Egyptian foreign policy in the period of the New Kingdom (1550-1150 BCE) is considered by researchers to be a structured policy the object of which was to increase the extent of the Egyptian sphere of influence in the Levant and Nubia to the point of creating a uniform imperial region. The motives attributed to the kings of Egypt for their imperial actions range from considerations of political honor and religious-royal ideology on the one hand to the need to establish the security of Egypt itself against the danger of invasion and subjugation by outside factors (e.g. the Hyksos) on the other. The economic factor is perceived to be a result (a blessing) of this activity but not as a motivating factor that shapes the pattern of Egyptian action.

A careful examination of the characteristics of Egypt’s foreign activity reveals a different picture. Egyptian foreign policy in the Levant during this period never created a system of Egyptian control in regions where Egyptian kings were active. Their activity was characterized by military campaigns, of varying scope and frequency, in selected key regions in the Levant where they operated again and again. Significant parts of this region remained without any direct Egyptian involvement; rather they were entangled in a web of diplomatic ties and contractual relationships, sometimes forced upon them. The regions where the Egyptian kings operated directly are typically areas in which the main trade routes passed or key crossroads for the transfer of products, goods and raw materials that constituted a significant component in the assemblage of products imported to Egypt.

An obvious manifestation of this is evidenced in two of the peak periods of Egyptian foreign activity in the Levant: the reign of Thutmose III and that of Ramses II. Sometimes it seems that far-sighted economic considerations were at the root of these two kings’ extensive operations in the Levant. They did not establish an imperial alignment such as those well-known to us from the Assyrian, Persian and Roman empires. Furthermore, even the obvious Egyptian hold on Nubia, which is closer to an imperial hold in the accepted sense, is seen in the eyes of scholars as a tool meant to ensure Egyptian economic interest in that southern region. The array of fortresses and temples is seen by one school of thought to represent an infrastructure that was intended to ensure the efficient economic exploitation of Nubia and not as an expression of the clear desire by Egypt to impose its will and authority on its neighbor to the south.

Surely there were a variety of considerations and motives at the crux of Egyptian foreign activity in this period, some of which were tied up with each other. It is possible the economic consideration was not the sole concern, but it was significant and so obvious that it constituted a formative and influencing factor in the consolidation of Egyptian foreign policy.

The importance of the economic consideration should also be examined in light of the changes that occurred in Egypt’s concept of the world during this period. Recognizing the internal processes that transpired in Egypt during the time of the New Kingdom is likely to provide an explanation for the economic consideration turning into a decisive factor in the shaping of Egyptian foreign policy.