Thutmose III (1458-1425 BCE) also known as Tuthmosis III was Egypt’s 6th king of the 18th Dynasty. He forged an enduring reputation as one of antiquity’s greatest military leaders. This military prowess set the platform for his position as one of Egypt’s most effective monarchs. His throne name, Thutmose, translates as ‘Thoth is Born,’ while ‘Menkhperre’ his birth name means ‘Eternal are the Manifestations of Ra.’ Both Thutmose III’s names acknowledged two of ancient Egypt’s most powerful deities.
Facts About Thutmose III
- 6th king of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty and national hero, Thutmose III was revered by his people
- One of antiquity’s greatest military leaders, successfully leading 17 military campaigns in 20 years, amassing enormous wealth for Egypt
- A military genius, he mastered the art of surprise attacks, rapid movement, logistics and lines of supply
- Thutmose III’s artisans created some of the finest work in Egypt’s history, from elaborate tombs enlivened with ornate paintings to the massive pylons in Karnak, painting, sculpting and glass making flowered
- He erected many of Egypt’s majestic obelisks including those now set in New York, Istanbul, Rome and London today
Thutmose III’s Family Lineage
Thutmose III was the son of Thutmose II (1492-1479 BCE) and Iset one of Thutmose II’s lesser wives. Thutmose II was also married to Queen Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE), a royal daughter of Thutmose I (1520-1492 BCE) who also carried out the role of God’s Wife of Amun..
When Thutmose II died, Thutmose III was only three years old, too young to rule so Hatshepsut became regent. Hatshepsut later declared herself pharaoh and assumed the throne herself, emerging as one of the most powerful women in Egyptian history.
When Thutmose III came of age his stepmother gave him command of Egypt’s armed forces. It was an inspired decision, even if politically motivated. Thutmose III proved himself to be a charismatic leader and an exceptional military strategist.
Thutmose III During Hatshepsut’s Regency And His Rise To Power
Thutmose III grew up at the royal court in Egypt’s capital Thebes. Little documented evidence of his early life survived. However as was the custom in Egypt’s New Kingdom, the physical and intellectual development of a prince was a major focus of their education.
Thutmose III is believed to have studied military tactics and strategies together with athletics while in school. It is also thought he participated in Hatshepsut’s early campaigns abroad. It was common practice amongst New Kingdom pharaohs to immerse their successors in the military at an early age. During this time, Thutmose III is said to have honed his skills in hand-to-hand combat, archery and horsemanship.
During Thutmose III’s formative years, his stepmother reigned over one of Egypt’s most prosperous times. Once Hatshepsut’s initial campaigns had secured her reign, there were few major overseas deployments and the army primarily focused on protecting trade and maintaining orders along Egypt’s long borders.
Upon Hatshepsut’s death in 1458 BCE, and Thutmose III’s ascension to the throne, the kings of Egyptian-vassal states in Syria and Canaan rebelled. Thutmose III preferred direct action rather than negotiation so he left Egypt on his first military campaign.
Thutmose III’s Military Campaigns
During his time on the throne, Thutmose III successfully led 17 military campaigns in 20 years. At the pharaoh’s direction, details of his victories were inscribed at Karnak’s Temple of Amun. Today, there are acknowledged to be the most exhaustive records of ancient Egypt’s military campaigns in existence.
Thutmose III’s first campaign climaxed at The Battle of Megiddo, his most famous battle. The account of the campaign comes to us from Thutmose III’s private secretary (c. 1455 BCE).
Tjaneni provides a detailed description of Thutmose III as a commander-in-chief supremely confident in his own ability and of victory. By taking a little-used cattle track, Thutmose III achieved tactical surprise and routed his enemy. Thutmose III then marched on the city and besieged it for eight months until they surrendered. Thutmose III returned home laden with an enormous campaign loot, having lingered only to harvest the defeated army’s crops.
Megiddo saw Thutmose III initiate a policy that continued throughout all his subsequent campaigns. He brought the noble children of defeated kings back to Egypt to be educated as Egyptians. When they came of age, they were allowed to return home where many continued supporting Egyptian interests.
Victory at Megiddo gave Thutmose III control of northern Canaan. His Nubian campaigns proved equally successful. By Thutmose III’s 50th year, he had expanded Egypt’s borders beyond those of any of his predecessors, making Egypt wealthier than it had been at any time since the start of the Old Kingdom’s 4th Dynasty (c. 2613- 2181 BCE).
Thutmose III And The Arts
Thutmose III’s reign was not only absorbed by military campaigns. His patronage of the arts extended to his commissioning of 50 temples along with countless monuments and tombs. Thutmose III also contributed more to the Temple of Amun at Karnak than other pharaohs. Ironically, his refurbishment of the Karnak temple preserved the names of past kings and provided descriptions outlining of his own military campaigns.
Under Thutmose III, artistic skills flowered. Glass making was refined and mastered. Statuary adopted less idealized and more realistic styles. Thutmose III’s artisans created some of the finest work in Egypt’s long history. From elaborate tombs embellished with complex paintings and freestanding columns to the massive pylons in Karnak. Thutmose III also created public parks and gardens, complete with ponds and lakes for his subject’s recreation, while a private garden surrounded both his palace and his Karnak temple.
Defacing Hatshepsut’s Monuments
One of the most controversial acts attributed to Thutmose III is his desecration of Hatshepsut’s monuments and his attempt to erase her name from historical records.
According to Egyptian religious belief, to expunge a person’s name was to doom them to non-existence. For an ancient Egyptian to continue their eternal journey in the afterlife they needed to be remembered.
The current view amongst most scholars is that Thutmose III ordered this campaign to prevent Hatshepsut from becoming a role model for future Queens who may aspire to rule. In the Egyptian afterlife, there was no place in the narrative for a woman to ascend the throne and wield power.
One of the key responsibilities of a pharaoh was to maintain ma’at, the principle of harmony and balance at the heart of ancient Egyptian culture. This is thought to be the motivation behind Thutmose III’s expunction of Hatshepsut’s name.
Thutmose III left a substantial legacy of military greatness. Thutmose III took an isolated and weakened nation and transformed Egypt into an imperial power. By carving an empire stretching from the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia across to Syria and the Levant and down to the Fifth Cataract of the Nile in Nubia, Thutmose III cemented Egypt’s influence as a powerful and prosperous nation. Thutmose III epitomized the ideal of the Egyptian warrior-king who led his military to successive glorious victories, cementing his status as an Egyptian national hero and one of the greatest kings of ancient Egypt.
Reflecting On The Past
Was Thutmose III really an ancient Napoleon, a brilliant general who never lost a battle or merely a skilled propagandist who stole Hatshepsut’s legacy?