his children flourish, especially his eldest son. Thus Yuya and Tjuyu had the satisfaction of seeing, during their own lifetimes, not one but two of their children ascend to the highest ranks of society.

Finally, Yuya and Tjuyu were granted a splendidly furnished tomb in the Valley of the Kings upon their deaths, which occurred some time after Amenhotep’s Year 30. This is another unprecedented honor, made more remarkable by the fact that both were interred in gilded coffins rivaling those of royalty. Indeed, after the tomb of Tutankhamun, theirs is the richest burial to survive from the Eighteenth Dynasty.

The case for Yuya and Tjuyu’s eminence remains unproven but highly plausible. Regardless of the precise configuration of political power, Egypt remained socially and economically stable throughout this period. We see abundant signs of increasing prosperity, but none of strife at home or abroad.

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the nubian war

Records of Amenhotep’s first decade of rule typically survive in one of two forms: stone stelae or glazed scarabs. Formerly, Egyptologists believed that both kinds of records were issued in tandem with the events that they commemorate, but we now know otherwise. Although the stelae were indeed contemporaneous with their subjects, the scarabs were produced all at once in Year 11 or 12.

According to the stelae inscriptions, the boy-king began quarrying stone for his “Mansion of Eternity” or mortuary temple as soon as he assumed the throne. Other architectural projects followed rapidly, including temples to Djahuti (Thoth), Mantu (Mont, Montu, Mentu), and Amun-Ra.

A handful of inscriptions chronicle a far more dramatic event: a military campaign in Year 5 to put down a rebellious Nubian chief. Apparently it was one of only two warlike incidents to involve Egypt during the entire 38 years of Amenhotep’s reign, and it was the only one in which pharaoh participated in person. A stela along the road between Aswan and Philae preserves a relatively continuous account of the conflict:

The Nubian War in Year 5

Year 5, third month of the Season of Inundation, day 2. Appearance in glory under the Majesty of Nebma’atra Amenhotep, Lord of Thebes [recitation of complete fivefold titulary].

Someone came to tell His Majesty: “The chief of vile Kush has planned rebellion in his heart.” His Majesty prevailed in victory, for he achieved victory on his first campaign. His Majesty attacked them like the stroke of a falcon, like Mantu in his transformations.

He was stout-hearted in killing and cutting off hands. He took 30,000 men as living captives and released as many as he pleased, so that the progeny of vile Kush would not be cut off completely.

Ikhani bragged before his troops, unaware of the lion in front of him, for Nebma’atra is the fierce lion who seizes vile Kush in his claws. All its chiefs were trampled throughout the valleys, overthrown in their own blood, one on top of another.

[after B.G. Davies, Fascicle IV, 8-9]

Although this inscription identifies the young king as a participant in hand-to-hand combat and implies a substantial tally of hostile forces, we are entitled to doubt such particulars. Given Egypt’s formidable military reputation in Year 5, as well as Amenhotep’s youth (he would have been 13 or 14), it is hard to believe that any great number of colonial subjects would risk Egypt’s wrath, or that the king’s handlers would risk their charge’s life in so inconsequential a skirmish. A more plausible interpretation of this inscription is that it is mainly propaganda.

Figure F-8. Amenhotep III drives the royal chariot in a celebration of victory over Nubia. Several prisoners are shown riding his horses or bound to his chariot. Egypt fought two minor campaigns in Nubia during Amenhotep’s reign – one in Year 5 and one much later, probably around Year 30. Carved stela in the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III, Year 30.

No doubt a Nubian prince defied his Egyptian overlords – indeed, as David O’Connor observes, the very fact that the name of the rebel (Ikhani) is included in the inscription underscores the severity of the incident (O’Connor 265). No doubt an Egyptian army swept through Nubia with the young king at its head, and no doubt numbers of Nubians were captured or killed. Yet the very phrasing of the royal boast encourages our skepticism: “He took 30,000 men as living captains and released as many as he pleased, so that the progeny of vile Kush would not be cut off completely.” In other words, we caught lots of fish, but we can’t show them to you because we let most of them go again!

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the scarab series

The best-known source for the history of Amenhotep’s first decade on the throne is the series of commemorative scarabs mentioned earlier. The series consists of five announcements that are widely but unevenly attested in Egypt and the East Mediterranean. The following readings are based on the recent English translations by Benedict G. Davies (36-38).

The first series is known variously as the “Wedding Scarab,” the “Tiyi Scarab,” or the “Boundary Scarab.” Fifty-six examples survive, distributed from Sudan to Syria. Although this series was formerly read as an announcement of the young king’s marriage, and so assigned to Year 2, contemporary Egyptologists point out that it contains no date and records no event whatsoever.

Figure F-9. The reverse of one of the so-called Boundary Scarabs of Amenhotep III. The inscription names Amenhotep III in the fourth line, Tiyi in the fifth line, and Tiyi’s parents Yuya and Tjuyu in the sixth line. Figure F-10. The obverse of the scarab in Figure F-8. This piece is made of steatite with a blue-green glaze, 8.8 cm. by 5.8 cm. Now in the collection of the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden.

The “Boundary Scarab” is simply a statement of Amenhotep’s names and titles, the names of his wife and both of her parents, and the limits of his sovereignty. We might even rename it “Egypt: Facts in Brief,” insofar as it offers a summary of what Amenhotep must have considered the principal information about his kingdom. The text opens by hailing both the king and queen, but it concludes with statements about Tiyi:

The Boundary Scarab of Amenhotep III

. . . The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nebma’atra, the Son of Ra, Amenhotep, Lord of Thebes, given life! Great Royal Wife Tiyi, may she live! The name of her father is Yuya, the name of her mother is Tjuyu.

She is the wife of a mighty king whose southern boundary is Kuroi and whose northern boundary is Naharina.

Kuroi was the southernmost region of Kush, identified with the southern part of modern Sudan. Naharina was the Egyptian name for the kingdom known to its subjects as Mitanni or Hanigalbat, located in modern Syria. Thus the surviving distribution of the scarabs neatly parallels the stated extent of pharaoh’s realm.

Apart from the unusual prominence that the “Boundary Scarab” bestows on Yuya and Tjuyu, it is notable for attributing Egypt’s empire not to the king but to the queen’s husband. Indeed, the wording of the text has struck many Egyptologists as unusually deferential to Tiyi, and it is often cited as evidence for her elevated status during Amenhotep’s reign.

The second scarab is known as the “Wild Bull Hunt.” Only five examples survive, one from Sinai and the rest from the Nile region. This series describes a single event, a hunting expedition that resembles the exploits of Amenhotep’s grandfather and great-grandfather, Amenhotep II and Thutmose III. It is dated Year 2. After stating the titles of Amenhotep and Tiyi, the text continues:

The Wild Bull Hunt in Year 2

This is a wonder that befell His Majesty. Someone came to tell His Majesty: “There are wild bulls in the desert of Shitip.” His Majesty sailed downstream by night in the royal barque Khaimma’at, “Rising in Righteousness.” A good journey was begun, reaching Shitip in peace in the morning.

His Majesty appeared in his chariot with his whole army following him. All the officers and private soldiers of the whole army, as well as the Children of the Palace, were commanded to watch vigilantly over the wild bulls.

Then His Majesty commanded his people to round up the wild bulls in an enclosure with a ditch. His Majesty went forth against all the wild bulls. They numbered 170. On this day His Majesty took in hunting 56 wild bulls.

His Majesty waited four days to rest his horses. Then His Majesty appeared again in his chariot. On this day His Majesty took in hunting 40 wild bulls. The total number of wild bulls was 96.

This disingenuous tale reveals a great deal about the texture of the young king’s life – as much through its apparent fictions as through its likely facts. Because Amenhotep was little older than 10 when its events occurred, and because he was clearly no mighty hunter at such an early age, we must assume that this bull hunt was in some sense a courtly pageant. It was stage-managed by the boy-king’s guardians to teach him the pleasures and excitement of despotic power, while displaying him to his subjects in the guise of a traditionally competent pharaoh. Thus Amenhotep leads a host of chariotry and kills large numbers of ferocious beasts, much like his ancestor Thutmose III, who led victorious armies through Canaan and Syria, and who, according to the Armant stela, once brought down 12 wild bulls in a single hour.

Yet the boy-king’s feats seem more than slightly absurd in comparison with the exploits of his distinguished forbear. Before young Amenhotep even draws his bow, the wild bulls are safely penned in an enclosure. Thereafter the king blithely gallops about in his chariot, firing arrows at will. In such an exercise, sheer persistence would compensate for lack of strength and skill. Even so, 56 kills in one day is a respectable number for a pre-adolescent archer. Perhaps it would not be too cynical to conclude either that the number is inflated, or that other arrows than the king’s helped bring down the bulls.

Thus we glimpse Amenhotep’s early reign as a time of training in kingship, disguised as recreation. Any public appearance by the young monarch became an exercise in state progaganda. More specific details emerge from a closer examination of the text.

First, the place-name Shitip implies a northern location for the royal court at the time of the incident. Shitip lay near the Wadi el-Natrun, west of the Delta. Therefore, pharaoh must have been in residence not far away, most likely in or near the ancient capital of Memphis. This is one piece of evidence suggesting that Memphis was his principal base for his first two decades on the throne.

Second, the reference to the royal barque, equipped for service at a moment’s notice, illustrates the extreme mobility of Amenhotep’s court. Pharaoh and his entourage must have traveled frequently, whether for state ceremonies, tours of inspection, religious observances, or pleasure. Because the Nile was Egypt’s only real highway, royal progress would have been primarily waterborne.

Finally, the repeated references to horses and chariotry strongly suggests the presence throughout this excursion of an individual who is not named – Yuya, the king’s father-in-law, master of all military chariots in the realm. We can assume that Yuya kept a close eye on his royal charge throughout the hunting trip, ensuring the young king’s safety as well as his amusement.

The third scarab series is the “King’s Lions,” which is the most numerous, and possibly therefore the most significant to its author. This one survives in 123 copies, and it sums up a longer span of time than any of the others. Yet its text is the briefest of all. After a standard recitation of the king’s titles, and a simple mention of Queen Tiyi, it states:

The King’s Lions, Year 1 through Year 10

The number of lions taken by the arrows of His Majesty, from Year 1 down to Year 10: fierce lions, 102.

We are reminded of the big-game safaris of 1930s Africa, undertaken by thrill-seekers and chronicled by the like of Ernest Hemingway. Colonials in sweaty khaki, armed with powerful rifles and served by scores of native huntsmen, heaped up carcasses of big predators as trophies to their manhood – even though their personal contribution to the effort might be exiguous. The scarab’s text implies that royal lion-hunting parties happened once a year at the appropriate season. As with the wild bull hunt of Year 2, we can guess that the king’s impressive kill rate was guaranteed by the efforts of his servants. At least young Amenhotep’s prowess is not purported to surpass that of Thutmose III, who is said to have slain “seven lions in a single hour” – a rate that would easily amass thousands of dead beasts over a decade. Still, the “Wild Bull Hunt” and the “King’s Lions” scarabs offer a vivid gauge of the level of naive egotism that must have characterized this boy-king.

The fourth series is the “Naharina Wedding,” which records the arrival in Egypt of Kilukhipa, daughter of Shuttarna, the Great King of Mitanni (in the Egyptian language, Naharina). This marriage transaction was concluded in Year 10, further cementing the relationship between Egypt and her principal ally in West Asia. Like the “Wild Bull Hunt,” the “Naharina Wedding” scarab is relatively rare, with only five examples surviving. After reciting the fivefold titulary of Amenhotep III, the text continues:

The Naharina Wedding in Year 10

. . The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nebma’atra, the Son of Ra, Amenhotep, Lord of Thebes, given life! Great Royal Wife Tiyi, may she live! Her father’s name is Yuya, her mother’s name is Tjuyu. The wonders that were brought to His Majesty, to whom life, prosperity, and health!

Kilukhipa, daughter of Shuttarna the ruler of Naharina, and the chief women of her harem, to the number of 317.

We can imagine that the princess arrived in Egypt with great pomp, appearing in a procession with all of her ladies bedecked in gold and jewels. What happened to her after she entered the harem of Amenhotep is unknown. The Amarna Letters indicate that she was still living at the end of her husband’s reign. Whether she bore him any children, and when she died, are facts left unrecorded. Given the importance of the alliance between Egypt and Mitanni, it is safe to assume that Kilukhipa spent her life in opulent circumstances in one or another of the Egyptian harem-palaces, presiding over a sort of Mitanni-in-exile populated by the ladies of her numerous retinue.

The fifth scarab series focuses on “Tiyi’s Lake,” its construction and dedication in a religious ritual. This series carries the latest and most precise date of any in the group – the middle of the third month of the Season of Inundation in Year 11 – suggesting that it might record the occasion when the entire collection of scarabs was distributed. It survives in eleven copies. After reciting the date and the names and titles of the king and queen (but not of the queen’s parents), the text continues:

The Opening of Tiyi’s Lake in Year 11

His Majesty commanded the making of a lake for the Great Royal Wife Tiyi in her town-quarter of Djarukha. Its length is 3700 cubits, its breadth is 600 cubits.

On day 16 of the third month of the Season of Inundation, His Majesty made a festival of opening the lake, upon which His Majesty was conveyed in the royal barque Atan-Tjahan, “The Dazzling Orb of the Sun.”

This text is almost as evocative as the Wild Bull Hunt. Once again we receive the impression of a splendid pageant starring the young king, who appears in glory amid a throng of retainers. Once again we hear of a royal barque, this time named Atan-Tjahan or “The Dazzling Aten” (itn Thn), an epithet that foretells the steady rise of Atenist devotion over the next 40 years. As in other scarabs, we see concrete evidence of pharaoh’s bond with Tiyi, this time in a gesture of unusual extravagance. Clearly her prominence has grown steadily through a decade of marriage, and this despite the recent addition of an exotic foreign princess to the king’s harem. Not only does Tiyi possess an estate in her own right; her husband has just increased its value with an irrigation project that both sanctifies and fertilizes the land.

So opulent a water party is an obvious precursor to the hab-sad festivals that Amenhotep would celebrate 20 years later. In Year 11, as in the jubilees of Year 30 through Year 37, pharaoh is a lavish host who delights in waterworks and boating, demonstrating his royal divinity in a display of unparalleled richness.

Figure F-11 A young woman carries a blue lotus, symbol of sexual desire, while sailing on a sacred barque. This sculpture was discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun, grandson of Amenhotep III, and stylistically it belongs to the later Amarna period. However, both its subject matter and its elegance recall the splendors of Queen Tiyi’s water party in Year 11.

We can now begin to assess the significance of the scarab series as a whole. The events that they record seem, at our present remove, to comprise a very mixed bag. From a puerile bull-hunting adventure to a state marriage to a sacred ceremony upon an artificial lake, we have difficulty discerning any common denominator.

Does this collection simply record all important events of pharaoh’s first decade of rule? Many earlier Egyptologists have concluded as much. But if this is the case, we are missing a few key scarabs. The Nubian campaign of Year 5 is precisely the sort of event that Egyptian rulers loved to commemorate – indeed, the Boundary Scarab itself provides direct evidence of Amenhotep’s pride in the extent and the stability of his borders. But no surviving scarabs describe this military adventure. Further, we know that Amenhotep sponsored major architectural projects during his first decade, achievements of which he would later boast. Again, these undertakings are absent from the scarab series.

Therefore, if this collection originally did memorialize all the “wonders” of the king’s early reign, then the accidents of archaeological survival have deprived us of major components of the record. Otherwise we would possess scarabs chronicling the Nubian War and describing the early temple projects in Thebes and elsewhere.

Alternatively, could the common denominator in this collection be Tiyi herself? Unfortunately, such an interpretation also seems flawed. Although all the scarabs name her, only two – the “Boundary Scarab” and “Tiyi’s Lake” – pertain directly to her situation. It seems quite a stretch to imagine that the “Wild Bull Hunt,” “King’s Lions,” and “Naharina Wedding” scarabs were somehow intended as tributes to her greatness, or that their events involved her in any but a peripheral role.

If not Tiyi, then what about Yuya? Indeed, much supports this view. Yuya is named twice in the collection, against all tradition – once in the “Boundary Scarab” and once in the “Naharina Wedding.” Since he plainly arranged the king’s nuptials with Tiyi (which are implied, if not announced, in the Boundary Scarab) , perhaps we should conclude that he also negotiated the crucial marriage alliance with Naharina. In any event, Yuya’s presence is implied in the remaining three series, as Master of the Horse in the hunting scarabs and as father of the bride in Queen Tiyi’s Lake. Yuya seems to be the only individual whose role in the events of all five scarabs is as central as pharaoh’s.

Against this appealing solution, however, stand some of the objections raised earlier. If Yuya was a major player in the events of the hunting parties, he would likely have been involved in the Nubian campaign of Year 5 – especially since pharaoh was no older than 14 at the time. Yet this campaign went unmentioned.

As a consequence, then, we can offer no fully convincing explanation for the scarab series. Still, they can be understood today as a chronicle of the boy-king’s education, beginning with his childish delight in hunting adventures, continuing with his exercises in weapons and chariotry, his participation in international alliances, and his sponsorship of the most sublime public pageantry, to conclude at the moment when young Nebma’atra Amenhotep if fully revealed as a divine ruler in the classic mold.

We can make a few additional inferences about the historical context of the scarabs. First, they were distributed no earlier than the inundation season of Year 11, and not long afterward (otherwise we would hear of lion hunts occurring later than Year 10). Second, their distribution occurred at a major ceremony, as did all mass gift-giving in the royal court. Third, the raison d’etre for such a ceremony bore some relation to the chronology of Amenhotep’s life. The little prince who ascended the Egyptian throne aged 8 or 9 was by now a grown man of 19 or 20. He was implicitly or explicitly declaring his majority as pharaoh in a retrospective of royal wonders. The scarabs would have been distributed as marks of favor to the guests at this ceremony, perhaps on the basis of their contributions to the events recalled, or perhaps in proportion to the esteem in which Amenhotep currently held them.

Our most economical guess as to the identity of this reward ceremony would be the lake festival of Year 11. Unlike any other known event of pharaoh’s early reign, the pageantry of this festival placed special emphasis on Amenhotep’s role as a living god, towed like Ra or the Aten in a ceremonial barque. In addition to honoring Tiyi, such pageantry enabled Amenhotep to present himself to his courtiers as a great king in full control of his kingdom, both temporal and eternal.

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the ideology of divine kingship

The lake festival of Year 11 offers a brief but significant glimpse into an ideological current that flowed from the beginning of the reign of Amenhotep through the end of the reign of his son, Akhenaten. This ideology is divine kingship, which characterized Egyptian culture from the earliest days, but which expanded considerably in scope under the attentions of Amenhotep III and his courtiers.

Since the Fourth Dynasty, when the Giza pyramids and the Great Sphinx were built, pharaoh had been regarded as the son and living incarnation of the sun-god, Ra (who was also identified as falcon-headed Haru or Horus). Each pharaoh was simultaneously the reincarnation of his predecessor and the earthly manifestation of one changeless deity. The Two Lands of Egypt were therefore an earthly paradise, benefiting from the infallible, unending rule of a single immortal god.

Such at least was the ideology. How seriously these principles were taken in institutional and artistic terms varied considerably from dynasty to dynasty, and even from reign to reign.

At the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, for example, pharaohs for the first time identified themselves with Osiris (Usir), god of the afterlife, as well as with Ra and Haru, gods of the sun. This move had the practical effect of making kingship less dependent for its legitimation on any one cult. Simultaneously, the Theban deity Amun was elevated from a purely local status to the rank of the great gods of antiquity. Amun became fused with Ra as Amun-Ra, and he too was understood as the father of pharaoh. The notion that one individual could have more than one father, an impermissible violation of Aristotelian logic, caused no qualms for Egyptian theologians (any more than did the implication that pharaoh, as incarnation of the sun-god Haru, was also Osiris, father of Haru). In Thebes, a splendid new shrine was built at Karnak in honor of Amun-Ra, becoming an essential setting for the confirmation and regeneration of divine kingship.

Yet within a few reigns, in a seeming contradiction to this program of divinization, the iconography of royal portraits began to stress the humanity of pharaoh – sometimes to the point of foregrounding worry lines and other signs of aging, as in the case of Sanusirat III (Senusert, Senwosret, Sesostris). Middle Kingdom literature confirms the notion that pharaoh, despite his divinity, was still subject to human frailty. Thus the ideology of kingship increased in nuance and complexity instead of assuming a monolithic form.

During the New Kingdom this ideology went into ever wider circulation, even as it became more insistent in its expression. The pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty, who like their Middle Kingdom forbears were based in Thebes, placed more emphasis than ever on the cult of Amun. The principal religious holiday in the Egyptian year became the Feast of Ipat-Sut (Opet, Ipet), which celebrated both Amun and the reigning king. This holiday fell in the second month of the Season of Inundation, and it grew in length and splendor over the generations. In the mid-Eighteenth Dynasty, the Feast of Ipat-Sut lasted 11 days. Within a few centuries, by the death of Ramesses III, it had extended to 27 days.

The basic ritual of the Ipat-Sut was straightforward: the chief priests took the golden cult image of Amun from the Holy of Holies at Karnak and placed it in a sacred barque or model boat, which was then carried in a colorful procession from the Temple of Karnak to a riverside shrine some distance to the south. This so-called Barque Procession was the public side of the Ipat-Sut. The chanting priests who carried the sacred barque were surrounded by clouds of the most fragrant incense and accompanied by troups of musicians and dancers. Crowds of worshipers gathered for the excitement and revelry, aware that at any moment the god might choose to perform a miracle.

Then, in the ritual secrecy of the southern shrine, Amun and the reigning pharaoh were supernaturally reunified, just as they had been on the day of the royal coronation. Afterward the revitalized king emerged to present himself to his subjects amid great acclaim.

After passing several days in the southern shrine, while pharaoh feasted with his subjects, the sacred barque was carried back to the Holy of Holies at Karnak. More revelry and ceremonial ensued along the way. Finally, the cult image was reinstalled in the Great Temple and the holiday concluded.

Figure F-12. Djasr-Djasru, the funerary temple of Hatshepsut in Western Thebes.

Hatshepsut, the female pharaoh, eclipsed her Eighteenth Dynasty predecessors in attempting to identify herself with her holy father Amun – probably to compensate for her inappropriate gender. Not only did she celebrate the Feast of Ipat-Sut with unprecedented splendor; she raised spectacular obelisks, some of the tallest ever carved, in honor of Amun, and she built an enormous and beautiful funerary temple directly across the Nile from Karnak, naming it Djasr-Djasru, “Holy of Holies.”

Painted reliefs in the middle portico of the Djasr-Djasru include scenes detailing Hatshepsut’s divine birth. We see the god Djahuti (Thoth) leading her mother, Queen Ahmasi, to the palace of Amun. Amun embraces Ahmasi, whereupon she is immediately escorted (so potent is the divine seed) to the birth chamber. There the newborn Hatshepsut is suckled by various divinities, and finally she is formally presented as pharaoh to the great gods. Adjacent reliefs depict her coronation and presentation to the courtiers and officials of her earthly father, Thutmose I. Hatshepsut was clearly appealing for legitimacy by associating herself as closely as possible with Amun. Indeed, these reliefs in the Djasr-Djasru are the earliest surviving depiction of a divine birth.

Hatshepsut’s conventional piety did not save her from damnatio memoriae (“cursing of the memory”) at the hands of her successors. After her death, her monuments were officially defaced and her name was deleted from the king-lists, all because a woman had dared to make herself pharaoh.

Her immediate successor, Thutmose III, continued the program of divine kingship while diversifying its expression. Thutmose doubled the area of the Temple of Karnak with the construction of his so-called Festival Hall, which he used to celebrate a hab-sad after reigning for 30 years. The decoration of the Festival Hall identifies pharaoh with Osiris, Sakar (another underworld deity), Amun, the solar gods, and the royal ancestors. Because the purpose of the hab-sad was to rejuvenate the king and reconfirm his divinity, this decorative scheme apparently indicates that the Festival Hall itself was the site of the mystical renewal. It also suggests that a whole range of divinities reinvested the king with their immortal energies, and not just one. (See Kemp 202-203.)

The next ruler to significantly develop the ideology of divine kingship was Amenhotep III. We have already addressed his lake festival of Year 11, in which he played the role of the sun-god come down to earth. A few years later he made another key ideological statement, this time by building the Temple of Luxor in Thebes, a short distance south of the Temple of Karnak. According to Barry Kemp, Luxor Temple was intended as a setting for the culminating rites of the Feast of Ipat-Sut (Kemp 206). In its innermost chambers, “in a charged incense-laden atmosphere and the presence of the god Amun . . . the king and his ka were merged,” so that when pharaoh eventually reappeared in the sunlight, “he did so miraculously transformed into a divine being, ‘Foremost of Living Kas‘ ” &nbsp (Kemp 208).

Erected on the site of an earlier temple of Hatshepsut, Amenhotep’s temple contains inscribed reliefs that reproduce almost word-for-word the account of Hatshepsut’s divine birth from her mortuary temple. The major change here is the replacement of Hatshepsut’s name by that of Nebma’atra Amenhotep. (The fact that Hatshepsut’s inscriptions were still visible during Amenhotep’s reign makes it obvious that the damnatio memoriae was unsuccessful – clearly this female king was still remembered almost a century after her death.)

Figure 13. The colonnade of the Temple of Luxor, which was begun during the last decade of Amenhotep III but not completed until the reign of his grandson Tutankhamun. Each pillar takes the form of a blossoming papyrus flower.

Of all the monuments that Amenhotep erected during his long reign, Luxor was surely one of the most important to him. He enlarged and embellished it in stages over the remainder of his life, eventually leaving a beautiful papyriform colonnade to be completed by his grandson, Tutankhamun. Until the period of his own hab-sad celebrations, beginning in Year 30, Luxor Temple was the setting of choice for the ceremonies of divine kingship. It was a sacred place that Amenhotep visited annually, rather like a comic-book superhero, to recharge his supernatural powers. Although he increasingly incorporated solar deities into his program of personal divinity, especially during the hab-sad period, Amenhotep always kept his primary focus on Amun, just as Hatshepsut had done.


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All text is copyright Raymond Harris, 2004-2006, and may be linked or quoted with credit to the author. Image rights are held by individual or institutional owners, as described in the List of Images. Images are displayed on these pages for purely educational purposes.