Egypt, once a powerful kingdom, was sandwiched between two enemies when Ahmose was born. In the north, the land of the pyramids was occupied by the Hyksos people, whose king had declared himself pharaoh

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Egypt, once a powerful kingdom, was sandwiched between two enemies when Ahmose was born. In the north, the land of the pyramids was occupied by the Hyksos people, whose king had declared himself pharaoh. To the south, Egypt was threatened by the warlike Nubians. This was the first time that Egyptian land had ever been under foreign rule. As a result, a civilization that had already existed for 1,500 years was threatened with extinction. 
Following his father’s death, Ahmose became Pharaoh, but he was still a boy. His mother ruled as regent and educated her son in his future job. Ten years later, Ahmose was ready to take on the Hyksos and avenge the deaths of his father and brother. He marched north, defeated the Hyksos, and freed Egypt from foreign occupation. This was a great victory. Ahmose was now pharaoh of a united Egypt that stretched from the borders of Nubia in the south, to the Mediterranean in the north. 

When he got back home to Thebes, Ahmose was a hero and was worshipped as a god. But running the Hyksos out of Egypt was just the beginning: Ahmose wanted to build a powerful Egypt. This required money, so Ahmose traveled south to Nubia, home to some of the richest gold mines in the ancient world. In a series of battles, Ahmose’s Egyptian army defeated the Nubians and their king in another great victory. 

By the time of his death, Ahmose had reunited Egypt. He had expanded its borders and gave it financial security – laying the foundations for a new empire and a golden age. 

Ancient Egyptian society gave women far more respect than most other societies of the time. But it was still extremely unusual for a woman to become pharaoh. After Hatshepsut’s half-brother died, power passed to her stepson, Thutmose III, while he was still young. Hatshepsut became co-regent, ruling with others on behalf of her stepson until he grew up. This was standard practice, but Hatshepsut then surprised everyone by grabbing sole power for herself and declaring herself Pharaoh - just the third woman pharaoh in 3,000 years. 

At first, Hatshepsut's move was very unpopular. To persuade her people, Hatshepsut stressed her royal ancestry and claimed that her father had publicly appointed her as his successor. She ordered carvings on her temple walls that told this story. Then Hatshepsut made sure that she was portrayed in pictures as a man, with a male body and even a false beard.

Despite these efforts, Hatshepsut was still worried about securing her reign and dealing with her stepson, Thutmose III.

Hatshepsut was nothing if not cunning, and she devised a win-win solution. She ordered the army to make itself useful, not by going into battle, but by setting off on a trading expedition to the land of Punt, where no Egyptian had been for more than 500 years.  The expedition had a double advantage: it would keep her army busy so that Thutmose posed no danger to her. It also offered Hatshepsut the chance to bring back to Egypt a wide variety of valuable and exotic goods, such as ivory, leopard skins and incense. The expedition was an enormous success and enhanced Hatshepsut's reputation. She became the ruler who had reached out to foreign countries and who had delivered to Egyptians marvelous wonders from far away. 

After 22 years of reign, Hatshepsut died and her stepson, Thutmose III, finally gained the throne that had been rightfully his for decades. Thutmose resented his long wait for power and decided to wipe her from history. In a massive operation, he ordered that her name and image be removed from every part of Egypt. He was so successful that Hatshepsut was totally erased from Egyptian history until 1903, when a British archaeologist found her tomb and her story was rediscovered.

Thutmose III
When his father died, Thutmose III was just a young boy. His stepmother, Hatshepsut, was regent until he grew older, but then seized the throne and ruled as pharaoh herself in his place. Thutmose was denied his throne until Hatshepsut died, more than 20 years later. Egypt was powerful, but it still had many enemies. The death of a pharaoh presented them with a perfect opportunity to test the strength of the new leader.
A coalition of foreign princes gathered in the city of Megiddo, threatening Egyptian trade and influence in the area. Perhaps they thought that Thutmose would be weak or hesitant: if so, they were seriously wrong. Having waited so long for power, Thutmose had big plans. He had been head of the army before he took the throne and knew that military victory was the best way to popular acclaim and immortality. He didn't just want to defend Egypt against its enemies; he wanted their lands for himself. He enlisted 20,000 soldiers - either voluntarily or by force - and trained them for an attack on Megiddo. Along the way to Megiddo, a team of scribes - the world's first war correspondents - recorded the army's progress and victories, and gave an idea of life in the pharaoh's army.
When the army arrived at Megiddo, Thutmose had to figure out his plan of attack. Against the advice of his generals, he decided to take the most direct - and most dangerous - route to the city, figuring that the enemy would not expect him to be so bold. He was right. His attack surprised the enemy army, which was camped outside Megiddo, and he quickly defeated them. Thutmose lost momentum, however, when his army stopped to plunder the enemy camp. This allowed the survivors to escape and hide behind the walls of the city. Now he had to sit it out. For seven months, Thutmose and his army kept the city under siege while raiding the surrounding countryside. With its population starving, Megiddo finally surrendered. The city and its people now belonged to Thutmose, along with all its wealth.
The riches from war that Thutmose brought back to Thebes made it one of the richest and greatest cities in the Ancient World. Additionally, with all of his military successes, Thutmose created the largest Egyptian empire conquered and ruled by one pharaoh.

Amenhotep III
In 1390 BC, Amenhotep III took the throne. He was lucky: predecessors such as Ahmose and Thutmose III had battled hard to expand Egypt's borders and there were no more wars to fight. Still, he faced his fair share of challenges. Egypt was wealthy, so it was envied by countries in the area like Babylonia and Assyria. Amenhotep needed to protect Egypt from these rivals, but desperately wanted to avoid yet more war. 

Another solution was needed. Instead of fighting his enemies, Amenhotep decided to talk to them. He began writing to the other rulers in the region, carving letters on small stones that messengers took to foreign leaders. The Amarna letters, were the key to Amenhotep's success. They show that he was controlling his world, not with weapons, but with words. The pharaoh had become a successful diplomat. Amenhotep had one main advantage when negotiating with his rivals: Egypt's great wealth. Its control of the Nubian gold mines gave Egypt riches that other countries could only dream of. Ambassadors brought gifts of friendship and smaller countries sent endless tributes of exotic animals and other treasures in order to demonstrate their loyalty. The Amarna letters show that even kings were desperate for a share of Egypt's gold, and that they were not too proud to beg. Amenhotep replied cleverly, giving them some gold, but always leaving them wanting more. 

With gold and gifts pouring into Egypt, Amenhotep decided to show off his riches and reinforce his position with a massive building program. This included two stunning temples dedicated to himself and his chief queen, Tiy. Although tradition dictated that the pharaoh should strengthen the royal blood by marrying into his own family, Amenhotep ignored this and chose to marry Tiy, a commoner. Tiy was a strong woman that Amenhotep saw his near-equal.
Amenhotep, whose name means 'Amen is satisfied', also poured vast amounts of money into temples dedicated to Amen-Re, the king of the gods. Over time, the priests at the temple grew richer and ever more powerful. Only they could interpret the will of Amen-Re, which the Pharaoh had to obey. In frustration, Amenhotep switched his interest to another god, the minor Aten, the sun god, a decision that would have huge consequences after his death. 
When Amenhotep IV (Akenhaten) was born in 1352 BC, his father, Amenhotep III, helped make Egypt the wealthiest and peaceful empires on earth, thanks to his diplomatic skills. But, fights between Amenhotep III and the powerful priests of Amen-Re, would be passed onto Amenhotep IV and begin to set the stage for a religious revolution. Gradually, Amenhotep IV reined in the priests. Amenhotep IV adopted his father's interest in Aten.
Amenhotep IV took the interest in Aten further than anyone ever imagined. He changed his name from Amenhotep IV to Akenhaten, which meant 'Living Spirit of the Aten'. He then decreed that only Aten would be worshipped in Egypt, with the pharaoh as the only priest. This ended the priesthood of Amen-Re altogether. The temples of Amen-Re were closed and the priests evicted.
Then Akenhaten went one huge step further. To seal this break with the past, he ordered the construction of a brand new capital city on a desolate site called Amarna, north of Thebes. When Amarna was completed, the entire city of Thebes was told to pack up and move out. Every aspect of government was relocated. All in all, some 20,000 people traveled the 200 miles to this massive new city. Akenhaten moved into Amarna with his beautiful chief queen, Nefertiti, and his six daughters. Surviving images show Akenhaten as a happy, family man who loved his wife and enjoyed playing with his daughters. 

Soon, Akenhaten abandoned his earlier tolerance of other gods, and began a campaign against them. He sent out armies of men to remove all mentions of Amen-Re from the temple walls. He even insisted that the 'Amen' part of his father's name be removed wherever it was found, including his tomb. This obsession was affecting his reign. Egypt headed towards bankruptcy and Akenhaten began to lose touch with the outside world. He ignored letters that poured in from his subjects, warning of the dangers to the empire and pleading for help.  His neglect of the diplomacy that his father had used so effectively caused Egypt to lose prestige and allies. The empire was in danger of collapsing. But before disaster struck, Akenhaten died. Almost immediately, once-loyal officials rushed back to Thebes, eager to retrieve order from the new chaos. Amarna quickly became a ghost town, while Aten was abandoned in favor of the comfort of old traditions and more familiar gods. Akenhaten's great revolution was over. 

When Akenhaten died, he left his country in a bad state. His experiment at Amarna was over. His religious extremism had left his dynasty, country and empire staring disaster in the face. And his heir was just a 9-year-old boy--Tutankhaten. The boy was Akenhaten's son by a minor wife. He grew up in the palaces at Amarna worshipping Aten, the sun god. Even his name meant 'the living image of Aten'. As a young boy he was not in control of his own throne. The military and priesthood had seen their influence decrease under Akenhaten. They seized the opportunity to use the young pharaoh as their puppet in order to return Egypt to its traditional ways and religion. The first thing they did was change his name. Tutankhaten became Tutankhamen, meaning 'a living image of Amen'. They then wrote a decree for Tutankhamen where he publicly blamed his father for neglecting Egypt's traditional gods and plunging the country into chaos. 

By the time Tutankhamen was 19, and able to rule by himself, he ordered that the old gods and temples be restored, along with the power of the priests. Amen-Re would take back his place at the head of the gods and Aten was relegated back to his formerly minor status. Amarna was abandoned and nobody was allowed to speak of what had taken place during Akenhaten's reign. It was erased from official history, as if it had never happened. 

Everything seemed to be back to normal. But then Tutankhamen died - suddenly and mysteriously. Some think he was murdered in a plot to seize the throne. One suspect is the court advisor Ay. He was the main driving force behind the restoration of the old religion and he went on to rule Egypt. During this time, he ordered a more vicious rejection of Akenhaten and his sun-worship, in which many references to the dead Pharaoh and his queen, Nefertiti, were destroyed forever. 

Tutankhamen would have remained just a scribble in the margins of history but for a British archaeologist named Howard Carter. In 1922, Carter discovered Tutankhamen's tomb in the Valley of the Kings, untouched for 3,000 years. The tomb held thousands of treasures and a fabulous quantity of gold - so much, in fact, that it took Carter and his team 10 years to empty the tomb completely. 

Ramsses II
Born a commoner, his family's military skills brought Ramesses to the throne at the age of just 15. He immediately faced serious challenges. The Egyptian empire was under threat from the Hittites, who lived in what is now Turkey. They were far more advanced than the Egyptians and were already pushing against the northern border of Egypt's empire. An inexperienced, young king presented them with the perfect opportunity to extend their own empire. Ramesses raised an army and sped off to fight the Hittites. He was a young man, highly confident, but also impulsive. This would cause him some serious problems. The Hittites led a surprise attack that almost succeeded. Ramesses had been fortunate to escape, but had not achieved the decisive victory he wanted. Despite this, Ramesses began a huge campaign that claimed that he had won the battle single-handed. Across Egypt, temple walls were carved with this official version of the battle. It was spin-doctoring on a grand scale.

Now at peace, Ramesses constructed the Ramesseum, a temple, purpose-built to manufacture tales of his greatness. At its heart was the House of Life, a massive library dedicated to glorifying the pharaoh. It contained some 10,000 papyrus scrolls that created an official image of Ramesses that was larger than life. He also began a building program far greater than anything ever seen before. An entire village, Deir el Medineh, housed craftsmen whose sole purpose was to build two magnificent tombs. These were carved out of mountains in southern Egypt and were constructed for Ramesses and his wife. But the building did not end there. Almost every temple in Egypt was redecorated or rebuilt. At Karnak, the most holy of temples, a field of 134 columns were carved, each 69 feet tall and shaped like papyrus trees. 

Ramesses also knew that he needed heirs and over his long life, he boasted that he had fathered 80 sons and around 60 daughters. But his long life meant that many of his children died before him and he had to train 12 sons to be crown prince. When Ramesses finally did die, he was 93 years old, an incredible age in a land where most died before they were 40. Egypt was paralyzed with grief. Nearly all of his subjects had been born in his reign and thought the world would end without him. In a way they were right. 

Ramesses II did become the legendary figure he so desperately wanted to be, but this was not enough. New enemies were attacking the empire and it could not last. Less than 150 years after Ramesses died, his empire fell, his descendants lost their power and the New Kingdom came to an end. 

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