Cartouches of Thutmose III
Thutmose III, everybody agrees, was the greatest warrior Egypt ever produced. He has been compared with Alexander and Napoleon, particularly the latter; for when Thutmose’s mummy was found and examined, the anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith reported that he was a little fellow, slightly over five feet tall—pretty short, even for an ancient Egyptian. This led to the usual psychological cliches about little men and their need to prove their manhood. It wasn’t until fairly recently that someone actually took another look at the mummy and pointed out that the feet were missing. Remeasurements and recalculations resulted in quite a different figure. Thutmose was of average height for an Egyptian—approximately five feet seven inches.
This is a relatively minor point, I suppose, but I mention it because it is further proof of the advantages of revisionism. To claim that Thutmose’s accomplishments were “compensation” for a subconscious sense of inadequacy or frustration is a cheap explanation. He was, as his adult life demonstrates, a man of varied and profound capabilities. Soldier, strategist, statesman, administrator—in each of these roles Thutmose displayed both energy and imagination. To accomplish all he accomplished in one lifetime, he must have been one of those irritating people who sleep only four hours a night and spend their waking hours operating at the highest pitch of efficiency.
It is a pity that physiognomy is not a reliable reflection of character, for while we cannot explain what went on behind Thutmose’s face, we know pretty accurately what he looked like. His is not a handsome face, for its regularity is marred by one outstanding feature. Thutmose III excelled his predecessors in nose as in everything else and bore it as proudly as Cyrano bore his.
We happen to have unusually detailed records that relate the military exploits of the Conqueror. The basic source is a long inscription called the Annals of Thutmose III. It was recorded on the walls of the temple of Karnak, and there it may be read today by any visitor who can decipher hieroglyphs. The stone-carved inscription was copied from an original, probably written on leather, by a man named Thaneni. In his tomb, Thaneni says proudly that he followed Thutmose III on his campaigns and “recorded the victories which he won in every land, putting them into writing according to the facts.” He was evidently the official army historian or military scribe, and it is to him that we owe the famous tale of the Battle of Megiddo with which the Annals of Karnak begin. But the man who supervised the carving of the copy was a priest, whose chief interest was not in battles but in booty, much of which went to the temple. As the Annals continue, they gradually degenerate into a prosaic list of tributes with only tantalizing hints of battles and brilliant strategies. Fortunately, we have other sources. The most useful is the tomb auto biography of a soldier named Amenemhab, who was second only to the royal warrior himself in valor. Other inscriptions that tell of the exploits of Thutmose the Great have been found at Gebel Barkal in Nubia and at Armant.
In the eighth month of his twenty-second year Thutmose left Tharu, the last Egyptian city on the northeast frontier, at the head of his army. His purpose, “to extend the boundaries of Egypt”—a candid avowal of motive, which is not found in the annals of most conquerors. In fact, the expedition marched to counter the threat mentioned in the preceding chapter, a threat posed by the great confederation of north Syrian states and their princes.
Ten days later Thutmose was at Gaza, a distance of 160 miles, not a bad pace for infantry. The date was significant: exactly twenty-two years earlier, Thutmose had been crowned king of Egypt. He arrived at Gaza on the fourth day of the Egyptian month Pakhons, and he left the city on the fifth day. On the sixteenth day he encamped at Yehem, a town on the southern slopes of the Carmel Mountains.
Thutmose’s goal was the city of Megiddo, in the plain on the northern side of the mountains. Megiddo had been fortified by the allies, who were under the command of the powerful king of Kadesh, because of its important strategic position as well as its reputation as an invincible fortress; it commanded the best road from Egypt to the Euphrates and was a populous city before and after Thutmose III.
Thutmose called his officers together for a council of war. The problem: how to cross the mountain ridge and reach the plain. There were three possible roads. One came out of the mountains north of Megiddo and one skirted the slopes of the city. The third route was the shortest and most direct. But the direct route had one conspicuous disadvantage, which the officers promptly pointed out.
“How can we go upon this narrow road, when it is reported that the enemy is waiting? Must not horse go behind horse, and soldiers and people likewise? Shall our vanguard be fighting while the rear stands in Aruna, unable to fight?”
This makes very good sense militarily. However, as we saw in the story of Kamose, the caution of the royal council is a favorite Egyptian literary device and is intended to contrast with the valor and reckless courage of the king.
“My Majesty will proceed along this road of Aruna,” the king swore, with great oaths. “Let him who will among you go upon those roads of which you speak, and let him who will among you come in the following of My Majesty.”
Naturally everybody followed His Majesty. Evidently courage was a royal attribute more cherished by the Egyptians than good sense. Thutmose only succeeded in this recklessness because his opponents were equally careless—which, to do him justice, he might have counted upon. He himself led the way through the narrow, treacherous pass, up the mountain ridge to the town of Aruna, where he spent the night. Next morning he pushed forward again and, before long, ran into the enemy. As the council had predicted, the rear of the Egyptian army was still in Aruna; but luckily for the Egyptians, the king, in the van, had reached a widening in the pass. Here the exasperated officers once more pleaded for caution.
“Let our victorious lord listen to us this time, and let our lord await the rear of his army and his people!”
This time Thutmose harkened. He waited till the rest of the army caught up with him. The enemy was not in sufficient force to oppose him, so he was then able to press forward and make camp south of Megiddo, on the bank of the brook called Kina.
Heaven knows what the king of Kadesh and his confederates were doing all this time. They might have won the battle if they had had scouts farther along the Aruna road, or had brought up reinforcements in time to deal with Thutmose when he first came out of the pass. Perhaps they assumed that no soldier of any intelligence would venture upon the Aruna road, so narrow and so susceptible to ambush. Or perhaps they counted on the strong walls of Megiddo, for when Thutmose led the chariot charge against them next morning, they broke with scarcely afight. “They fled headlong to Megiddo in terror, abandoning their horses and their chariots of gold and silver, and the people hauled them up into the city, pulling them by their clothing.”
The Egyptians enjoyed low comic touches of this sort, when the joke was on the enemy; the picture of the mighty prince of Kadesh being pulled up over the walls of Megiddo by his shirttails is rather funny. But what happened after that was not so amusing, and Thaneni, the army scribe, is bitter about it.
“Now if only the army of His Majesty had not given their hearts to plundering the belongings of the enemy, they would have captured Megiddo at this moment!” The sight of the abandoned horses (still uncommon and very valuable) and the jeweled equipment of the allies was too much for the Egyptian soldiers. They loyally carried the loot to the king, but Thutmose was not consoled. He urged the army on to victory: “The capture of Megiddo is the capture of a thousand towns!”
So the troops of Egypt had to pay for their greed with a long siege. They cut down the trees near the city and walled it in. The incompetent rebels had not planned to be besieged. They had left the very grain in the fields, and their empty stomachs must have felt even emptier as they looked over the city walls and saw the Egyptians munching the bread made from their crops. Famine finally took its toll; the “wretched Asiatics” came forth suing for peace.
Somehow or other the pièce de résistance of the confederation, the king of Kadesh, had slipped over both sets of walls one dark night and made his getaway; it is hard to imagine how, but he did. Despite this setback, Thutmose showed amazing clemency toward the inhabitants. Naturally, he took most of their property, but he allowed the allied soldiers transport to their distant homes. “Then My Majesty gave them leave to go to their towns. They all went by donkey, so that I might take their horses.”
In his haste to escape, the king of Kadesh had been forced to leave his family behind; either that “fallen one” was not bound by strong ties of familial affection or he relied rather trustingly on Thutmose’s clemency. His hopes were justified. Thutmose took them as hostages but did them no harm. It was safer to be besieged and captured by Thutmose III than by most later European conquerors.
After cleaning out the city of Megiddo, Thutmose took the road again, north to Lebanon. He subdued another confederation of three cities here and built a fortress. The season was growing late; the rains were due. Thutmose turned south toward Egypt, but not without a political stroke no less effective than his military exploits. He had appointed new chiefs for the conquered countries, to supplant the “rebellious” princes. The sons of the new rulers were taken to Egypt by the canny king, whose scribe explains: “Now whosoever of these princes died, His Majesty would cause his son to stand in his place.” The heirs of the Asiatics served as hostages for the loyalty of their fathers; and when they in turn came to rule their vassal cities they had become Egyptian in custom and language and sympathy, identifying themselves with the cultured Egyptians among whom they had been raised from childhood rather than with their own humble subjects. It was a masterstroke, and this is the first recorded instance of its being practiced, though later conquerors found it equally useful.
The city of Thebes was in celebration when the king returned, and Amon had the best cause to rejoice; he got the lion’s share of the plunder. Not only gold and jewels, but also land in conquered Lebanon and in Egypt itself went to the god, with cattle to graze thereon and slaves to tend it.
The following year Thutmose was off again—an easy swing through the conquered territories to check up on the princes he had left in power. The chieftains’ collective memory was good; they poured in with tribute and assurances of undying devotion. There were also gifts from the king of Assyria, then a young nation on the threshold of its later power. The Egyptians blandly recorded these gifts, as they would do with other gifts from more powerful monarchs, as “tribute.” If a wandering Assyrian reached Egypt and was able to read the Karnak inscriptions—an unlikely event—he would hardly be in a position to contradict them. It’s possible that the gifts were reciprocated.
The energetic king had now worked out a schedule to which he would adhere for the rest of his life: half the year in the field, the other half in Thebes, organizing, building, and checking on what had been done in his absence. The army marched from Egypt after the spring harvests, which occurred earlier in that country than elsewhere in the Near East, and arrived in Syria just in time to swoop down on the enemy’s ripening grain. When the rainy season approached, Thutmose turned homeward, reaching Thebes some time in October.
Thutmose devoted his third and fourth campaigns to further consolidation of territory already won. The records of the third campaign at Karnak are rather striking, although they do not note any great battles; instead, the walls depict long rows of plants and animals that were brought back, at the king’s command, from Syria. This suggests a certain degree of intellectual curiosity on the part of Thutmose; we wonder what other subjects engaged his interest. But few records touch upon this attractive trait; conquest was a more dramatic subject for reliefs than was scholarship.
In Thutmose’s early campaigns we may see a leitmotif that emerges more clearly as the years pass. The great adversary at Megiddo, the leader of the allies, was the king of Kadesh. The Egyptians never gave him a name, for reasons which we have explained before, but he was a shrewd and cunning adversary and a constant thorn in Thutmose’s side. We recall that the successful siege of Megiddo did not net this wily bird; he had escaped, leaving his family in Thutmose’s hands. In the next five years Thutmose must have realized that he would eventually have to face and crush Kadesh and its king, but he was no longer the impetuous youth who had led his army through the dangerous pass of Aruna. His fifth campaign dealt with the Phoenician cities of the coast, hitherto unmolested. This move had its place in a larger strategy; Thutmose could not advance northward toward Kadesh with the potential threat of Phoenicia behind him. Cunningly, he avoided the southern coast and struck by sea at the wealthy northern kingdoms of Phoenicia. Two great battles, and the coast was won; the other chieftains sent messages of submission.
Thutmose returned home by sea, the first part of his long-range plans completed. The next campaign was to be against Kadesh itself.
Kadesh was a hard nut to crack, even for Thutmose III. It was entirely surrounded by water, with rivers on two sides and a canal on the third; moats and formidable walls made it perhaps the strongest fortress in all of Syria. Thutmose laid siege to the city. Thanks to the materialistic orientation of the scribe who recorded this campaign, we can’t even be sure whether he conquered it or not. Amenemhab, Thutmose’s trusted officer, was there; but since his memoirs were designed to be carved in his tomb, they naturally concern themselves primarily with the bravery of Amenemhab. We can only conclude that he was not especially brave upon this occasion.
What happened to the adversary, that “fallen one,” of Kadesh? The records are infuriatingly silent on this point. Evidently the king of Kadesh repeated his earlier exploit and got away from the beleaguered city. He was certainly a leading advocate of the “he who fights and runs away” school of thought. We have not heard the last of him yet.
Thutmose regarded Kadesh and not its king as the major goal of this campaign, for he went on to the next stage of what had become a truly ambitious plan. Whether he had dreamed of his final goal from boyhood, or whether he dared envision it as his triumphant army proceeded, almost unopposed, through the highlands, we do not know. It was a dream worthy of a conqueror, and it had precedent. Years before, his grandfather Thutmose I, to whom he owed not only filial respect but the admiration of one fine soldier for another, had led his armies to the banks of the Euphrates—that strange inverted water whose current actually flowed from north to south instead of in the normal, decent manner. The inverted water had now begun to haunt the slumbers of Thutmose III. But between him and the Euphrates lay a sizeable obstacle—not a loosely bound confederation of small city states, but the mighty empire of Mitanni, or Naharin.
The kingdom of Mitanni is still one of the unsolved mysteries of Near Eastern archaeology. To be sure, we know it was there, which could not have been said a century ago. But its capital, known as Wassukanni, has never been found, and its language is still imperfectly understood. Most of what we know of this flourishing country, one of the half-dozen great powers of the second millennium B.C., we know from records of other nations. During the fifteenth century before Christ, a group of alien warriors, trainers, and breeders of horses came down from some unknown homeland in farther Asia and subjugated the indigenous peoples of the area near the Upper Euphrates. They spoke an Indo-European language, these cavalrymen, and the gods they worshiped have been connected with the deities of India—Mitra, Indra, Varuna. At its peak the empire of Naharin extended from the Zagros to the Mediterranean, and from Lake Van to Asshur. Its interests naturally extended to the part of northern Syria that lay near its own borders.
These were the people whom Thutmose III meant to face next. The attack on Mitanni was not out-and-out aggression; the king of that nation had backed the confederation of the chieftains of Syria, which was crushed in the battle of Megiddo. However, it is not likely that Thutmose was worrying about justification.
Before undertaking his greatest battle, Thutmose took every precaution for success. He spent a year making sure that his territories in Syria were under control, and a further year in Egypt making ready. The following year he was on his way.
One little touch displayed during this famous campaign shows Thutmose’s foresight, as well as his self-confidence. In Byblos, on the Phoenician coast, he had ships built of the famous cedar. Loaded on carts drawn by oxen, “they journeyed in front of My Majesty, in order to cross that great river which lies between this foreign country and Naharin.” The river is, of course, the Euphrates, and the poor oxen must have had a time of it, all the way from Phoenicia.
Senzar, Aleppo, Carchemish—one after another the cities of north Syria fell or sent messages of submission. Thutmose’s reputation had evidently preceded him. The king of Naharin fled before him, abandoning his country to fire and the sword. Thutmose crossed the river on his cedar boats and laid waste to Naharin, carry ing its people away captive to Egypt. Upon reaching the river, he erected a stela beside that of his grandfather Thutmose I.
Thutmose must have been in his glory as he turned back toward Egypt, conquering a town here and there as he marched. By an ironic touch of fate, he came closest to disaster at the time of his highest triumph; his life was saved only by the prompt action of his devoted follower Amenemhab. This was one of the great moments of the general’s life, and he remembered it vividly even when, as an old man, he sat recounting his deeds to the patient scribe who would supervise their recording for eternity. One of the cities Thutmose scooped in on his way home was called Niy. After the battle of Niy, word got around that there was a herd of elephants in the vicinity, and the king decided to take time out for relaxation. There were 120 beasts in the herd, which the Egyptians hunted, and one of them—“the largest,” according to modest Amenemhab—charged the king. Standing in the water between two rocks, the general placed his body between his king and danger, and cut off the beast’s “hand.” He was rewarded with gold—and changes of clothing. One would hope so, indeed. An elephant in a river can raise considerable surf, and if Amenemhab really did sever its trunk there must have been other stains than those of water on his linen kilt.
We know only this single narrow escape of the king’s, thanks to the “shrivelled soul of the ancient bureaucrat” who recorded the campaigns at Karnak. The epithets are those of Breasted, who goes on to add, bitterly, that the ancient scribe “little dreamed how hungrily future ages would ponder his meagre excerpts.” Of course, Thutmose must have had his share of wounds and danger; he never led his regiment from behind. But the myth of the invincible king, armored in his divinity, is never questioned in the official records.
One might suppose that Thutmose could now safely rest upon his laurels. For ten years he had spent half of his time in the field; he had extended the empire farther than had any king who ever ruled Egypt; and the plunder that poured into the capital at Thebes must have dazzled the eyes of the watching populace. He had enlarged the temples and built new ones, sent caravans to Punt and the Sudan, and received gifts from Babylon and Hatti.
But the conquered lands were too new to subjugation to bear it lightly, and Thutmose had to maintain his empire or give it up. He had another twenty years of life before him, and in that time he fought nine more campaigns. One need not suppose that the task was unpleasant; by inclination and by habit Thutmose may have preferred the life of the camp to that of the courtly halls of Thebes, with their rich decorations of gold and faience—and their tedious round of ceremonial duties. He had his staff, well trained and devoted: Thaneni, the scribe who recorded the exploits of His Majesty; Amenemhab, the trusted general who had saved him from the elephant in Niy; Intef the marshal, a prince of Thinis, who had the king’s apartments in tent or conquered palace ready for him when he arrived at night; Thutiy, the prince and priest and commander of the army, who conquered Joppa by a trick straight out of the Arabian Nights, if we can believe a folktale of a later date. Thutiy’s soldiers entered the city hidden in panniers borne by a train of donkeys—the precursor not only of the Trojan Horse but of Ali Baba. This tale is fiction, but Thutiy is not. His tomb has been found, as well as a beautiful golden dish, bearing his name and titles, which was given to him by Thutmose as a reward for one of his valorous deeds—could it have been the conquest of Joppa?
With such men behind him, Thutmose could venture greatly. And he could do so with his mind at ease about the welfare of the Two Lands, for he had left another trusted servant as vizier, a man named Rekhmire.
Rekhmire’s tomb is one of the showplaces of Thebes today. It lies on the hill of the Sheikh Abd el Gurnah, on the west bank of the Nile, where many of the great nobles of the Empire are buried. The walls of the tomb show us, in brilliant detail, how rich and how sophisticated was the life of a nobleman of that imperial age. The tomb also gives an interesting account of the duties of the vizier. And what duties they were! The vizier was in charge of everything. He was a whole cabinet in himself—secretary of state, receiving embassies and reviewing tribute in the king’s absence; secretary of the treasury, since the chief treasurer reported to him, and he was responsible for taxation; secretary of the interior and of agriculture, supervising the water supply, the plowing, and the canals; attorney general and chief justice; secretary of war, with both army and navy under his control; secretary of labor, for he regularly inspected the royal craftsmen, from cabinetmakers to sculptors. In his spare time the vizier wore several other hats: he was mayor and chief of police of the residence city and was also in charge of the royal messengers and the king’s personal bodyguard. Rekhmire’s tomb inscriptions mention all these functions and others; then, just in case something has been overlooked, the writing adds: “Let every office, from first to last, proceed to the hall of the vizier to take counsel with him.”
The painted walls of the tomb depict Rekhmire in the process of carry ing out many of his onerous duties, which evidently did not take every moment of his time, for there is a spirited scene of a party at the vizier’s home, with wine flowing freely and the guests enjoying its effect. Since his accession to the vizierate was the high point of Rekhmire’s life, it is natural that his formal investiture in office should be the subject of another scene.
Here we see Thutmose III enthroned. Before him stands the new vizier, attentive to the exhortation that the king delivers. It is a sobering speech, which must have had the same import as a solemn oath of office. “Look to the office of the vizier,” Thutmose begins, “and be vigilant over everything that is done in it. Lo, it is the mooring post of the entire land; lo, it is not pleasant at all—no, it is bitter as gall.” Foremost among the responsibilities of the vizier is justice. “The abomination of the god is partiality. So this is the instruction: look upon him whom you know like him whom you do not know, upon him who has access to your person like him who is distant from your house.”
If Rekhmire took his responsibilities seriously, his position as judge must have been the most sobering of all his duties. He was by proxy the dispenser of that justice which is higher than human. The tomb walls show him to us in this awesome task, seated in the hall of justice; before him are forty leather whips, which were the symbols of the discipline he could wield if he chose. For a long time these forty pictured objects were believed to be leather rolls containing a law code that governed the vizier’s decisions; and how Egyptological mouths watered at the prospect of one day finding such rolls! Peculiarly enough, the Egyptians had no such written code of laws. The other peoples of the Near East did; the Code of Hammurabi is the most famous, but there are earlier examples from the same area. Perhaps it was not strange that to the best of our knowledge the Egyptians never developed formal codified law, since the judgment of the god-king and his proxies was, by definition, straight from heaven.
Rekhmire implies that Thutmose kept a close check on the activities of his subordinates; if so, he was satisfied with what he found, for he left Egypt to their administrations half of each year while he carried out his military objectives. Most of the king’s remaining nine campaigns were tours of inspection, gentle reminders to the dynasts in Syria that though they might be far from Egypt geo graphically, they were only days removed from the all-seeing eye and all-powerful arm of the king.
The tenth campaign had to deal with a more serious problem—a resurgence of the king of Naharin and his allies. The battles Thutmose fought on this occasion daunted the proud princes of northern Syria for a good many years. Even on the relatively peaceful inspection tours, Thutmose maintained high standards of efficiency. Harbors were kept permanently supplied and garrisons were trained. “Tribute” continued to pour in, filling the treasuries of king and gods.
Thutmose had outlived Hatshepsut, subdued Mitanni, and conquered an empire; but there was one shadow out of his past which had never been exorcized. Once again, and for the final time, the prince of Kadesh reappears, out of the mists which had shrouded his activities forso long, to stand against the fighting hawk of Egypt. We have not heard of him since the battle of Kadesh, ten years before, when he mysteriously vanished from the beleaguered city. Where he had been, and what he had been up to, we do not know; but now he was ready for his last gamble with fate. He had engaged formidable support—Naharin again, and many of the coastal cities. His chief ally was the city-state of Tunip, to the north of Kadesh. Thutmose had fought in Syria for nineteen years, but if he lost this battle he might lose all that he had won.
The aging king (he must have been in his forties, which was old for that time) was prompt to take up the gage of battle. In the spring of the forty-second year of his reign, Thutmose’s fleet could be seen heading for a harbor on the north coast of Syria. Instead of marching up the river to Kadesh, he had decided to cut her off from her northern ally first. Tunip held him for a time, but he took it eventually, and then led his troops up the Orontes to Kadesh. And here Amenemhab, the old soldier who had cut off the elephant’s trunk, performed his second great deed.
The battle was fiercely fought by both sides. The stakes were tremendous, and the prince of Kadesh knew it. In his last, desperate attempt to turn the tide in his favor, he thought up a trick that was worthy of him: he sent a mare out of the city and had her driven toward the Egyptian army. The chariotry wavered as the stallions yielded to this exciting distraction. The prize of victory hung in the balance; and Amenemhab moved to weigh the scales. Leaping from his chariot, he ran the mare down and killed her. In a gesture of pure panache, he cut off the animal’s tail and presented it to the king. The assault on the city must have followed immediately; in an epic it could not be otherwise, and an epic king would have cried his army on with a great shout of laughter and a flourish of the mare’s tail. Amenemhab, carried away by his success, was first over the walls. Behind him poured the hard-bitten veterans of the Syrian wars. Against such men and such a leader even Kadesh the invincible had no chance. The city fell; and with it fell the last hopes of the Syrian cities for independence.
And what of the prince of Kadesh, who did not know when he was defeated? Once again we may invoke Breasted’s curse on the withered bureaucrat who recorded this campaign only as a list of booty collected. But we can deduce the fate of Thutmose’s archenemy from the silence that followed. Never again, in the ten years that remained to the king, did Syria rebel against her overlord. We cannot imagine such a state of peace and lethargy with the restless spirit of the prince of Kadesh still abroad in the land. The second battle of Kadesh was not a long-drawn-out siege, as the first had been. Thutmose was behind schedule that year, held back by the resistance of Tunip, and he had not time for such niceties. Kadesh was taken by storm, and its prince may not have had the opportunity to repeat his past escapes. Did he die in battle, in the last hopeless fight to save his city when the bronzed troops of Egypt swarmed over the wall; or was he captured by Thutmose and executed, as the greatest rebel of them all? Thutmose’s records do not mention the execution of enemies—who were, in the egocentric Egyptian view, guilty of rebellion and treason. It is, of course, unsafe to conclude from this silence that such executions never took place. Still, we may prefer to think of the prince of Kadesh as perishing in battle. We have a certain sympathy for him. Three times he had fought against the most invincible warrior of his age, the man to whom many of his peers had tamely surrendered without so much as a spear being cast. Megiddo, Kadesh, and Kadesh again…It would be interesting to find, some fine day, the buried records of the lost capital of Naharin, and see what they have to say about their ally of Kadesh. To his own men he was probably a patriot and a hero; to the Egyptians, just another rebel.
So ended, after twenty years, the active military career of Thutmose III. He was first and foremost a soldier, and that is why we have devoted so much space to the description of his campaigns. His other accomplishments compare favorably with the activities of other kings who did not spend half their lives abroad. Rekhmire mentions the king’s omnipotence; some of this can be written off as court flattery, but there is no doubt that Thutmose made good use of his annual six months in Egypt. He toured the country, inspecting canals, buildings, and harvests, and he ordered careful records kept of his campaigns and their results. Of all his building activities the most famous are the great obelisks. They have had a curious history; not one of them stands in Egypt today, but they have literally carried Thutmose’s name to the four corners of the earth. The obelisk in Central Park in New York once towered above Thutmose’s temple at Heliopolis; its former mate stands on the Thames Embankment in London.
Another of Thutmose’s architectural achievements came to light only forty years ago. It is at Deir el Bahri, squeezed in between the larger temple of Hatshepsut and the ruins of the earlier Seventeenth Dynasty temple. An avalanche had buried it completely until the Polish-Egyptian expedition found and excavated it.
I can’t resist giving another example of how preconceptions color Egyptological interpretation; surely, some scholars argued, Thutmose would not have tucked his temple so cozily close to Hatshepsut’s if he had detested her. On the other hand, one might argue that he felt it necessary to leave his mark at Deir el Bahri too, instead of allowing her structure to dominate it. I suspect he had more sensible reasons, but I don’t know what they were.
When he returned from the Second Battle of Kadesh, Thutmose III had another ten or twelve years of life remaining to him. During this time he occupied himself with such minor details as Nubia, which was now pouring fantastic amounts of gold into the Egyptian treasury. He himself visited the south countries in his fiftieth year, and his domains stretched from the Euphrates to the Fourth Cataract—the largest empire Egypt had or would ever have.
Perhaps the most far-reaching consequence of the life of this man was not the empire itself, but the changes that the empire was to produce in Egypt. Almost every aspect of life was affected; and some of the changes were to bear fruit in a far future day, and in a way that even Thutmose the Great could not have anticipated.
Some of the results are fairly obvious. The army was no longer an amateur militia, hastily assembled for specific campaigns. Since Ahmose there had been a hard core of professional fighters, with the Medjay of Nubia as its elite; these men served as the royal bodyguard and city police in time of peace. But an army that has fought yearly for twenty years has lost its amateur standing; the men knew their craft and their officers, and the ones who survived brought home wealth such as their fathers had never seen. The empire, so hard-won, had to be held. This meant garrisons, though not large ones, in foreign cities. The army organization was complex; quartermaster, signal corps, and general accounting had come into being, along with chariotry, infantry, and naval forces. For the first time the professional fighting man, as a group and as an individual, becomes a force in the state.
Another obvious result of empire was the effect of the enormous wealth pouring into Egypt from the north and south. The nouveau riche acquired expensive tastes and demanded foreign products. No wealthy house hold was complete without an Asiatic slave or two, and sophisticated Egyptians sprinkled their speech with foreign words and even turned to the worship of new gods.
New people and new ideas often have a favorable effect upon the culture they invade; in the optimum cases the new and the old give birth to a civilization higher than either of its parents. But one of the consequences of foreign ideas in Egypt was not so attractive. This was the effect upon Egyptian art. Craftsmen and painters had developed their skills early, and the canons of taste were beautifully harmonious. The avalanche of new techniques that came from the conquered lands and from other empires was not always assimilated easily. The contents of Tutankhamon’s tomb show a certain degradation of the pure classic style; many of the objects are exquisitely lovely, all are beautifully executed; but one or two are dreadfully vulgar in taste.
We could go on describing the changes that resulted from the growth of empire, but one point is especially noteworthy—the fantastic wealth and power that began to accrue to the great state god Amon. Among the multitudinous gods of Egypt there were a dozen or so greater than the rest: Re of Heliopolis, the very ancient sun god; Ptah of Memphis, patron of artisans and artists, to whom (among other gods) was ascribed the creation of the world; Osiris and Isis and their son Horus; another Horus, a falcon and a sun god; Thoth, the ibis-headed divine scribe; and others. All of them were older in dignity than the parvenu Amon; none of them, except perhaps Re, had ever enjoyed the preeminence of the god of Thebes. By a convenient process called syncretism, Amon was able to absorb his potential rivals in the pantheon; among other gods he swallowed was Re himself, and he was known as Amon-Re. This does not mean that Re’s temples were closed down. His ancient worship continued as before, but Amon could now claim the attributes and the qualities of the honored sun god. As the conquering pharaohs went out to battle under the aegis of Amon-Re, they attributed their victories to his aid, and thought it only fitting that he be rewarded. The whole transaction made a vicious cycle: the more powerful Amon became, the greater the size of his reward; the richer he got, the more his power increased. It would be a mistake to view Egyptian history from this point on as a conflict between the temporal power, residing in the king, and the spiritual might of Amon-Re and his priests. From the Egyptian point of view, no such distinction could exist, and there were many other factors involved. Yet the shadow of Amon-Re, hawk-headed, holding the insignia of power in human hands, began to grow long across the fertile green valley of Egypt. Thutmose III had raised up a number of unexpected monsters to plague the placid immutability of the divine kingship, but this was perhaps the most menacing of all.
Thutmose the king, of course, had no doubts about the future. The tips of his tall obelisks, sheathed with gold, caught the light of the rising sun each morning and sent sparks glittering across the Nile. Slaves in strange, colored garments, speaking a gabble of uncouth tongues, tended the affairs of the land and worked beside the slighter, smooth-faced Egyptians. Even the succession was in order, for Thutmose had a son.
Thutmose’s military and administrative exploits so overshadow everything else in his life that we have not mentioned his domestic side. Actually, not much is known about it. The uxorious Amenhotep III had a queen who was a personality in her own right; Akhenaton cherished an almost Byronic passion for his lovely wife; and that ancient reprobate Ramses II fascinates us solely by the sheer number of women he acquired. But Thutmose III has left an impression of austerity so far as the “weaker” sex is concerned. Perhaps he had had enough of women after Hatshepsut.
Hatshepsut’s daughter, Nefrure, may not have lived long enough to marry her half-brother. Thutmose’s great royal wife and the mother of his heir was named Meritre Hatshepsut. The coincidence of names led some scholars to believe she was another of Hatshepsut’s children, but she was not a king’s daughter. Though he may not have found female society particularly congenial, Thutmose was no more monogamous than anybody else. Three members of his harem were found buried in a single tomb, which was published by H. E. Winlock in 1948. These ladies had foreign names, which reminds us of a policy of Alexander the Great; perhaps Thutmose anticipated the Macedonian in seeing the potentialities of foreign conquest through marriage. These three young ladies were never more than junior members of the royal family, however; and in view of this fact, the wealth of their funerary equipment is quite striking. In 1948, Winlock estimated the value of the gold and silver employed as around $6,800. In ancient times its value would have been considerably greater, and the precious metals represented only part of the equipment of the tomb. What then must have been the treasure buried with the body of the king-conqueror himself!
Toward the end of his life, the aging king seems to have placed his son beside him on the throne. About a year later King Menkheperre Thutmose III “mounted to heaven; he joined the sun, the divine limbs mingling with him who begat him.”
The epithet “the Great” surely belongs to Thutmose III, if to any king of Egypt, even if we judge him only by the material results of his campaigns. In an age which saw brutality—though not on so grand a scale as Christian Europe was able to work up—he showed clemency; ata time when death was the proper portion of the defeated, he spared the fallen. At the very least he deserves to regain the prestige he has lost to bombastic old Ramses II.
And do not forget to add Thutmose’s tomb to your repertory while in Luxor. The central attraction of the Valley of the Kings, on the West Bank, is the tomb of Tutankhamon. During the “season” this part of the Valley is almost too populous, for in the same immediate area are other tombs that are popular with visitors. But if you are wearing sensible shoes you may take a short hike, only a few hundred yards, to a small canyon in the cliffs, apart from the swarming center of things; and here you will have a genuine feeling for the secrecy and loneliness that these Houses of Eternity once conveyed. Today you climb steep wooden stairs to the hole in the cliff where once the swaying funeral cortege carried the embalmed body of Thutmose the Great. In location and in atmosphere it is one of the most impressive tombs in the Valley of the Kings. The paintings are unusual; at first sight they seem sketchier than the conventional Egyptian technique, to such an extent that the human and divine depictions might be called stick figures. Yet they have a sophistication and elegance that some observers, including myself, find highly attractive.
Thutmose’s mummy was not found in his tomb. The members of the second oldest profession had gotten to it long before any of our immediate ancestors were born. But his body survived, thanks to the efforts of a group of devoted priests in the last dying days of Egypt’s greatness. Today Thutmose’s mummy lies in the Cairo Museum with those of his peers. There is nothing particularly majestic about the withered face. Battered by impious tomb robbers, even the once imposing Thutmosid nose has lost its panache. You may draw your own moral.