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Hello, mummy!

This week’s instalment takes a look at another of the great pharaohs – King Thutmose III.

The mummy of Thutmose III (Source: Egypt Film).

Thutmose III was the sixth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty in the New Kingdom. He was the only son of Thutmose II, fathered with a minor queen, Isis. He was the stepson and nephew of the famous Hatshepsut, the Great Royal Wife and sister of Thutmose II. Hatshepsut was also the regent for Thutmose III when his father died, as he was too young to rule. They were later coregents, and when Hatshepsut proclaimed herself as pharaoh, she made Thutmose III the head of her armies. Upon her death, he took the throne and became pharaoh in his own right, ruling for over 30 years.

Thutmose III had many wives – Satiah, Merytre-Hatshepsut (the mother of Thutmose III’s successor, Amenhotep II), Nebtu, and three foreign wives, Menwi, Merti, and Menhet. He also may have married his half-sister, Neferure, the daughter of Hatshepsut. His first-born son, Amenemhat, sadly died before his father and so could not become his successor. His second son, Amenhotep II was next in line to the throne. Thutmose III also had a third son, Menkheperre, and four daughters.

Relief at Karnak depicting Thutmose III smiting his enemies (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

Thutmose III is well-known as a ‘warrior king’. He is believed to have captured 350 cities during his reign. He greatly expanded Egypt’s territory, conquering much of the Near East during seventeen known military campaigns over twenty years.

His royal scribe and army commander, Thanuny, wrote about the king’s campaigns, leaving a wealth of textual evidence about Thutmose III’s military prowess.

The Taking of Joppa, a tale found on the verso of Papyrus Harris 500, tells of the conquest of the town of Joppa by Thutmose III’s general Djehuti. Although Thutmose III did indeed have a general named Djehuti, the tale is believed to be a work of fiction set in the wake of the king’s campaigning in Syria. Nevertheless, the tale emphasises the way in which Thutmose III’s great military achievements were worthy of legend.

Shrine of the goddess, Hathor, dating to the reign of Thutmose III. In the central section, the king is depicted burning incense and pouring a libation in front of Amun-Re (Source: Global Egyptian Museum).

Thutmose III’s building programme was as great as his military accomplishments. He built extensively at Karnak, and is believed to have constructed over fifty temples during his reign. His reign was a period of artistic and architectural innovation – he constructed the only known pair of ‘heraldic pillars’ in Egypt. These were two pillars that were free-standing, rather than part of a set supporting a roof. His jubilee hall is believed to be the earliest known building created in the ‘basilica’ style.

His mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri was discovered in 1961, and was dedicated to the god, Amun. Unfortunately, it was abandoned after a landslide in the 20th Dynasty damaged it. After its abandonment, it was used as a source of building materials.

KV34, Thutmose III’s tomb, was one of the first tombs to be dug in the Valley of the Kings, and is the first tomb in which the complete Amduat, a major New Kingdom funerary text, was found.

A scene from the Amduat in KV34 (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

The wrapped mummy of Thutmose III (Source: The Theban Royal Mummy Project).

The mummy of Thutmose III was disovered in the Deir el-Bahri cache by Gaston Maspero in 1881, and was unwrapped by Emile Brugsch in the same year. The mummy had sustained considerable damage at the hands of tomb robbers, and had been stabilised by the priests that reburied it, using four wooden oars (left), three inside of the wrappings and one on the outside. Damage had also been caused by the discovery of the tomb by the Rassul family, who found the mummy cache several years before the official discovery.

The head had been broken off at the neck, the arms and legs had been detached, both arms had been broken at the elbows, and the feet had been broken off. Large areas of Tuthmose III’s skin were covered with what appeared to be a rash, which could have been caused by an illness or by the action of the embalming salts, oils and resins on the skin after death. This feature was also present in the mummy of Thutmose II.

The coffin of Thutmose III (Source: The Theban Royal Mummy Project).

Maspero did not hide his disappointment in the condition of the mummy, and although he was pleased that the face had remained unharmed, Thutmose III clearly did not meet with his expectations:

Happily the face, which had been plastered over with pitch at the time of embalming, did not suffer at all from this rough treatment, and appeared intact when the protecting mask was removed. Its appearance does not answer to our ideal of the conqueror. His statues, though not representing him as a type of manly beauty, yet give him refined, intelligent features, but a comparison with the mummy shows that the artists have idealised their model. The forehead is abnormally low, the eyes deeply sunk, the jaw heavy, the lips thick, and the cheek-bones extremely prominent; the whole recalling the physiognomy of Thûtmosis II, though with a greater show of energy.

The coffin in which the mummy of Thutmose III was found (above) is the king’s original coffin, unlike many of the mummies’ coffins from the Deir el-Bahri cache. The coffin is believed to be the second innermost coffin of a nested set. Although it is lacking in any gilding (presumably because it was stolen in antiquity) and the inlaid eyes have been removed, the texts inside the coffin remained intact.

The mummy of Thutmose III now resides in the Royal Mummies room in the Cairo Museum, and you must agree that he appears every inch the conqueror that Maspero expected to discover beneath the wrappings.

Bibliography and further reading:

The Theban Royal Mummy Project – Thutmosis III: http://members.tripod.com/anubis4_2000/mummypages1/Aeighteen.htm#Tuthmosis III.

Elliot Smith, G. 1912. Catalogue General Antiquites Egyptiennes du Musee du Caire: The Royal Mummies. Le Caire : Imprimerie de L’institut Francais D’archeologie Orientale. 32-36. Available from: http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/eos/eos_title.pl?callnum=DT57.C2_vol59

Redford, D. B. 2003. The Wars in Syria and Palestine of Thutmose III. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 16. Leiden: Brill.

Cline, E. H. and O’Connor, D. 2006. Thutmose III : A New Biography, University of Michigan Press.


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