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April 14, 2012

Napoleon of Ancient Egypt

The Napoleon of ancient Egypt
In Year 2 of his independent reign (nominally his Year 23), Tuthmosis III opened up his Near Eastern campaign. A reasonably trustworthy account of the battles was inscribed on the inside walls surrounding the granite sanctuary at Karnak. The author of these so-called Annals was the archivist, royal scribe and army commander, Thanuny; he left an inscription in his tomb on the west bank at Thebes (TT 74) saying 'I recorded the victories he [the king] won in every land, putting them into writing according to the facts.' Thanuny must be one of the earliest official war correspondents. By recording details of the war in the great temple of Karnak, Tuthmosis III was not only glorifying his own name, but also promoting the god Amun - under whose banner he literally marched and whose estates were to reap such rich rewards from the spoils of war.

 Head of Thutmose III - Mummified
The whole campaign was a masterpiece of planning and nerve. He marched to Gaza in ten days, took the city, and pressed on to Yehem, aiming for Megiddo which was held by the rebellious prince of Kadesh.

Here a problem arose as the troops approached Megiddo. There were three possible routes into the town: two were straightforward and would bring the troops out to the north of the town; the third was through a narrow pass, which the officers were quick to point out would be dangerous and open to ambush, since it was really only wide enough for single file. 'Will not', they asked, 'horse come behind horse and man behind man likewise? Shall our advance guard be fighting while our rearguard is yet standing yonder in Aruna not having fought?' The king, however, took the view that the god Amun-Re was on his side and the officers were nominally given the choice of following him through the narrow pass or going the easy way round. Needless to say, they all submitted to the king's plan.

Tuthmosis marched at the head of the column with almost total disregard for his own personal safety, but the gamble paid off. Emerging from the mouth of the wadi he saw that his enemies had wrongly anticipated that he would take one of the easier routes - and he had in fact come out between the north and south wings of their army. The next day battle was joined and the enemy decisively routed; the latter fled in panic back to Megiddo where those who were too slow to get in through the gates were hauled up by their clothes over the walls. Unfortunately, the scribe relates, the Egyptian troops stopped in their headlong pursuit to gather loot. The enemy was thus able to escape and fortify its position inside Megiddo, which held out against the Egyptians until the end of a seven-month siege.

Statue of Tuthmosis III, Carving in base 'claiming' statue for Drovetti
In less than five months Tuthmosis III had travelled from Thebes right up the Syrian coast, fought decisive battles, captured three cities and returned to his capital to celebrate his victories. A campaign was launched against Syria every summer for the next 18 years, the Egyptian navy being extensively used for troop movements up the coast. It all culminated in Year 42 when Tuthmosis captured Kadesh, but the lists at Karnak detail over 350 cities that also fell to Egyptian might. Great stele commemorated the victories and there was also a long (but now much damaged) inscription on Pylon 7 at Karnak.

The 17 campaigns into western Asia were the military apotheosis of Tuthmosis' reign and it is not for nothing that he was called the Napoleon of ancient Egypt by the American Egyptologist James Henry Breasted. The king also mounted punitive expeditions into Nubia, where he built temples at Amada and Semna and cleared Senusret Ill's canal in Year 50 so that his army could easily pass on its return journey (the king was by now in his eighties). For the last dozen or so years of his life he was able to rest content that the empire was now widely spread, and in good order to be handed on to his heir, Amenhotep II.

Many temples were enriched and embellished from the spoils of the campaigns, none more so than the temple of Karnak. Wall reliefs near the sanctuary represent some of the gold jewellery, costly furniture, valuable oils and unguents and other gifts offered by Tuthmosis, as well as the two obelisks that were erected (one of which now stands in the Hippodrome at Istanbul). A great black granite Victory Stele from Karnak records in 25 lines how the king smote all before him, just as he is represented doing on the back of Pylon 7 at Karnak (p. 108).

At the east end of the Karnak complex of temples, Tuthmosis built a new temple that is unique in its design amongst Egyptian temples. Called his Festival Hall, its unusually shaped columns are said to represent the poles of the king's campaign tent. Behind the Hall is a small room with four clustered papyrus columns. This is known as the 'Botanical Garden' because of the representations on its walls of the animals and plants that he brought back from Syria in Year 25.

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