Amenhotep III (Amenhotep Heqawaset)

Amenhotep III copyright Gerard Ducher

Amenhotep III (Amenophis III) was the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt. He ruled Egypt for around forty years and his rule is generally considered to have been a golden age. Amenhotep inherited a wealthy, powerful state (in part due to the military success of his grandfather, Tuthmosis III). He was not required to assert the strength of Egypt as none of her neighbours dared rise against her and so he was never really called to battle himself. There were a couple of minor military expeditions to Nubia, but nothing of great note.

The pharaohs of ancient Egypt had five royal names. His birth name (nomen) was Amenhotep Heqawaset (“Amun is Pleased, Ruler of Thebes) and his throne name (prenomen) was Nub-maat-re (“Lord of Truth is Re”). He also used the Horus name Kanakht Khaemmaat (“Strong Bull, Arising in Thebes”), the Nebty name Semenhepusegerehtawy (“One establishing laws, pacifying the two lands”) and the Golden Horus name Aakhepesh-husetiu (“Great of valour, smiting the Asiatics”).


His father was the pharaoh Tuthmosis IV and his mother was Mutemwiya, the Great Royal Wife of Thuthmosis IV. She was generally considered to be the daughter of Artatama the king of the Mitanni (the allies of Egypt), but many now question this assumption.

Amenhotep III had a large harem, but he particularly favoured his Great Royal Wife Queen Tiy, who he married during the second year of his reign. Tiy was not of royal blood, but came from a family of powerful nobles. Her father, Yuya, was a powerful military leader and her brother, Anen, was Chancellor of Lower Egypt as well as holding the titles “Second Prophet of Amun”, “sem-priest of Heliopolis”, and “Divine Father”. Amenhotep III also married Gilukhepa, the daughter of Shuttarna II of Mitanni (in the tenth year of his reign) and Tadukhepa, the daughter of Tushratta of Mitanni (in the thirty-sixth year of his reign).

Amenhotep III copyright Agon S Buchholz

He had a number of children and it is thought that he intended for his eldest son, also named Thuthmosis, to succeed him. However, Thuthmosis junior died before his father and Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) was named as his heir. It is sometimes proposed that Amenhotep III was also the father of Smenkhare who ruled Egypt briefly after Akhenaten.

It is thought that Sitamun, Henuttaneb, Isis, Nebetah and Beket-Aten were the daughters of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiy. Sitamun, Isis and Henuttaneb are regularly depicted with their mother and father and Sitamun and Isis were both given the title “Great Wife” when they married their father. Nebetah only appears with her family once in a group of a colossal limestone statues at Medinet Habu in which Amenhotep III and Tiy are depicted along with Henuttaneb, Nebetah and another princess (whose name has been damaged). Beket-Aten appears in a relief on an Amarna Tomb which is generally dated to between year nine and twelve of the reign of his successor, Akhetaten.


the names of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiy on a khol holder copyright Keith Schengili-Roberts

Most scholars agree that Amenhotep III was only a child of between the ages of six and twelve when he became pharaoh. A statue of the treasurer Sobekhotep holding the young prince Amenhotep-mer-khepseh is often thought to have been constructed just before the death of his father Tuthmosis IV and the depiction of the young prince in the tomb of the royal nurse, Hekarnehhe, suggests that while he was still very young he was old enough to appear without his mother. It is likely that he was supported by a co-regent in the early years of his reign, but it is generally agreed that his mother did not perform this function. It is occasionally suggested that Yuya (the father of his Great Wife Tiy) may have held this role as he was an experienced administrator from a powerful family.

New Kingdom pharaohs were expected to prove their military prowess to their subjects. However, there was little need for military strength during his reign as no-one dared mount a significant challenge to the might of Egypt at this time. There was a minor expedition into Nubia during the fifth year of his reign. Although this was recorded as a great triumph in inscriptions near Aswan and at Konosso in Nubia, it seems to have been little more than a brief trip south of the fifth cataract to remind the Nubians that he was boss. He boasts that he slaughtered many Nubians during a later rebellion at Ibhet, but it is thought that he did not actually attend the battle, instead leaving it in the capable hands of his son.

Amenhotep III celebrated three Heb Sed (jubilee) festivals, in years 30, 34, and 37 of his reign. He built a festival hall specifically for these celebrations in his Malkata palace which he named Per-Hay (“House of Rejoicing”). A clay docket from the Malkata palace suggests that Amenhotep III died in the 39th year of his rule (when he was perhaps only 45 years old).

Trade and Diplomacy

During the reign of Amenhotep III Egypt began to export her culture and goods throughout the Mediterranean and the Near East. He was in regular correspondence with the Babylonians, the Mitanni and the Arzawa and foreign place names (particularly those of mainland Greece) began to appear in inscriptions with greater regularity. Examples of his diplomatic correspondence with the rulers of Assyria, Mitanni, Babylon, and Hatti was discovered in the archive of Amarna Letters.

The letters to Amenhotep III show that his neighbours made frequent requests for gold and other gifts (for example letters from Tushratta, King of Mitanni (EA17 and EA23) and the letters from Yabitiri the Governor of Joppa and Gaza). In one, (EA3 from Kadashman-Enlil I of Babylon) the correspondence refers to Amenhotep’s refusal to offer one of his daughters as a bride. This refusal would certainly have been prudent as it could have given the foreign king (or his offspring by the Egyptian princess) a claim to the throne of Egypt, but it also indicates the standing of Egypt in the ancient world as the Babylonians were certainly not a weak power.

He sent at least one expedition to Punt to obtain precious incense and exotic plants and animals. The nobles of his rule certainly prospered, their lavish tombs attest to their opulent lifestyle.

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copyright J Hill 2010