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Chronicle of a Pharaoh: The Intimate Life of Amenhotep III

Chronicle of a Pharaoh: The Intimate Life of Amenhotep III

by Joann Fletcher

Taking an eye-opening new approach to Egyptian history, Chronicle of a Pharaoh presents a unique and intimate portrait of Amenhotep III, the man and self-proclaimed god who presided over the zenith of Egypt's greatness. Through an unprecedented wealth of details—from the day-to-day running of a huge empire to his clothes, cats, and bedroom habits—the


Taking an eye-opening new approach to Egyptian history, Chronicle of a Pharaoh presents a unique and intimate portrait of Amenhotep III, the man and self-proclaimed god who presided over the zenith of Egypt's greatness. Through an unprecedented wealth of details—from the day-to-day running of a huge empire to his clothes, cats, and bedroom habits—the private and public faces of a pharaoh are vividly brought to life as never before.
Joann Fletcher explores Amenhotep's private and public life in a compelling year-by-year account, drawing on firsthand and previously unpublished material. Among the many subjects covered are his daily schedule, such as bedchamber ceremonies and meetings with ministers; his relations with rulers of other ancient superpowers, recorded in a lively correspondence covering topics from new wives to the price of silver; his family life, including the remarkable role of his wife, Queen Tiy; the superlative art of the reign; and his monumental construction projects—among them the great temple of Luxor. Amenhotep III also established the cult of Aten, the sun disk, and after Amenhotep's death his son, the rebel pharaoh Akhenaten, became fanatically obsessed with the god.
Illustrated with spectacular full-color photographs, maps, and artifacts, many of which are published here for the first time, Chronicle of a Pharaoh provides the full context for understanding the monarch who presided over the magnificent flowering of Egyptian civilization.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This attractive, richly illustrated little book relates the life of Amenhotep III, who ruled Egypt in the 14th century B.C.E. He was a remarkable figure, and during his reign, Egypt was the world superpower, enjoying unparalleled economic growth and peace, both at home and with its neighbors. Amenhotep was a brilliant politician, best known today as the builder of the magnificent temple of Luxor and the royal palace of Malkata. Yet Fletcher, a well-known freelance Egyptologist based in England, focuses equally on some of the more intimate details of Amenhotep's life. She has organized the book in short chapters, each corresponding to roughly one year of Amenhotep's life, allowing Fletcher to present a plethora of extraordinary documents, paintings and sculptures that shed light on specific problems or events of Amenhotep's reign. For example, she includes charming details of the pharaoh's three jubilee festivals, and examines how he mourned the death of his loved ones and his marriage to the remarkable Queen Tiy. In addition, the author presents fascinating details of her subject's diplomatic relations with neighboring states and of how Amenhotep utilized religion to bolster his reign. The essential weakness of the format, however, is that it breaks up the narrative, thus losing an analytical edge. The book could also have benefited from a summary introduction or conclusion. Strengths outweigh weaknesses, however, in this aesthetically pleasing, small volume that imparts a taste of Amenhotep's persona, making the reader feel closer to this figure who lived so long ago. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A renowned Egyptolo-gist offers some previously unpublished data in this year-by-year account of the nearly 40-year reign enjoyed by the famous pharaoh. The minutia of daily life for ancient Egyptian royalty is explained through colorful draw-ings, reproductions, and diagrams. Sum-maries at the start of each year in his life set the scene for the descriptions to come. One section, entitled "The Education of a Prince," describes the schooling and clothing of the young Amenhotep, and even includes a translation from a text of the time. Toys and games favored by children are described and a photograph of a wooden lion with jaws that can snap offers visual evidence of a similarity to present-day toys. Other topics include the five titles given to Amenhotep at his birth; the translations of letters to him from other rulers; descriptions of fashion and jewelry; and the events such as Opet, a yearly revival of the pharaoh's powers that lasted for two to four weeks. Fletcher describes how scholars have traditionally dismissed Amenhotep's achievements, while in actuality he may have been the most significant of the ancient pharaohs. The book is readable, yet scholarly, and presented in a colorful format that is easy and interesting to use. It should make a good addition to traditional reference sources for research on ancient Egypt.-Carol DeAngelo, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
9.80(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



A little over 3,400 years ago, in a royal palace by the Nile, a young woman gave birth to her first son—the future Amenhotep III. The woman was Mutemwia, one of the wives of the teenage prince Tuthmosis, who in turn was one of the sons of the reigning king, Amenhotep II, by Tiaa, his second queen. Tiaa was a high-ranking priestess of the state-god Amun at Karnak temple and she appears to have doted on her son Tuthmosis. In the first years of his reign Amenhotep II had crushed a rebellion in Palestine, making a show of strength that his son Tuthmosis IV was to imitate at the start of his own reign.

Mutemwia's son was named Amenhotep—"Amun is content"—after his illustrious grandfather, the reigning king. The baby was also given the additional name mer-khepesh, or "he who desires strength"; his elder namesake Amenhotep II had proved a strong and often ruthless monarch, who upheld Egypt's policy of aggression beyond the country's northeastern borders. Having liberated Egypt from a century of foreign occupation by the hyksos (literally "rulers of foreign lands"), Amenhotep II's predecessors had consolidated the area of Syria-Palestine and stationed garrisons among the vassal states left in place.

    Following Amenhotep II's accession some of the Syrian states rebelled against their new overlord. The young king's response was immediate: after a crushing campaign Amenhotep II executed seven of the rebel leaders in time-honored fashion by smashing in their skulls. Their corpses were hung upside down from the prow of his ship: he made a triumphant return to Memphis, where he was greeted by his wife, Queen Tiaa, then traveled on south to present the battle spoils to the state-god Amun at Karnak. There, six of the corpses were hung from the city walls of Thebes, while a seventh was taken further south still and suspended from the walls of the city of Napata, "in order to cause to be seen the victorious might of his majesty for ever and ever." Such swift retribution was clearly effective, for the vassal states remained generally loyal for the rest of the reign, each trying to outdo the others in the gifts they sent to Egypt. But their fawning made little impression on this forthright king, who never hid his contempt for his former enemies, especially when he had been drinking.

    Amenhotep II was a vigorous, athletic figure, who, because of his skilled horsemanship, had been put in charge of his father's stables while he was still a young prince. He enjoyed rowing and hunting and his prowess in archery was legendary: a stela found at Giza, in the area where he trained his horses, states that the pharaoh could shoot arrows from his chariot straight through copper targets 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) thick, using a bow no one else had the strength to use.

    As the birth of Amenhotep II's grandson approached, Mutemwia would have been placed in the care of the royal midwife, and watched over by the dwarf god Bes, protector of all women in childbirth, and the goddess Hathor. The experience of giving birth in ancient times was hazardous and mothers-to-be were believed to need magical protection from the gods. In Egypt, Hathor was invoked during labor with a spell for hastening birth that asked her to appear "bringing the sweet north wind." In one earlier Egyptian story referring to childbirth, it was foretold that a woman named Ruddedet would give birth to triplets who would be future kings (the first three kings of the Fifth Dynasty), so the sun god Ra sent assistance in the form of the goddesses Isis, Nephthys, Heket, and Meskhenet. They visited the woman disguised as dancers and carrying the insignia of Hathor priestesses. The woman's husband told them, "My ladies, look, the woman is in pain, her labor is difficult," to which they replied, "Let us see her, for we understand childbirth."

    Mutemwia was named after the mother goddess Mut, her husband Tuthmosis's favorite deity. A black granite barque-shaped sculpture found at the Karnak temple spells out Mutemwia's name in a rebus: Mut-em-wia, meaning "Mut is in her barque." The piece was made during her son's reign and its inscriptions reflect her later elevated position: "great royal wife, the god's mother Mutemwia, great of praise, well disposed, sweet of love, who fills the hall with the fragrance of her dew, mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt, the god's mother who bore the king, praised one of the good god, for whom everything that she commands is done. May she occupy her seat within her barque, it being made as an eternal construction, for the king's mother Mutemwia."


Prince Tuthmosis acknowledged the future Amenhotep III as the "son of his body," but during his own reign Amenhotep introduced the legend of his divine conception. Scenes from the Birth Chamber of the Luxor temple to Amun (see pages 114-117) are accompanied by inscriptions that hail Mutemwia as "great of grace, mistress of the Two Lands, the king's mother," and name his father as none other than Amun-Ra, king of the gods. In an inscription from western Thebes, Amun hails Amenhotep III as "my son of my body, my beloved Nebmaatra, my living image, my body's creation, born to me."

    At Luxor we can follow the great king from his divine conception right through his life, and beyond. The story begins with Amun diplomatically taking the form of Tuthmosis to visit Mutemwia, who is asleep in the inner rooms of her palace. According to the inscriptions that accompany the temple reliefs, "She awoke on account of the aroma of the god and cried out before him ... He went to her straight away, she rejoiced at the sight of his beauty, and love for him coursed through her body. The palace was flooded with the god's aroma.

    "Words spoken by Mutemwia before the majesty of this great god Amun-Ra: `How strong is your power! Your dew fills my body,' and then the majesty of this god did all that he desired with her. Words spoken by Amun-Ra: `Amenhotep, ruler of Thebes, is the name of this child I have placed in your body ... He shall exercise the beneficent kingship in this whole land, he shall rule the Two Lands like Ra forever.'" The sandstone reliefs depict the couple's fingers touching briefly—and in this auspicious instant Amenhotep, son of Amun, is conceived.

    Further images show the clearly pregnant Mutemwia being led by the hand by Hathor, goddess of love, and the ram-headed creator god Khnum fashioning the child and its ka (soul) on his potter's wheel as Amenhotep III is born in the presence of the gods.



As Amenhotep II's reign drew to its peaceful close, ancient Egypt was entering the greatest era of prosperity it would ever know. An army of royal officials efficiently administered the country on the king's behalf and was rewarded with statuary and beautifully decorated tombs in the Theban necropolis. The future Amenhotep III, still an infant, was entrusted to the care of faithful nurses while his father, Prince Tuthmosis, learnt the art of state-craft and pursued his favorite pastimes of hunting and chariotry in the desert. It was there that Tuthmosis was to have his Sphinx dream, in which he was promised the throne of Egypt.

Senay, the wife of Sennefer, the mayor of Thebes under Amenhotep II, was a royal nurse, a position that included the role of wet-nurse. A small relief scene on the walls of Amenhotep III's Luxor temple shows the king as a baby, complete with a sidelock and earrings (see page 25). He is being breastfed by a fragmentary, unnamed female figure, who probably represents a goddess. An inscription from Western Thebes gives a blessing in which Amun calls Amenhotep his beloved son, "born to me by Mut, Ashru's lady in Thebes, Mistress of the Nine Bows, who nursed you to be sole lord of the people."

    Senay and Sennefer are depicted on the walls of the wonderful tomb that was given to Sennefer by Amenhotep II. The ceiling of the tomb is decorated with painted representations of grapes and Sennefer's figure appears all around the walls in the company of his family and the gods. Sennefer's granite statue was set up at Karnak and is unusual in being one of the very few pieces signed by its creators, the sculptors Amenmes and Djedkhonsu. It gives an idea of the appearance of two of the pharaoh's high officials at this time: the mayor is depicted as a wealthy man adorned with golden shebyu necklaces as a mark of honor. The rolls of fat around Sennefer's torso are intended to indicate his élite and largely sedentary lifestyle. His wife, who is at his side, is shown in formal dress, wearing a huge tripartite wig.

    Royal nurses played an important and prestigious role at court and were often honored by the pharaohs they served. Amenhotep II, the baby Amenhotep's grandfather, had been breastfed by the lady Amenemopet, whose own son Kenamun was brought up with the young prince and was to be his lifelong friend. A later scene from the Royal Tomb at Amarna depicts a nurse, shaded by a fan-bearing attendant, holding a royal baby in her arms; it has been suggested that the child is the infant prince Tutankhaten (later Tutankhamun). The tomb of Tutankhaten's wet-nurse, Maya, has recently been discovered at Sakkara.

    The title "nurse" was not reserved for women. Men could also be nurses —the title covered their roles as guardians and tutors. Heqarneheh was "nurse of the king's son Amenhotep III" and at least five royal princes originally appeared in his tomb scenes. Heqarneheh's father, Heqareshu, who was "overseer of royal nurses" and a nurse to Prince Tuthmosis, is portrayed cradling four small princes on his lap in his own tomb scenes.

    Another "overseer of nurses," Meryra, also administered the baby Amenhotep's estates in his additional role as "chief steward of his majesty when a child." Later promoted to the office of chancellor, the trusted Meryra was given a fine burial in Sakkara, where stela reliefs from his tomb portray him holding Prince Siatum, possibly one of Amenhotep III's brothers, on his lap (see left). Meryra's wife Baketamen sits beside him.

    While his son Amenhotep was growing up, Prince Tuthmosis indulged in the traditional royal pursuits of archery, hunting, and chariotry, spending much of his time speeding around the city of Memphis in a chariot driven by "horses swifter than the wind." The teenage prince often drove out into the desert to the ancient pyramids of Giza and the sandcovered Great Sphinx, which were then already more than a thousand years old. Here, in the first years of his reign, Tuthmosis's father, Amenhotep II, had built a temple dedicated to the Sphinx as Horemakhet (a form of the sun god) and had set up a stela to honor the Old Kingdom monarchs Khafre and Khufu. Amenhotep II also created what is probably the first representation of the Aten disk (the sun disk worshiped as a god) as a human-armed sun disk. It is in this form that the Aten disk appears on a stela of Tuthmosis IV, which may have been originally carved during Amenhotep II's reign.

    Amenhotep II also erected a great statue of himself between the paws of the Sphinx and it was here that Prince Tuthmosis stopped for a rest during one of his desert hunting trips. Sheltering from the midday sun in the shadow of the Sphinx's massive head, the prince fell asleep and had a dream in which the Sphinx spoke to him "as a father speaks to a son." In the dream (see pages 19-20), the Sphinx appealed to the prince to clear away the sand that had amassed around it, almost burying the front of the monument, and to restore the creature to its former glory. In exchange for this, the Sphinx promised that Tuthmosis would one day become pharaoh—the ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt.

    Prince Tuthmosis dutifully cleared away the sand and undertook the restoration of the Sphinx's paws and chest. Modern excavations have revealed the mudbrick retaining walls the prince ordered to be built to protect the great monument from further sand encroachment. Although the details of the prince's accession are not known, it seems that the Sphinx fulfilled its promise: despite the fact that he had at least one elder brother, Tuthmosis did become king.

    At first seemingly little more than a romantic story, the episode of Tuthmosis's Sphinx dream in fact signaled an important shift in political power and religious allegiance, since it neatly distanced the future king from the all-pervading influence of the powerful Amun clergy in Thebes, who had previously been influential in validating the heir to the throne. In the years to come, this increased identification of the pharaoh with the sun god would also culminate in the cult of the Aten sun disk (see pages 60-61) and ultimately in Amenhotep III's identification with the sun god himself (see pages 154-155).



In the twenty-sixth year of his reign, when he was in his mid-forties, the warrior pharaoh Amenhotep II died. According to an Egyptian belief that was already at least five hundred years old, the king's soul was said to have risen to merge with the Aten (the sun disk worshiped as a god). During his reign the king had taken an interest in the northern-based sun cult. He had paid particular attention to the ancient site of Giza and its mighty Sphinx, constructed in ca. 2450BCE. Both Amenhotep II and his son Prince Tuthmosis (father of the future Amenhotep III) had venerated the Sphinx as the mighty sun god Ra combined with Horakhty (or "Horus in the horizon").

While his soul dwelt with the sun in the heavens, Amenhotep II's body underwent the traditional 70-day mummification process. Once all the vital funeral proceedings had been completed (see pages 32-33), his mummy was interred in its rock-cut tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Work on Amenhotep II's tomb—which remains one of the most impressive ancient Egyptian royal tombs—began at the start of the king's reign, giving the tomb-builders ample time in which to create a fittingly grand sepulcher, constructed to a new, regular plan. When it was discovered by Victor Loret and his team in 1898, the tomb still contained large fragments of its original funerary equipment. The excavators found themselves knee-deep in debris left behind by ancient looters: linen, furniture, funeral couches, figures of the gods carved in wood and stone, a wooden Osiris bed, amulets, and canopic jar fragments Much to the astonishment of the modern archaeologists, a group of reburied royal mummies was also discovered in two side chambers. It appears that the tomb had been reused by the priests responsible for restoring and reburying these mummies, including that of Amenhotep II, which was rewrapped and placed back inside its quartzite sarcophagus strewn with flowers.

    In accordance with Egyptian custom, Amenhotep II's funeral rites were overseen by his chosen successor. It was the adolescent Tuthmosis who was named as heir and "eldest son of the king's body, beloved of him," in spite of the fact that he had at least one older brother (called Amenhotep).

    After his father's burial, the young Tuthmosis was crowned as king. A coronation scene from the temple of Amada shows the gods placing the white-and-red double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt on the monarch's head. Tuthmosis's mother Tiaa became the most influential woman in the land and it is she, rather than any of his wives, who appears with her son in official portraiture.

    Tuthmosis's birth name (his Son of Ra name) means "born of Thoth," and, on his accession, he was given four more names to make up the traditional five-part titulary of monarchy. His Strong Bull name means "perfect of diadems"; his Two Ladies name means "enduring of kingship like Atum"; his Golden Horus name "powerful of the scimitar who subdues the Nine Bows"; while, as "king of Upper and Lower Egypt," he took the throne name "Menkheperure," meaning "everlasting are the manifestations of Ra." This choice of names was intended to indicate Tuthmosis's allegiance to the sun god, a faith demonstrated by the growing status of the Aten sun disk. This is clear from another contemporary text, in which the new king is acclaimed by the gods as one "whom Amun himself magnified to be lord of what the Aten encircles, lord of the Two Lands, Menkheperure." With his father now crowned as king, the life of the infant prince Amenhotep was also about to change.



The newly crowned King Tuthmosis IV set up court at the traditional capital of Memphis at the apex of the Nile Delta. The royal palace was run by an army of officials, from the "overseer of the royal household," chief steward, "overseer of the royal audience chamber," and royal butler, to the heralds, messengers, and servants. The royal women also had their own staff, including the "overseer of the queen's household" and the queen's document scribe.

As well as the residence at Memphis, there was also a royal palace in the town of Gurob, which lay southwest of el-Lahun in the Fayuum oasis, on the edge of the desert. Often referred to as a harem palace—a kind of retreat for the royal family—it was a large structure of columned rooms, with storage facilities set in an enclosure to the north. Gurob Palace would originally have been beautifully decorated and furnished: pieces of imported Aegean pottery and Syrian-inspired vessels were found at the site, together with blue-glazed Egyptian pots and fragments of numerous personal items, including eye-paint containers, razors, alabaster dishes, rings, necklaces, small scarabs, and items of linen clothing.

    Amenhotep seems to have spent part of his childhood in the nursery within the peaceful confines of the family palace at Gurob. A figure dedicated to Sobek Shedty, the local crocodile god, bears the inscription Amenhotep Mer-Khepesh, "Amenhotep who desires strength."

    A guardian was appointed for the young prince: Sobekhotep, who was a native of the Fayuum area and the mayor of the southern lake and the lake of Sobek, as well as being the king's treasurer. Amenhotep's sister Tiaa, named after her redoubtable grandmother, was placed in the care of Sobekhotep's wife Meryt. Prince Amenhotep and Princess Tiaa were joined by a growing number of siblings: brothers Amenemhat, Aakheperure, and Siatum, and sisters Amenemipet, Tentamun, and Petepihu.


Excerpted from CHRONICLE OF A PHARAOH by JOANN FLETCHER. Copyright © 2000 by Joann Fletcher. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

What People are Saying About This

Brian Fagan
A stimulating and unusual biography of one of Egypt's most magnificent pharaohs. I strongly recommend it as an intimately vivid account of royal life over 3000 years ago.— (Brian Fagan, archaeologist)

Meet the Author

Joann Fletcher is a freelance Egyptologist. She teaches Egyptology throughout the United Kingdom and lectures for the University of London, the British Museum, the Egypt Explorations Society (in London and Cairo). She is also a consultant to a number of museums and to the Bioanthropology Foundation, for which she has undertaken the examination of royal mummies in Cairo.

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