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Thutmose I: Tomb-Building Trendsetter

Valley of the Kings

For this week's Thutmose Tuesday, we're revisiting our old friend Thutmose I, conqueror of Nubia, father of Hatshepsut, and grandfather of Thutmose III. Today, however, we won't be talking about Thutmose's many military achievements, but one of his enduring architectural accomplishments. It's something we, thousands of years removed from ancient Egyptian society, might not view as significant, but to the pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty, it was a top priority: the king's tomb.

If you know anything about ancient Egypt, you know that the Egyptians were a little obsessed with the afterlife. In fact, it's primarily their tombs, funerary goods, and mortuary temples/shrines which have survived into the modern era; ironically, Egyptologists have learned a lot about how the ancient Egyptians lived by how they prepared for death. For a pharaoh, tombs and mortuary temples were especially important. First, the king needed to ensure that he constructed a tomb that would last for thousands of years, protecting his mummy and all the funerary equipment buried with him from tomb robbers and natural phenomena. Second, the pharaoh had to think about his mortuary cult: because Egyptian kings were viewed as "living gods" and deified during their lifetime, it was only natural that their cult worship should continue after their death. A pharaoh had to make sure that his tomb or separate mortuary temple had a place for priests to pray and make offerings to his memory. It was absolutely essential that the name and image of a pharaoh endure for as along as possible (preferably for all eternity) after his death. The Egyptians believed that, if the memory of a dead king was not kept alive and his name and images were erased or lost to time, that the king's spirit would suffer a "second death" in the afterlife and cease to exist.

Some pharaohs, as you well know, chose to build pyramids to serve as their tombs and centers of cult worship; other (early) rulers constructed low mastaba tombs at sites like Abydos. Our friend Thutmose I decided to do things a little differently. Instead of spending years planning and executing the construction of a pyramid or other large monument (which, more often than not, served as a veritable beacon for tomb robbers), Pharaoh Thutmose I decided to carve his tomb into a sheer cliff face, tunneling down hundreds of feet into the rock. The location he selected had never been used before for such a royal tomb, and was isolated enough to offer reasonable protection from any future plundering. You've probably heard of this spot: the Valley of the Kings! Yup, it was our very own Thutmose the I who started the trend of constructing secluded, underground tombs in the valley followed by so many New Kingdom pharaohs after him: Thutmose III, Tutankhamun, Ramesses II, etc. In fact, the pharaoh's own daughter even got in on the trend! This first tomb, designated KV20, was modified decades after Thutmose's burial to accommodate another great 18th Dynasty ruler: Hatshepsut. Father and daughter shared the same tomb complex for some time, later being exhumed and moved to KV38. The mummy of Thutmose I was again disturbed in the 21st Dynasty, when his coffin was recycled for another pharaoh and his body was placed in a random mummy cache near Deir el-Bahri. Today, Thutmose rests in the Cairo Museum, KV20 still standing as a testament to his wisdom and ingenuity. A true trendsetter!

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