The years of Amenhotep III’s reign are widely regarded as the pinnacle of ancient Egyptian civilisation. Known as Amenhotep the Magnificent or Amenhotep the Great, Amenhotep III was the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty and ruled from 1386 to 1349 BC.
His reign was characterised by both political power and cultural achievement, and the result was a period of unprecedented artistic splendour, prosperity and international power. Today, he is remembered by the hundreds of statues depicting him that still remain today, totalling more than any other pharaoh.
So who was Amenhotep III?
1. He was the son of Thutmose IV
Amenhotep was the son of Thutmose IV and his minor wife Mutemwiya. Likely born in around 1401 BC, Amenhotep later commissioned the depiction of his divine birth to be displayed at Luxor Temple, claiming that his true father was the god Amun, who had assumed the form of Thutmose IV upon his conception.
2. He married a commoner
Amenhotep III likely became pharaoh between the ages of 6 and 12. It is likely that a regent would have ruled until he came of age; however, there is no record of such a regent. Aged around 12 and before he was king, Amenhotep married Tiy, a commoner, which was unusual for a chief wife.
Moreover, the marriage did not appear to be politically motivated, and instead was a partnership of genuine feeling. Amenhotep made his wife a vast lake in her town of T’aru, and then held a festival on the lake at which he and his wife sailed on a boat called the Disk of Beauties.
3. He had at least 6 children
Tiy had at least six children with Amenhotep. The eldest and heir, Thutmose, died, meaning his brother Amenhotep IV (later called Akhenaton) later ascended the throne. The couple also reportedly had several daughters called Sitamun, Henuttaneb, Iset, Nebetah and Beketaten. Amenhotep is also sometimes credited with having fathered Smenkhkare or Tutankhamun, but this is uncertain.
4. He was a master of diplomacy
Amenhotep’s reign was largely peaceful. He was only known to have engaged in military activity once, in the fifth year of his reign, when he travelled to Nubia to put down a rebellion. He was a master of diplomacy, placing other nations into his debt by lavishing them with gold and other gifts. He also contracted political marriages with his sisters and daughters.
5. He was the first pharaoh to issue royal news bulletins
Amenhotep was the first pharaoh to use royal news bulletins to share information about his marriages, building projects and hunting trips. For instance, in his early years he enjoyed hunting trips, and issued large commemorative scarabs across the empire to proclaim several of his feats.
6. The arts flourished under his rule
The great wealth that Amenhotep’s empire accrued led to an outpouring of artistic talent. His patronage set new standards of realism and quality in representation, and his building works can still be found all over Egypt today. For instance, many of the finest statues in Egyptian art were commissioned by Amenhotep, and one of the most famous buildings of ancient Egypt, the Temple of Luxor, is arguably his greatest surviving achievement.
7. He promoted the ancient sun god Ra
Amenhotep’s most significant devotion was to Amun-Ra, a combination of Thebes’ deity Amun and the northern Egyptian sun god Ra. The sun god also worshipped the solar disc known as the Aten, which the king incorporated into his name by taking the epithet ‘Dazzling Aten’.
Amenhotep’s patronage of religion provided a perfect outlet for his greatest interest, the arts and building projects. It has been argued that these monuments alone make him more than worthy of his name, Amenhotep ‘the Magnificent’.
8. He suffered from severe health problems
Studies on Amenhotep’s exhumed mummy have demonstrated that he suffered from arthritis and obesity in his final years. Moreover, he was likely in constant pain owing to his worn and cavity-riddled teeth. He is thought to have died between the ages of 40 and 50.
9. He was buried in the Valley of the Kings
Amenhotep was buried in the Valley of the Kings outside Thebes. His tomb is the largest in the West Valley of the Kings and includes two side chambers of his Great Royal Wives, though it does not appear that either was buried there. During the reign of Smendes, his mummy was moved.
10. He has the most surviving statues of any pharaoh
Over 250 statues of Amenhotep survive from his reign, meaning that he has the most surviving statues of any Egyptian pharaoh. The statues span his whole life, meaning that they provide a series of portraits and histories of his life over the course of his entire reign.