Thutmose IV was the 8th Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. He ruled in the 14th century BC, but not for long. His reign lasted only eight to ten years. He was lucky that his tomb wasn’t invaded and his mummified remains torn apart for sale, as tomb robbers have done over the centuries. Karin wrote about a recent foiled mummy heist here.
Not much is known about his time on the Egyptian throne. He constructed chapels; was victorious in a minor skirmish protecting gold mine routes from Nubian attackers; made an astute political marriage with a princess from the rival Mittani kingdom (in today’s Syria).
Thutmose also completed the work on the eastern obelisk at the Temple of Karnak started by Thutmose III, which, at 105 feet, was the tallest obelisk ever erected in Egypt. But his greatest act was to restore the Great Sphinx of Giza, which was buried up to its neck in sand .
The Sphinx, millennial guardian of secrets, also guards a hint that Thutmose may have employed fratricide to clear the way to the throne. His older brothers should have been successors after their father, but these brother disappeared into history just as Thutmose grew old enough to dream of kingship. The hint is unwittingly contained in a monument known as the Dream Stele.
On attaining the throne, Thutmose built a chapel between the paws of the Sphinx, and its back wall was a 12-foot-tall granite slab inscribed with a story. This is the Dream Stele. On it is inscribed a dream in which the Sphinx speaks to Thutmose, promising him kingship in exchange for releasing it from its burial in the sand and restoring its awe-inspiring beauty.
Thutmose, reads the Dream Stele, had spent the day hunting lions with friends. He grew tired by noon, and lay down for a nap under the shadow of the Sphinx’s gigantic head. In the elaborate style of the time, the Dream Stele reads,
“One of those days it came to pass that the King’s Son Thothmes came, coursing at the time of mid-day, and he rested in the shadow of this Great God. Sleep seized him at the hour when the sun was in its zenith, and he found the Majesty of this Revered God speaking with his own mouth, as a father speaks with his son, saying: ‘Behold thou me, my son, Thothmes. I am thy father, Hor-em-akhet-Kheperi-Ra-Atum; I will give to thee my Kingdom upon earth at the head of the living. Thou shalt wear the White Crown and the Red Crown upon the Throne of Geb, the Hereditary Prince.
The land shall be thine, in its length and in its breath, that which the eye of the All-Lord shines upon. The food of the Two Lands shall be thine, the great tribute of all countries, the duration of a long period of years. My face is directed to you, my heart is to you; Thou shalt be to me the protector of my affairs, because I am ailing in all my limbs. The sands of the Sanctuary, upon which I am, have reached me; turn to me in order to do what I desire. I know that thou art my son, my protector; behold; I am with thee, I am thy leader.’”
In other words, the Sphinx told young Thutmose that he, not his brothers, was the real king.
It’s possible that the Dream Stele was a piece of propaganda set up to make Thutmose’s unexpected rise to the throne look legitimate. This theory is supported by the discovery of three previously made stelae that show Thutmose’s brothers making offerings to the Sphinx – but their names had been carefully struck off to erase them.
Egyptologist Selim Hassan‘s interpreted this to mean that Thutmose removed his brothers and even their names, so that they may be forgotten.
“I am afraid that this theory does not present Thothmes IV in a very favourable light, and if he was not actually a wholesale murderer (and there seems to be grounds for supposing that he was), at least he was a cold-hearted egoist,” wrote Hassan.
Yet Thutmose had the common people in mind, because he built a chapel for those who wanted to worship at the Karnak temple but were denied entry. It was a place “where the god Amun would hear the prayers of the townspeople.” In a time where worship was as vital as bread, it was an act of kindness.
The reconstruction of his face is so startlingly real that you feel he’s still with us, just waking up from that famous nap in the shadow of the Sphinx. But what can we tell of this short-lived Pharaoh? For he died before he was thirty.
Presumably he fell ill in his last years. Statutes and carvings depicting him as king show a well-fed man with almost chubby cheeks, but his mummy is gaunt.
A surgeon at Imperial College London studied the lives of Thutmose and his ancestors, many of whom died young. He concluded that they suffered from familial temporal epilepsy, a form of epilepsy that often involves shattering spiritual visions during violent seizures. If true, it could have been the reason for Thutmose’s early death, and for the dream, and for what he did to fulfil that dream.