The power that marked the rise of Ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom period rested solely on the shoulders of capable pharaohs. Such a vast realm could never thrive if it weren’t for leaders that were bold, confident, and eager to expand their territories. One such pharaoh was Thutmose III, widely regarded as one of Ancient Egypt’s greatest rulers ever. With a lengthy reign and a relentless drive towards Egyptian expansion, Thutmose ushered his realm into a new golden age. What were some defining moments in his reign?
On the Threshold of a New Golden Age with Pharaoh Thutmose III
The official regnal dates for Thutmose III are 28th April 1479 BC to 11th March 1425 BC. This means that the pharaoh ruled Egypt for roughly 54 years. That is an incredibly lengthy reign for any monarch, especially at a time when many wanted to usurp the throne. However, we must consider that Thutmose officially became a pharaoh when he was only two years old. Historians can provide such a precise number thanks to funerary inscriptions discovered within the tomb of a military commander from the time of Thutmose. This commander was Amenemheb-Mahu, and on the walls of his tomb it is recorded that Thutmose III died in his 54th regnal year.
Of course, it was impossible for Thutmose III to rule so young. His father, Thutmose II, died after a relatively short reign, and was survived by his Great Royal Wife, Hatshepsut, as well as his children. Thus, the effective power was left in the hands of Hatshepsut, who declared herself to be the regent to the boy king. Soon she declared herself Pharaoh, but never attempted to oust Thutmose III or deny his right to the throne. Still, growing up, the boy had little effective power in the realm, and Egypt was ruled by Hatshepsut for roughly 21 years. During this time, the queen began numerous new building projects, and the realm prospered steadily.
Becoming an able and promising young man, Thutmose III was made the foremost leader of Ancient Egypt’s armies, during Hatshepsut’s effective reign. This was the start of a promising military career, and the development of Thutmose’s fantastic ability as a strategist and tactician. In fact, he demonstrated such great capabilities in this role, and would later prove to be an unparalleled commander. Historians today regard Thutmose III as a pure military genius, and this has earned him the nickname of “the Napoleon of Egypt”.
Large Kneeling Statue of Hatshepsut. (Metropolitan Museum of Art/ CC0)
A Time for Conquest and a Time for Expansion
Upon the death of Hatshepsut, Thutmose III effectively assumed his rightful role as the Pharaoh. He was now roughly 25 years old, and already proven as a commander. Soon enough, he began a decisive expansion of Egypt’s borders. He is today considered as one of the greatest conquerors in the timeline of Ancient Egypt, and was certainly an aggressive expansionist ruler.
His first successes began almost immediately after he assumed the throne: he led a campaign deep into modern-day Israel, where he won a masterful battle at Megiddo, defeating the King of Kadesh. With a daring move, he marched his armies to the rear of the Megiddo forces, crushing them decisively.
Soon after this victory, Egyptian dominance was reasserted in the region called Canaan. And that was just the beginning of Thutmose’s achievements. He methodically assaulted city after city, slowly beating his enemies into submission. Over the course of his lengthy reign, it is said that he captured no less than 350 cities. He conquered most of the Near East, from the River Euphrates all the way down to Nubia in the south. And we know precisely that he conducted 17 military campaigns in his reign – an impressive number.
Ancient Egypt quickly marched into a new Golden Age. With reasserted dominance, with expanded borders and new victories, the realm prospered in every regard. And all this thanks to the warrior Pharaoh, Thutmose III. Barely in his 30s, he was already crowned with the laurel wreath of victory, and loved by the people. Meticulously and decisively, he transformed Ancient Egypt into a true “international” superpower, reshaping it into an empire that incorporated regions of Syria, Canaan, Nubia, and others.
Thutmose III Sphinx sculpture, 18th Dynasty of Egypt, 1550-1295 BC. Held at the Louvre Museum. (Louvre Museum/ CC BY-SA 2.0 FR )
The Napoleon of Ancient Egypt
Luckily, we know a lot about Thutmose’s military achievements because of fairly detailed records that survive. Many of his triumphs were inscribed onto the walls of the Temple of Amun in Karnak, accompanied by stunning reliefs of the king subduing his enemies. Furthermore, Thutmose had a royal scribe and a loyal commander, Thanuny, who kept meticulous records of his king’s campaigns. Fragments of these scripts allowed us a greater insight into methods of ancient warfare and strategy.
Another contributing factor to Thutmose’s military success is a number of innovations and new technologies that placed him one step ahead of his enemies. Roughly two centuries before his time, Ancient Egypt came under the brief rule of the Hyksos, foreign invaders who brought with them new and never before seen tools and weapons. New unique swords were quickly absorbed by the Egyptians, as well as new forging techniques, as well as powerful two-wheeled war chariots. With all these innovations, the Egyptian army was well suited for conquest.
Soon after winning the key battle at Megiddo, Thutmose solidified Egypt’s domination in Canaan, and began a series of conquests that would lead Egypt to its greatest ever expansion. All the greatest kings of the region – of the Hittites, Babylonians, and Assyrians – gave him tribute. He then led campaigns against the powerful Phoenician ports, and the quarrelsome Mitanni to the north. Through his victories, he expanded his realm’s wealth: slaves were acquired, sheep and horses, thousands of cattle, powerful stallions, money and riches, many tons of grain, quality wood from Lebanon, and noble hostages that made obedience guaranteed.
Relief in the Karnak Temple showing Thutmose III slaying Canaanite captives from the Battle of Megiddo, 15th Century BC . (Olaf Tausch/ CC BY 3.0 )
A Golden King in a Golden Era
Over the course of 17 campaigns, most – if not all – of his enemies were subdued, the foremost being the Mitanni. But it was not all about warfare: Thutmose III was also inclined to spur other developments within Egypt as well. New construction projects were begun, and new technologies mastered. Glass-making was refined, and a number of new lavish buildings were raised in Karnak. Several monumental obelisks from this time also survive.
Thutmose III died in his 56th year (54th regnal year). His remains were entombed in a unique and lavish tomb in the Valley of the Kings, and his mummy survives to this day. Succeeding him was his younger son, Amenhotep II. The latter’s reign was successful, but not nearly as good as his father’s. Likewise, Amenhotep conducted only a few campaigns to maintain his domination.
Together with Rameses the Great , Thutmose is widely regarded as Ancient Egypt’s finest pharaoh. And considering that the history of this civilization spans several thousands of years, that achievement can be considered monumental.
Top image: The statue of Pharaoh Thutmose III at the Karnak Temple Complex in Luxor, Egypt. Source: Andrej /Adobe Stock
By Aleksa Vučković
Cline, E. 2006. Thutmose III: A New Biography. University of Michigan Press.
Gabriel, R. 2009. Thutmose III: The Military Biography of Egypt’s Greatest Warrior King. Potomac Books, Inc.
Unknown. Siege of Megiddo . Scriptural Research Institute.