The Poetical Stele of Tuthmosis III

First published in the Egyptian Museum Newsletter, Issue 7 (Jan-April 2010) -

The Egyptian Museum contains many wonders, so many in fact that most are passed un-noticed by the thousands of visitors that enter each day; some of the most important objects in the museum are unobtrusive, silently waiting to be rediscovered.

Take for example the Poetical Stele of Tuthmosis III – originally from the Temple of Amun at Karnak and now in Room 12 of the museum’s ground floor among other objects from the 18th Dynasty. It was found broken into two large pieces of granite (CG 34010 and JE 3425), and originally stood 1.70m tall. Although not as immediately impressive as the nearby statues of Tuthmosis III, Amenhotep II, and Senenmut, it displays an inscription that highlights the close personal relationship between king and god. The scene at the top of the stele, in the lunette, emphasises this message for those unable to read the content – below the winged sun-disc can be seen a dual image of the king accompanied by a goddess, both offering to the god Amun.

The inscription below is presented as a speech of Amun, who welcomes the king into his sanctuary at Karnak, calling Tuthmosis ‘his son, his avenger,’ and embracing him. Amun states that he will give Tuthmosis victory over all lands, and, in fact, has already made his previous victories possible. He tied up the Nubians and northerners for the king to defeat, and caused them to fall beneath his feet to be trampled. Due to his divine action, Amun continues, all foreigners will come to the king bringing tribute on their backs.

Amun then relates his happiness at Tuthmosis’ military victories, before making a series of poetical statements, each following the same general structure. With each line Amun gives Tuthmosis dominance over a different part of the world, and causes the people of each area to witness him as a particular phenomenon or creature, each vividly described. Thus, the people of Djahy (in modern Lebanon) see the king as radiant light shining down upon them as the sun’s rays; while those in the Eastern Land and in God’s Land see the king as a shooting star that scatters its flame as fire. Those at the limits of the north were to see the king as falcon-winged, as one who could seize what he sees as he desires, while those who lived in the borderlands and the Bedouin would see the king as an Upper Egyptian jackal - a possessor of speed.

Amun performs these wonders  for Tuthmosis because he, in return, does all that the god desires – the text relates how Tuthmosis had performed work within the temple at Karnak, including building large new doorways, in honour of his god. It thus highlights the nature of the king’s relationship to Amun in the New Kingdom: it is reciprocal. Both act for one another for the greater glory and benefit of Egypt. This stele is a powerful and poetic insight into the nature of New Kingdom thought, and illustrates a very personal moment between the king and his god.