Why was Thutmose III one of the greatest Egyptian pharaohs?

Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/egypt-thebes-medinet-habu-temple-3352740/
Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/egypt-thebes-medinet-habu-temple-3352740/

There are many great Pharaohs in Ancient Egyptian history, but Thutmose III stands out as one of the most impressive. He was a successful warrior and leader who accomplished a great deal during his reign.


In this article, we will take a closer look at the life and achievements of Thutmose III. We will also explore how he helped to shape Ancient Egyptian culture and society. 

Early life

Thutmose III was born around 1481 BC to Pharaoh Thutmose II and Queen Isis. His father died when Thutmose III was about two-years old. While he was technically now pharaoh, Thutmose III was too young to actually rule. Therefore, his stepmother, Hatshepsut, was a assigned as his regent. This meant that she could exercise all of the powers of the pharaoh until he was old enough to take over (usually around the age of 15 or 16).


However, Hatshepsut was not simply content being a regent. In the early years of her regency, she actually took the position of pharaoh for herself. This included holding her own coronation ceremony and having statues built with her royal name inscribed on them.


The seizure of power by his stepmother meant that as he grew up, Thutmose III did not rule as pharaoh. Regardless, Hatshepsut allowed Thutmose III to live on in the royal household and was given a good education. Young Thutmose was taught how to read and write, learned about military tactics and strategy, and enjoyed all of the benefits of a royal prince.


When Thutmose turned 15, which was an age where he could take back power, Hatshepsut continued to rule as pharaoh in his place. It wasn't until Hatshepsut finally died in 1458 BC that Thutmose III became Pharaoh again, at around the age of 22.


Once in power, Thutmose made it clear that his reign had begun in 1479 BC, when he was 2 years old. This effectively removed the 20 years during which Hatshepsut claimed the throne. Many historians even claim that upon taking the throne, Thutmose III sought to erase the memory of Hatshepsut from history. This is because, at some time during his reign, her names were deliberately removed from many of her monuments.


However, there is no clear evidence that Thutmose III was directly responsible for this erasure, which had led some scholars believe that Thutmose III actually respected his stepmother.

Egypt at the start of Thutmose III's reign

Once Thutmose III was in power, he would rule Egypt for a total of 54 years: the second-longest reign in Ancient Egyptian history. He is often considered to be one of the greatest Pharaohs of all time.


He had inherited a kingdom that was wealthy and well-organised but had begun to lose control of its international allies, particularly in the region of Syria. The vassal states that had been conquered by Thutmose I had failed to send the necessary annual tribute payments and, when Thutmose III sent delegations to ask why, it was discovered that those territories were now under the control of the king of Mitanni.


The Mitanni would be one of the most powerful threats to Egyptian power during Thutmose III's reign. It was a growing state in the region of the Euphrates River, and it had managed to extend its sphere of influence to the Mediterranean Sea. The Syrian cities had come to see the Mitanni as a greater power than Egypt and had switched alliances to them.

The Battle of Megiddo

A year after become pharaoh again, in 1457 BC, Thutmose III faced a challenge in the form of a revolt in the Egyptian territory of Canaan. This revolt was led by the king of the city of Kadesh and an alliance of various other local rulers. Thutmose III responded by leading an force of around 15,000 into the region of Canaan to confront them. 


Thutmose III marched his forces towards the city of Megiddo, where he encountered the combined armies of the Canaanite coalition, numbering around 10,000. On the eve of the battle, Thutmose was faced with a challenge about the best way to approach the enemy. Between the Egyptians and the Canaanites was a rocky mountain. Thutmose could march around this mountain, which was a safer option, but would give his enemies more time to prepare. Alternatively, he could march through a valley in the middle of the mountain, which would put his troops in a vulnerable position, but would get them into battle quicker.


Against the strong objections of his generals, Thutmose III chose the path through the rocky formation. It appears that the Canaanite coalition did not believe the pharaoh would choose that route, as the Egyptians passed through unhindered and caught the enemy forces unprepared. The ensuing battle was an overwhelming victory for Thutmose III and the Canaanite forces quickly fled. Unfortunately, the Egyptians soldiers were distracted by looting the enemy camp to capitalise on their victory.


As a result, the enemy kings and soldiers retreated to the safety of the city of Megiddo. Thutmose III had to besiege the settlement for over seven months before it finally surrendered to him. 


However, the capture of Megiddo once absorbed Syria into the Egyptian empire. The various kings of the region and those of Mesopotamia sent tribute to Thutmose III to indicate their acceptance of his dominance. The Mitanni refused to do so, which meant that Thutmose III had to resolve the power conflict.

War with the Mitanni

For the next few years, Thutmose III spent much of his time in Syria, crushing various rebellions and enforcing his rule over powerful city-states like Kadesh and Byblos. During this time, the state of Mitanni continued to grow, and they continually interfered in the stability of the region by funding revolts against Egypt.


Finally, in 1450 BC, Thutmose III decided it was time to launch a campaign against the king of Mitanni. However, to reach the region of the Mitanni, he had to cross the Euphrates. Such a difficult military endeavour required planning. Thutmose III personally sailed to the city of Byblos in Syria, where his allies constructed a series of pontoon boats, which were then marched with his army to the Euphrates in his boats. Once they were in place, Thutmose III led his forces across the river and landed in Mitanni-controlled territory.


This strategy seems to have genuinely caught the Mitannian king by surprise since no army appeared to challenge Thutmose III or to stop him marching throughout his enemy's kingdom at will. Unhindered, the Egyptian army went from city to city, burning and pillaging as they went. To celebrate his resounding military success, Thutmose III ordered the erection of a stele to commemorate his crossing. It was placed next to a similar stele that had been set up by Thutmose I, who had achieved the same feat decades earlier.


Eventually, a Mitanni army appeared to confront Thutmose III, but it was easily defeated in battle, and resulting in the capture of hundreds of prisoners. Satisfied with his campaign, the pharaoh returned to Egypt with more tribute payments from additional cities who submitted to Egyptian authority. When he arrived back in Thebes, Thutmose III celebrated by devoting substantial amount of treasure to the Karnak temple as a way of 'thanking' Amun for his victories.

Nubian campaign

In Thutmose III's 50th year on the throne, he led a campaign to the south, to Nubia. His armies reached the previously established southern boundary of Egyptian control and suppressed local revolts. To highlight Egyptian domination, he built an Amun temple at Mount Barkal.


Thutmose III then reopened a series of gold mines, which dramatically increased the amount of wealth flowing back into Egypt. As a result of these mines, Egyptian gold supplies would remain relatively stable for many generations.


The increase in the economic prosperity is evident in the quality of tombs Thutmose III's officials commissioned for themselves. The size and craftsmanship of the structures is markedly different from those just a decade before, and they were decorated with scenes from pharaoh's various military and diplomatic victories.


Thutmose III was not only a great military leader, but he was also an effective administrator. He oversaw the expansion and construction of many temples and monuments. He also commissioned the building of ships and expanded the Egyptian navy. Under Thutmose III, the Egyptian empire reached its greatest extent. At its peak, the empire included territory in modern-day Sudan, Libya, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.


At the Karnak temple in Thebes, Thutmose III funded significant expansion of the complex and raised a number of new and expensive obelisks. On the walls of his new renovations and extensions, he ordered that a record of his military campaigns be carved into the walls. This record, known as the "Annals of Thutmose III," is one of the most important sources of information about his reign and achievements. 

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Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/egypt-karnak-temple-columns-roof-3321123/

Later life

Thutmose III ruled Egypt for over 50 years, and during that time he oversaw many important changes in Egyptian society. He encouraged trade and commerce, and he also built many temples and monuments. Under his rule, Egypt became a powerful empire that was respected by other nations. 


Thutmose III died in 1425 BC at the age of 56. He was succeeded by his son, Amenhotep II. Upon his death, he left an Egyptian empire that was experiencing a level of prosperity and power it had never experienced before. It was the superpower of the age, with a list of famous victories on the battlefield.  

Achievements and legacy

Thutmose III was one of the most effective warrior-pharaohs in Ancient Egyptian history. It is estimated that he participated in as many as 17 military campaigns over a 20-year period. As part of this, he captured around 350 cities, most of which were in Syria and Nubia. He was also the first pharaoh since Thutmose I to cross the River Euphrates.


He was also a prolific builder, who used his construction projects as propaganda pieces to advertise his military victories. As a result of these achievements, the Egyptologist James Breasted famously called him the "Napoleon of Egypt".

Further reading