Mummy Monday: Amenhotep III

As I talked about last week, the ancient palace structure of Malqata was built by Amenhotep III, a king in the early 18th Dynasty. Because I really liked learning about Malqata and Amenhotep III, I thought I would make the rest of this week themed about him. So today we are going to talk about the king himself and his mummy.

His Life

Amenhotep III was most likely born around 1401 B.C.E. to Pharaoh Thutmose IV and a minor wife Mutemwiya. He was a member of the Thutmosid family that had ruled Egypt for almost 150 years. His birth (personal) name was Amenhotep-Heqawaset, which roughly means, “Amun is pleased, Ruler of Thebes.” If you didn’t know, Egyptian pharaohs often had more than one name. Depending on the time period, some kings could have up to five names. So Amenhotep III’s throne name was Nebmaatre or “Lord of Truth of Re.”

He may have been crowned king at a very young age, either 6 or 12. He married a non-royal woman named Tiye very early into his rule. They had at least two sons and four daughters. Their eldest son was named Thutmose and he was the High Priest of Ptah in Memphis before he died suddenly, leaving his younger brother Amenhotep IV to inherit the throne. Amenhotep IV later became known as Akhenaten when he took the throne.

Their daughters were most likely named Sitamun, Henuttaneb, Isis/Iset, and Nebetah. Sitamun and Isis/Iset were elevated to the role of the Royal Wife near the end of Amenhotep III’s rule. Although Amenhotep III married at least 6 foreign princesses to secure alliances with different nations, he was adamant that “no daughter of the King of Egypt is given to anyone.”

Throughout his almost 40 year reign, he had stable international trade and a plentiful supply of gold from the mines and other products. Because of this, the economy was booming. He led exhibitions to Nubia to put down a rebellion in his 5th year, but otherwise, his reign was quite peaceful. He has the most surviving statues of any Egyptian pharaoh with over 250 discovered and identified.

Scarab Commemorating the King’s Marriage to Queen Tiye, ca. 1390–1352 B.C. Egyptian, New Kingdom Glazed steatite; L. 8 cm (3 1/8 in.); W. 5.4 cm (2 1/8 in.); H. 2 cm (13/16 in.) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Helen Miller Gould, 1910 (10.130.1643)

During his rule, Amenhotep III commissioned several commemorative scarabs. These scarabs were quite larger than the typical seal scarabs. They had several lines of text, describing some events from his rule. These were created around the 11th year of his reign and have been found in several archaeological sites in Egypt, the Near East, Syria, and Sudan. Here is a list of the scarabs. The two that detail Queen Tiye, I will talk about Wednesday.

  • Lion Hunt Scarab– He claimed that he killed over 100 lions during the first ten years of his reign.
  • Marriage Scarab– He records the name of his wife Tiye with the name of her parents, to state her non-royal birth.
  • Lake Scarab – He announces the construction of a lake for his wife Tiye.
  • Bull Hunt Scarab – He claimed to kill almost 100 bulls in two days.
  • Gilukhepa – To announce the arrival of a Princess Gilukhepa, his new wife, from Mitanni.

As I talked about in the Malqata post, Amenhotep III built the royal palace to celebrate his three Heb-Sed festivals. Just north of the royal palace, he was building his mortuary temple called Kom el-Hettan. It was built by his architect, scribe, and overseer, Amenhotep, son of Hapu. Amenhotep was such a great architect, that the pharaoh blessed him with his own smaller mortuary temple nearby. At the time of its construction, Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple was the largest ever built by a pharaoh. Unfortunately, it completed razed by Ramses II, who used the materials to make his own temple. Only the two colossal statues, called the Colossi of Memnon, are left at the site.

The Colossi of Memnon at the entrance of the former mortuary temple of Amenhotep III

Unlike kings of the Old Kingdom, who combined their tombs and their mortuary temples into huge pyramid complexes, the New Kingdom king realized that this was bad practice because the tombs were robbed very easily. So they built their mortuary temples on the west bank of Thebes and their tombs up in the wadi behind it.

His Death

In his final years, Amenhotep III may have been very sick. According to the Theban tomb of Kheruef, he is depicted very frail. He may have been suffering from arthritis, became obese, or had painful abscesses in his teeth. Around this time, he requested a statue of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar of Ninevah from his father-in-law Tushratta of Mitanni. This statue could supposedly cure him of his aliments, but this is not clear as the statue may have been sent as a blessing of the marriage of the pharaoh and another Mitanni princess.

The latest regnal year mentioned is year 38, so he may have died in year 38 or 39. He was originally buried in the Valley of the Kings, in tomb KV22 or WV22.

His Tomb

This tomb is halfway into the Western Valley of the Kings, on the left and away from the cliff face. They reason that it is also called WV, is because it is located in this separate Western Valley, with only one other tomb. The tomb was originally found by two of Napoleon’s engineers, Prosper Jollois and Edouard de Villiers du Terrage, in 1799, but was excavated by both Theodore M. Davies in 1905-1914 and Howard Carter in 1915. The Egyptian Archaeological Mission of Waseda University in Japan excavated and restored the tomb in 1989.

Conservation of the tomb paintings by Waseda University

Davies left virtually no records of his excavations in the tomb. Carter became interested in the tomb after he purchased three bracelet plaques from a dealer in Luxor that had the name of Amenhotep III. By the entrance of the tomb, he found the foot of a shabti of Tiye and found five intact and one robbed foundation deposits. In the tomb, he found the hub of a chariot wheel, a small fragment of a faience bracelet, and fragments of a canopic chest. The Japanese team found one more foundation deposit with the head and bone of a calf, five miniature pottery vessels, and wooden model cradle, and a wooden carving of a symbolic rope knot which was all in a reed basket.

The tomb was quite a large one, with various passages to try and turn away tomb robbers. This unfortunately didn’t work as the tomb was virtually empty when discovered.

The entrance of the tomb leads to a steep flight of stairs, then an inclined corridor, another steep flight of stairs, and another inclined chamber before reaching a well chamber. This chamber is 5.9 meters down into an undecorated chamber. This room especially may have been built to deter tomb robbers, because the corridor to the rest of the tomb was bricked and stuccoed up to make it seem like a dead end.

The first room that you enter is decorated on three walls with a very similar scheme that will follow through the majority of the tomb. The walls were given a coat of blue wash and topped with a kheker frieze on a yellow background. The sky hieroglyph also runs along the tops of the walls, while a border of red and green stripes run underneath the scenes. The scenes all feature Amenhotep III being given an ankh, which is the sign of life, by different gods and goddesses. He is also presided over by the vulture goddess Nekhbet, which if you remember is a prominent figure in the decoration scheme at the royal palace at Malqata. In this room, he is given life by Anubis, the Western Goddess, and Osiris. He is also protected by his father Thutmose IV’s ka and the goddess Hathor. You can see from the images that some of the faces of the king have been removed. These were removed sometime in the 19th century and are currently located in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The corridor to the next room was also bricked up and stuccoed before being destroyed by tomb robbers. It leads into an undecorated pillared hall another steep stairway, corridor, and another stairway. This all descends another 9 meters, leaving the burial chamber about 17 meters below ground. These corridors and stairways are undecorated except for a small graffiti reading, “Year 3, 3rd month of Ankhet (season), day 7.” This may have been placed when Amenhotep III was buried in the chamber, but if so the year wouldn’t refer to his reign but rather his son’s or possibly a co-regency between the father and son.

The antechamber is decorated with almost identical decorations to that in the well chamber, with Amenhotep III receiving life from Hathor, Nut, the Western Goddess, Anubis, and Osiris. This room was again sealed from the burial chamber, so the decoration was destroyed by the tomb robbers.

The Burial chamber was a dual-chamber with a few steps between the two chambers. The upper level had six pillars in two rows and had two side chambers. The lower level had a place where the sarcophagus would have sat and had three side chambers, two of which had another side chamber off of it. The sarcophagus was lost and only fragments of its lid remain. The ceiling of these chambers was at one point painted a dark blue with pale yellow stars, but much of the plaster has fallen off.

The burial chamber

The rest of the chamber is painted with a representation of the Amduat, which was an ancient Egyptian funerary text which tells the story of Ra and how he makes the journey through the afterlife when the sun sets. This text is usually reserved only for pharaohs and was used as a way to help the deceased follow that path of Ra through the afterlife. The text and figures are reproduced in the cursive style that was usually found in papyri records. It begins at the left end of the north wall and proceeds clockwise around the chamber. The pillars are mostly damaged, but they feature a similar scheme with the other rooms, depicting Amenhotep before Hathor, Osiris, the Western Goddess, or Anubis.

All but one of the side chambers are undecorated. Most have a slightly lower floor than the previous chamber. Only chamber Jc was plastered and partially decorated with a kheker frieze over the doorway. These rooms were most likely made to house funerary goods or relatives of the king. It has been speculated that Queen Tiye was buried in this tomb for a short time, but we’ll talk about that on Wednesday.

Only the lid of the red granite sarcophagus remains. There is evidence that the king was placed in a series of golden and inlaid anthropoid wooden coffins, with the inner coffin and/or mask made out of solid gold. Debris found in the antechamber indicates that either a mask or one of the coffins had a superb cobra head made out of lapis lazuli with inlaid eyes set in gold. Following the looting of the tomb, the priests of Amon in the 21st dynasty moved multiple mummies from the looted Valley of the King’s tombs to one specific tomb in the valley. This was the tomb of Amenhotep II, KV35.

Are you my Mummy?

Map of KV35. Amenhotep III’s mummy was found in side chamber Jb

The mummy cache in KV35 lay undiscovered until 1898. Although it was the tomb of Amenhotep II, here is a list of the other pharaohs found in this cache:

  • Amenhotep II
  • Thutmose IV
  • Merneptah
  • Seti II
  • Siptah
  • Amenhotep III
  • Ramses IV
  • Ramses V
  • Ramses VI
  • Queen Tiye (originally labeled and the Elder Lady)

  • A prince (either Webensenu, child of Amenhotep II, or Thutmose, son of Amenhotep III)
  • The Younger Lady (mother of Tutankhamun, and daughter of Amenhotep and Tiye)
  • Unknown Lady D (sometimes labeled as Queen Tausret/Twosret)
  • Two skulls and an arm

The mummy of Amenhotep III was found in a side chamber (Jb) with the majority of the other kings. It was located in a makeshift coffin made up of a lid of Sety II and a coffin box of Ramses IV. The identification of the mummy, and many of the mummies found in the cache, are still up for debate.

A label or docket on the shroud of the mummy label the mummy as Amenhotep III. There were also hieratic on bands within the shroud and around the neck of the mummy, but these have yet to be published. The labels on the coffin box and lid identify those pieces with Seti II and Ramses IV. But the label on the lid was edited to add the throne name of Amenhotep III, Nebmaatre. The full text is listed below.

Linen Docket: “Year 12/13 4? prt 6? of Smendes/Pinudjem I: “Yr 12/13 4? prt 6? On this day renewing the burial (?) (whm krs?) of king (nsw) Nebmaatre l.p.h. by the high priest of Amon-Re king of the gods Pinudjem son of the high priest of Amon-Re king of the gods Piankh…(by?)…Wennufer (?)”

The mummy identified as Amenhotep III was badly damaged, either by tomb robbers or the priests who relocated the body. The mummy (now located in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, JE 34560l CG 6107) was unwrapped by G.E. Smith and Dr. Pain on September 13th, 1905. (This practice of course is no longer followed by Egyptologists.) The head of the mummy had been broken off, the back broke, and the entire front wall of the torso was missing. The right leg and thigh had also been detached from each other and the body. The mummy was probably anywhere from 40 to 50 years old when he died. He also had very worn and cavity pitted teeth, which did not necessarily cause his death, which could have left him in severe pain during his final years.

The priests from the 21st dynasty were quite careless in the re-wrapping of the body because bones of two different birds and a big toe, ulna, and radius bone from another person were found wrapped with the body. The birds’ bones may have originally been a food offering in the tomb, but the human bones remain a mystery.

The original embalmers of the body packed the skin with a resinous material, which has led to questioning if this really is the body of Amenhotep III. This technique was popular in the 21st dynasty, so there is the worry that this body was contemporary to the re-burial and not the 18th dynasty. But Smith noted that the 21st dynasty Egyptians packed the bodies with linen, mud, sand, sawdust, or mixtures of fat and soda, but not resin.

While it is not 100% confirmed that this is mummy of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, scholars agree that he is the most likely candidate.


Photo Credits – Photos and layouts of tomb KV22 – Photos of the mummy

Wikimedia commons (Einsamer Schütze) –  Amenhotep III head

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – Commemorative Scarab (10.130.1643)

Wikimedia commons (MusikAnimal) – Colossi of Memnon – KV35 map

TourEgypt – Map of KV22

Kenneth Garrett, National Geogrpahic Creative – Color photo of mummy


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