Pharaoh Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye

The Greatest King to Rule Egypt

Amenhotep III gazes out at the British Museum. A. Parrot/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass considers the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III, one of the final rulers of the Eighteenth Dynasty, as the greatest monarch ever reign over the Two Lands. Dubbed "the Magnificent," this fourteenth-century B.C. pharaoh brought in unprecedented amounts of gold to his kingdom, built tons of epic structures, including the famed Colossi of Memnon and lots of religious buildings, and depicted his wife, Queen Tiye, in an unprecedentedly egalitarian fashion.

Let's dive into the revolutionary era of Amenhotep and Tiye.

Amenhotep was born to Pharaoh Thutmose IV and his wife Mutemwia. Aside from his alleged role in re-establishing the Great Sphinx as a big tourist spot, Thutmose IV wasn't that notable of a pharaoh. He did, however, do a bit of building, especially at Amun's temple in Karnak, where he explicitly identified himself with the sun god Re. More on that later! 

Sadly for young Prince Amenhotep, his dad didn't live very long, dying when his kid was about twelve. Amenhotep ascended the throne as a boy king, exercising his only dated military campaign when he was about seventeen in Kush. By his mid-teens, though, Amenhotep wasn't focusing on the army, but his one true love, a woman named Tiye. She's mentioned as "the Great Royal Wife Tiye" in his second regnal year - meaning they got married when he was just a kid!

Tip of the Hat to Queen Tiye

Tiye was a truly remarkable woman. Her parents, Yuya and Tjuya, were non-royal officials; Daddy was a charioteer and priest called "the God's Father," while Mom was a priestess of Min. Yuya and Tjuya's fabulous tomb was uncovered in 1905, and archaeologists found lots of riches there; DNA testing performed on their mummies in recent years has proved key in identifying unidentified bodies.

One of Tiye's brothers was a prominent priest named Anen, and many have suggested that the famous Eighteenth Dynasty official Ay, alleged father of Queen Nefertiti and eventual pharaoh after King Tut, was another of her siblings. 

So Tiye married her husband when they were both quite young, but the most interesting item about her is the way in which she was portrayed in statuary. Amenhotep deliberately commissioned statues showing himself, the king, and Tiye as the same size, showing her importance in the royal court, which was on par with that of the  pharaoh! In a culture in which visual size was everything, bigger was better, so a big king and an equally big queen showed them as equals. 

This egalitarian portrayal is pretty much unprecedented, showing Amenhotep's devotion to his wife, allowing her to wield influence comparable to his own. Tiye even takes on masculine, regal poses, showing up on her own throne as a Sphinx who crushes her enemies and getting her own Sphinx colossus; now, she's not only equal to a king in the way she's portrayed, but she's taking on his roles!

But Tiye wasn't Amenhotep's only wife - far from it! Like many pharaohs before and after him, the king took brides from foreign countries in order to form alliances.

A commemorative scarab was commissioned for the marriage between the pharaoh and Kilu-Hepa, daughter of the king of Mitanni. He also wed his own daughters, as other pharaohs did, once they came of age; whether or not those marriages were consummated is up for debate.

Divine Dilemmas

In addition to Amenhotep's marital program, he also pursued massive construction projects throughout Egypt, which burnished his own reputation - and that of his wife! They also helped people think of him as semi-divine and created money-making opportunities for his officials. Perhaps more importantly for his son and successor, the "Heretic Pharaoh" Akhenaten, Amenhotep III followed in his father's sandalprints and identified himself with the biggest gods of the Egyptian pantheon on the monuments he built. 

In particular, Amenhotep placed great emphasis on sun gods in his construction, statuary, and portraiture, displaying what Arielle Kozloff aptly called a "solar bent in every aspect of his realm." He showed himself as the god of the sun at Karnak and contributed extensively to Amun-Re's temple there; later in life, Amenhotep even went to far as to consider himself as a "living manifestation of all deity, with an emphasis on the sun god Ra-Horakhty," according to W. Raymond Johnson.

Although historians dubbed him "the Magnificent," Amenhotep went by the moniker of "the Dazzling Sun Disk."

Given his father's obsession with his connection to the solar gods, it's not too far of a stretch to get to the aforementioned Akhenaten, his son by Tiye and successor, who declared that the sun disk, Aten, should be the sole deity worshipped in the Two Lands. And of course Akhenaten (who started his reign as Amenhotep IV, but later changed his name) stressed that he, the king, was the sole intermediary between the divine and the mortal realms. So it looks like Amenhotep's emphasis on the  godly powers of the king went to an extreme in his son's reign.

But Tiye may have also set a precedent for her Nefertiti, her daughter-in-law (and possible niece, if the queen was the daughter of Tiye's putative brother Ay). In the reign of Akhenaten, Nefertiti was depicted as occupying roles of great prominence in her husband's court and in his new religious order. Perhaps Tiye's legacy of carving out a great role for the Great Royal Wife as partner to the pharaoh, rather than mere spouse, carried on to her successor. Interestingly, Nefertiti also assumed some kingly positions in art, as her mother-in-law did (she was shown smiting enemies in a typical pharaonic pose).