Review of Richard A.
Gabriel, Thutmose III: The Military Biography of Egypt's
Greatest Warrior King. Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2009. Pp.
viii, 252. ISBN 978-1-59797-373-1.
Richard A. Gabriel, a
retired U.S. Army officer and currently professor of History and War
Studies at two military colleges in Canada, has published over forty
monographs primarily on military topics. Among several of his books
dealing with the ancient world are two novels about the life of
Thutmose III (r. 1479-1425 B.C., 18th Dynasty).
This king is best remembered for military campaigns that led to the
largest territorial expansion of Pharaonic Egypt. The book under
review is a biography in nine chapters centering on Thutmose as a
III (hereafter, simply "Thutmose") officially reigned for some fifty-four years, during his first
twenty-two years he was in practice co-ruler with his aunt and
stepmother Hatshepsut, who acted as his regent, since he was still a
child when he succeeded his father Thutmose II. But just a few years
later, Hatshepsut styled herself as "king" and legitimate heir of her
father Thutmose I. She basically acted as sole ruler while ostensibly
a co-regent. Thutmose was already in charge of the army during
Hatshepsut's later years, but only after her death did he begin a
series of military campaigns into Syria and Palestine. The sources for
these events are a series of biographical inscriptions and stelae from
Karnak. The most relevant are the "Annals" of Thutmose from the Temple
of Karnak, which report his campaigns until regnal year 42. Seventeen
campaigns are on record, but information for two of them (eleven, in
regnal year 36, and twelve, in year 37) is lost beyond the mere fact
that they took place.
Gabriel, though not an
Egyptologist, has consulted most of the recent scholarly literature on
Thutmose as well as many published sources in translation. His
strength lies in the analysis of the military campaigns. Chapter 1
("Warrior Pharaoh") provides an outline of the king's life,
comparing him favorably with Alexander the Great (21-24), pointing out
that in many cases Thutmose may even be regarded as superior.
Alexander, for example, inherited the Macedonian army of his father
Philip II's making and his plan to attack Persia was also originally
Philip's. In contrast, Thutmose "created a new strategic vision for
Egypt based solidly in calculations of national self-interest" (22).
Gabriel also rates the enemies of both rulers quite differently. He
succumbs to the older view that the Persian Empire was rotten to the
core and that Alexander therefore fought a second-rate army and
Thutmose, however, confronted well-equipped and professional armies
during his campaigns in the Near East.
Chapters 2 ("Strategic
Setting") and 3 ("The Antagonists") provide introductions to Egypt,
the Land of Canaan, the Mitannian Empire, and Nubia. One deals with
the historic and strategic settings of these regions and the other
with their respective armies and weaponry. Various geographical maps
and line drawings of army units and chariot types illustrate the
Chapters 4-8 summarize
the campaigns of Thutmose. One of his most renowned victories took
place early in his sole reign and is the subject of Chapter 4 ("The
Battle of Megiddo"). In the city of Megiddo in northern Palestine, a
group of rebellious regional rulers and chiefs headed by the king of
Kadesh had gathered to plan an invasion of Egypt. The "Annals" report
the king's daring determination in choosing the direct route to
Megiddo, the Aruna road, a rather narrow path through the Carmel which
required the army--especially the chariots and horses--to march in
single file. This advance brought an element of surprise which helped
Thutmose to win the battle outside Megiddo, but, since Egyptians
engaged in plundering the fallen enemy, the rebels were able to
withdraw into the city and Thutmose had to start a siege. Gabriel
takes a closer look at the sources and the possible logistical
challenges. He doubts that Thutmose really exited the Aruna road near
Megiddo and believes he instead came into the Plain of Esdraelon from
the broader Kina Valley, north of the Aruna road, as may be read in
the "Annals." So Thutmose seems to have gone halfway through the Aruna
pass and then turned north to the Kina Valley. To have used the
heavily guarded regular Aruna exit would have imperiled his troops and
prevented their properly assembling for battle.
Chapter 5 ("The Campaign
in Canaan") treats the drive into Canaan after Megiddo, when
Thutmose continued to campaign in southern Lebanon and began securing
Egyptian control over the region by requiring an oath of submission in
areas he conquered, taking hostages (usually the children of chiefs),
implementing taxation, and taking levies. Campaigns two through five
are covered in this chapter.
The next three campaigns
(six through eight) are treated in Chapter 6 ("The Campaign for the
Lebanon Coast"). With the fifth campaign, Thutmose had already
employed naval operations to move his army into Canaan. Egyptian sea
transport of troops was not new. King Sahure of the 5th Dynasty had
used it about a thousand years earlier and this sort of transport was
employed on the Nile in the 17th and 18th Dynasties. Thutmose revived
the navy on a larger scale as part of the "broad sweep of his
strategic thinking" (140). Gabriel outlines the logistics and
distances involved in those naval operations, calculating that the
king might have used around eighty ships to move 12,000 troops, 1,250
horses plus pack animals, and 500 chariots from Egypt to Byblos.
One of Thutmose's most
daring expeditions was against Mitanni, discussed in Chapter 7 ("The
Euphrates Campaign"). The Egyptian forces, an estimated 20,000 troops
and 6,500 animals, again arrived by ship at the Lebanon coast, where
the king ordered smaller ships to be built (possibly in sections for
later reassembly), loaded on wagons, and pulled by oxen 270 miles
inland to the Euphrates. Gabriel discusses the challenges of this
enterprise, the advantage of mule carts as opposed to oxcarts as well
as the likely road to Carchemish, near which the Mitanni were beaten
in a battle. It was not the king's intention to conquer Mitanni, since
he could not sustain an invasion over such a long distance.
This campaign brought Egypt recognition as an equal to such regional
superpowers as Hatti and Babylonia (188).
Chapter 8 ("The
Counterinsurgency Campaign") offers an intriguing discussion of
Egypt's aim to establish a stronghold in northern Syrian. This was
hampered by various elements. Unlike the Nubians, who lacked powerful
allies to resist Egyptian overrule, the Syrian city-states and their
vassals had the support of the Mitanni in their constant revolts
against the Egyptians. In turn the Mitanni used their Syrians vassals
as a buffer against Egyptian advances eastwards. For these reasons,
Thutmose started what Gabriel terms a counterinsurgency strategy.
To accomplish this, he had to isolate the Syrian states from any
Mitanni support. So the king undertook several successive campaigns to
strengthen his hold over the region. He even had to suppress a revolt
of several city-states in his forty-second regnal year--a feat
accomplished largely thanks to his control of the ports of the Lebanon
coast. The sources are very sketchy about these events, but Gabriel
does his best to outline Thutmose's activities in those years.
Chapter 9 ("Epilogue")
summarizes Thutmose's last years with a brief concluding commentary on
This book is a very
valuable assessment of Thutmose's military plans and activities,
as well as the logistics behind them. It is also a useful introduction
to the military history of the times. One might, however, have wished
for a deeper analysis of Thutmose's impact in establishing Egypt as an
equal to the Near Eastern superpowers (Hatti, Mitanni, Assyria, and
Babylonia). Less serious shortcomings are the sometimes cursory
handling of citations without any references and of the
transliteration of Egyptian terms,
as well as the occasional reliance on outdated scholarly works.
Freie Universität Berlin
 Warrior Pharaoh: A Chronicle of the Life and
Deeds of Thutmose III, Great Lion of Egypt, Told in His Own Words
to Thaneni the Scribe (Lincoln, NB: iUniverse.com, 2001),
Lion of the Sun: A Chronicle of the Wars, Battles and Great Deeds
of Pharaoh Thutmose III, Great Lion of Egypt, as Told to Thaneni
the Scribe (Lincoln, NB: iUniverse.com, 2003).
 The Persian Empire still possessed some
strength: W. Heckel, The Conquests of Alexander the Great
(Cambridge: CUP, 2008) 31-40. Gabriel handles the distinction
between Macedonians and Greek too casually here. Alexander's army
had a Macedonian national identity, while the Greek poleis
enjoyed only a cultural unity.
 E.g., the term for dagger is bagsu (b3gsw)
or magsu (m3gsw) (12). On the same page, Gabriel
quotes an Egyptian text about the fate of soldiers, which is
reminiscent of a genre known as "Satire of the Trades."