THE ZENITH OF EGYPTIAN POWER
AND THE REIGN OF
AMENHOTEP III (1390-1353)
By J.H. Breasted
I. EGYPT MISTRESS OF THE EAST
EGYPT had now become the controlling power in the far-reaching group of civilizations clustering in and about the eastern end of the Mediterranean, the centre, perhaps the nucleus, of the civilized world of that day. As she had been for over two thousand years the dominant civilizing force in the great complex of eastern Mediterranean states, so she was now likewise its political arbiter and economic centre. Seated astride both the intercontinental and the inter-oceanic highway, Egypt was building up and dominating the world of contiguous Africa and Eurasia. Traditional limits disappeared, the currents of life eddied no longer within the landmarks of tiny kingdoms, but pulsed from end to end of a great empire, embracing many kingdoms and tongues, from the upper Nile to the upper Euphrates. The wealth of Asiatic trade, circulating through the eastern end of the Mediterranean, which once flowed down the Euphrates to Babylon, was thus diverted to the Nile Delta, long before united by canal with the Red Sea. All the world traded in the Delta markets. Assyria was still in her infancy and Babylonia no longer possessed any political influence in the west. The Pharaoh looked forward to an indefinite lease of power throughout the vast empire which he had conquered.
The administration and organization of this Empire represent the earliest efforts of a government to devise an imperial system. Our scanty sources reveal little regarding it. The whole region of neighboring Asia was under the general control of a governor of the north countries: Thutmose’s general, Thutiy, having been the first to hold that office. To bridle the turbulent Asiatic dynasts it was necessary permanently to station troops throughout Syria. Strongholds named after the Pharaoh were established and troops placed in them as garrisons under deputies with power to act as the Pharaoh's representatives, Thutmose III erected one such at the south end of Lebanon; he resuscitated another founded by his predecessors at some city on the Phoenician coast, where we find a sanctuary of Amon, the State-god of Egypt, and there was probably such a temple in each of the garrison towns. Yet another stronghold at Ikathi, in farthest Naharin, was doubtless his foundation. Remains of an Egyptian temple found by Renan at Byblos probably belong to this period. In local administration the city-kings were allowed to rule their little states with great freedom, as long as they paid the annual tribute with promptness and regularity. When such a ruler died his son, who, as already noted, had been educated at Thebes, was installed in the father’s place. The Asiatic conquests were therefore rather a series of tributary kingdoms than provinces: the latter, indeed, represent a system of foreign government as yet in its infancy, or only roughly foreshadowed in the rule of the viceroy of Kush. How the local government of the city-kings was related to the administration of the governor of the north countries is entirely uncertain. Apparently his office was largely a fiscal one, for Thutiy, Thutmose's governor, adds to his name the phrase “filling the treasury with lapis lazuli, silver and gold”. But it is evident that the dynasts collected their own taxes and rendered a part to the Pharaoh. How large a part this may have been we do not know; nor have we the slightest idea as to the amount of the Pharaoh’s total revenue from Asia.
When the news of Thutmose Ill's death reached Asia the opportunity was as usual improved by the dynasts, who made every preparation to throw off the irksome obligation of the annual tribute. All Naharin, including the Mitanni princes, and probably also the northern coast cities, were combined or at least simultaneous in the uprising. With all his father’s energy the young Amenhotep II prepared for the crisis and marched into Asia against the allies, who had collected a large army. Leaving Egypt with his forces in the April of his second year (1447 BC), Amenhotep was in touch with the enemy in northern Palestine in early May and immediately fought an action at Shemesh-Edom against the princes of Lebanon. The enemy was routed. By May 12 he had crossed the Orontes for the last time in his northward advance, probably at Senzar, and turned north-eastward for the Euphrates. After a skirmish with the Naharin vanguard he pushed rapidly on and captured seven of the rebellious dynasts in the land of Tikhsi. On May 26, fourteen days after leaving the Orontes, he arrived at Niy, which opened its gates to him; and with the men and women of the town acclaiming him from the walls he entered the place in triumph. Ten days later, on June 5, he had rescued a garrison of his troops from the treachery of the revolting town of Ikathi and punished its inhabitants. As he reached his extreme limit, which probably surpassed his father’s, and penetrated Mitanni, he set up a boundary tablet, as his father and grandfather had done.
His return was a triumphal procession. As he approached Memphis, the populace assembled in admiring crowds while his lines passed, driving with them over five hundred of the north Syrian lords, two hundred and forty of their women, two hundred and forty horses and three hundred chariots. His herald had in charge for the chief treasurer over four-fifths of a ton of gold in the form of vases and various vessels, besides nearly fifty tons of copper. Proceeding to Thebes, he took with him the seven kings of Tikhsi, who were hung head downward on the prow of his royal barge as he approached the city. He himself sacrificed them in the presence of Amon and hanged their bodies on the walls of Thebes, reserving one for a lesson to the Nubians, as we shall see. His unexpected promptness and energy had evidently crushed the revolt before it had been able to muster all its forces, and so far as we know, the lesson was so effective that no further rising against his suzerainty in Asia was ever attempted. Nevertheless, so customary had the practice of war become in the career of a Pharaoh that Amenhotep’s records refer to the expedition as his first campaign although no second campaign in Asia is known to us.
On his arrival at Thebes the young Pharaoh could now direct his attention to the other extremity of his empire. He dispatched an expedition into Nubia, bearing the body of the seventh king of the land of Tikhsi, which was hung up on the walls of Napata, as a hint of what the Nubians might expect should they attempt to revolt against their new sovereign. His frontier was guarded by Napata, just below the fourth cataract, and the region of Karoy in which the town lay, was from this time on known as the southern limit of Egyptian administration. To this point extended the jurisdiction of the viceroy of Kush, and governor of the south countries. The entire fertile Dongola province of today was thus included in the Egyptian administration. Beyond Amenhotep’s boundary tablets which he set up at this southern frontier, there was no more control of the rude Nubian tribes than was necessary to keep open the trade-routes from the south and prevent the barbarians from raiding the province.
Thenceforward Amenhotep II was not involved in war Besides his now vanished mortuary temple on the west side of the Nile, by that of his father, we learn of a number of other sumptuous building's and restorations. We are able to discern little of him personally, but he seems to have been a worthy son of the great king. Physically he was a very powerful man and claims in his inscriptions that no man could draw his bow. The weapon was found in his tomb and bears the words after his name: “Smiter of the Troglodytes, overthrower of Kush, hacking up their cities…the great Wall of Egypt, protector of his soldiers”. It is evidently this story which furnished Herodotus with the legend that Cambyses was unable to draw the bow of the king of Ethiopia. He celebrated his jubilee on the thirtieth anniversary of his appointment as crown prince and erected an obelisk in Elephantine in commemoration of the event. Dying about 1420 BC, after a reign of some twenty-seven years, he was interred like his ancestors in the Valley of the Kings' Tombs, where his body rests to this day, though even yet a prey to the clever tomb-robbers of modern Thebes, who in November, 1901, forced the tomb and cut through the wrappings of the mummy in their search for royal treasure on the body of their ancient ruler. Their Theban ancestors in the same craft, however, had three thousand years ago taken good care that nothing should be left for their descendants.
If we may believe a folk-tale which was in circulation some centuries later, Thutmose IV, Amenhotep II’s son, was not at first designed to be his father’s successor. The story recounted how, long before his father's death, a hunting expedition once carried the young prince into the desert near the pyramids of Gizeh, where the Pharaohs of the IVth Dynasty had already slept over thirteen hundred years. Resting in the shadow of the great Sphinx at noon time, he fell asleep, and the Sun-god, with whom the Sphinx in his time was identified, appeared to him in a dream, beseeching him to clear his image of the sand which already at that early day encumbered it. As a reward the Sun-god at the same time promised him the kingdom. The prince made a vow to do as the great god desired, and immediately upon his accession the young king hastened to redeem his vow. He cleared the gigantic figure of the Sphinx and recorded the whole incident on a stele in the vicinity. A later version, made by the priests of the palace, was engraved on a huge granite architrave taken from the neighboring Khafre temple and erected against the breast of the Sphinx between his fore-legs, where it still stands.
Thutmose IV was also early called upon to maintain the empire in Asia. While we know nothing of his operations there, he was afterward able to record in the state temple at Thebes the spoil, which his majesty captured in Naharin the wretched, on his first victorious campaign. The immediate result of his appearance in Naharin was to quiet all disaffection there as far as the vassal-princes were concerned. He returned by way of Lebanon, where he forced the chiefs to furnish him with a cargo of cedar for the sacred barge of Amon at Thebes. Arriving at Thebes, he settled a colony of the prisoners, possibly from the city of Gezer in Palestine, in the enclosure of his mortuary temple, which he had erected by those of his ancestors on the plain at Thebes. Perhaps the recognition of a common enemy in the Kheta now necessitated a rapprochement between the Pharaoh and Mitanni, for the latter was soon to suffer from the aggressions of the king of Kheta (the Hittites). Thutmose, evidently desiring a powerful friend in the north, inaugurated an entire new Egyptian policy on the northern frontier of the Asiatic empire, viz. that of alliance with a leading and once hostile power. It was a good policy but its success depended upon the wisdom with which the Asiatic ally was chosen. Thutmose IV was not wholly successful in his selection. What he knew of the Kheta we cannot now determine. He chose as his northern ally Artatama the Mitannian king, and sending to him, desired his daughter in marriage. After some proper display of reluctance Artatama consented, and the Mitannian princess was sent to Egypt, where she probably received an Egyptian name, Mutemuya, and became the mother of the next king of Egypt, Amenhotep III. This alliance with Mitanni forbade all thought of future conquest by the Pharaoh east of the Euphrates, and in harmony with this policy a friendly alliance was also cemented with Babylonia.
Thutmose's momentous operations in Asia were followed by a brief war in Nubia in his eighth year, which it is probable he did not long survive. He was therefore unable to beautify Thebes and adorn the state temple as his fathers had done. But the respect in which he held his grandfather, Thutmose III, led him to the completion of a notable work of the latter. For thirty-five years the last obelisk planned by Thutmose III had been lying unfinished at the southern portal of the Karnak temple enclosure or temenos. His grandson now had it engraved in the old conqueror's name, recorded also upon it his own pious deed in continuing the work, and erected the colossal shaft, one hundred and five-and-a-half feet high, the largest surviving obelisk, at the southern portal of the enclosure, where he had found it lying. It now stands before the Lateran in Rome. Not long after this gracious act, which may possibly have been in celebration of his own jubilee, Thutmose IV was gathered to his fathers (about 1411 BC) and was buried in the valley where they slept.
His son, the third of the Amenhoteps, was the most luxurious and splendid, as he was also the last, of the great Egyptian emperors. He was but the great-grandson of Thutmose III, but with him the high tide of Egyptian power was already slowly on the ebb, and he was not the man to stem the tide. Nevertheless in the administration of his great empire Amenhotep III began well. Toward the close of ins fourth year trouble in Nubia called him south. After defeating the enemy decisively somewhere above the second cataract, Amenhotep marched southward for a month, taking captives and spoil as he went. It is difficult to determine the exact limit of his southern advance. In the land of Karoy, with which the reader is now acquainted as the region about Napata, he collected great quantities of gold for his Theban buildings, and at Kebehu-Hor, or the “Pool of Horus” he erected his tablet of victory, but we are unable to locate the place with certainty. It was certainly not much in advance of the frontier of his father. This was the last great invasion of Nubia by the Pharaohs. It was constantly necessary to punish the outlying tribes for their incessant predatory incursions into the Nile valley; but the valley itself, as far as the fourth cataract, was completely subjugated, and as far as the second cataract largely Egyptianized. This process went steadily forward until the country up to the fourth cataract was effectually engrafted with Egyptian civilization. Egyptian temples had now sprung up at every larger town, and the Egyptian gods were worshipped therein; the Egyptian arts were learned by the Nubian craftsmen, and everywhere the rude barbarism of the upper Nile was receiving the stamp of Egyptian culture. Nevertheless the native chieftains, under the surveillance of the viceroy, were still permitted to retain their titles and honors, and doubtless continued to enjoy at least a nominal share in the government. We find them as far north as Ibrim, which had marked the southern limit of Amenhotep III’s levy of Nubian auxiliaries, and was therefore probably the extreme point to which local administration solely by Egyptian officials extended southward. In race it should be noted that the population of these regions ruled by Egypt on the upper Nile was composed of Nubians, not of negroes. While some negroes filtered into the southern Nubian provinces of Egypt, the Egyptian frontier sat the fourth cataract evidently did not include any negro territory, which was at that time, as at present, well south of the fourth cataract. The first appearance of real negroes on the Egyptian monuments, that is, their first appearance in history, is, as H. Junker has argued, to be dated in the Egyptian empire, beginning with the age of Thutmose III; but even the empire never included any exclusively negro territory.
In Asia Amennotep III enjoyed unchallenged supremacy; at the court of Babylon, even, his suzerainty in “Canaan”, as they called Syria-Palestine, was acknowledged; and when the dynasts attempted to involve Kurigalzu, king of Babylon, in an alliance with them against the Pharaoh, he wrote them an unqualified recursal, stating that he was in alliance with the Pharaoh, and even threatened them with hostilities if they formed, a hostile alliance against Egypt. All the powers: Babylonia, Assyria, Mitanni and Alashiya (? Cyprus), were exerting every effort to gain the friendship of Egypt. A scene of world politics, such as is unknown before in history, now unfolds before us. From the Pharaoh’s court as the centre radiated a host of lines of communication with all the great peoples of the age. These are revealed to us in the Tell el-Amarna Letters, perhaps the most interesting mass of documents surviving from the early East. In this correspondence we look out across the kingdoms of Hither Asia as one might see them on a stage, each king playing his part before the great throne of the Pharaoh. Five letters survive from the correspondence between Amenhotep III and Kadashman-Enlil, king of Babylonia; one from the Pharaoh and the others from the Babylonian. The latter is constantly in need of gold and insistently importunes his brother of Egypt to send him large quantities of the precious metal, winch, he says, is as plentiful as dust in Egypt, according to the reports of the Babylonian messengers. Considerable friction results from the dissatisfaction of the Babylonian king at the amounts with which Amenhotep favors him. He refers to the fact that Amenhotep had received from his father a daughter in marriage, and makes this relationship a reason for further gifts of gold. As the correspondence goes on another marriage is negotiated between a daughter of Amenhotep and Kadashman-Enlil or his son. Similarly the Pharaoh enjoys the most intimate connection with Shuttarna, the king of Mitanni, the son of Artatama, with whom his father, Thutmose IV, had maintained the most cordial relations. Indeed Amenhotep was perhaps the nephew of Shuttarna, from whom in the tenth year of the Pharaoh’s reign, he received a daughter, Gilukhipa, in marriage. In celebration of this union Amenhotep issued a series of scarab-beetles of stone bearing an inscription commemorating the event, and stating that the princess brought with her a train of three hundred and seventeen ladies and attendants. On the death of Shuttarna the alliance was continued under his son, Tushratta, from whom Amenhotep later received, as a wife for his son and successor, a second Mitannian princess, Tadukhipa, the daughter of Tushratta. The correspondence between the two kings is very illuminating and may serve as an example of such communications. The following is a letter of Tushratta to his Egyptian ally:
“Speak unto Nimuria (i.e. Amenhotep III), the great king, the king of Egypt, my brother, my son-in-law, who loves me and whom I love, saying: Tusnratta, the great King, thy father-in-law, who loves thee, the king of Mitanni, thy brother. It is well with me. With thee may it be well, with thy house, with my sister and with the rest of thy wives, thy sons, thy chariots, thy horses, thy army, thy land, and all thy possessions, may it be very well indeed. In the time of thy fathers, they were on very friendly terms with my fathers. Now thou hast increased (this friendship) still more and with my father thou hast been on very friendly terms indeed. Now, therefore, since thou and I are on mutually friendly terms, thou hast made (it) ten times greater than (with) my father. May the gods cause this friendship of ours to prosper. May Teshub (the god of Mitanni), my lord, and Amon eternally proclaim it as it is now.
And when my brother sent his messenger, Mane, my brother verily said: ‘Send me thy daughter for my wife, to be queen of Egypt’. I did not grieve the heart of my brother, but I spoke formerly: ‘I will indeed gratify (thee)’. And the one my brother asked for I presented to Mane, and he looked upon her. When he saw her, he greatly...(?). Now may he bring her safely to my brother’s land, and may Ishtar and Amon make her correspond to my brother’s wish.
Gilia, my messenger, has brought to me my brother's words: when I heard them, then they seemed to me very good, and I was very glad indeed and said: ‘It is inviolable (?) that we maintain friendship between us and with one another’. Behold, in view of these words, we will maintain friendship forever. Now when I wrote unto my brother and spoke, verily I said: We will be very friendly indeed, and between us we shall be good friends, and I said to my brother: Let my brother grant me ten times greater measure than to my father, and I asked of my brother a great deal of gold, saying: Much more than to my father let my brother give me and may my brother send me. Thou sentest any father a great deal of gold: a large offering vessel of gold, and vessels of gold, thou sentest him; thou sentest (him?) a tablet of gold as if it were alloyed with copper…So let my brother send gold in very great quantity which cannot be counted,...and may my brother send more gold than my father received. For in my brother’s land gold is as common as dust”.
In response to similar entreaties, Amenhotep sent a gift of twenty talents of gold to the king of Assyria, and gained his friendship also. The vassalship of the king of Alashiya continued, and he regularly sent the Pharaoh large quantities of copper, save when on one occasion he excused himself because his country had been visited by a pestilence. So complete was the understanding between Egypt and this land that even the extradition of the property of one of its citizens who had died in Egypt was regarded by the two kings as a matter of course, and a messenger was sent to Egypt to receive the property and bring it back for delivery to the wife and son of the deceased. Thus courted and flattered, the object of diplomatic attention from all the great powers, Amenhotep found little occasion for anxiety regarding his Asiatic empire.
The Syrian vassals were now the grandsons of the men whom Thutmose III had conquered; they had grown thoroughly habituated to the Egyptian allegiance. It was not without its advantages in rendering them free from all apprehension of attack from without. An Egyptian education at the Pharaoh’s capital had, moreover, made him many a loyal servant among the children of the dynasts, who had succeeded disloyal or lukewarm fathers in Syria. They protest their fidelity to the Pharaoh on all occasions; they inform the court at the first sign of disloyalty among their fellows, and are even commissioned to proceed against rebellious princes. Throughout the land in the larger cities are garrisons of Egyptian troops, consisting of infantry and chariotry. They are no longer solely native Egyptians, but to a large extent Nubians and Sherden, roving, predatory bands of sea-robbers, perhaps the ancestors of the Sardinians, though their name has also been associated with Sardes. From now on they took service in the Egyptian army in ever larger and larger numbers. These forces of the Pharaoh were maintained by the dynasts, and one of their self-applied tests of loyalty in writing to the Pharaoh was, as we frequently learn, their readiness and faithfulness in furnishing supplies. Syria thus enjoyed a stability of government and widespread public security such as had never before been hers. The roads were safe from robbers, caravans were convoyed from vassal to vassal, and a word from the Pharaoh was sufficient to bring any of his subject-princes to his knees. Amenhotep himself was never obliged to carry on a war in Asia. It was deemed sufficient, as we shall later see, to send troops under the command of an efficient officer, who found no difficulty in coping with the situation for a generation after Amenhotep’s accession.
TRADE AND INTERCOURSE
Trade now developed as never before. The only foreign commerce of Egypt herself, which the monuments clearly disclose to us, was carried on by the Pharaohs themselves, reminding us of Solomon’s trafficking as a horse-merchant and his ventures in partnership with Hiram of Tyre. But there is no reason to suppose that the Pharaohs made foreign merchandizing their own exclusive prerogative, though we shall probably never know how many great merchants of Egypt were able to follow the example of Hatshepsut and her royal predecessors, as far back as the Vth Dynasty, in their impressive voyages to Punt. It is evident that the Nile, from the Delta to the cataracts, was now alive with the freight of all the world, which flowed into it from the Red Sea fleets and from long caravans passing back and forth through the Isthmus of Suez, bearing the rich stuffs of Syria, the spices and aromatic woods of the east, the weapons and chased vessels of the Phoenicians, and a myriad of other things, which brought their Semitic names into the hieroglyphic and their use into the life of the Nile-dwellers. Parallel with the land traffic through the isthmus were the routes of commerce on the Mediterranean, thickly dotted with the richly laden galleys of Phoenicia, converging upon the Delta from all quarters and bringing to the markets of the Nile the decorated vessels or damascened bronzes from the Mycenaean industrial settlements of the Aegean. A tomb-painting of Egyptian Thebes shows us several Phoenician craft of Egyptian models tied up at Nile docks, with Syrian crews and merchants trafficking in the Egyptian bazaars. The products of Egyptian industry were likewise in use in the palace of the sea-kings of Cnossos, in Rhodes, and in Cyprus, where numbers of Pharaonic monuments of this age have been found. Scarabs and bits of glazed ware with the name of Amenhotep III or his queen Tiy have also been discovered on the mainland of Greece at Mycenae—the earliest dated tokens of high civilization on the continent of Europe.
The diffusion of Nile-valley civilization which had been going on from prehistoric times was now more rapid. The eastern Mediterranean peoples, especially, were feeling the impact of Egyptian culture. In Crete Egyptian religious forms had been introduced, in one case seemingly under the personal leadership of an Egyptian priest. Aegean artists were powerfully influenced by the incoming products of Egypt. Egyptian landscapes appear in their metal work, and the lithe animal forms in instantaneous postures which were caught by the pencil of the Theban artists were now common in Crete. The superb decorated ceilings of Thebes likewise appear in the great tomb at Orchomenus. Even the pre-Greek writing of Crete shows traces of the influence of the Hieroglyphics of the Nile. The men of the Aegean world, the men of Keftiu, who brought these things to their countrymen, were now a familiar sight upon the streets of Thebes, where the wares which they offered were also modifying the art of Egypt. The plentiful silver of the north now came in with the northern strangers in great quantities, and, although under the Hycsos the baser metal had been worth twice as much as gold, the latter now and permanently became the more valuable medium. The ratio was now about one and two-thirds to one, and the value of silver steadily fell until Ptolemaic times, when the ratio was twelve to one.
Such intercourse required protection and regulation. Roving bands of Lycian pirates infested the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean; they boldly entered the harbors of Alashiya and plundered the towns, and even landed on the coast of the Delta. Amenhotep III was therefore obliged to develop marine police which patrolled the coast of the Delta and constantly held the mouths of the river closed against all but lawful comers. Customhouses were also maintained by these police officials at the same places, and all merchandise not consigned to the king was dutiable. The income from this source must have been large but we have no means of estimating it. All the land-routes leading into the country were similarly policed and foreigners who could not satisfactorily explain their business were turned back, while legitimate trade was encouraged, protected and properly taxed.
CIVILIZATION AND THE NEW AGE UNDER AMENHOTEP III
The influx of slaves, chiefly of Semitic race, which had begun under Thutmose III, still continued, and the king's chief scribe distributed them throughout the land and enrolled them among the tax-paying serfs. As this host of foreigners intermarried with the natives, the large infusion of strange blood began to make itself felt in a new and composite type of face, if we may trust the artists of the day. The incalculable wealth which had now been converging upon the coffers of the Pharaoh for over a century also began to exert a profound influence, which, as under like conditions, in later history, was far from wholesome. On New Year's Day the king presented his nobles with a profusion of costly gifts which would have amazed the Pharaohs of the Pyramid Age. In the old days the monarch rewarded a faithful noble with land, which, in order to pay a return, must be properly cultivated and administered, thus fostering simplicity and whole-some country virtues on a large domain; but the favorite now received convertible wealth, which required no administration to be utilized. The luxury and display of the metropolis supplanted the old rustic simplicity and sturdy elemental virtues. From the Pharaoh down to the humblest scribe this change was evident, if in nothing else than the externals of costume; for the simple linen kilt from the flips to the knees, which once satisfied all, not excluding the king, had now given way to an elaborate costume, with long plaited skirt, and a rich tunic with flowing sleeves. Under Thutmose IV even the simple and long-revered Pharaonic costume had been displaced by an elaborate royal garment in the new mode. The unpretentious head-dress of the old time was replaced by an elaborately curled wig hanging down upon the shoulders; while the once bare feet were shod in elegant sandals, with tapering toes curled up at the tips. A noble of the landed class from the court of an Amenemhet or Senusret, could he have walked the streets of Thebes in Amenhotep III’s day, would almost have been at a loss to know in what country he had suddenly found himself; while his own antiquated costume, which had survived only among the priests, would have awakened equal astonishment among the fashionable Thebans of the day. He would not have felt less strange than a noble of Elizabeth’s reign in the streets of modern London.
All about him he would have found elegant chateaux and luxurious villas, with charming gardens and summer-houses grouped about vast temples, such as the Nile-dweller had never seen before. The wealth and the captive labor of Asia and Nubia were being rapidly transmuted into noble architecture, and at Thebes a new and fundamental chapter in the history of the world's architecture was being daily written. Amenhotep gave himself with appreciation and enthusiasm to such works, and placed at the disposal of his architects all the resources which they needed for an ampler practice of their art than had ever before been possible. There were among them men of the highest gifts, and one of them, who bore the same name as the king, gained such a wide reputation for his wisdom that his sayings circulated in Greek some twelve hundred years later among the “Proverbs of the Seven Wise Men”; and in Ptolemaic times he was finally worshipped as a god in the Ptah-temple of Karnak, and took his place among the Innumerable deities of Egypt as “Amenhotep, son of Hapu”.
Under the fingers of such men as these the old and traditional elements of Egyptian building were imbued with new life and combined into new forms in which they took on a wondrous beauty unknown before. Besides this, the unprecedented resources of wealth and labor at the command of such an architect enabled him to deal with such vast dimensions that the element of size alone must have rendered his buildings in the highest degree impressive. But of the two forms of temple which now developed, the smaller is not less effective than the larger, it was a simple rectangular cella, or “holy of holies” of modest dimensions, with a door at each end, surrounded by a portico, the whole being raised upon a base of about half the height of the temple walls. With the door looking out between two graceful columns, and the façade happily set in the retreating vistas of the side colonnades, the whole is so successfully proportioned that the trained eye immediately recognizes the hand of a master who appreciated the full value of simple constructive lines. Indeed, the architects of Napoleon’s expedition who brought it to the notice of the modern world were charmed with it, and thought that they had discovered in it the origin of the Greek peripteral temple. The other and larger type of temple, which now reached its highest development, differs strikingly from the one just discussed; and perhaps most fundamentally in the fact that its colonnades were all within and not visible from the outside. The holy of holies, as of old, was surrounded by a series of chambers, larger than before, as rendered necessary by the rich and elaborate ritual which had arisen. Before it was a large colonnaded hall, often called the hypostyle, while in front of this hall lay an extensive forecourt surrounded by a columned portico. In front of this court rose two towers (together called a “pylon”), which formed the façade of the temple. Their walls inclined inward, they were crowned by a hollow cornice, and the great door of the temple opened between them. While the masonry, which was of sandstone or limestone, did not usually contain large blocks, huge architraves, thirty or forty feet long and weighing one or two hundred tons, were not unknown. Nearly all the surfaces except those on the columns were embellished with flat reliefs, the outside walls showing the king in battle, while on the inside he appeared in the worship of the gods, and all surfaces with slight exception were highly colored. Before the vast double doors of cedar of Lebanon, mounted in bronze, rose, one on either side, a pair of obelisks, towering high above the pylon-towers; while colossal statues of the king, each hewn from a single block, were placed with backs to the pylon, on either side of the door. In the use of these elements and this general arrangement of the parts, already common before Amenhotep’s reign, his architects created a radically new type, destined to survive in frequent use to this day as one of the noblest forms of architecture.
At Luxor, the old southern suburb of Thebes, which had now grown into the city, there was a small XIIth Dynasty temple to Amon, in front of which Amenhotep planned a vast new sanctuary. Its great hall was laid out with a row of gigantic columns on either side of the central axis, quite surpassing in height any pier ever before employed by the Egyptians. Nor were they less beautiful for their great size, being masterpieces of proportion, with capitals of the graceful, spreading papyrus-flower type. These columns were higher than those ranged on both sides of the middle, thus producing a higher roof over the central aisle or nave and a lower roof over the side aisles, the difference in level being filled with tall grated stone windows, the whole forming a clerestory, which, it would seem, the Theban architects of Amenhotep III developed out of the light-chutes (the embryonic clerestory) of the Old Kingdom, already found some fifteen hundred years earlier at Gizeh. Thus were produced the fundamental elements in the basilica and cathedral architecture of Europe. Unfortunately the vast hall was unfinished at the death of the king, and his son was too ardent an enemy of Amon to carry out the work of his father. His later successors walled up the magnificent nave, using for this purpose some of the drums from the columns of the side aisles which were never set up, and the whole stands today a mournful wreck of an unfinished work of epoch-making importance in the history of architecture.
Discerning for the first time the possibilities of a monumental city—a city which should itself form a vast and symmetrically developed monument Amenhotep now proceeded to give the great buildings of the city a unity which they had not before possessed. With the river as a great central avenue, the spacious temple precincts were ranged on both sides of the stately stream, while imposing avenues of sphinxes led down to either shore. The king also laid out a beautiful garden in the interval of over a mile and a half which separates the Karnak from the Luxor temple, and connected the great temples by avenues of rams carved in stone, each bearing a statue of the Pharaoh between the forepaws.
Nor did the western, plain on the other side of the river, behind which the conquerors slept, suffer by comparison with the new glories of Karnak and Luxor. Along the foot of the rugged cliffs, from the modest chapel of Amenhotep I on the north, there stretched southward in an imposing line the mortuary temples of the emperors. At the south end of this line, but a little nearer the river, Amenhotep III erected his own mortuary sanctuary, the largest temple of his reign. Two gigantic colossi of the king, nearly seventy feet high, each cut from one block and weighing over seven hundred tons, besides a pair of obelisks, stood before the pylon, which was approached from the river by an avenue of jackals sculptured in stone. Numerous other great statues of the Pharaoh were ranged about the colonnades of the court. A huge stela of sandstone, thirty feet high, inwrought with gold and encrusted with costly stones, marked the ceremonial “Station of the King”, where Amenhotep stood in performing the official duties of the ritual; another, over ten feet high, bore a record of all his works for Amon, while the walls and floors of the temple, overlaid with gold and silver, displayed the most prodigal magnificence. The fine taste and technical skill required for such supplementary works of the craftsman were now developed to a point of classical excellence, beyond which Egyptian art never passed. But this sumptuous building, probably the greatest work of art ever wrought in Egypt, has vanished utterly. Only the two weather-beaten colossi which guarded the entrance still look out across the plain, one of them still bearing the scribblings in Greek of curious tourists in the times of the Roman Empire who came to hear the marvelous voice of Memnon which issued from it every morning. A hundred paces behind lies prostrate and shattered in two the vast stela, once encrusted with gold and costly stones, marking the “Station of the King”, and upon it one may still read the words of Amenhotep regarding the temple: “My majesty has done these things for millions of years, and I know that they will abide in the earth”. We shall later have occasion to observe how this regal temple fell a prey to the impiety of Amenhotep's degenerate descendants within two hundred years of his death.
In the days of their splendor, the general effect of these Theban buildings must have been imposing in the extreme; the brilliant hues of the polychrome architecture, with columns and gates overwrought in gold, and floors overlaid with silver, the whole dominated by towering obelisks clothed in glittering metal, rising high above the rich green of the nodding palms and tropical foliage which framed the mass—all this must have produced an impression both of gorgeous detail and overwhelming grandeur, of which the somber ruins of the same buildings, impressive as they are, offer little hint at the present day. As at Athens in the days of her glory, the state was fortunate in the possession of men of sensitive and creative mind, upon whose quick imagination her greatness had profoundly wrought, until they were able to embody her external manifestations in forms of beauty, dignity and splendor. Thus had Thebes become a worthy seat of empire, the first monumental city of antiquity.
Under such conditions sculpture nourished as never before. Along with a tireless patience and nicety in the development of detail, the sculptor had at the same time gamed a discernment of individual traits and a refinement of feeling, a delicacy and flexibility combined with strength, before unknown. These qualities were sometimes carried into work of such ample proportions that the sculptor's command of them under the circumstances is surprising, although not all of the colossal portrait statues are successful in these particulars. The success attained in the sculpture of impressive animal forms by the artists of this reign marked the highest level of such work in the history of Egyptian art, and Ruskin has insisted with his customary conviction that the two lions of Amenhotep III’s reign now in the British Museum are the finest embodiment of animal majesty which have survived to us from any ancient people. Especially in relief were the artists of this age masters. In such works we may study the abandoned grief of the two sons of the High Priest of Memphis as they follow their father’s body to the tomb, and note how effectively the artist has contrasted with their emotion the severe gravity and conventional decorum of the great ministers of state behind them, who themselves are again in striking contrast with a heartless Beau Brummell of that distant day, who is affectedly arranging the perfumed curls of his elaborate wig. The artist who wrought such a piece was a master of ripe and matured culture, an observer of life, whose work exhibits alike the pathos and the wistful questioning of human sorrow, recognizing both the necessity and the cruel indifference of official conventionality, and seeing, amid all, the play of the vain and ostentatious fashions of the hour. Such a work of art exhibits the same detachment and capacity to contemplate and criticize life, that had already arisen among the social thinkers of the Egyptian Feudal Age, and which some modern writers would have us believe first appeared in the literary art of Aristophanes.
Now, too, the Pharaoh's deeds of prowess inspired the sculptors of the time to design more elaborate compositions than they had ever before attempted. The battle scenes on the noble chariot of Thutmose IV exhibit an unprecedented complexity in drawing, and this tendency continued in the XIXth Dynasty.
We have already referred to the work of the craftsmen in furnishing and embellishing the temples. While the magnificent jewellery of the Middle Kingdom was never later surpassed, and possibly never equaled. Nevertheless the reign of Amenhotep III and his successor marked the Grand Age in all the refinements of artistic craftsmanship, especially as revealed in the palaces of the Pharaoh and the villas of his nobles. Such works as these, together with temples and gardens, made the western plain of Thebes a majestic prospect as the observer advanced from the river, ascending Amenhotep’s avenue of sculptured jackals. On the left, behind the temple and nearer the cliffs, appeared a palace of the king, of rectangular wooden architecture in bright colors; very light and airy, and having over the front entrance a gorgeous cushioned balcony with graceful columns, in which the king showed himself to his favorites on occasion. Innumerable products of the industrial artists, which fill the museums of Europe, indicate with what tempered richness and delicate beauty such a royal chateau was furnished and adorned. Magnificent vessels in gold and silver, with figures of men and animals, plants and flowers rising from the brim, glittered on the king's table among crystal goblets, glass vases (made by the sons of the craftsmen who produced the earliest known glass vessels), and grey glazed bowls inlaid with pale blue designs. The walls were covered with woven tapestry which skilled judges have declared equal to the best modern work. Besides painted pavements depicting animal life, the walls also were adorned with blue glazed tiles, the rich color of which shone through elaborate designs in gold leaf, while glazed figures were employed in encrusting larger surfaces. The ceilings were a deep blue sky across which floated soaring birds done in bright colors. Ceiling, walls and floor merged in a unified color scheme which was developed with fine and intelligent consideration of the room as a whole. Of the painting of the time the best examples were in the palaces, but these buildings, being of wood, and sun-dried brick, have perished. Enough has survived however to show us that in all the refined arts it was an age like that of Louis XV. It is evident that literature did not lag behind the other arts, but unhappily chance has preserved to us little of the literature of this remarkable age.
There is a triumphant hymn to Thutmose III, and we shall read portions of the remarkable Sun-hymn of Ikhnaton; but of narrative, song and legend, which must have nourished from the rise of the Empire, our surviving documents date almost exclusively from the XIXth Dynasty. The music of the period was more elaborate than ever before, for the art had made progress since the days of the old simplicity. The harp was now a huge instrument as tall as a man, and had some twenty strings; the lyre had been introduced from Asia, and the full orchestra contained the harp, the lyre, the lute and the double pipes.
In the midst of sumptuous splendor, such as no ruler of men had ever enjoyed before, this great emperor of the east devoted himself to his life of luxury and the beautification of his imperial city. Around his palace on the west side of the river he laid out an exclusive quarter which he gave to his queen, Tiy. He excavated a large lake in the enclosure, about a mile long and over a thousand feet wide, and at the celebration of his coronation anniversary in his twelfth year, he opened the sluices for filling it, and sailed out upon it in the royal barge with his queen, in such a gorgeous festival fantasia as we find in the Arabian Nights in the days of the notorious Harun el-Rashid. Such festivals, now common in Thebes, enriched the life of the fast growing metropolis with a kaleidoscopic variety which may be compared only with similar periods in Rome under the emperors. The religious feasts of the seventh month were celebrated with such opulent splendor, that the month quickly gained the epithet, “That of Amenhotep”, a designation still surviving among the natives of modern Egypt, who employ it without the faintest knowledge of the imperial ruler, their ancestor, whose name is perpetuated in it.
Amenhotep III was very fond of hunting, and when his scouts brought him word that a herd of wild cattle had appeared among the hills bordering the Delta, he would leave the palace at Memphis in the evening, sail north all night and reach the herd in the early morning. On one occasion there were no less than one hundred and seventy wild cattle in the enclosure, into which his beaters had driven them. Entering it in his chariot the king himself slew fifty-six of the savage beasts on the first day, to which number, after four days interval of rest, he added probably twenty more at a second onslaught. Amenhotep thought the achievement worthy of commemoration and issued a series of scarabs bearing a record of the feat. When the chase-loving king had completed ten years of lion-hunting he distributed to the nobles of the court a similar memorial of his prowess, which, after the usual royal titulary of himself and his queen, bore the words: “Statement of lions which his majesty brought down with his own arrows from the year one to the year ten: fierce lions, 102”. Some thirty or forty of these scarabs of the lion-hunt still survive.
It will be seen that in these things a new and modern tendency was maturing. The divine Pharaoh was constantly being exhibited in human relations, and the affairs of the royal house were made public property. This is nowhere clearer than in the emperor’s marriage. While still crown prince, or at least early in his reign, he married a remarkable woman of low birth, named Tiy. The evidence usually cited to prove her of foreign birth is doubtful, and the remains of the bodies of her parents disclose them to be Egyptians. The criticisms of this marriage were met by the young Pharaoh with unflinching boldness. He issued a large number of scarabs, carved in stone and engraved with a record of the marriage, in which the untitled parentage of his queen frankly follows her name in the royal titulary itself, which declares her to be the queen-consort. But the record closes with the words: “She is the wife of a mighty king whose southern boundary is as far as Karoy and northern as far as Naharin”. Recalling the vast extent of his sovereignty from the Sudan to the Upper Euphrates, the emperor thus bade any who might reflect upon the humble origin of the queen to remember the exalted station which she now occupied. From the beginning the new queen exerted a powerful influence over Amenhotep, and he immediately inserted her name in the official caption placed at the head of royal documents. Her power continued throughout his reign and was the beginning of a remarkable era characterized by the prominence of the queens in state affairs and on public occasions, a peculiarity which we find only under Amenhotep III and his immediate successors. The name of the queen therefore, not even a woman of royal birth, thus constantly appearing at the head of official documents side by side with that of the Pharaoh, was a frequent reminder of the more human and less exalted relations into which the sovereign had now entered. In constant intercourse with the nations of Asia he was likewise gradually forced from his old superhuman state, suited only to the Nile, into less provincial and more modern relations with his neighbors of Babylon and Mitanni, who in their letters called him brother. This lion-hunting, bull-baiting Pharaoh, who had made a woman of lowly birth his queen, was far indeed from the godlike and unapproachable immobility of his divine ancestors. It was as if the emperor of China or the Dalai Lama of Tibet were all at once to make ms personal doings known on a series of medals. Whether consciously or not the Pharaoh had assumed a modern standpoint, which must inevitably lead to sharp conflict with the almost irresistible inertia of tradition in an oriental country.
Meantime all went well; the lines of the coming internal struggle were not yet clearly drawn, and of the first signs of trouble from without Amenhotep was unconscious. A veritable “Caesar divus” he presided over the magnificence of Thebes. In the thirtieth year of his reign he celebrated his first royal jubilee, and we have a record of his third jubilee in the year thirty-six. On this occasion the old monarch was still able to grant the court an audience and receive their congratulations. But ominous signs of trouble had by this time appeared on the northern horizon. Mitanni had been invaded, by the Hittites, but Tushratta, the Mitannian king, had been able to repel them, and sent to Amenhotep a chariot and pair, besides two slaves, as a present from the booty which the Hittites had left in his hands. The provinces of Egypt in northern Syria had not been spared. The Hittites had invaded Katna m the Orontes valley, and carried off the image of Amon-Re, with the name of Amenhotep on it. Nukh-ashshi, which perhaps lay farther north, suffered a similar invasion.
All this was not without the connivance of treacherous vassals of the Pharaoh, who were themselves attempting the conquest of territory on their own account. The afterward notorious Aziru and his father, Abd-Ashirta, were leaders in the movement, entering Katna and Nukhashshi from the south and plundering as they went. Others who had made common cause with them threatened Ubi, the region of Damascus. Aki-izzi of Katna and Rib-Addi of Byblos quickly reported the defection of the Pharaoh's vassals. The situation was far more critical than it appeared to the Pharaoh, for he had no means of recognizing the seriousness of the Hittite advance. Amenhotep, therefore, instead of marching with his entire army immediately into north Syria, as Thutmose III would have done, sent troops only. These of course had no trouble in momentarily quelling the turbulent dynasts and putting a brief stop to their aggressions against the loyal vassals; but they were quite unable to cope with the southern advance of the Hittites, who secured a footing in northern Naharin, of the greatest value in their further plans for the conquest of Syria. Furthermore, the king’s long absence from Syria was telling upon Egyptian prestige there, and another threatening danger to his Asiatic possessions is stated to have begun from the day when the king had last left Sidon. An invasion of Habiru (Khabiru), perhaps desert Semites, such as had from time to time inundates Syria and Palestine from time immemorial, was now taking place. It was of such proportions that it may fairly be called an immigration. Before Amenhotep III’s death it had become threatening, and thus Rib-Addi of Byblos later wrote to Amenhotep III’s son: “Since thy father returned from Sidon, since that time, the lands have fallen into the hands of the Habiru”.
Under such threatening conditions as these the old Pharaoh, whom we may well call Amenhotep the Magnificent, drew near his end. His brother of Mitanni, with whom he was still on terms of intimacy, probably knowing of his age and weakness, sent the image of Ishtar of Nineveh for the second time to Egypt, doubtless in the hope that the far-famed goddess might be able to exorcise the evil spirits which were causing Amenhotep's infirmity and restore the old king to health. But all such means were of no avail, and about 1375 BC, after nearly thirty-six years upon the throne, Amenhotep the magnificent passed away and was buried with the other emperors, his-fathers, in the Valley of the Kings’ Tombs.