Amenhotep III ruled Egypt for almost forty years. During that time Egypt enjoyed greater power and prestige that it had ever done before or since, prompting modern historians to call the reign of Amenhotep III the Golden Age of Egyptian history.
Politically, Egypt was the dominant power in its part of the world, with influences extending from the Euphrates in the north to the Fourth Cataract in the south. Economically, Egypt surpassed its neighbours. Within its territories, Egypt exploited vast resources of gold and precious stones; Egyptian merchant fleets brought wealth from trade; incredible riches came in the form of gifts and tribute from vassal kings; and Egypt’s own population, slave and free harvested the agricultural bounty of the Nile Valley and the Delta. Artistically, a confident style of elegant beauty emerged in paintings, reliefs, sculpture and architects.
Over all this, Amenhotep III ruled from a court renowned for its splendour and opulence. The magnificence of the temples he built for his gods and the monuments he erected for himself suggest that he was indeed a great pharaoh.
Chief sources for the period
There is a wealth of archaeological and written sources from the reign of Amenhotep III, including the remains of buildings and monuments, inscriptions, letters and reliefs and even a series of commemorative scarabs.
Amenhotep III constructed colossal statues. The largest of these, the Colossi of Memnon, still stand in their original position in a cane field on the western side of the Nile at Thebes. These seated statues of Amenhotep III once marked the entry to his mortuary temple. Each statue is carved from a single piece of stone and is over sixteen meters high. Another set of huge statues exists, of Amenhotep and his Greta Royal Wife, Tiye. These statues now dominate the atrium of the Cairo Museum. Such statues, by their sheer size, convey a sense of power and majesty.
The building program of Amenhotep III was more extensive than that of any other earlier pharaoh. Some of his many buildings were exceptional for their size, others for their beauty. He built many temples throughout Egypt, from Bubastis and Heliopolis in the north to the Temple of Amun in Luxor, where the central colonnade and the forecourt, with their elegant paired columns, still stand. The remains of his vast Malkata palace complex which covered 32 hectares at Thebes offer some idea of the activities of palace life under his rule.
Inscriptions from mines, quarries and temples provide documentary evidence of further building projects of which little or no material evidence remains. Those inscriptions include a valuable description of the architectural details of his mortuary temple, the construction and decoration of the Third Pylon at Karnak, and the construction and furbishment of many temples.
Stelae and other inscriptions convey the impression that Amenhotep III was a warrior pharaoh. Several different inscriptions refer to his conquests in Nubia and others refer to him as ‘Crusher of Naharin’, ‘Plunderer of Shinar’ and ‘Smiter of the Asiatics’. One stela, the Tablet of Victory , shows Amenhotep symbolically driving his chariot over the people of Kush and Syria, Bound figures representing conquered foreign peoples feature in temple decorations and on statues, reinforcing the image of Amenhotep III as a conqueror.
Amenhotep III issued a series of commemorative scarabs to publicise various events of his rule, including his hunting prowess, two of his marriages, and his construction of a pleasure lake for his wife Tiye. Copies of these scarabs were issued throughout the empire and many have survived.
The Amarna letters are a valuable source of evidence about diplomatic relations of this period. These letters, over three hundred in all, are what has been discovered of the correspo0ndence between the pharaohs – Amenhotep III, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun – and foreign...