10 Surprising Facts about Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III

One of the most successful warrior pharaohs of ancient Egypt, Thutmose III’s empire stretched from Iraq to the Sudan. Learn some fascinating facts about this king of Dynasty 18.

Jun 7, 2020By Nicole B. Hansen
bust statue thutmose iii
Upper part of a statue of Thutmose III, ca. 1479-1425 B.C., courtesy The Met MuseumRoyal Cartouche of Pharaoh Thutmose III (Menkheperra) from a sunken-relief, located at the Karnak Temple Complex 


Thutmose III, also known as Thutmosis or Tuthmosis, was arguably one of the greatest military kings that ever ruled Egypt. He engaged relentlessly in military campaigns abroad, mostly in Western Asia but also in Nubia. His campaigns yielded slaves, booty and even tribute over the long run. In this article, we reveal ten interesting facts about his life, reign, death and even influence on the modern world.


Thutmose III Started His Career Under The Thumb Of His Stepmother

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Relief showing Thutmose III following Hatshepsut during a religious festival, The Red Chapel of Hatshepsut, Karnak Temple Complex


Thutmose III’s father Thutmose II died when he was still a toddler, leaving him to be raised by his mother Iset. Iset was not Thutmose II’s only wife. He also was married to his half-sister, Hatshepsut.


A two-year old obviously can’t rule a country so Hatshepsut stepped in officially as regent for him. Yet, she reigned as an Egyptian pharaoh and even had herself depicted in royal regalia like a man. Their joint rule lasted 22 years when she disappeared from the historical record and Thutmose ruled alone.


Thutmose III had people take a chisel to her name on many of their joint monuments. For a long time, Egyptologists thought this indicated he resented her joint rule. But this destruction took place 25 years after her death. Now, we think that it was intended to smooth the way for his joint reign with his son, Amenhotep II.


Thutmose III Killed 120 Elephants In Syria

ancient egyptian ivory furniture plaque
Aramaean ivory furniture plaque with Egyptianizing motifs, courtesy The Met Museum

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Elephants still roamed Syria during the Egyptian New Kingdom. While near the town of Niy in Northern Syria, Thutmose III came across a large herd of them. The god Ra allegedly gave him the power to slaughter them for their ivory. His feat was so extraordinary that he said there was no boasting or lies in his claim.


However, while his annals implied the king acted singlehandedly, his general Amenemhab gave a different version of events in his tomb inscriptions. According to him, he helped the king achieve this feat. Amenemhab said he cut off the largest bull elephant’s trunk (which he called its “hand”) when the elephant came face to face with the pharaoh. The king rewarded him with gold and new clothes for his help.


The elephants of Syria eventually became extinct as their ivory continued to be in high demand. The Aramaeans especially were fond of carving the ivory into inlays for furniture. These often had Egyptian-influenced motifs.


Thutmose III Has No Feet To Stand On

mummy head thutmose III
Royal Mummy head of Thutmose III, from the original catalog of the Cairo Museum’s The Royal Mummies, only his head was photographed as the body was in such poor condition, courtesy University of Chicago Library


Thutmose III has often been compared to Napoleon Bonaparte, not only for his imperial aspirations, but also for his short stature. This is because his mummy is less than 5 feet 4 inches (1.62 meters) tall. However, he probably was taller than this because his mummy is missing its feet. 


During Dynasty 21, tomb robbers were plundering Egyptian Royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings for their treasures. Officials decided to protect the royal mummies by moving them to two caches, one within the valley and one outside. They moved Thutmose III’s mummy to the latter and probably knocked off his feet in the process.


…While His Foreign Wives Liked Fancy Footwear

solid gold sandals of thutmose III wives
Ancient Egypt Solid gold Sandals belonged to one of Thutmose III’s wives, courtesy The Met Museum


Thutmose III had a clever strategy to keep the conquered cities of Western Asia loyal to him. He took the minor sons of their rulers hostage and educated them at the Egyptian court, ensuring their loyalty. Thus it’s no surprise that Thutmose III also married three foreign women, named Menhet, Menwi and Merti. Their tomb was located In a remote valley in Luxor called the Valley of the Monkeys.


The remoteness of the tomb didn’t prevent it from being plundered in the early 20th century. In fact, local villagers were able to clear out the tomb before the archaeologists got there, and their bodies were completely destroyed. However, the tomb yielded a number of artifacts besides the footwear. These included gold, carnelian beads and glass bracelets, along with gold necklaces and headdresses, plus stone canopic jars that held their internal organs removed during mummification.


Thutmose’s Tomb In The Valley Of The Kings Is Uniquely Decorated

funerary book wall thutmose III
An excerpt of one of the funerary books painted on the wall of Thutmose III’s tomb, KV34


Most of the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings are colorfully decorated. Thutmose III chose to have his tomb (KV34) decorated in a singularly stark style. The tomb is cut high in the cliff walls and is today reached by a long metal staircase.


The burial chamber is oval shaped, like the royal cartouche used to enclose the king’s name. The artists painted the walls with an off-white background that imitates the appearance of papyrus and the text and figures on the wall are written in a cursive form of hieroglyphs normally reserved for papyrus.


Thutmose III Had His Own Virtual Zoo And Botanical Garden

thutmose III botanical garden
Thutmose III wall relief of the Botanical garden at Karnak 


Egyptian artists faithfully reproduced the natural world around them. When Thutmose III and his army campaigned in Syria, they encountered many animals and plants that did not exist in Egypt. His artists made a careful record of what they saw or perhaps brought back specimens with them to Egypt. When he returned to Egypt, they produced a unique tableau in his temple at Karnak, called the Akh-Menou.


Relief carvings of the animals and plants encountered in Western Asia decorate the walls of this chamber. Some have been identified as plants and animals known today, but others still remain unknown.


Thutmose III preserved a record of these plants and animals on the walls of his temple for posterity. At the same time, he had his soldiers chop down the orchards and destroy the wheat harvests of his defeated enemies.


Thutmose III Taxed His Citizens Heavily

rehhmire tomb luxor
Rehhmire Tomb (TT100), Luxor, a procession of men bringing taxes collected


Thutmose III did not limit himself to collecting tribute from his vassals in Western Asia and Nubia, but taxed Egyptians as well. Taxes were paid in kind and his vizier (the ancient equivalent of a prime minister) Rekhmire oversaw the process.


Rekhmire faithfully depicted the duties he was entrusted with in his tomb, among these the collection of taxes. Traditionally, taxes were paid in grain, with tax collectors extracting what was due with the whip of a stick if necessary.


Cattle, honey, fruit, turtle doves, mats and linen fabric were also collected.


The First Egyptian Recipe Dates To His Reign

Rekhmire’s tomb also provides visual instructions on how to make “shat” cakes, the first ancient Egyptian recipe that exists. The main ingredient in these cakes was tiger nuts (also known as “chufa” in Spanish). 


Tiger nuts are a small, somewhat sweet tuber that grows underground that tastes like a cross between almond and coconut. The Spanish use them to make the drink horchata, more popularly known in North America as a cool drink made from rice.


The tiger nuts were pounded into a powder and mixed with honey to form cakes that were then fried in fat, possibly goose fat.


For a long time, it was thought that the cakes were actually made from carob. But the discovery of a labeled pot of tiger nuts in a tomb at Aswan made the identification as tiger nuts certain.


Many Egyptian Artifacts From His Reign Are Found In Western Asia

egyptian scarab
Scarab of Thutmose III, via Medusa-art.com


The many years of military campaigns and administration of Western Asia left Thutmose III’s mark on the region. This is especially notable in the archaeological record.


Many artifacts that either were produced in Egypt or under an Egyptianizing influence have been dug up in places like Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The most common of these is scarab seals inscribed with Thutmose III’s name.


However, not all scarabs inscribed with his name even date to his reign. Normally, scarab seals were only inscribed with the ruling pharaoh’s name. But Thutmose III’s renown was so great that people continued to produce scarabs with his name on them for centuries after his death, both in Egypt and in the lands he previously conquered. Thus, the date of a scarab with his name on it is not always immediately clear and other stylistic markers must be considered.


Thutmose III Helped Bring World War I To An End

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Australian cavalry in the Battle of Megiddo in Palestine, 1918, courtesy National Army Museum


If ever the value of studying history was demonstrated, it was in one of the penultimate battles of World War I near Megiddo (the Biblical Armageddon) in Palestine. Led by General Allenby, the Allied Forces and in particular the cavalry, fought a decisive and influential battle.


Allenby was friends with Egyptologist James Henry Breasted and had read his translations of the annals of Thutmose III. In these annals, the ancient Egyptian king had reported how he wanted to attack the walled city of Megiddo. His army officers urged him to approach the city by an open plain, while Thutmose III had his own approach. There was a relatively narrow pass and Thutmose III suggested that by going “horse by horse” through this pass, they would catch the enemy by surprise. Of course, the officers had no choice but to acquiesce to his suggestion, with great success. 


Allenby followed the same strategy with equal success.  It was the beginning of the end for the Ottoman powers that the Allies were fighting. And it was an almost implausible end to Thutmose III’s brilliant military career that stretched over millennia. 

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By Nicole B. HansenNicole B. Hansen received her PhD and MA in Egyptology from the University of Chicago and her BA in Egyptology from UC Berkeley. She worked for the Giza Plateau Mapping Project at the Giza Pyramids and for the Theban Mapping Project’s Cairo office. She taught courses on Egyptian art, language and culture at the University of Chicago, the American University in Cairo and Amideast. She has a special interest in the continuity of ancient Egyptian culture until the present day, animals, medicine, magic and culinary history and lives in a village in Luxor a short distance from the archaeological sites.