The Thutmosid royal family ruled Egypt for almost 150 years when Amenhotep III was born to Thutmose IV and his minor wife Mutemwiya in approximately 1388 BC. Succeeding his father on the throne as the ninth king of the dynasty, Amenhotep ruled between 1386 and 1350 BC.
Egyptologists list his length of reign as varying between 38 to 40 years. Most experts believe he became pharaoh sometime between the age of six and 12 years of age under the guidance of an unknown co-regent.
Amenhotep was his actual birth name, meaning “Amun I Pleased, Ruler of Thebes”. Although he was often known as “Amenhotep the Magnificent”, his actual thrown name was Nub-maat-re, or “Lord of Truth is Re”.
During the second year of his reign he married Tiye. Although she was not of royal blood, she came from a powerful Egyptian family. Amenhotep took many wives during his reign. His harem included at least six foreign diplomatic arrangements and two of his own daughters.
Egyptologists have identified two sons and four daughters. His first son, the crown prince Thutmose, died at an early age. His second son by Queen Tiye, Amenhotep IV, succeeded him and later changed his name to Akhenaton. His grandson was the famous King Tutankhamun.
Amenhotep’s reign focused on expanding diplomatic contacts instead of military campaigns. Early in his reign, successful expeditions in Nubia appear to be his most significant military involvement. The majority of his accomplishments focused on building and cultivating the arts.
Like many Egyptian pharaohs, Amenhotep worked to ensure his place not only as a kingbut also as a god. Reliefs at his Temple of Amun at Luxor indicate that his birth was not simply royal, but also blessed and brought about by the gods. Egyptians credit him with building the famous Colossi of Memnon, which was actually the foundation of his mortuary temple. Although the temple was raided during the 19th dynasty for its stone, archaeologists believe that it was the largest mortuary temple built in ancient Egypt.
More statues exist today of Amenhotep than any other pharaoh. Over 250 statues reveal an expansion of the arts during the king’s rule. A new sense of detail and artistry emerged in the statues and reliefs.
Questions of Co-Regency
Although no concrete evidence has been presented, a few historians believe that a co-regencybetween Amenhotep and his son Akhenaton may have existed. Although most Egyptologists dismiss this theory, multi-national teams of Egyptologists continue to research the issue.
The King’s Afterlife
Egyptologists identify tomb KV22 in the West Valley of the Kings as the tomb of Amenhotep III. Decorated with a version of the “Book of What is in the Underworld”, the tomb uniquely featured the king as the royal ka. The tomb showed evidence of many raids from antiquity to modern times. Every object inside was damaged or fragmented.
Amenhotep’s mummy was located in a royal cache within the tomb of Amehotep II. Investigations of the mummy reveal the king to be between 40 and 50 years old at the time of his death. Reliefs show that he was ill towards the end of his reign. His cause of death is unknown.
Sed Festival Stela of Amenhotep III
The Sed Festival dates from the dawn of early Egyptian kings of the Old Kingdom When a king served 30 years of his reign, he performed a series of tests to demonstrate his fitness for continuing as Pharaoh. On completion, the king’s rejuvenated vitality enabled him to serve three more years before holding another Sed Festival. To commemorate an event, a stela, which is a stone of various size and composition, is inscribed with highlights of the event. Proclamations informed the people living in Egypt of an upcoming Sed Festival together with stelae.
A Sed Festival Stela of Amenhotep III (Hellenized as Amenophis III) was taken from Egypt to Europe by an art dealer. It is now believed to be in the United States but on not public display. In Europe, Dr. Eric Cassirer at one time owned the stela. The dimensions of the white alabaster stela are 10 x 9 cm (3.94 x 3.54 in), but only the upper half of the stela survived. It was shaped in the form of a temple pylon with a gradual narrowing near the top.
Front view: The god Heh, who represents one million, holds notched palm leaves signifying years. Above his head, Heh appears to support the cartouche of Amenhotep III symbolically for a million years.
Side view: A series of festival (hd) emblems together with a Sed (sd) emblem identifying the stela as one made for Amenhotep III’s Sed Festival royal jubilee.
Top view: The top shows malicious damage to the stela where the cartouche chipped away.
Back view: Like the top view, the cartouche has been eradicated.
Cassirer suggests Akhenaten, Amenhotep III’s son and successor, was responsible for defacing the king’s name on the stela.Akhenaten detested his royal family name so much, he changed his own name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten; he vandalized any reference to the god Amun since Akhenaten had chosen to worship another god, the Aten. Other gods displayed on the stela, Re and Ma’et, showed no sign of vandalism.
The stela is believed to have been displayed prominently in Akhenaten’s new capital city of Amarna. With the royal name and Amun references removed, it likely had a prominent place in a temple or palace of Akhenaten. Akhenaten could then display the stela without reminders of his old family name or the false god Amun yet celebrate his father’s achievement.
Amenhotep III’s Sed Festival
Amenhotep wanted his Sed Festivals to be far more spectacular than those of the past. He served as king for 38 years celebrating three Sed Festivals during his reign. Rameses II set the record for Sed Festivals with 14 during his 67-year reign.
Amenhotep III appointed Amenhotep, son of Hapu, as the official to plan the ceremony. Amenhotep-Hapu was one of the few courtiers alive to serve at last Sed Festival (Amenhotep II). Amenhotep-Hapu enlisted scribes to gather information from records and inscriptions of prior Sed Festivals often from much earlier dynasties. Most of descriptions were found in ancient funerary temples. In addition to the rituals, they collected descriptions of costumes worn at previous festivals.
Temples were built and statues erected up and down the Nile. Craftsmen and jewelers created ornaments commentating the event including jewelry, ornaments, and stelae. Malqata, “House of Rejoicing,” the temple complex built by Amenhotep III, served as the focal point for the Sed Festivals. Malqata featured an artificial lake Amenhotep built for his wife, Queen Tiy, that would be used in the Sed Festival.
The scribe Nebmerutef coordinated every step of the event. He directed Amenhotep III to use his mace to knock on the temple doors. Beside him, Amenhotep-Hapu mirrored his effort like a royal shadow. The king was followed by Queen Tiy and the royal daughters. When moving to another venue, the banner of the jackal god Wepwawet, “Opener of Ways” preceded the King. The king changed his costume at each major activity of the celebration.
One of the major highlights of the Festival was the king’s dual coronation. He is enthroned separately for Upper and Lower Egypt. For Upper Egypt, Amenhotep wears the white crown but changes to the red crown for the Lower Egypt coronation.
Based on indications left by Queen Tiy’s steward Khenruef, the festival may have lasted two to eight months. Khenruef accompanied the king as he traveled the empire probably reenacting the ceremony for different audiences.
At the time of the festival, Amenhotep III had three official wives. The “Great wife,” Queen Tiy. Their daughter Sitamem who was promoted to a queen at the time of the Sed Festival. The third queen, Gilukhepa, was a daughter of the king of Mitanni, a traditional Egyptian rival. No mention is made of the royal harem.
Although shunned by common Egyptians, incest was not uncommon among royalty. In fact, most Egyptian creation stories depend on it. By the time of the Sed Festival, Queen Tiy would be past her child-bearing years. However, a sculpture restored by Amenhotep for his grandfather, Amenhotep II, shows Sitamem with a young prince beside her.
As a reward for a lifetime of serving the Egyptian kings, Amenhotep-Hapu received his own funerary temple. The location was behind that of his king, Amenhotep III. Some of Amenhotep III’s workshops were razed to make room for Amenhotep-Hapu’s temple.
Some of the known information about Amenhotep’s Sed Festival comes from an unlikely source: the trash heap at Malqata Palace. Many jars bearing the names of donors to Amenhotep III to celebrate his festival. The donors were not just the rich but also small servants. The jars bear the donor’s name, title, and date. The jars were stored without respect to their origin.
After the Sed Festival, Amenhotep III transcended from being a near-god to one divine. Few Egyptian kings lived long enough for their own celebration. Those who survived used the celebration as the affirmation of transition to divinity.