Under a series of able Eighteenth Dynasty rulers, Egypt established control over Syria and Palestine and became the leading power in the Near East. Provincial governors, often local princes, were placed in charge of the newly conquered Asian territories, and in some states Egypt garrisons were installed. As a guarantee of loyalty, the sons of local princes were taken to Egypt, where their education meant that they would develop pro-Egyptian sympathies. A royal messenger acted as an intermediary between the pharaoh's court and the Asiatic provinces, from whom annual tribute was taken.

Once again, Nubia was subjugated, and by the end of the reign of Amenophis II, Egyptian control reached beyond the Fourth Cataract. The province was ruled by an official called the the "King's son of Kush," and Egyptian domination was symbolized by the construction of walled towns, each with its own temple, which replaced the Middle Kingdom fortresses. The mines of Kush now provided the gold of Egypt, and Nubia also supplied other luxury goods, such as copper, ivory, ebony, and animal skins.

The wealth from booty, tribute, and trade stimulated cultural life, as did increasing contacts with other countries. There were new fashions in clothing and jewelry, and new customs and gods. Thebes was now the capital, and although little is left of the brick-built palaces, the remains of painted and gilded plaster decoration of Amenophis III's pleasure palace reveal something of the elegance of this building. From the time of Tuthmosis I, the temple of the state god Amun was enlarged and enhanced, and it was here that the pharaohs dedicated booty from victorious campaigns.

The temple was also the main treasury of the state. Kings were buried in rock-cut tombs near Thebes and the only intact burial found, that of the young Tutankhamun, gives some idea of the sumptuous treasures doubtless buried with more important rulers and of the wealth and brilliance of this period. The queens and princes were buried in neighboring valleys, as were the nobles, whose tombs were painted with charming scenes of daily life.

Egypt's power and prosperity were largely the result of the exploits of a few kings. Tuthmosis I campaigned as far as the Euphrates and first brought Syria and Palestine under Egyptian control. Following the reign of Hatshepsut, the widow of Tuthmosis II, her nephew and stepson Tuthmosis III reasserted Egyptian authority over kingdoms in Asia, and came into conflict with Mitanni. Under Tuthmosis IV, a peace treaty was concluded between these powers and sealed by dynastic marriages. Toward the end of Amenophis III's reign, the Hittites sacked Mitanni's capital and began to dominate Syria, which they took control of during the reign of Amenophis IV. Egyptian influence in the region now lapsed.

Amenophis IV abandoned the worship of Amun, claiming divine guidance from the Aten, or sun's disk. He took the name Akhenaten, meaning "beneficial to the sun-disk," but failed to introduce the new religion at Thebes, were there was opposition from the powerful preists of Amun. He moved his capital to the newly built city of Akhetaten, "the horizon of the Aten," about 200 miles north of Thebes. This city is now known as Tell el-Amarna. Here the Aten was worshipped at an open-air altar in the Great Temple. Akhenaten, his beautiful wife Nefertiti and their children lived at the Royal Residence and at the Maru-Aten, a pleasure palace with a lake, south of the town. A new and distinctive naturalistic style was used in the decoration of the palaces and nobles' villas, as well as in the reliefs and sculptures of this period.

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