Thutmose III, Napoleon of Ancient Egypt

(Originally published in Trendline Magazine, June/July 1999; updated April 2015)
Thutmose III basalt statue in the Luxor Museum
Despite some of the more sensational aspects of ancient Egypt, especially those you might have seen recently, the true evolution of this great civilization offers us some of history’s most memorable personalities and events. Many Pharaohs, divine kings and living gods, were notable for their accomplishments, experiments, and personalities, but none ever quite reached the level of military effectiveness as Thutmose III.
The female Hatshepsut (1490-1469 BC) was Pharaoh before Thutmose III, remarkable in itself since the divine Pharaoh, son of Amon, was traditionally, erm, male. Her reign reflected a distinct change across Egyptian thought, society and politics, and one that would appear again during the reign of Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV, 1363-1347 BC), widely regarded as the world’s first monotheist, and his influential wife Nefertiti.
Part of this seachange in thought was the realization that the traditionally insular and naturally protected Egyptian society was in immediate need of a standing army. The expulsion of the enigmatic Hyksos invaders, who also managed to ascend the Egyptian throne briefly, in many ways marked the rise of Egyptian militarism.
As a youngster wandering around the Giza plateau on particularly hot afternoon, Thutmose III rested beneath the great head of the then mostly sand-covered Sphinx. It is said that the Sphinx spoke to young man and promised he would ascend the throne if only Thutmose would excavate the sand covering the Sphinx’s body. The boy promised, and years later, through political wrangling, he did indeed assume the crook and flail. His promise to the Sphinx was not forgotten.
Thutmose III ruled during the New Kingdom, in the second period of the 18th Dynasty (1490-1436 BC), and is regarded by many Egyptologists as the Napoleon of ancient Egypt. After seventeen seasons of campaigning, the borders of Egypt were pushed north to Asia Minor, and east as far as the Euphrates River. So great was his impact that the stories of his exploits carved in the temple of Amon at Karnak form the longest surviving record of the achievements of any pharaoh. Among his most notable engagements is the battle at Megiddo.
Some time into his highly prosperous reign, a coalition against Egypt led by the prince of Kadesh arose and encamped near the city of Meggido. Thutmose III resolved to destroy their “wretched” enemy, and led his army (and entire court) from the Egyptian-held city of Gaza along the Aruna road, covering about 80 miles in 12 days. It took some time for the entire army to assemble itself in the Qina valley just south of Megiddo since the narrowness and danger of the road required them to travel single file. When all had arrived, Thutmose posted sentries, issued rations, and charged his men to “make your weapons ready, since one will engage with that wretched enemy in the morning!”
The armies clashed on May 12th 1468 BC just outside Megiddo, and the Egyptians overwhelmed Kadesh’s forces. Unfortunately Thutmose’s army did not pursue and crush the retreating enemy, instead stopping to plunder what was left on the battlefield, giving the enemy time to fortify themselves in Megiddo. Eventually Kadesh’s forces did surrender, and the army’s princes came crawling into the presence of the great warrior Pharaoh. In all 340 living prisoners were taken, as well as 2,041 horses, 191 foals, a chariot worked in gold, the golden chariot of the prince of Megiddo himself, 892 of his army’s chariots, and his bronze coat of mail. Thutmose even took away his tent.
The plunder total was truly staggering; 84 children, 1,796 male and female slaves, 3 walking sticks with human heads, as well as 450,000 bushels of wheat.
Much of Egyptian history and mythology might seem like dry academic exercise because artifacts are not always readily available – apart from museum exhibits. Yet fairly common to the historical artifact market are ushabtis – small figurines that were buried with nobility. This human figures were meant to spring to life in the afterlife and work for the dead nobleman in the fields of Osiris – should his soul be judged worth, that is!
Other pieces to be found are icons of various gods – and there were many in the Egyptian pantheon, as Egypt had a habit of absorbing the pantheons of other cultures into their own.