Two Great Pharaohs of XVIIIth Dynasty: Amenhotep II and Tuthmosis IV

From the Lecture Series: History of Ancient Egypt

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

The XVIIIth Dynasty, in some respects, was the high point of Egyptian civilization. Contributing to this success were Amenhotep II and Tuthmosis IV, descendants of Tuthmosis III, who was the greatest military leader Egypt ever had. So how did these two pharaohs carry on the legacy? Read on to learn more about them.

The image shows the pyramids and the sphinx against a blue sky.
The XVIIIth Dynasty was a prime time for Egypt. Some of the best pharaohs had their reigns during this era. (Image: Merydolla/Shutterstock)

Amenhotep II, a Military Man

Amenhotep II, a military man like his father, Tuthmosis III, was really strong. He fought in Nubia and, like everyone else, beat up the Nubians and brought back the gold. And when he came back, he tacked up seven Nubian princes on the prow of the ship. So when they sailed into Thebes, there were seven men upside down and dead for a long time. Then, when the ship finally docked, he took six of them and he hung them from the wall of Karnak Temple. This showed that he was a person to be reckoned with.

Head statue of Amenhotep II.
Amenhotep II, a military man, was the son of Tuthmosis III. (Image: Predrag Jankovic/Shutterstock)

Amenhotep II’s tomb is interesting for an archaeological reason. He is buried in the Valley of the Kings, and every tomb in the Valley of the Kings is numbered, so there is a number for each tomb.

It was set up by an early Egyptologist, Gardner Wilkinson, at the beginning of the 19th century. He went through the Valley of the Kings with a bucket of paint and a paintbrush and started numbering the tombs. And since then, whenever a new tomb is discovered in the Valley of the Kings, it is numbered. Amenhotep II has the number KV35, that is, Kings Valley or Valley of the Kings 35.

What is interesting about the tomb is not so much the decoration, and not so much the painting and the architecture, but that when his tomb was discovered in the late 19th century, bodies of other kings were found in there. It was an interesting cache of royal mummies.

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Tuthmosis IV and His Dream

When Amenhotep II died, he was succeeded by Tuthmosis IV. There is a little bit of suggestion that Tuthmosis IV had a shaky claim to the throne, and the reason is between the paws of the Sphinx.

The Sphinx was carved during the Old Kingdom—going back a thousand years—by the pharaoh Khafre. It has the head of Khafre, the pharaoh, and the body of a lion, symbolizing power. But between the paws of the Sphinx is a stela, a round-topped stone that is carved. And the stela tells the story of Tuthmosis IV becoming king.

The inscription on this stela says that when Tuthmosis IV was a prince, and he was not king yet, he was hunting in the area of the Sphinx, and at noon he decided to take a nap in the shade of the Sphinx.

The Sphinx was about a thousand years old by this time. It was like an archaeological wonder. And the Sphinx by that time had been pretty much covered up to its neck in sand. So when Tuthmosis IV was taking a nap in the shade, he had a dream.

And the Sphinx in the dream spoke to him and said, “Oh Prince, if you remove the sand that encumbers me, I will make you King of Egypt.” With the Sphinx saying, “I will make you King of Egypt”, it suggests that Tuthmosis IV was not actually next in line to the throne. However, later Tuthmosis IV hired workmen to remove the sand from the Sphinx, and he became the king.

Learn more about the Middle Kingdom.

Tuthmosis IV and the Special Stela

Image of the Sphinx with the stela in front.
The stela was placed between the paws of the Sphinx to commemorate the dream that Tuthmosis IV had seen. (Image: Petr Bonek/Shutterstock)

To commemorate his becoming king and this dream of the Sphinx, Tuthmosis IV had a stela carved and placed between the paws of the Sphinx. This further suggests that there was something special about his becoming the king and that it was not standard procedure.

There is another interesting thing about this stela. It has a sphinx carved on either side, a nice inscription. Sir Alan Gardiner, a philologist and one of the great translators, translated this stela.

One of the things he pointed out was that when you read the stela carefully, it is not really the language of the XVIIIth Dynasty. Thus, he suggested that this stela was not really carved by Tuthmosis IV. It is newer, much more recent, and probably carved by later priests.

There are two possibilities regarding why later priests carved this stela. One is that Tuthmosis IV carved the stela and put it between the Sphinx, but it got damaged, and so the later priests replaced it.

Another possibility is that since these were priests of the temple next to the Sphinx, they wanted to show how powerful the Sphinx was. So to make sure everybody knew how powerful it was, they refurbished this stela to show what the Sphinx could do. They wanted everyone to know that the Sphinx had the power to make Tuthmosis IV the king.

Learn more about Tuthmosis III.

Tuthmosis IV and the Obelisk

While Tuthmosis IV did military campaigns, as was usual for the XVIIIth Dynasty pharaohs, he also did a curious thing. There was an obelisk that he erected, and it is the strangest obelisk in Egyptian history. His grandfather had this obelisk quarried, and apparently, it was lying on its side in Karnak Temple in Thebes for about 35 years. Nobody ever erected it, but Tuthmosis IV took it upon himself to erect this obelisk.

The image shows the complex of Karnak Temple in Egypt.
The obelisk that Tuthmosis IV erected had been lying on its side for 35 years in Karnak Temple. (Image: Bist/Shutterstock)

Now there are reasons why it is considered the strangest obelisk. First, no one knows of any other obelisk that lay on its side for 35 years. The other is that it seems to be a singleton.

Obelisks always came in pairs because they were on the outside of a temple and one had to walk between them when they entered the temple. The people could see all the glories of the pharaoh carved on these obelisks. However, this particular obelisk seems to be a singleton and not part of a pair. It is the largest obelisk standing today. It is 105 feet tall. To see this obelisk erected by Tuthmosis IV, one has to go to Rome today. Rome has 13 obelisks, more than any other city in the world.

So, both Amenhotep II and Tuthmosis IV were good, strong kings, continuing the tradition of their family. These were kings who ruled for more than 30 years each time. The lengths of the reigns of the kings show stability and how well Egypt was doing.

Common Questions about Amenhotep II and Tuthmosis IV

Q: What was Amenhotep II known for?

Amenhotep II was the son of Tuthmosis III, and he was the king of ancient Egypt at the height of its imperial era. His father had been a great military leader, and Amenhotep II used physical and military skills to maintain his father’s conquests.

Q: What did Tuthmosis IV do apart from the usual military campaigns during his reign?

Tuthmosis IV got his grandfather’s obelisk erected during his reign.

Q: Why did Tuthmosis IV restore the Sphinx?

Tuthmosis IV had seen the Sphinx in his dream. The Sphinx had asked him to remove the sand that had covered it, in return for which he was told that he would become the king. Later, Tuthmosis IV hired workmen to remove the sand from the Sphinx, and he became the king.

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