THUTMOSE III OF EGYPT: GREATER THAN EITHER ALEXANDER OR NAPOLEON?
Power is a growing fire. The more it consumes, the larger the slaughter. It is only bound by the fuel it finds. Opportunity found to grow and follow. Follow a Pharaoh willing to wield its power. Follow him to Canaanite Megiddo. Chariots race the Jezreel Valley.
The Pharaoh of whom I speak was Thutmose III. He defeated the Syrian and Canaanite forces in that famous chariot battle and siege at Megiddo in 1457 B.C. It was he who ruled jointly with his regent stepmother, Hatshepsut. She, who at his 7th birthday, elevated herself to Pharaonic status. One she shared with Thutmose III as Pharaoh for 15 years.
But why share? Kingship in Egypt in those times followed the maternal royal line, and Hatshepsut was fully royal. But she had given birth only to daughters. Thutmose III was the son of her husband, the previous Pharaoh, in union with a common concubine. So he needed help to claim the throne.
Thutmose had married one of Hatshepsut’s daughters, apparently to gain that royal status. But she soon died. Perhaps he accepted his stepmother as joint Pharaoh to quell any objection to this lack of royal blood. Regardless, the relationship was effective. Effective in allowing the mature and diplomatic Hatshepsut to rule at home while the young and ambitious Pharaoh took charge of Egypt’s military forces, expanded them, and took them out on at least 20 military campaigns against the enemies of Egypt. Until Nubia was subdued, and Egypt controlled Canaan and Syria as far north as the Euphrates.
He was originally, and favorably, compared to Napoleon because of his mummy’s height. 5’3″. They later discovered that he was missing his feet. With those figured in, he would have been 5′ 6 1/2″, and that made him taller than most of his military members. B. H. Liddell Hart, the great military historian of the 20th Century, considered him greater in accomplishment than Napoleon, who would invade Egypt 3,000 years later.
Thutmose built many monuments to his gods and related military victories on the walls of his temples. And with the tin obtained in his conquests, made more and better bronze armaments. He replaced the mace, as the sign of Pharaonic power, with the better bronze sickle sword.
Obelisks quarried by Thutmose can now be found in Rome and Constantinople. In fact, he was the Pharaoh that raised Cleopatra’s Needles before the Temple of Amun at Karnak. They were later moved by Caesar Augustus to Alexandria. One now stands in Central Park in New York, and the other on the Thames Embankment in London.
But were his accomplishments greater than Alexander the Great’s, 1,000 years later? Thutmose lived much longer, it is true. And fought more battles against more powerful foes. But it is also true that the peace and relative stability of his conquests lasted for 500 years. Five hundred years during which the Mediterranean world and Middle East grew into a vast interconnected system of trade and commerce. A system that would last until it collapsed at the end of the Bronze Age. Attacked, overrun, and burned by the “Sea Peoples.”
Egypt barely survived. The coming Iron Age soon put more plentiful weapons in the hands of the ordinary people and inaugurated a more modern time, more traceable to ours. The tribes of Israel may have come together then, through the wars of David and in the Temple of Solomon.
But back to Megiddo. If you are religious, and if you are familiar with the Book of Revelations, you will know the hill of Megiddo as the place that demon-led kings of men will battle the forces of God at the end of our time. A place of hell called Armageddon! Over the last 4,000 years, at least thirty-four significant battles have taken place there.
Thutmose was not a vindictive ruler. He was generally generous to his vanquished foes. He allowed many of the kings he fought to pledge loyalty and return to their lands. He was not in the business of burning cities and slaughtering their inhabitants. He wisely saw the lands of Canaan as buffer states to protect the motherlands of Egypt. Was he influenced here by the wise diplomacy of his coregent, Hatshepsut?
He was a religious man greatly expanding the Amun Priesthood. But he also had a wonder of strange plants. And, like Napoleon, he took along scribes to describe his discoveries.
For 500 years, the world order established by Thutmose allowed for economic growth and expansion of trade. Are there worldly lessons here? And are there modern Pharaohs who seek the power, but not the economic wisdom, of those times?
Power is a growing fire!