Amenhotep III’s Commemorative Scarabs

The youthful prince inherited an Egypt that was not only at peace but was the dominant power in a vibrant international community of trade and commerce. Over the course of his rule Amenhotep III had a series of scarabs made upon which were inscribed messages of royal propaganda. These scarabs are carved from soapstone which has been used for thousands of years as a medium for inscriptions.

Carved Beetles

These carvings were designed to look like the common dung beetle which was seen as a symbol of the god Khepri. Khepri was an aspect of the sun god Ra who is believed to have tirelessly pushed the sun across the sky each day and rolled it through the underworld each night in the same way that the dung beetle moved balls of manure.


The inspirational dung beetle.

The inspirational dung beetle.

Such carved scarabs had a long history of use in Egypt and the flat undersides where inscribed with a variety of inscriptions ranging from protective spells and names to personal seals. The scarabs issued by Amenhotep III where more particular in their intent. Over 200 of these large carved scarabs have been found ranging from as far north as Ugarit in Syria and south to Soleb in Sudan. Their size ranges between 8 and 11 cm. long with a width of between 7 and 9 cm.

Top and bottom view of a carved scarab.

Top and bottom view of a carved scarab.

The messages follow a basic outline always listing queen Tiye, the kings great wife along with the kings full name which reads;

Horus: Strong Bull, Appearing in Thebes, Two Ladies: He

who established laws, who pacifies the two lands, Golden Horus:

Great of strength, smiter of Asiatics, King of Upper and Lower Egypt:

Neb-Maat-Re, Son of Re: Amenhotep, ruler of Thebes, given life.

Great royal wife Tiye, may she live.

The Marriage Scarabs

The first series of scarabs that was likely produced was an announcement of the king’s marriage to Tiye which is believed to have taken place shortly after he took the throne. The scarab proclaims the boundaries of the king and queen’s domain to be from Nubia in the south to Syria in the north.

This particular series has been the focus of much attention due to the unusual mention of Yuya and Tuya as the parents of queen Tiye. Since Yuya and Tuya were members of the royal court but not royal themselves this proclamation has been seen as an attempt to emphasize the kings marriage to a commoner.

However in light of what we know about the overall majesty with which Amenhotep is presented elsewhere this assessment appears somewhat romantic and likely reflects 19th and 20th century political sentiments imposed upon antiquity. A better explanation is that Yuya and Tuya where two of the real powers behind the throne and that the true importance of their family has yet to be fully fathomed.

The Marriage Scarab of Amenhotep III and Tiye

The Marriage Scarab of Amenhotep III and Tiye

The Bull Hunt Scarabs

The next scarab series was released during the young kings second year on the throne. This message is the lengthiest and tells a short story of how the king came to hear that there were some wild bulls in the hills near Shetep, which has been identified as Wadi Natrun to the west of the Nile Delta. Traveling on the royal barge Appearing in Truth throughout the night, and then overland until dawn, the king arrives on his chariot with his entire army behind him.

The king ordered his men to coral the bulls, a total of 170, into a walled enclosure with a ditch. The king then went forth and killed 56 of them. For four days the king, his army, and his horses rested. After this hiatus the king returned to the hunt and took another 40 bulls as prize.

The Lion Hunt Scarabs

By the tenth year of Amenhotep III’s reign he had already conducted his sole military campaign, a minor mission in year five to quell a rebellion in Nubia. With enduring peace and no way to demonstrate his martial prowess the king once again manufactured scarabs that told of his hunting exploits. However this time the message is brief stating simply that in his first ten years as king Amenhotep shot and killed 102 lions.

The Gilukhepa Scarabs

Also in his tenth regnal year the king issued a scarab proclaiming his marriage to the Mittani Princess Gilukhepa. This marriage was part of a diplomatic alliance with the Syrian Kingdom and such marriages were key components of Late Bronze Age international relations.

Interestingly not only is Tiye consistently featured but once again her parents are mentioned. The details provided on the Mitanni princess are few.

Marvel brought to his majesty: The daughter of the

ruler of Naharina, Shutarna, (princess)Gilukhipa.

Persons in her harem: 317 women.

The Lake Scarabs

It may be mere coincidence but following his marriage to the Mitanni princess the next documented act by Amenhotep III was his construction of a lake for his great wife Tiye. This scarab series also provides an exact date for the acts recorded. According to the inscription during the third month of Akhet (Inundation) Amenhotep ordered the construction of a lake that was to be 3700 cubits by 600 cubits. This was to be built near Tiye’s town of Djarukha which is possibly located near Akhmin or this scarab may refer to the large artificial port dredged out near the royal place at Malqata across the Nile from Thebes.

It may seem miraculous but the scarab records that only fifteen days later The king boated upon the lake in the royal barque the Gleaming Aten. Yet as this project was constructed during the inundation it logically follows that nearly the entire labor force would be available to be mustered and with the high water levels at the time low lying areas could be flooded relatively easily.

Together these scarabs provide a valuable insight into the workings and the mindset of 18th Dynasty Egypt. Individually they may provide clues into the internal politics and doings of the royal household. At the very least they testify that Amenhotep III’s great wife Tiye was a queen of vital importance to her husband’s rule.