The New Kingdom reached its peak under strong pharaohs that led Egypt into war and helped bring a renaissance in art and architecture that had declined in the second intermediate period. Mark Millmore wrote in during the 18th Dynasty “a succession of extraordinarily able kings and queens laid the foundations of a strong Egypt and bequeathed a prosperous economy to the kings of the nineteenth dynasty. Ahmose expelled the Hyksos, Thutmose I’s conquered the Near East and Nubia; Queen Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III, who made Egypt into the first super power; the magnificent Amenhotep III, who began an artistic revolution; Akhenaton and Nefertiti, who began a religious revolution by adopting the concept of one god; and finally, Tutankhamen, who has become so famous in our modern age.” [Source: Mark Millmore,]

Karnak King List Drawing 1

New Kingdom
ca. 1550–1070 B.C.
Dynasty 18, ca. 1550–1295 B.C.
Ahmose: ca. 1550–1525 B.C.
Amenhotep I: ca. 1525–1504 B.C.
Thutmose I: ca. 1504–1492 B.C.
Thutmose II: ca. 1492–1479 B.C.
Thutmose III: ca. 1479–1425 B.C.
Hatshepsut (as regent): ca. 1479–1473 B.C.
Hatshepsut: ca. 1473–1458 B.C.
Amenhotep II: ca. 1427–1400 B.C.
Thutmose IV: ca. 1400–1390 B.C.
Amenhotep III: ca. 1390–1352 B.C.
Amenhotep IV: ca. 1353–1349 B.C.
Akhenaten: ca. 1349–1336 B.C.
Neferneferuaton: ca. 1338–1336 B.C.
Smenkhkare: ca. 1336 B.C.
Tutankhamun: ca. 1336–1327 B.C.
Aya: ca. 1327–1323 B.C.
Haremhab: ca. 1323–1295 B.C.
[Source: Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2002]

Dynasty 19, ca. 1295–1186 B.C.
Ramesses I: ca. 1295–1294 B.C.
Seti I: ca. 1294–1279 B.C.
Ramesses II: ca. 1279–1213 B.C.
Merneptah: ca. 1213–1203 B.C.
Amenmesse: ca. 1203–1200 B.C.
Seti II: ca. 1200–1194 B.C.
Siptah: ca. 1194–1188 B.C.
Tawosret: ca. 1188–1186 B.C.

Karnak King List drawing 3

Dynasty 20, ca. 1186–1070 B.C.
Sethnakht: ca. 1186–1184 B.C.
Ramesses III: ca. 1184–1153 B.C.
Ramesses IV: ca. 1153–1147 B.C.
Ramesses V: ca. 1147–1143 B.C.
Ramesses VI: ca. 1143–1136 B.C.
Ramesses VII: ca. 1136–1129 B.C.
Ramesses VIII: ca. 1129–1126 B.C.
Ramesses IX: ca. 1126–1108 B.C.
Ramesses X: ca. 1108–1099 B.C.
Ramesses XI: ca. 1099–1070 B.C.
Hight Priests (HP) of Amun ca. 1080–1070 B.C.
HP Herihor: ca. 1080–1074 B.C.
HP Paiankh: ca. 1074–1070 B.C.


Categories with related articles in this website: Ancient Egyptian History (32 articles); Ancient Egyptian Religion (24 articles); Ancient Egyptian Life and Culture (36 articles); Ancient Egyptian Government, Infrastructure and Economics (24 articles)

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Discovering Egypt; BBC History: Egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt; Egypt’s Golden Empire; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt; Ancient Egypt Magazine; Egypt Exploration Society ; Amarna Project; Egyptian Study Society, Denver; The Ancient Egypt Site; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East; Egyptology Resources

Ahmose I (1550–1525 B.C.)

Ahmose (1550-1525 B.C.) is something of a hero in ancient Egyptian history. He founded the 18th dynasty and reunited Egypt after a long period of foreign domination. He defeated the Hyksos and drove them from Egypt, and reunified Egypt and set the stage for expansion into Africa and the Middle East.

Ahmose built a number of monuments in Abydos, including the last royal pyramid and a structure with scenes from Ahmose’s battle victories. He is believed to have been the first Pharaoh to be buried in the Valley of the Kings, launching a tradition that would endure for four centuries.

According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “Ahmose I, (also known as Amosis I) was the first king of the 18th Dynasty and ruled for an estimated 26 years. After becoming Pharaoh he fought in the final battle to expel the Hyksos from Egypt. He then followed the Hyksos to Palestine where he defeated them which marked the beginning of the New Kingdom. Ahmose I led campaigns to solidify the border in Syria in order to keep out a possible invasion from Nubia. Among the many other things he did, Ahmose I may be best known for starting many building projects such as temples. He was buried near Dra Abu el-Naga in the Theben necropolis.” [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, +]

Aahotep, the mother of King Ahmose I, was a military leader. She received the “Golden Flies” awarded to soldiers who fought courageously. When Ahmose died, his son Amenhotep became pharaoh. When he failed to produce a son, a military leader named Thutmose I was installed as Pharaoh because he was considered strong and had married a princess.

Thutmose I (1525-1512 B.C.)

Thutmose I mummy
When Ahmose died, his son Amenhotep became pharaoh but he left no male heirs. Thutmose I, a commoner and army general, became king by marrying Amenhotep’s sister Nefertiri. Thutmose I was a strong pharaoh, As the skilled commander of a large professional army, he conquered Nubia in the south and advanced as far as the Euphrates River in the north; the farthest any pharaoh had gone up to that time. He erected two large obelisks at Karnak Temple and began the tradition of royal burials in the Valley of the Kings.

Thutmose I was considered a charismatic leader and effective and cruel military campaigner. He once sailed into Thebes with the naked body of a rebellious Nubian chieftain dangling from the prow of his ship. According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “ One of these great pharaohs of the New Kingdom was Thuthmosis I. Thuthmosis I was the third pharaoh in the 18th dynasty (the first dynasty of the New Kingdom). He ruled from 1525-1512 B.C. and proved to be a capable leader and general. He held the borders that he inherited against the Mitanni people, and was not afraid to do so himself. Although Thuthmosis I has a reputation as a military leader, his greatest achievement was the creation of the Valley of the Kings. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, +]

“Thutmose I was the Pharaoh who inaugurated the tradition of burial in the Valley of the Kings. He rose to power due to the premature death of Amenophis I's son, Amenemmes, and his was marriage to Amenophis I's sister. Thutmose I extended the Egyptian control to the island of Argo at the third cataract, where he built the fortress of Tombos. He was able to leave an inscription at Argo on what is known as the Tombos Stele, describing an empire that extended from the third cataract to the Euphrates River. He was the father of Thutmose II and Hatshesut. Hatshesut, the only female Pharaoh, dressed in men's clothes and she was always depicted as a man in arts. +\

“The Valley of the Kings was built by Thuthmosis I to battle against the problem of grave robbers. Many less pious Egyptians found out that the pyramids and temples that housed the mummies of the pharaohs contained riches and robbing them proved to be quite lucrative. Thuthmosis I undertook the monumental task of building the valley burial sites on the West Bank of the Nile river by creating a whole village to house the thousands of construction workers. Most of the workers at the Valley of the Kings were literate and their city was named Deir el-Medina. Thuthmosis himself was buried in the Valley of the Kings, but parts of his tomb were robbed. Although despoiled, in his tomb was found a definite version of the book of What is in the Underworld.. The book is a collection of funerary texts that started in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.). +\

“Thuthmosis I may not be remembered as well as Kufu the pyramid builder or Ramesses II the military leader, but he is still no doubt important to ancient Egyptian history. His major contribution comes in the creation of the Valley of the Kings, a network of tombs that would help preserve ancient Egyptian history for modern Egyptologists to discover.” +\

Thutmose II (d. 1503 B.C.)

Thutmose II mummy

According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “Thutmose II was the King of Egypt during the 18th Dynasty. Scholars have differing opinions on the length of his reign, but it is known that he was the fourth Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, succeeding his father Thutmose I. His rule was relatively short and has been estimated to have been in charge from 1512 B.C. to 1503 B.C.. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, +]

“Thutmose II was married to Hatshepsut, who was his half-sister. Because his father, Thutmose I, had no sons with the royal queen, he had to marry one of her daughters. The practice of marrying within the family was common for the royal families of Egypt. It was done so they would not have to produce children with the blood of a commoner or to legitimize any heirs’ claim to the throne. This was the case with Thutmose II. This interbreeding was not always a good thing, however. Thutmose II was both physically and mentally weak and dominated by his wife and half-sister, Hatshepsut. This was probably a result of the practice of intermarrying. Pharaoh's often had other wives. This was the case with Thutmose II as well. He and a minor wife produced an heir to the throne named Thutmose III. +\

“Thutmose II preserved his father's (Thutmose I) empire with two campaigns. One of the campaigns crushed a revolt in Nubia in the first year of his reign. The other campaign was directed against the Shosu Bedouin of southern Palestine, which took him to Niy (later called Apamea and and now Qalat el-Mudikh) in the region of Nahrin. Hatshesut, the wife and sister of Thutmose II, is believed to have been the true ruler behind Thutmose II. +\

“Thutmose II is not known to have accomplished much during his reign. He is believed to have battled against the nomadic Bedouins and Nubians who rebelled against his rule. He also built a small funerary temple in western Thebes. Archaeologists have not been able to find or positively identify a tomb belonging to him, but his mummy was found reburied in the royal cache at Dayru I-Bahri in 1881. +\

“When he died, his son Thutmose III was too young to rule the throne and Hatshepsut took over as Regent until he was old enough. She even went so far as to dress in a false beard to legitimize her rule. Once Thutmose III was old enough to rule, she subdued him and tried to send him away. This was done so she could find a way to get her daughter Nefrure put in place as “King.” Both Hatshepsut and Nefrure died and it is not known how, but Thutmose III is believed to have been involved in their deaths. Thutmose III took over and ended Hatshepsut’s peaceful rule and mobilized the military. +\

Karnak Temple Under Thutmose I and II

Elaine Sullivan of UCLA wrote: ““The construction efforts of Thutmose I had a great impact on the arrangement of the temple for years to come. Scholars have generally attributed both the fourth and fifth pylons to the king, as well as a corresponding stone enclosure wall, which together still form the core area of the temple. Thutmose I originally lined the court of the fifth pylon with a portico of 16 fasciculated columns. By erecting the first pair of granite obelisks at Karnak in front of the fourth pylon (the temple’s main gate at the time), Thutmose began an association of obelisks with the god Amun-Ra that may have bolstered the divinity’s rising universality. His act was emulated and outperformed (with taller and larger obelisks) by a number of 18th and 19th Dynasty rulers. [Source: Elaine Sullivan, UCLA, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, ]

“Politically, Karnak took on new importance in the 18th Dynasty, as the pharaohs began to use the temple as a means of demonstrating their divinely ordained selection as king. The enhancements of Thutmose I highlight this change: among his contributions to the temple was the addition of a wadjet hall, where coronation rituals took place with the god Amun-Ra sanctioning the choice. The wadjet hall was originally an open-air court between the new fourth and fifth pylons of the king.

Thutmose I, copy of a relief at Deir el Bahar

“Thutmose II added a new pylon to the west of the old temple entrance (later torn down for the construction of the third pylon, so it does not figure in the pylon numbering system at Karnak), creating a large “festival court,” enclosing the obelisks of Thutmose I within the building, and establishing a new western gate to Karnak. Along the hall’s south side, a small pylon entrance led to the constructions along the temple’s southern axis. Gabolde has used blocks found in the third pylon to reconstruct the appearance of the inscribed doors, side walls, and small pylon of the court.

“Thutmose II commissioned a pair of red granite obelisks, inscribed fragments of which have been found at Karnak, presumably for placement in his new hall. Gabolde has reconstructed (on paper) one of these monoliths. The preserved inscriptions of the king show that the monument originally belonged to him, but that he must have died before it could be completed and raised, as Hatshepsut added her own inscription, with a dedication to her father, Thutmose I. Two socles found subsumed by the third pylon and its gate likely mark the location of these obelisks .

“Tura limestone blocks probably recovered from the “cachette court” provide evidence that Thutmose II had constructed a two- roomed bark-shrine for the temple, similar in form to the later “Red Chapel” of Hatshepsut. The bark shrine may have stood in the future location of the Red Chapel, in front of the Senusret I temple, or it may have been positioned in the new “festival court” of the king. The chronology of its destruction is not defined, but modified inscriptions show it must have been dismantled between the ascension of Hatshepsut to the kingship and her proscription at the end of the reign of Thutmose III.

“A painted scene from the Theban tomb of Neferhotep (TT 49) implies that at some time in the 18th Dynasty, a giant T-shaped basin connected to the Nile by a canal was cut on the west side of the temple. A rectangular quay is depicted as flanking its eastern edge. If the basin was located in the vicinity of the later second pylon, as Michel Gitton suggested in his reconstruction of Karnak in the reign of Hatshepsut, the Nile must have shifted westward from its location in the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1640 B.C.). It is perhaps this shift that allowed the westward expansion of the temple in the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.). The presence of a canal and basin may equally have limited further movement of the temple west at this time.”

Thutmose IV (1426-1415 B.C.)

Couple and child, made in the reign of Thutmose IV

According to to one story, about 1400 B.C., when Thutmose IV was a prince he fell asleep under the Sphinx's chin and had a dream that someday he would free the statue from the sand. When he became Pharaoh he covered the Sphinx with limestone blocks, added the masonry forelegs and painted it yellow, blue and red. He placed a statue of his father — and a red granite stela with the story of his dream — on the Sphinx's chest. In the time of Thutmose IV the Sphinx was as ancient as Chatres cathedral is to us today. Ramses the Great later reworked the statue, added two more stelae and scratched in his name (and probably erased the name of Thumose's father). Thutmose IV expelled Mesopotamian invaders known as Mitanni. He may have killed his brother to claim the throne.

Joel R. Siebring of Minnesota State University, Mankato wrote: “The father of Thutmose IV was Amenhotep II and his mother was Queen Tio. His wife was the daughter of the Mitannian King, Artatama. She was given the Egyptian name of Mutemuya and became the mother of Amenhotep III, the next king of Egypt. It is believe that Thutmose IV was not the first in line for the throne. He had an older brother that met an early end before he got to the throne. This is based upon a written story found about a dream that Thutmose IV had of the great sphinx of Giza telling him how one day he would be king. [Source: Joel R. Siebring ,Minnesota State University, Mankato, +]

“As a young prince, Thutmose IV served in the northern army corps at Memphis. Thutmose IV lead a army unit known as ‘Menkheprure, Destroyer of Syria’, and as pharaoh at this time period holds the position of Commander-in –Chief of the Army. Thutmose IV also fought a war in Nubia from which Egypt received a great deal of wealth. He made treaties with neighboring countries such as Babylonia that ushered in an era of peace and political stability lasting through the reign of his son Amenhotep III. +\

“Thutmose IV is known for being the first king in battle on a chariot against foreign enemies. He followed in his father's footsteps by freeing the Sphinx from its sand tomb. He held his grandfather, Thutmose III, in respect and completed the obelisk planned by him. Thutmose IV was found in a small additional room between the sepulchral hall and the antechamber in the Valley of the Kings.” +\

An inscription on "A Syrian Captive Colony" under Thothmosis IV from the 14th century B.C. reads: “The settlement of the fortification of Men-khepru-Re (Thothmosis IV) with the Syrians (=Kharu) [of] his majesty's capturing in the town of Gez[er].” [Source: James B. Pritchard, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts,” Princeton, 1969, ANET., pp. 248.]

Amenhotep III (1390–1352 B.C.)

20120211-Amenhotep III  Colossal.jpg
Amenhotep III Colossal
Amenhotep III(1390-1353 B.C. ) ruled for 38 years during a period of relative peace and prosperity . He built the Colossi of Memnon and the Mortuary of Amenhotep III and spent a lot of time hunting. One commemorative scarab said he killed “102 fearful lions” during the first 11 years of his rule. [Source: Andrew Lawler, Smithsonian magazine, November 2007]

Amenhotep III controlled a rich empire stretching 1,200 miles from the Euphrates in the north to the Fourth Cataract of the Nile in the south. Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic, “Along with his powerful queen Tiye, he worshipped the gods of his ancestors, above all Amun, while his people prosper and vast wealth flows into the royal coffers from Egypt's foreign holdings.”[Source: Zahi Hawass, National Geographic, September 2010]

Dr Kate Spence of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC: The reign of Amenhotep III was “long and prosperous with international diplomacy largely replacing the relentless military campaigning of his predecessors. The reign culminated in a series of magnificent jubilee pageants celebrated in Thebes (modern Luxor), the religious capital of Egypt at the time and home to the state god Amun-Re.” [Source: Dr Kate Spence, BBC, February 17, 2011]

Amenhotep III came to the throne as a teenager after the death of his warrior father Thutmose IV. He chose to spend much of his time in Thebes (Luxor) rather than Memphis, where most of the other pharaohs spent their time . After quelling an uprising in Nubia he chopped off the arms of 312 enemies but was more restrained and diplomatic during most of his rule. His principal wife Tiye by various accounts was a Nubian, a commoner or from a noble Egyptian family. His harem included women from rival powers such as Babylon and Mitanni. Queen Tiye (1390-1349) was deeply involved in politics. She abdicated when the king died and made a living as a goddess.

Amenhotep III went through great lengths to maintain peace. He wrote conciliatory letters to Mesopotamian leaders and established trade relations throughout the Mediterranean, Western Asia and Africa. The main resource that Egypt had to trade was gold. An envious Assyrian king wrote, “Gold in your country is dirt: one simply gathers it up.” With the wealth that his kingdom accumulated Amenhotep III built temples from the Nile Delta to Nubia 1,200 kilometers to the south. He expanded the temples at Karnak and Luxor and built a great mortuary temple for himself. Art and sculpture with an eye for detail and craft were produced.

Some have said that Amenhotep III was the source of Akhenaten’s monotheism. He named his royal boat and a Thebean palace Aten (the word that Akhenaten would use for his single god) and in some inscription mentioned Aten and no other gods. However Amenhotep III principal object of worship was Amun-Ra a combination of the main Thebean god and the sun god. He claimed that Amun disguised as his father entered Amenhotep III’s mother’s bedchamber before his birth and thus was his father, asserting that he was the most divine Pharaoh that had ever existed.

Amenhotep III’s Reign

Quartzite head of Amenhotep III

Mark Millmore wrote in “Amenhotep III was the great grandson of Thutmose III. He reigned for almost forty years at a time when Egypt was at the peak of her glory. He lived a life of pleasure, building huge temples and statues. He was incredibly rich and his palace at Thebes was the most opulent of the ancient world. With stable international trade and a plentiful supply of gold from the mines, the economy of Egypt was booming. This great wealth led to an outpouring of artistic talent and Amenhotep was the driving force behind this activity. Much credit must also go to the king’s scribe, overseer, and architect, Amenhotep, son of Hapu, who was so highly thought of by the king that he was rewarded with his own mortuary temple. [Source: Mark Millmore, ^^^]

“In the early years of his reign, Amenhotep was a vigorous young man who enjoyed sport and hunting. In his fifth year as king, he led an expedition to Nubia to put down a rebellion, but there was no need for military activity for the remainder of his reign. Amenhotep favored peaceful pursuits over war—although he wasn’t averse to adopting grandiose names, at one point describing himself as “Great of strength who smites the Asiatics.” ^^^

“As he aged, Amenhotep grew fat and suffered ill health. His mummy shows that he endured painful dental problems. There is even a record of one of his allies, king Tushratta of Mitanni, sending him a statue of the goddess Ishtar for its healing properties. Amenhotep began restricting the power of the priests of Amun by recognizing other cults. One of these was a special form of the god Ra known as the Aten. It was this deity which Amenhotep’s son, Akhenaton, was to promote as the one and only true god, causing trouble within Egyptian society over the next generation. Amenhotep’s greatest legacy was his high standard of artistic and architectural achievement. This sophisticated and refined taste in art permeated Egyptian society and is manifest in the tombs of high officials such as Ramose and Khaemhet. He set the stage for Akhenaton’s unique style and left some of the finest monuments in Egypt. Amenhotep truly deserves the title “the Magnificent.”“ ^^^

Amenhotep III’s Rule

20120211-Amenhotep_III releif.jpg
Amenhotep III relief
Amenhotep III ruled Egypt from 1391 to 1353 B.C. He ruled an Egypt that stretched from the Nile Delta all the way southward to what is now known as the Sudan. Except for a brief and triumphant campaign in Nubia in his teens, when he was said to have come down on his enemies like a falcon upon its prey, he never went to war, nor saw any reason to do so. In governmental terms, his situation was ideal. His was an Egypt in which harvests were superabundant and nobody ever went hungry. Virtually limitless supplies of gold from Nubia relieved him of all financial problems. The word "deficit" was never heard. Harbor patrols and construction work were the main activities of his large standing army.

Dr Kate Spence of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC: The reign of Amenhotep III was “long and prosperous with international diplomacy largely replacing the relentless military campaigning of his predecessors. The reign culminated in a series of magnificent jubilee pageants celebrated in Thebes (modern Luxor), the religious capital of Egypt at the time and home to the state god Amun-Re.” [Source: Dr Kate Spence, BBC, February 17, 2011]

Foreign policy was a matter of unhurrying diplomacy and well-crafted matrimonial moves. Amenhotep III knew how to delegate, and he was surrounded by brilliant, dedicated and incorruptible professionals who gave the notion of bureaucracy a shine that it has long since lost. Thor, the god of writing, was held in honor at his court, the activities of which are documented to a quite exceptional degree.

In his 30's, Amenhotep III staged a series of ritual banquets on a more than Rabelaisian scale. (To gnaw at a bone as long as one's arm was not thought to be anything unusual.) But the life style that we find recorded in the Cleveland show is primarily one in which hard work, probity and inspired statecraft go hand in hand with an eye to the universality of the king who was also a god.

Amenhotep III and the Arts

Amenhotep III and Sobek, god of the Nile

Mark Millmore wrote in “Amenhotep’s patronage of the arts set new standards of quality and realism in representation. His building works can be found all over Egypt. Many of the finest statues in Egyptian art, attributed to Ramses II, were actually made by Amenhotep III. (Ramses II simply removed Amenhotep’s name and replaced it with his own.) One of Amenhotep’s greatest surviving achievements is the Temple of Luxor on the east bank of the river. Unfortunately, his mortuary temple, the largest of its kind ever built, was destroyed when Ramses II used it as a quarry for his own temple. Only the two colossal statues that stood at the entrance survive. [Source: Mark Millmore,]

In the early 1990s the the Cleveland Museum of Art hosted an exhibition called "Egypt's Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III and His World." On the show John, “The show cannot of course include the enormous building projects on which Amenhotep III gave so much of his time. (For that matter, nobody today can see them, because his immediate successors took a delight in destroying or disfiguring them.) But we remember portraits in stone of human beings of every kind and station. We also remember lions, rams, sphinxes and scribes. With them come reliefs, household objects and spectacular pieces of jewelry. This was a moment in Egyptian history when all went well. [Source: John Russell, New York Times, July 12, 1992]

His interests and his character would seem to have been formed by the time that he came to the throne as a mere boy. For instance, there is in the present show a sunken relief that shows him, at around 12 or 14, in the act of opening new limestone quarries at Tura, not far from Cairo. It was in Tura that the facing stones for the great pyramids in Giza and Sakkara had been quarried. Amenhotep III in later life was to be a great connoisseur of Egyptian stones, hard and soft, in all their variety. Nor did anyone ever put those stones to more eloquent use. So there is something as apt as it is touching about the gesture of the slender and limber boy king as he swings his left arm across his body to sprinkle the ritual incense.

Later statues of the king were sometimes as much as 25 feet high. A colossal head of Amenhotep III, more than seven feet high, sits in the museum in Luxor. Are we awed by the head? Of course we are, and not least by the gleaming actuality with which a likeness of living flesh has been wrested from one of the hardest and least amenable of all stones. To that end, a whole team of master craftsmen contributed.

Viewers attuned to the gaudy attractions of the Tutankhamen tomb may find the art produced under Amenhotep III lacking in panache. Others, bemused by the brutish and dictatorial bearing of the art and the architecture that they associate with Ramses II, who ruled roughly a century later, may find too much tenderness in the art of Amenhotep III.

Amenhotep III’s Family and Private Life

Mark Millmore wrote in “Indulging himself in all the pleasures, extravagances, and luxuries of life were his priorities. He had a large harem that included foreign princesses, though the great love of his life was his queen, Tiy, whom he had married before becoming king. She was a commoner, which was unusual for a chief wife. While most royal marriages were politically motivated, Amenhotep’s marriage to Tiy seems to have been motivated by genuine feeling. He made her a lake 3,600 cubits long by 600 cubits wide (about a one mile 1.6Km in length) in her town of T’aru. He then held a festival on the lake, during which he and Tiy sailed a boat called the Disk of Beauties. [Source: Mark Millmore, ^^^]

“Tiy gave birth to six children: four daughters and two sons. The eldest boy, Thutmose, became a priest and is thought to have begun the tradition of burying the mummified Apis bull, which was believed to be the incarnation of the god Ptah. Unfortunately, Prince Thutmose died, and his brother, the future Akhenaton, ascended the throne.” ^^^

20120211-Queen_Tiye with_her_husband_Amenhotep_III.JPG
Queen Tiye,
wife of Amenhotep
Russell wrote in the New York Times that Amenhotep III’s art “was an art that excelled as much in intimacy as in the grand public gesture. His favorite wife, Queen Tiy, was a paragon of good looks who came from more or less nowhere, in social terms, but was in every other way her husband's equal. In time, she ranked with him not only as a ruler but also as a goddess, and her husband built a temple to her in northern Sudan. [Source: John Russell, New York Times, July 12, 1992]

The portraits of Queen the portraits of her daughters, have an immediacy and a freedom from formula that seem to have disconcerted earlier generations and contributed to the fact that the art of Amenhotep III and his world has not always been highly esteemed. As recently as 1956, two German art historians castigated Amenhotep III for what they called "his emphasis on his private life, unparalleled in earlier times." In their view, he was "diverted from his highest political duty" by "an excessive desire to build and an ever-increasing search to free his personality."

For this critic, at any rate, few rulers have been more faithful to their "highest political duty" than Amenhotep III. As for the emphasis on his private life, it is one of the most endearing features of the Cleveland show — and not least in the reconstruction of the royal bedroom, with its wealth of household objects and apparatus of discreet luxury.

It is the virtue of the period (from our point of view) that it wrought very small marvels as well as huge ones. The perfume bottles, the spoons, the combs, the tubes for eye paint, the matrimonial ointment flask (inscribed to both spouses, by name), the ear studs, the bracelets, the cabochon finger ring, the three-handled perfume jar, the painted wooden box with its gabled lid — all combine as much to amuse as to seduce.

There are also one-of-a-kind pieces like the wonderfully sprightly little figure of a European spoonbill that came from the royal palace in Thebes. To the connoisseur of miniaturization I commend above all the bright yellow ceramic figure of a swimming duck that measures no more than a fraction of an inch in any direction and is yet most vividly alive. But it is in the portrayal of the human figure — whether prince or princess, civil servant or seated scribe — that this art is consistently sublime. It is not as the victims of established formula that these people confront us, but as free-spirited individuals.

Colossi of Memnon

20120211-Amenhotep III  Egypt.ColossiMemnon.01.jpg
Colossi of Memnon
Colossi of Memnon (next to the road between the ferry and the ticket office) consists of two seated statues of Amenhotep III and are named after Memnon, a Greek hero whose mother, the Dawn Goddess, shed tears of dew every morning after his death in the Trojan War. The badly damaged statues were once 70 feet high and cut from a single piece of quartzite stone. Around them are sugar cane fields.

Originally built for the vast mortuary temple of Amenhotep III (1441-1375 B.C.) of the Eighteenth Dynasty the statutes were intended to guard the gates of his temple. Ancient Greek travelers named the northern statue "Memnon." It became known in classical literature as "the singing Memnon" because at sunrise it would emit strange sounds. Some tourists heard human voices, others thought they heard harp strings. In the Greek-era “Guide to Greece” a traveler named Pausanias wrote they sounded “very like the twang of a broken lyre-string or a broken harp-string.” Word spread and the colossi became the one of the ancient world’s greatest tourist attractions.

The sound was produced by a crack created by an earthquake in 27 B.C. Historian Daniel Boorstin wrote: “The skeptical Greek geographer Strabo (63 B.C.-A.D. 24) suspected a machine installed by the temple priests. When Hadrian and his wife, Sabina, arrived in A.D. 130, the singing Memnon remained silent on their first morning. But it spoke up the next day and inspired their court poetess to compose a paean to both Memnon and the emperor. Emperor Septimius Severus in A.D. 202 was not so fortunate. When the statue repeatedly refused to speak to him, he tried to conciliate it by repairing its cracks. Never again was the statue heard to sing."

The colossi now stands 65 feet tall and are all that remains of the once huge Amenhotep Mortuary Temple. It was once thought they were all that was left of a huge collection of statues but recent excavations have revealed that a large number of statues — including 72 of the lion-head goddess Sekhmet and two huge statues of Amenhotep III, each flanked by a smaller one of Queen Tye and various sacred animals such as an alabaster hippopotamus — lie underground or have been excavated and placed in storerooms. There used to be a total of 730 statues here: one for every day and night in the year.

Mortuary of Amenhotep III

Mortuary of Amenhotep III (excavation at the Colossi of Memnon) was once the largest and most impressive temple complex in the world. Known as “The House of Millions of Years,” it embraced gates, colonnades, courts filed with reliefs and inscriptions, and halls with columns more than 15 meters high. In its day it was filled with colorful royal banners hanging from cedar poles on red granite pedestals. Amenhotep III called the complex “a fortress of eternity” and said it was built “out of good white sandstone — worked with gold throughout. Its floors were purified with silver, all of its doorways were of electrum” — an alloy of gold and silver. Over the centuries, though, earthquakes, floods and looting, much of it by 19th century Europeans, have reduced the temple to buried ruins.

Larger than Vatican City and more vast than the massive Karnak and Luxor temples, the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III was the length of seven football fields and stretched from the colossi to sacred altars pointing towards the Valley of the Kings. During Amenhotep III’s rule the Nile flowed just a few hundred meters away from the temple. The Colossi of Memnon once stood in front of it. The massive front gate, or pylon, was once brightly painted in blues, red,, greens, yellows and whites.

The Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III has been excavated since 1999 by a team led by Baghdad-born, Armenian archeologist Hourig Sourouzian. The is some sense of urgency to the project as archeologists are worried about salty runoff and irrigation water groundwater and seepage from the Nile damaging the sculptures that are underground. The restoration plan calls for much of the temples to be reconstructed but that will take many years — even decades — to complete. Just piecing statues and columns back together take a lot of time. Sections are being completed and opened bit by bit.

Amenhotep I

Karnak Temple Under Amenhotep III

Elaine Sullivan of UCLA wrote: “Amenhotep III’s initial work at Karnak was a continuation of the activities of his father centered on the festival court of Thutmose II. He finished the decoration on his father’s shrine and likely added a northern door to the mud-brick precinct wall aligned with the hall’s north-south axis. Later, he dramatically re-envisioned the temple, tearing down the pylon erected by Thutmose II and destroying most of the festival court west of the fourth pylon. He built a new pylon to the east, the third pylon, using stone blocks of the removed structures in its foundation and fill. The western half of Thutmose IV’s peristyle, his calcite bark-shrine, the limestone White Chapel of Senusret I, the calcite chapel of Amenhotep I, and the loose blocks of the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut all fell victim to the renovations. [Source: Elaine Sullivan, UCLA, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, ]

“Amenhotep III began construction on a new pylon (the tenth) to the south of Hatshepsut’s eighth pylon, extending the southern processional route towards the Mut Temple. While building was still at its beginning stages, he had two colossal statues of himself placed flanking the pylon entrance. With only a few courses completed on the pylon, the king must have died, as construction halted and was not to be resumed until the reign of Horemheb.

“Two other important structures built by Amenhotep III, both of whose exact location within the precinct remains unknown, attest to some of the less-documented aspects of the temple’s role in the city as a center of storage and production. Sandstone blocks from the “granary of Amun” have been found reused as fill in the towers of the second pylon. Contemporary Theban tomb scenes portray the granary as a structure with multiple rectangular rooms, each heaped high with mounds of grain. A second building, a shena- wab, was the site of the preparation of temple offerings. Parts of an inscribed stone door from this building were uncovered near the ninth and tenth pylons, and the shena-wab may have been located in the southeast quarter of the precinct.

Seti I and Karnak’s Hypostyle Hall

Seti I (1294–1279 B.C.) was the son of Ramses I and the father of Ramses II. His known most for his military exploits in Palestine.John Ray of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC: Seti I’s “reign saw military success as well as achieving one of the high points of Egyptian art, marked by sensitivity, balance and restraint. [Source: John Ray, Cambridge University, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Elaine Sullivan of UCLA wrote: “Sety I exploited the huge space created between the second and third pylons to establish a new locus for the celebration of important rituals and festivals. The pharaoh erected a massive hypostyle hall with 12 sandstone columns supporting a central nave and 122 sandstone columns filling the side aisles. It was roofed with sandstone, and light entered the hall through clerestory stone window grills. See Peter Brand’s “The Karnak Great Hypostyle Hall Project.” [Source: Elaine Sullivan, UCLA, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, ]

Hypostyle Hall at Karnak

“That Sety I—and not any of his predecessors—originally constructed the hypostyle hall is supported by examinations of the building. Peter Brand observed that the earliest inscriptions on the clerestory windows and architraves of the central colonnade date to this king’s reign. By studying the methods by which the hall was decorated (which for these highest places was achieved before the mud-brick construction ramps were removed), Brand has shown that the original carving of the area must have been done immediately following the placement of the roof and clerestory blocks, thus during Sety I’s reign.

“During his lifetime, Sety’s artisans inscribed the northern half of the interior of the hall with beautifully carved relief scenes depicting cult activity. The vestibule of the third pylon, now enclosed within the hall, was altered. The smiting scenes of Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten on its north wall were covered over with stone blocks. On the north exterior wall, the king’s battles against numerous foreign foes were memorialized in a series of monumental relief scenes .”

Campaign of Seti I in Northern Palestine

The “Campaign of Seti I in Northern Palestine" (13th century B.C.) Reads: “Year 1, 3rd month of the third season, day 10. Live the Horus: Mighty Bull, Appearing in Thebes, Making the Two Lands to Live; the Two Goddesses: Repeating Births, Mighty of Arm, Repelling the Nine Bows; the Horus of Gold: Repeating Appearances, Mighty of Bows in All Lands; the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands: Men-maat-Re [Ir]-en-Re; the Son of Re, Lord of Diadems: Seti Mer-ne-Ptah, (full titulary of Seti I) beloved of Re-Har-akhti, the great god. The good god, potent with his arm, heroic and valiant like Montu, rich in captives, knowing (how to) place his hand, alert wherever he is; speaking with his mouth, acting with his hands, valiant leader of his army, valiant warrior in the very heart of the fray, a Bastet terrible in combat, penetrating into a mass of Asiatics and making them prostrate, crushing the princes of Retenu, reaching the (very) ends of (m) him who transgresses against his way. [Source: James B. Pritchard, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts,” Princeton, 1969, pp.253-254.]

“He causes to retreat the princes of Syria (Kharu), all the boastfulness of whose mouth was (so) great. Every foreign country of the ends of the earth, their princes say: "Where shall we go ?" They spend the night giving testimony in his name, saying: "Behold it, behold it? in their hearts. It is the strength of his father Amon that decreed to him valor and victory. On this day one came to speak to his majesty, as follows: "The wretched foe who is in the town of Hamath is gathering to himself many people, while he is seizing the town of Beth-Shan. Then there will be an alliance with them of Pahel. He does not permit the Prince of Rehob to go outside." (Generally all the cities are near Beth-Shan.)

“Thereupon his majesty sent the first army of Amon, (named) "Mighty of Bows," to the town of Hamath, the first army of the (20) Re, (named) "Plentiful of Valor," to the town of Beth-Shan, and the first army of Seth, (named) "Strong of Bows," to the town of Yanoam. (See Karnak inscription on felling trees near Yanoam.) When the space of a day had passed, they were overthrown to the glory of his majesty, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Men-maat-Re; the Son of Re: Seti Mer-ne-Ptah, given life.”

Seti I against Shasu of Canaan (Palestine) in a relief at Karnak

Campaigns of Seti I in Asia from the Temple of Karnak

Campaigns of Seti I in Asia from the Temple of Karnak reads: “A = Campaign (s) in Djahi: Year 1 of the Renaissance, and of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands: Men-maat-Re (Seti I), given life. Then one came to say to his majesty: "The foe belonging to the Shasu are plotting rebellion. Their tribal chiefs are gathered in one place, waiting on the mountain ranges of Kharu (see Beth Shan stela). They have taken to clamoring and quarreling, one of them killing his fellow. They have no regard for the laws of the palace." The heart of his majesty — life, prosperity, health! — was glad at it. Now as for the good god, he exults at undertaking combat; he delights at an attack on him; his heart is satisfied at the sight of blood. He cuts off the heads of the perverse of heart. He loves an instant of trampling more than a day of jubilation. His majesty kills them all at one time, and leaves no heirs among them. He who is spared by his hand is a living prisoner, carried off to Egypt. [Source: James B. Pritchard, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts” (ANET) Princeton, 1969, pp.254-55.]

C = Campaign (s) in Djahi: (Somewhere in Palestine Seti I attacked a fortified place, "the town of the Canaan," which we cannot locate. As the accompanying text indicates, this was on the same expedition as that of the scenes just mentioned.) Year 1 of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Men-maat-Re. The desolation which the mighty arm of Pharaoh — life, prosperity, health ! — made among the foe belonging to the Shasu from the fortress of Sile to the Canaan. His majesty [pre]vailed over them like a fierce lion. They were made into corpses throughout their valleys, stretched out in their (own) blood, like that which has never been. (Another scene shows the felling of trees around the "town of Yanoam." See Beth Shan stela. A similar scene mentions the felling of trees in Lebanon). ... Lebanon. Cutting down [cedar for] the great barque upon the river, "[Amon]-U[ser-h]et,"~ as well as for the great flagpoles of Amon...

D = Campaign (s) in Djahi: The return [of] his majesty from Upper Retenu,having extended the frontiers of Egypt. The plunder which his majesty carried off from these Shasu, whom his majesty himself captured in the year 1 of the Renaissance.

E = Campaign (s) in Upper Retenu: (Other scenes show Seti I engaged with the Hittites in Syria. He is shown attacking a mountainous settlement, "the town of Kadesh." in Syria.) The going up which Pharaoh — life, prosperity, health ! — made to desolate the land of Kadesh and the land of Amurru.* (Either on this expedition or on a subsequent campaign, the pharaoh came into military competition with the powerful state of Hatti. He is shown in battle, with the legend:) The wretched land of the Hittites, among whom his majesty — life, prosperity, health ! — made a great slaughter. On his return to Egypt, the pharaoh enjoyed the usual triumph and made the customary gift acknowledgement to the imperial god Amon.) [Presentation of] tribute by the good god to his father Amon-Re, Lord of the [Thrones] of [the Two Lands, at] his return from the country of Hatti, having annihilated the rebellious countries and crushed the Asi-atics in their places...The great princes of the wretched Retenu, whom his majesty carried off by his victories from the country of Hatti, to fill the workhouse of his father Amon-Re, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, according as he had given valor against the south and victory against the north...

The Beth-Shan Stelae of Seti I reads: “On this day, lo (10) [one came to tell] his [majesty]: The Apiru of Mount Yarmuta (identified by Albright as at or near Belvoir, 10 kilometers from Beth Shan), with Teyer..., [have ari]sen in attack upon the Asiatics of Rehem. Then [his majesty] said: How can these wretched Asiatics think [of taking] their [arms] for further disorder?... (16) ... Then his majesty commanded a certain number of people from his [infantry and his] numerous chariotry that their faces turn back to the foreign country Djahi. The space of two days elapsed, [and they returned in triumph from] the country Ye ..., having [their] levy [consisting 0f ]living [captives] as plunder .... [Source: ANET., p.254. BASOR (1952): 24-32]

Setnakht (1186-1184 B.C.): First King of the 20th Dynasty

Sethnakhte established the 20th Dynasty and was the father of Ramses III. Pierre Grandet wrote: The “Seth” element in his name, as well as the very fabric of his titulature, seem to imply that he was, like the 19 th-Dynasty founders, an army general from the eastern Delta. It is possible that he was a native of Bubastis (modern Zagazig) or had served in this city for the largest part of his career, as evidenced by the existence, under Ramesses III, of an unusually important group of Bubastite dignitaries. [Source: Pierre Grandet, 2014, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 ]

“True to Egyptian tradition, our sources present the king’s election to the throne as a personal choice by the gods—in this case, by the god Seth—formalized by an oracular ceremony in Seth’s temple at Avaris, if we so interpret the allusion in Sethnakhte’s Elephantine Stela, l. 4-5 . Behind this fiction, the true nature and means of his accession to power are unknown (rule of seniority?; election among peers?; forceful seizure?).

“As he was probably already an elderly man, the king commissioned his son, the future Ramesses III, to act in hi s stead, both in civil and military matters. Se thnakhte retained the incumbents of the major administrative offices (Hori as Northern Vizier and Hori, son of Kama, as Viceroy of Kush) but promoted a middle-ranking officer of the Theban Amun’s Domain, Bakenkhonsu, to be First Prophet of Amun. Despite the brevity of Sethnakhte’s reign, archaeological and textual records attest to some achievements, modest in scope but encompassing the whole of Egypt. He is even mentioned outside its borders, in Serabit el-Khadim and Amara-West.

“Due to technical problems, Sethnakhte’s tomb (KV 11) was still unfinished when he died and he was buried in the innermost funerary chamber of queen Tauseret’s tomb (KV 14). No funerary temple of his has ever been found on the Theban West Bank, but his posthumous cult has left some textual traces, both in Thebes and in Abydos, where Ramesses III would consecrate a small chapel to his parent’s memory.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato,; Mark Millmore,; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.