Sacred Texts  Egypt  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book on Kindle

Egyptian Myth and Legend, by Donald Mackenzie, [1907], at

p. 316


Amenhotep the Magnificent and Queen Tiy

Prejudice against Thothmes III--Religion of Amenhotep II--Human Sacrifices in his Tomb--Thothmes IV and the Sphinx--Amenhotep III half a Foreigner--Queen Tiy's Father and Mother--A Royal Love Match--Recreations of the King--Tiy's Influence upon Art--A Stately Palace--The Queen's Pleasure Lake--Royalty no longer exclusive--The "Vocal Memnon"--King stricken with a Malady--Tiy's Powerful Influence--Relations with the Priests of Amon--Akhenaton's Boyhood.

FOR some unexplained reason the memory of Thothmes III was not revered by the priests, although he had once been a priest himself, and never failed, on returning from his victorious campaigns, to make generous gifts to Amon's temple at Karnak. No folktales about his tyranny and impiety survive, as in the case of the great Khufu, the Pyramid builder. He has suffered more from a conspiracy of silence. The prejudice against him remained even until Roman times, when an elderly priest translated to Germanicus the annals of Egypt's greatest emperor and coolly ascribed them to Rameses II. This intentional confusion of historical events may have given origin to the legends recorded by Greek writers regarding the mythical Pharaoh Sesostris, to whom was credited, with exaggerations, not only the achievements of Thothmes III and Rameses II, but also those of Senusert III the first Pharaoh who invaded Syria. Herodotus believed that one of the sculptured representations of the

p. 317

Hittite Great Father deity in Lydia was a memorial of Sesostris.

It may be that Thothmes III and Hatshepsut were supported by rival sects of the Theban priesthood, and that the disposal of Senmut and his friends, who were probably executed, was never forgiven. The obliteration of the great queen's name from the monuments, as we have suggested, may have been associated with a revolt which was afterwards regarded as heretical. We know little regarding the religious beliefs of Thothmes, but those of his son, Amenhotep II, were certainly peculiar, if not reactionary. He adored, besides Amon, Khnûmû, Ptah, and Osiris, the crocodile god Sebek, and the voluptuous goddess Astarte (Ashtoreth), Bast and Sekhet the feline deities, and Uazit the virgin serpent, and two of the Hathors. In his tomb there are evidences that he revived human sacrifice, which was associated with sun worship in the Fifth Dynasty; the body of a man with a cleft in his skull was found bound to a boat, and the mummies of a woman and child in an inner chamber suggest that he desired the company in the Osirian Paradise of his favourites in the royal household. Although he reigned for twenty years we know little regarding him. Possibly some of his greater monuments were either destroyed or appropriated by his successors. He conducted a campaign in Syria soon after he ascended the throne, and returned in triumph with the bodies of seven revolting princes suspended, heads downward, at the prow of the royal barge; six of these were afterwards exposed on the walls of Thebes, and one was sent to Napata in Nubia. He also conducted a military expedition as far south as Khartoum.

Another mysterious revolt, which may mark the return to power of the anti-Thothmes party, brought to

p. 318

the throne the next king, the juvenile Thothmes IV, who was not, apparently, the prince selected as heir by Amenhotep II. The names of the half-dozen brothers of the new Pharaoh were erased in the tomb of the royal tutor, and they themselves disappear from history. According to a folktale, Thothmes IV was the chosen of the sun god--a clear indication of priestly intervention--who was identified for the first time, as Ra Harmachis, with the great Sphinx at Gizeh. Thothmes had been out hunting, and lay to rest at noonday in the shadow of the Sphinx. He dreamt that the sun god appeared before him and desired that the sand should be cleared away from about his body. This was done, and a temple erected between the paws, which was soon afterwards covered over by the sand drift.

Thothmes IV was evidently favoured by the priests. His distinctly foreign face indicates that his mother was an Asiatic beauty; it is handsome but somewhat effeminate. He died when he was about thirty, after a reign of from eight to ten years. His royal wife was a daughter of Artatama I, the Aryan king of Mitanni; she was the mother of Amenhotep III, and grandmother of Akhenaton. The third Amenhotep had a distinctly non-Egyptian face, but of somewhat different type to that of his father; the cheeks are long, the nose curves upwards, arid he has the pointed chin and slim neck which distinguished his favourite wife Queen Tiy and their son Akenaton.

Much controversy has been waged over the racial origin of Queen Tiy, who was one of Egypt's most notable women. While some authorities regard her as an Asiatic--either Semite, Hittite, or Aryan--others believe her to be either an Egyptian or Libyan. It is impossible to confirm either of the conflicting views that she was a fair-haired, rosy-cheeked beauty with blue eyes,

p. 319

or that she was dark, with lustrous eyes and a creamy complexion; but there can be no doubt that she was a lady of great personal charm and intellectual power. One of her portraits, sculptured in low relief, is a delicately cut profile. Her expression combines sweetness with strength of will, and there is a disdainful pout in her refined and sensitive mouth; her upper lip is short, and her chin is shapely and protruding. Whether she was born in Egypt or not, there can be little doubt that she had alien blood in her veins. Her father, Yuaa, appears to have been one of those Asiatic noblemen who was educated in Egypt and settled there. He held the honorary, but probably lucrative, position of superintendent of Amon's sacred cattle. His mummy shows him to have been a handsome, lofty-browed man with a Tennysonian nose of Armenoid rather than Semitic type; he had also the short upper lip and chin of his daughter. Tiy's mother appears to have been an Egyptian lady. The marriage of the King Amenhotep III to Tiy had no political significance; the boy and girl--they could not have been much more than sixteen--had evidently fallen in love with one another. The union proved to be a happy one; their mutual devotion continued all through life. Tiy was no mere harem favourite; although not of royal birth she was exalted to the position of queen consort, and her name was coupled with that of her husband on official documents.

Amenhotep's reign of thirty-six years (1411 to 1375 B.C.) was peaceful and brilliant, and he earned his title "The Magnificent" rather by his wealth and love of splendour than by his qualities as a statesman. The Asiatic dependencies gave no trouble; the grandsons of the martial princes whom Thothmes III subdued by force of arms had been educated at Thebes and thoroughly

p. 320

[paragraph continues] Egyptianized. Amenhotep would have, no doubt, distinguished himself as a warrior had occasion offered, for on the single campaign of his reign, which he conducted into Nubia, he displayed the soldierly qualities of his ancestors. He was a lover of outdoor life and a keen sportsman. During the first ten years of his life he slew 102 lions, as he has recorded, and large numbers of wild cattle.

Queen Tiy, on the other hand, was a lady of intellectual attainments and artistic temperament. No doubt she was strongly influenced by her father. When we gaze on Yuaa's profound and cultured face we cannot help concluding that he was "the power behind the throne". The palace favourites included not only highborn nobles and ladies, but the scholars and speculative thinkers to whom the crude beliefs and superstitious conventionalities associated with the worship of Amon and the practices of the worldly minded priests had become distasteful and obsolete; architects and artists and musicians also basked in royal favour. The influence of Queen Tiy on the art of the age was as pronounced as it was beneficial; she encouraged the artists to shake off the stiff mannerisms of the schools, to study nature and appreciate its beauties of form and colour, to draw "with their eyes on the object". And so Egypt had not only its "revolution of artistic methods", but its "renascence of wonder". No doubt the movement was stimulated by the wonderful art which had reached so high a degree of perfection in Crete. Egypt at the time was the most powerful state in the civilized world, and was pulsating with foreign influences; the old giant, shackled by ancient customs and traditions, was aspiring to achieve intellectual freedom.

The new movement was accompanied by a growing love of luxury and display of Oriental splendour which

p. 321

appealed to the young king. To please his winsome bride he caused to be erected a stately palace on the western bank of the Nile at Thebes. It was constructed of brick and rare woods; the stucco-covered walls and ceilings of its commodious apartments were decorated with paintings, which included nature studies, scenes of Egyptian life, and glimpses of Paradise, exquisitely drawn and vividly coloured; here and there were suspended those beautiful woven tapestries which were not surpassed by the finest European productions of later times, and there was a wealth of beautiful vases in coloured glass, porcelain, and silver and gold. The throne room, in which Queen Tiy held her brilliant Courts, was 130 feet long and 40 feet wide. Papyri and lotus-bud pillars of haunting design supported the roof and blossomed against a sky-blue ceiling, with its flocks of pigeons and golden ravens in flight. The floor was richly carpeted and painted with marsh and river scenes, snarers capturing the "birds of Araby", huntsmen slaying wild animals, and fish gaping wide-eyed in clear waters. Amidst the carved and inlaid furniture in this scene of beauty the eye was taken by the raised golden thrones of the king and queen, over which the great gleaming pinions of the royal vulture were displayed in noble proportions.

A shady balcony protruded from the outer decorated walls; it was radiant with greenery and brilliant flowers from Asia, covered with coloured rugs, and provided with cushioned seats. When the invigorating wind from the north blew cool and dry over the desert, Queen Tiy and her artistic friends, lingering on the balcony, must have found much inspiration in the prospect unfolded before them. The grounds within the palace walls, basking in the warm sunlight, were agleam with Asian and Egyptian trees, shrubs, and many-coloured flowers. On

p. 322

the west rose in light and shadow the wonderful Theban hills of every changing hue; eastward between the blue, palm-fringed Nile, with its green banks and background of purple hills, lay a great mile-long artificial lake, sparkling in sunshine and surrounded by clumps of trees and mounds ablaze with strange and splendid blossoms. On this cool stretch of restful water the king and queen were wont to be rowed in their gorgeous barge of purple and gold named Beauties of Aton, while girl voices rose bird-like in song, and sweet music came from many-stringed harps and lyres, and from guitars, and lutes, and warbling double pipes. On nights of festival, religious mysteries were enacted on the illuminated waters, which reflected the radiance of many-coloured lights, the brilliant stars, and the silver crescent of the moon.

In the vicinity of the palace were the luxurious villas and beautiful gardens, with bathing pools and summer houses, of the brilliant lords and ladies who attended the state banquets and entertainments organized by Queen Tiy.

Egypt's king and queen no longer held themselves aloof from the people with the Chinese-like exclusiveness of the Old and Middle Kingdoms. They were the leaders of social life; their everyday doings were familiar to the gossipers. No air of mystery and idolatrous superstition pervaded the Court; domestic life in its finest aspects was held up as an ideal to the people. Public functions were invested with great splendour, royalty drove out in chariots of silver and gold, brilliantly costumed, and attended by richly attired lords and ladies and royal attendants and guards. The king was invariably accompanied by the queen.

Amenhotep vied with his predecessors in erecting magnificent temples. His favourite architect was Amenhotep,

p. 323

son of Hapi, a remarkable man whose memory was long venerated; by the common people he was regarded as a great magician. It must have been he who appealed to the vanity of the king by designing the two colossal royal statues which were erected on the western plain of Thebes; they were afterwards known as the "vocal Memnon", because they were reputed to utter sounds at sunrise, caused, no doubt, by some ingenious device. These representations of Amenhotep III rose to a height of seventy feet, and still dominate the landscape in mutilated condition; they guarded the entrance of the royal mortuary temple which was demolished in the following Dynasty. Amenhotep was worshipped in his temple at Memphis, while Queen Tiy was similarly honoured in Nubia.

Great wealth accumulated in Egypt during this period. Tushratta, the subject king of Mitanni, writing to Amenhotep, declared, when he asked for gold "in great quantity" that "in the land of my brother gold is as plentiful as dust". The Pharaoh had added to his harem a sister of Tushratta's, his Asian cousin, named Gilu-khipa, 1 and she arrived with over three hundred ladies and attendants, but she did not displace Queen Tiy.

Much light has been thrown on the relations between Egypt and other countries by the Tell-el-Amarna letters--a number of clay tablets inscribed in Babylonian script which were discovered a few years ago. Babylonian was at the time the language of diplomacy. In these we find rulers writing in affectionate terms to one another and playing the game of politics with astuteness and Oriental duplicity.

p. 324

In the beautiful Theban palace was born to Queen Tiy, in the twentieth year of her husband's reign, the distinguished Akhenaton, who was to become the most remarkable Pharaoh who ever sat on the throne of Egypt. He was the only son; several princesses had preceded him. The young heir of the favourite wife was called Amenhotep, and when his father died he ascended the throne as Amenhotep IV. He was then about fourteen years of age, but had already married Nerfertiti, an Asiatic princess, apparently a daughter of Tushratta.

The last half-dozen years of the life of Amenhotep III were clouded in gloom. He was laid aside by some disease--either paralysis or insanity--which Tushratta of Mitanni sought to cure by sending on two occasions images of the goddess Ishtar. 1 Queen Tiy appears to have governed the kingdom in the interval, and it is possible that she inaugurated the religious revolt, which became so closely associated with the name of her son, to counteract not only the retrogressive tendencies of the priests of Amon, but also, perhaps, to curb their political power; for, no doubt, they did their utmost to exercise a direct influence on the affairs of state. The existence of strained relations between the Amon temple and the royal palace during the boyhood of the future Pharaoh may well have infused his mind with that bitterness against the great religious cult of Thebes which he afterwards did his utmost to give practical expression to by doctrinal teachings and open persecution.


323:1 Her father was King Sutarna, whose sister was the wife of Thothmes IV. Sutarna's father was Artatama I, a contemporary of Thothmes III.

324:1 The goddess of Nineveh. Tushratta must therefore have held sway over part of Assyria. The Mitanni King Saushatar, great-grandfather of Tushratta, captured and plundered Ashur.

Next: Chapter XXVI: The Religious Revolt of the Poet King