Glory Years of Ancient Egypt Under Amenhotep III

From the Lecture Series: History of Ancient Egypt

By Bob Brier, Ph.D., Long Island University

Amenhotep III ruled over Egypt for more than 30 years. He used commemorative scarabs to inform the world about his deeds. He entered into matrimonial alliances and trade agreements with foreign countries. How did his actions made Egypt a strong country? Read on to know more about this incredible pharaoh.  

The ruins of Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt.
Thebes, the modern city of Luxor, was the religious capital of Egypt at the time of Amenhotep III’s reign. (Image: Zbigniew Guzowski/Shutterstock)

Egypt During Amenhotep III’s Reign

Amenhotep III’s name meant ‘Amun is pleased’. There was no doubt that the god had become the most important god in Egypt. The pharaoh donated whatever he got in military campaigns to a temple. So, Amenhotep III’s name really said it all­—Amun was the big god.

the photo shows the statue of Amenhotep III.
Amenhotep III was one of the greatest pharaohs of ancient Egypt. (Image: Ilona5555/Shutterstock)

At this time in the history of Egypt, there were two capitals of Egypt. There was Thebes in the south, which is the modern city of Luxor, which had become the religious capital. This was where all the great temples were built, and this was where the pharaoh came for religious ceremonies. And this is where the god Amun lived­—in Thebes.

Then there was Memphis in the north. That was the administrative capital, it was the seat of the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy was important because taxes had to be collected throughout Egypt. There was a very large middle class in Egypt, people who kept the government moving—huge buildings, lots of small offices, lots of people doing paperwork, checking records, and checking on each other.

The king pretty much lived in both places. He would live mostly in the north in Memphis, but he would go to Thebes for religious processions and for all kinds of ceremonies.

This is a transcript from the video series History of Ancient Egypt. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

Amenhotep’s Commemorative Scarabs

There is plenty that is known about Amenhotep III. This is so because he started a unique thing. Amenhotep III sent out the first telegrams in history. They were called commemorative scarabs. These were beetle-shaped carvings. They were carved out of stone in the shape of a beetle, which was a good luck symbol, and on the bottom of the carved beetle were hieroglyphs. The beetle used to be about three-and-a-half to four inches wide. On the bottom, there used to be a hieroglyphic inscription.

Whenever anything big happened, or there was an event he wanted to tell the world about, Amenhotep III would have his sculptors carve maybe 100 to 200 of these scarabs, with the message telling about what he had done. Then, these scarabs would be sent out throughout the world—to Syria, to all corners of Egypt, to Palestine, and probably to Nubia.

A commemorative scarab produced during the reign of Amenhotep III.
The scarabs were used by Amenhotep III to commemorate his deeds. (Image: Walters Art Museum/Public domain)

The first message he sent out was in about the second year of his reign. In that first message, he announced that he was getting married. It was his wedding announcement carved on the bottom of these scarabs. And this is how the details of the marriage got known.

However, to know what he was conveying, one has to read between the lines. He said, “I am taking as a wife Queen Tiye. Her parents are Yuya and Thuya.” Now between the lines, Queen Tiye was a commoner. That is why he mentioned the queen’s parents. So basically, what he meant was that the queen was a commoner but everyone should better accept her.

Despite being a commoner, Tiye was not from a poor background. She came from a prominent family. Her father Yuya was a key military man. She had a brother, Anen, who was a vizier of Lower Egypt, which was like a prime minister. So she was not a poor commoner, but she did not have the royal blood flowing through her veins. However, Amenhotep III could do whatever he wanted as the XVIIIth Dynasty was really powerful.

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Themes of Amenhotep’s Scarabs

What other of these commemorative scarabs did he send out? Well, he was apparently a hunter. He talked about the wild bull hunt, and he said that he had captured 56 wild bulls in a day. Additionally, there was also a lion hunt scarab where he said that he had captured something like 102 lions in 10 years.

A print image of a commemorative scarab in the shape of a beetle.
The commemorative scarabs were carved out of stone in the shape of a beetle, which was a good luck symbol. (Image: Ramblinred/Shutterstock)

Then there was another one in which he talked about Queen Tiye and what he had done for her. He had done something really quite interesting.

He had built for her a pleasure lake. It was about a mile long, near their palace in Thebes, in the south. And he said in the commemorative scarab that it was so large that she could sail her boat on this lake. He even gave the name of the boat. The name of the boat was ‘The Aten Gleams’. The Aten was a minor god in Egypt.

Queen Tiye was a powerful woman. She was quite a significant part of this family. One can judge this after seeing a wonderful statue of her. It is a carved wooden statue, about the size of a fist. It is a portrait, and one can see a strong-willed woman. Queen Tiye was indeed a factor to be reckoned with.

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Amenhotep III, the diplomat

One more commemorative scarab that Amenhotep III sent out told about his marriage to a foreign princess. But this was not considered bad for Queen Tiye. She was on the scarab as the great wife. She was the queen still. But he mentioned that around year 10, he married a foreign princess. In fact, he had got plenty of wives. And a lot of these foreign marriages were diplomatic marriages.

Amenhotep III was a very clever diplomat. In an unprecedented move, he worked out trade agreements with foreign lands. This ensured a continuous flow of wealth to Egypt. Not only that, the Egyptians started mining gold in their mines in Wadi Hammamat.

All these factors helped Egypt become strong and powerful during the reign of Amenhotep III.

Common Questions about Ancient Egypt Under the Reign of Amenhotep III

Q: What is Amenhotep III known for?

During the reign of Amenhotep III, the Egyptians dug gold from the mines at Wadi Hammamat. He had made trade agreements with foreign lands, which further increased wealth in Egypt.

Q: What were scarabs used for during the reign of Amenhotep III?

Amenhotep III used commemorative scarabs whenever anything big happened, or there was an event he wanted to tell the world about.

Q: Where is modern day Thebes?

During the reign of Amenhotep III, Thebes was the religious capital of Egypt. It was located along the River Nile. It is now the modern Egyptian city, Luxor.

Q: Who was Queen Tiye?

Queen Tiye was the wife of Amenhotep III. She was not from a royal lineage, but came from a prominent family. Her father Yuya was a key military man. She had a brother, Anen, who was the prime minister of Lower Egypt.

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