Saturday, September 17, 2005

Amenhotep III of Egypt (c.1391 - 1354 BC)

The reign of the pharaoh Amenhotep III marks the zenith of ancient Egyptian civilisation, both in terms of political power and cultural achievement.
As the son of Tuthmosis IV and his minor wife Mutemwia, Amenhotep became king around the age of 12 with his mother acting as regent. Early in his reign he chose a daughter of provincial officials as his great royal wife, and for the rest of the reign Queen Tiy features prominently alongside the king.
Having inherited an empire which stretched from the Euphrates to the Sudan, Amenhotep maintained Egypt's position largely through diplomacy and intermarriage with the royal families of Mitanni (Syria), Babylonia and Arzawa (Anatolia).
Amenhotep III was also the first pharaoh to issue royal news bulletins about his marriages, hunting trips and building projects, the information inscribed on large stone scarab seals and sent out across the empire.
At the imperial capital Thebes, the king's sprawling palace at Malkata lay close to his funerary temple, the largest ever built and its original location marked by the two 'Colossi of Memnon' statues. A vast harbour and canal network linked these buildings to the river Nile and allowed direct access to the king's new temple at Luxor and the great state temple of Amun at Karnak.
Although Amenhotep greatly embellished Karnak as part of his nationwide building programme, the growing power of Amun's clergy was skilfully countered by promoting the ancient sun god Ra. The sun was also worshipped as the solar disc the Aten, with whom the king identified himself by taking the epithet 'Dazzling Aten'.
In the last decade of his reign Amenhotep III celebrated an unprecedented three jubilee festivals whose protocol had been carefully researched by the king's scribes. The discovery of royal bookplates and fragments of artefacts already 1500 years old also hints at the king's 'antiquarian interests'.
Following his death around the age of 50, Amenhotep III was buried in his huge tomb in the secluded western branch of the Valley of the Kings, and was succeeded by his surviving son Amenhotep IV, better known as Akhenaten, the 'heretic king'.
Although Amenhotep III has long been overshadowed by his infamous son, it is clear that many of the innovations attributed to Akhenaten, including the popularisation of the Aten and more expressive art and literary styles actually began in the reign of Amenhotep III, the true instigator of the so-called 'Amarna Period'.


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