Tut mask
King Tutankhamun (ruled 1334 to 1325 B.C.), better known as King Tut, became a pharaoh at age 9 and died when he was 19. Little is known of his life. Nothing in particular distinguished his career, and he probably would not be remembered were it not for the discovery of his unlooted tomb in 1922, which caused a big brouhaha even though relative to other Pharaohs it was not even a particularly grand tomb. Tutankhamun’s name was not even included on the classic “King’s List” at the temples of Abydos and Karnak. Despite all this King Tut is the Pharaoh the public knows best. [Source: Richard Covington, Smithsonian magazine, June 2005]

Tutankhamum is believed to be the son of Akhenaten. Nefertiti, Akhenaten’s first wife, was his stepmother. Tutankhamun’s his reign lasted for 16 years. Sometime during his reign he married Ankhesenpaaten. Apart from the return to Thebes and the cult of Amun, few events of his reign were documented. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, +]

King Tutankhamun was the last heir of a powerful family that ruled ancient Egypt for many centuries. Although his rule was unfilled his death was treated with great fanfare as he was the last of his line. It is astonishing how Tutankhamun continues do fascinate people today. More than 8 million people showed up to see his mask and artifacts from his tomb during the King Tut tour of the United States in the 1977. The comedian Steve Martin gave his career a big boost when he recorded a silly song about the pharaoh around the time of the tour. An exhibit in the mid 2000s called “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” — similar to one in 1977 — cleared $10 million in each city it appeared in. The admission fee was as high as $30. More than a million people saw the exhibit in Chicago and Philadelphia and nearly a million saw it in Los Angeles. The tour took place in spite of a ban that had been imposed after a gilt statue from Tut’s tomb was broken during a tour of Germany in 1982.

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Discovering Egypt; BBC History: Egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt; Egypt’s Golden Empire; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt; Ancient Egypt Magazine; Egypt Exploration Society ; Amarna Project; Egyptian Study Society, Denver; The Ancient Egypt Site; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East; Egyptology Resources

Tutankhamun: a Star Despite His Relative Unimportance

Tutankhamun's tomb opened

Mark Millmore wrote in “It is ironic that the Egyptian king who is most famous today was a little known and unimportant pharaoh in his own time. He had no real power, his impact on Egyptian history was trivial, and the modest works carried out during his short reign were taken and renamed by his successors. We have many of the objects he owned and yet we know almost nothing about what sort of person he was. What we do know is fragmentary. [Source: Mark Millmore,]

Matthew Shaer wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Since Howard Carter discovered the tomb now known as KV62, in 1922, no pharaoh has inspired more “educated guesses” than Tut. He probably came of age during the reign of Akhenaten, a ruler who famously broke from centuries of polytheistic tradition and encouraged the worship of a single deity: Aten, the sun. Born “Tutankhaten”—literally, “the living image of Aten”—Tut is thought to have become king at age 9, and ruled (likely with the help of advisers) until his death at 19 or 20. [Source: Matthew Shaer, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2014 ~~]

“Compared with the long reigns of powerful pharaohs such as Ramses II, Tut’s rule can seem insignificant. “Considering how much attention we pay to Tut,” said Chuck Van Siclen, an Egyptologist at the American Research Center in Egypt, “it’s as if you wrote a history of the presidents of the United States and devoted three long chapters to William Henry Harrison.”... Of the dozens of tombs that honeycomb the Valley of the Kings, Tutankhamun’s is among the least impressive. It’s low-slung and cramped, and since all the treasure currently resides in the Egyptian Museum, in Cairo, there isn’t much to see in KV62, save for the murals and Tut himself. Still, the tomb remains the Valley of the King’s star tourist attraction.” ~~

“Even so, it doesn’t take a Jungian analyst to understand why Tut has captured the world’s attention for so long. Egyptologists had long been forced to make do largely with scraps and fragments, but Tutankhamun’s tomb was found nearly intact and piled high with fantastical treasures. There was the absurdly beautiful burial mask, with its jutting false beard and coiled serpent, poised to strike. There were the rumors of the “curse” that had supposedly claimed the life of Carter’s deep-pocketed backer, Lord Carnarvon. And above all, there was the mystery of Tut’s death—he perished suddenly, it seems, and was placed in a tomb constructed for another king.” ~~

“Tutankhamun has been a projection screen for theories for almost a hundred years,” the Egyptologist Salima Ikram, co-author of a key 2013 paper that sizes up a long century of Tut theorizing, told me over coffee in Cairo. “Some of that, frankly, is researchers’ egos. And some of it is our desire to explain the past. Look, we’re all storytellers at heart. And we’ve gotten very much addicted to telling stories about this poor boy, who has become public property.” ~~

King Tut’s Place in History

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Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic, “To me the story of Tutankhamun is like a play whose ending is still being written. The first act of the drama begins in about 1390 B.C., several decades before Tutankhamun's birth, when the great pharaoh Amenhotep III assumes the throne of Egypt. Controlling an empire stretching 1,200 miles from the Euphrates in the north to the Fourth Cataract of the Nile in the south, this king of the 18th dynasty is rich beyond imagining. Along with his powerful queen Tiye, Amenhotep III rules for 37 years, worshipping the gods of his ancestors, above all Amun, while his people prosper and vast wealth flows into the royal coffers from Egypt's foreign holdings.[Source: Zahi Hawass, National Geographic, September 2010]

If Act I is about tradition and stability, Act II is revolt. When Amenhotep III dies, he is succeeded by his second son,Amenhotep IV — a bizarre visionary who turns away from Amun and the other gods of the state pantheon and worships instead a single deity known as the Aten, the disk of the sun...The end of Akhenaten's reign is cloaked in confusion — a scene acted out behind closed curtains. One or possibly two kings rule for short periods of time, either alongside Akhenaten, after his death, or both. Like many other Egyptologists, I believe the first of these "kings" is actually Nefertiti. The second is a mysterious figure called Smenkhkare, about whom we know almost nothing.

What we know for sure is that when the curtain opens on Act III, the throne is occupied by a young boy: the nine-year-old Tutankhaten ("the living image of the Aten"). Within the first two years of his tenure on the throne, he and his wife, Ankhesenpaaten (a daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti), abandon Amarna and return to Thebes, reopening the temples and restoring their wealth and glory. They change their names to Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun, proclaiming their rejection of Akhenaten's heresy and their renewed dedication to the cult of Amun.

Then the curtain falls. Ten years after ascending the throne, Tutankhamun is dead, leaving no heirs to succeed him. He is hastily buried in a small tomb, designed originally for a private person rather than a king. In a backlash against Akhenaten's heresy, his successors manage to delete from history nearly all traces of the Amarna kings, including Tutankhamun.

Ironically, this attempt to erase his memory preserved Tutankhamun for all time. Less than a century after his death, the location of his tomb had been forgotten. Hidden from robbers by structures built directly above, it remained virtually untouched until its discovery in 1922. More than 5,000 artifacts were found inside the tomb. But the archaeological record has so far failed to illuminate the young king's most intimate family relationships. Who were his mother and father? What became of his widow, Ankhesenamun? Are the two mummified fetuses found in his tomb King Tutankhamun's own prematurely born children, or tokens of purity to accompany him into the afterlife?

King Tutankhamun's Life

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King Tutankhamun was most likely born in 1341 B.C. in Ankhetaten (present-day Tell al-Amarna). He was first called Tutankhaten, meaning “living image of Aten.” He changed his name to Tutankhamun meaning “Living Image of Amun” after he became Pharaoh. His name is perhaps a reference to his perceived duty of restoring the old ways after Akhenaten’s disruptions (Amun was an important god before Akhenaten’s monotheism campaign).

Little is known about Tutankhamun’s childhood. He grew up in Armana, the city established and built by the Pharaoh Akhenaten. Tutankhamun is believed to have received a palace education and probably lived a sheltered and perhaps claustrophobic life. Some have assumed he was raised as a warrior based on weaponry and chariots found in his grave.

It was long thought that he was the son of Lady Kiya, Akhenaten’s second wife, and that she died giving birth to him. He might also have been the brother or half brother of Smenkhkara, his immediate predecessor. Some believe Tut's mother was a commoner and it was great scandal for Tutankhamun's father to marry her. It would have been less scandalous — and in fact the proper thing to do — if he married his mother or sister to keep the royal blood pure.♀

Ankhesenamun, Tutankhamun’s Wife

Tutankhamun and his wife

Tutankhamun married Ankhesenamun, who may have also been his half sister. Ankhesenamun was around the same age as Tutankhamun, and had been married to her own father. A scene on gilded wooden shrine from his tomb show her handing Tutankhamun an arrow to shoot some ducks hiding among papyrus reeds. The couple produced two children, both girls but they died in the womb.

Princess Ankhesenamun (also known as Anknespaaten, Enkhosepaaton or Ankhesenaton Ankhesenamon) was the third daughter of Pharaoh Akenaton and Queen Nefertiti. According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: Following the deaths of her two older sisters, Meritaton and Meketaton and Akenaton, Ankhesenamun was forced to marry her half-brother Tutankhaton (Nefertiti's son) in order to sustain the control of the throne. Ankhesenamun carried two children to term, but they were both stillborn.” After Tutankhamon’s early death Ankhesenamon became while still in her twenties. Tutankhamon died before an heir to the throne was born or even conceived. Because of the unpopularity of her father's idealism, Ankhesenamon didn't have the public or political support to hold the throne herself. The throne of Egypt was threatened and she was on her own. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, +]

Tutankhamun's Parentage

For a long time scholars were not even sure who Tutankhamun’s parents were. They believed his father or grandfather was Akhenaten (also known as Amenhotep IV) and his mother was Akhenaten’s beloved secondary wife Kiya. It was also plausible for Tutankhamun to be Akhenaten’s half brother. In February 2010, researchers from Egypt, Italy and Germany — using DNA analysis — determined Tutankhamun’s father was Akhenaten and his mother was Akhenaten’s sister. The DNA analysis also determined that Tutankhamun’s father Akhenaten was the son of Amenhotep III and identified Queen Tiye as the mother of both Akhenaten and his sister-wife.

Dr. Marc Gabolde, wrote in for the BBC: “ Until recently, it was thought that the six daughters of Akhenaten and Nefertiti were the couple's only offspring. However, in one chamber of the Royal Tomb, just outside the room devoted to the funeral vigil for Akhenaten's second daughter, Meketaten, a small child is depicted in the arms of a wet-nurse. |It has long been believed that Meketaten died in childbirth and that this infant was hers. However, she was only about nine years old at the time of her death and her sarcophagus proves that she was scarcely taller than one metre. [Source: Dr. Marc Gabolde, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]


“What remains of the inscription referring to the child reads: '(1) [...] born of (2) [...] Neferneferua[ten] Nefertiti, who lives now and forever more' [(1) and (2) indicate two columns; [...] indicates missing text.] Given the length of the missing parts of the inscription and the similarity in composition to the titles given to other royal offspring at Amarna it is clear that we are dealing with a child of Nefertiti. And given that by the time of the birth of this child, we know that the six daughters of Akhenaten and Nefertiti were already born and that, moreover, three of them were dead, the baby is necessarily different from any of the known princesses. So we must be dealing with a seventh child of Nefertiti. |::|

“The most likely candidate is Tutankhamun, known during this period as Tutankhaten. Indeed, a block, now split in two, from the nearby site of Hermopolis still bears the insignia of the prince Tutankhaten accompanied by that of a princess whose name, unfortunately, is missing. |::|

“Another block at Hermopolis confirms that Tutankhaten had at least one sister and probably two. On this block, a prince, identifiable by his loincloth, can be seen sitting on an adult's lap, together with traces of the figures of two other children. It was a rule in the official monuments of Amarna, that Nefertiti's children should never be shown alongside those of any other wife of Akhenaten. As Nefertiti is the only one of his wives known to have had more than one child, it is probable that Akhenaten and Nefertiti were the parents of Tutankhamun. |::|

King Tutankhamun's Rule

Tutankhamun ascended to throne as the child husband of Akhebaten’s third daughter, a marriage arranged to cement his claim to the throne. He took the throne at age 8 or 9 during a period of great turmoil. It had only been four years since Akhenaten's death. Egypt was on the brink of civil war over monotheism. There was trouble in Syria and with the Hittites. It is believed that Tutankhamun was manipulated by the general Horemheb and a courtier named Ay. Some think Ay, who may have been Nefertiti’s father, was responsible for installing Tutankhamun as a puppet pharaoh to heal the divided kingdom. Tutankhaten was crowned at Mamphis about three years after Akhenaten’s death. In his book on finding Tutankhamun’s tomb, Howard Carter wrote the empire under Akhenaten “had crumpled up like a pricked balloon.” Merchants were bitter about the loss of trade. Soldiers “condemned to a mortified inaction were seething with discontent.” Ordinary Egyptians, upset over the loss of their gods, “were changing slowly from bewilderment to active resentment at the new heaven and new earth that had been decreed for them.”

Ay served as a regent while Tutankhamun was growing up. He is believed to have advised Tutankhamun to bring back the pagan religion his father worked so hard to eradicate and move the capital back to Thebes and move the administrative center back to Memphis. Inscriptions say the young king "spent his time making images of the gods.”

Some scholars credit Tutankhamun with restoring order to the troubled Egyptian kingdom. A stelae raised outside the Amun temple in Karnak apologized for deeds of Akhenaten and boasted of all the things Tutankhamun did to help the kingdom, including “Doubling, tripling and quadrupling the silver, gold, turquoise and lapis lazuli” in the temples.

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Tutankhamun cartouche
Tutankhamun had few close relatives left alive when he bcame pharaoh. Mark Millmore wrote in “His wife, Ankhesenpaaten, was older, and he was probably the political puppet of Ay and Horemheb. Under their guidance, he changed his name to Tutankhamun; restored Amenhotep III’s Theban palace; issued a decree restoring the temples, images, and privileges of the old gods; and admitted the errors of Akhenaten’s political and religious policies.” [Source: Mark Millmore, ^^^]

“During Tutankhamun’s ninth year, Horemheb marched the army into Syria to assist Egypt’s old ally, the Mitannian kingdom of northern Syria, which was embroiled in hostilities with vassals of the Hittites. It was around this time that Tutankhamun died. He was eighteen, and modern medical analysis of his mummy shows that he may have received a blow to the head, but we can only speculate as to whether he was murdered or the victim of an accident such as a fall from his chariot. A number of well-preserved chariots were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb and, like most Egyptian kings, it seems he was an enthusiastic charioteer." ^^^

Images show Tutankhamun with a pulled bow trampling Nubians under the wheels of his chariot. A Hittite text described an Egyptian attack on Kadesh in present-day Syria during Tutankhamun’s rule. W. Raymond Johnson of the University of Chicago says Tutankhamun “may have led the charge” but most historians discount such claims as propaganda or fiction. More likely Tutankhamun, historians say, spent his time in Memphis with occasional trips to his hunting lodge in Giza and to Thebes for various religion duties at the temples there.

Egypt When Tutankhamun Took the Throne

Little is known about the last five years of Akhenaten's reign, or the three year period after his death leading up to Tutankhamun's accession to the throne. Dr Marc Gabolde wrote for the BBC: “Many theories have been advanced and the uncertainty has been compounded by the appearance during these years of new royal personages whose origins and identity remain a matter for debate....The evidence that survives from the Amarna period is often badly damaged and in many cases throws up more questions than answers.” [Source: Dr Marc Gabolde, BBC, February 17, 2011]

Mark Millmore wrote in “Towards the end of Akhenaten’s reign, senior court officials like the civil servant Ay and the commander of the army Horemheb realized that the empire, and indeed Egyptian society, was disintegrating. Akhenaten’s coregent, Smenkhkara left the new city of Akhetaten and moved the administration back to Memphis where he made contact with members of the old, outlawed, priests of Amun in an attempt to rescue the situation, but he died unexpectedly.” [Source: Mark Millmore,]

Marsha Hill of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Akhenaten's last years and certainly the period after his death give evidence of a troubled succession. Nefertiti, Meritaten, the mysterious pharaoh Smenkhkare, and the female pharaoh Ankhetkhepherure—for whom the chief candidates in discussions so far have been Nefertiti and Meritaten, the eldest daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti—and ultimately Tutankhaten all have roles. Energetic scholarly discussion of the events of this period and the identity, parentage, personal history, and burial place of many members of the Amarna royal family is ongoing. It is clear that already during the succession period, there was some rapprochement with Amun's adherents at Thebes. With the reign of Tutankhaten / Tutankhamun, the royal court left Akhetaten and returned to Memphis; traditional relations with Thebes were resumed and Amun's priority fully acknowledged. With Haremhab, Akhenaten's constructions at Thebes were dismantled, and dismantling began at Amarna. Apparently in the reign of Ramses II, the formal buildings of Akhetaten were completely destroyed, and many of their blocks reused as matrix stone in his constructions at Hermopolis and elsewhere. The site had presumably been abandoned. [Source: Marsha Hill, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 2014, \^/]

Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: “The years before and after Akhenaten’s death generate much discussion, especially concerning the figures known as Semenkhkara and Neferneferuaten. In the Amarna tomb of the official Meryra II, Akhenaten’s daughter Meritaten is shown married to a person named Semenkhkara, a new king. Semenkhkara appears suddenly and then vanishes from the record just as quickly. His largest monument is the so-called “coronation hall”—a vast construction at the Amarna Great Palace whose purpose is unknown. Semenkhkara could have been Akhenaten’s son or even his brother, and may have married Meritaten, his sister/niece, sometime after year 12. He may have served briefly as a coregent, crowned alongside Akhenaten and helped him to rule Egypt for a brief time. Semenkhkara may have died early from illness, perhaps the epidemic mentioned above, cutting short his tenure as coregent and king. [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, ]

Pharaoh's Palace by Tissot

“An additional controversial royal figure named King Neferneferuaten appeared at the end of Akhenaten’s reign. Although some have argued that Neferneferuaten can be conflated with the male king Semenkhkara, it is clear from several inscriptions that Neferneferuaten was indeed female. The phenomenon of a woman holding the male title of king was not unknown in Egypt; one of the earlier kings of the 18th Dynasty, Hatshepsut, was a woman. King Neferneferuaten could thus have been Meritaten’s throne name if, as some suggest, she succeeded her father to the throne.

“Another possibility is that Neferneferuaten was Nefertiti, who was already using the throne name “Neferneferuaten Nefertiti” from year 5 of Akhenaten’s reign. She may have retained the name Neferneferuaten when crowned king, perhaps as a coregent to fill a power vacuum left by the death of Semenkhkara. However a jar docket dated to Akhenaten’s year 17 was emended to say “year 1,” which could indicate direct succession rather than a joint rule. In other words, according to this jar docket Neferneferuaten was not named coregent after the death of Semenkhkara, but assumed the throne only after Akhenaten’s death. Supporting this last argument, and assuming Neferneferuaten is indeed Nefertiti, an inscription recently found in the Amarna Period quarries near Deir Abu Hinnis indicates that Nefertiti was probably still alive in year 16 and was still using her queenly title and names. If Nefertiti had not yet adopted a kingly identity by year 16, only one year before the death of her husband, she was not a coregent or a king at that time, lending support to the direct accession theory.

“Whatever the identity of King Neferuneferuaten, she ruled only briefly. A graffito from the tomb of Para in Thebes, TT 139, indicates that King Neferneferuaten, whomever she was, spent some of her third regnal year in Thebes. This also indicates that at least some members of the Amarna royal family returned to Thebes very soon after the death of Akhenaten. King Neferneferuaten disappears from the historical records after the graffito in TT 139, so she did not rule for long. However, also based on this graffito, not only did Neferneferuaten return to Thebes, she may have started the process of returning Egypt to its traditional religious practices. She may have also even served as coregent to Tutankhaten / Tutankhamen when he first took the throne.”

After Akhenaten

When Akhenaten died, he was succeeded briefly by Smenkhkare, and then by Tutankhaten who changed his name to Tutankhamun, dropping the Aten and embracing Amun, demonstrating his rejection of Akhenaten’s monotheism and a return to traditional Egyptian religious beliefs. Mark Millmore wrote in “Tutankhamun eventually returned Egypt to its traditional values and Akhenaten’s memory was erased. Later Egyptian historians would refer to him only as “the heretic king.” The city of Akhenaten was abandoned and the court returned to Thebes. Later Horemheb razed the city to the ground and Ramses II reused the stone blocks of its temples for his work at nearby Hermopolis.” [Source: Mark Millmore,]

Akhenaten as a sphinx

Dr Kate Spence of Cambridge University wrote for the BBC: “Akhenaten died in his seventeenth year on the throne and his reforms did not survive for long in his absence. His co-regent Smenkhkare, about whom we know virtually nothing, appears not to have remained in power for long after Akhenaten's death. The throne passed to a child, Tutankhamun (originally Tutankhaten) who was probably the son of Akhenaten and Kiya. The regents administering the country on behalf of the child soon abandoned the city of Akhetaten and the worship of the Aten and returned to Egypt's traditional gods and religious centres. The temples and cults of the gods were restored and people shut up their houses and returned to the old capitals at Thebes and Memphis. [Source: Dr Kate Spence, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Over time, the process of restoration of traditional cults turned to whole-scale obliteration of all things associated with Akhenaten. His image and names were removed from monuments. His temples were dismantled and the stone reused in the foundations of other more orthodox royal building projects. The city of Akhetaten gradually crumbled back into the desert. His name and those of his immediate successors were omitted from official king-lists so that they remained virtually unknown until the archaeological discoveries at Akhetaten and in the tomb of Tutankhamun made these kings amongst the most famous of all rulers of ancient Egypt. |::|

Tutankhaten and Akhenaten’s Legacy

Jacquelyn Williamson of George Mason University wrote: “Seven-year-old Tutankhaten began his rule during or after the rule of Neferneferuaten. He changed his name from Tutankhaten “The Living Image of the Aten” to Tutankhamen “The Living Image of Amun” and returned the country to its pre-Amarna status quo. Official decrees announcing the return to orthodoxy were spread throughout the country; the “Restoration Stela” in the Cairo Museum, CG 34183, preserves an example of one such decree. Tutankhamen ruled for nine years, and the tomb of the young king remained largely intact until it was discovered in the twentieth century. At Tell el-Amarna only a ring bezel and a mold bear the name Tutankhamen (rather than his earlier name Tutankhaten), indicating that after he changed his name the king was not very active at his father’s city. His return to the traditional occupation and religious centers of Egypt terminated the use of the necropolis at Tell el-Amarna. The rock-cut tombs at Amarna appear to have been unfinished, likely abandoned by their owners when the royal family reverted to its traditional beliefs. Even the royal burials at Tell el-Amarna may have been exhumed and returned to Thebes. [Source: Jacquelyn Williamson, George Mason University, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2015, ]

“Tutankhamen was likely too young to orchestrate such sweeping changes. Instead the officials Aye and Horemheb could have been responsible for the return to orthodoxy. Possibly the enigmatic Neferneferuaten, mentioned above, was involved as well. Aye and Horemheb were both military men, and Horemheb was an “jrj-pat “or “hereditary nobleman” and member of the ruling elite. He possessed an extensive list of additional elite titles that gave him the equivalent status to that of regent and the king’s oldest son. Horemheb’s wife, Mutnodjmet, may have been Nefertiti’s sister, which would explain his close association with the royal family. Aye had fewer titles, but he used his title “God’s Father” extensively, which may indicate that he was both Nefertiti’s father, Tutankhamen’s grandfather, and possibly the father-in-law of Horemheb. Certainly he is more prominent in Tutankhamen’s monuments than Horemheb, even appearing on a fragment of gold foil with the image of Tutankhamen from KV58 and on several blocks from Karnak pylon IX, where he is shown following Tutankhamen. Aye’s tomb (TA 25) at Tell el-Amarna indicates that he was also called a “Fan Bearer on the Right Hand of the King” and the “Real Royal Scribe,” both indications of close affiliation with the highest ranks of royal administration.


“Another subject of contention surrounding the end of the Amarna Period and possibly the death of Tutankhamen concerns several letters from an unnamed queen of Egypt to the Hittite king Suppiluliuma at Bogazköy. In these letters the Egyptian queen asks the Hittites to send her a son to marry and make king of Egypt. Accordingly the Hittite Prince Zananzash was sent to Egypt, but a subsequent letter, also preserved from Bogazköy, suggests he was assassinated en route. The Egyptian queen in question is likely to have been either Meritaten, who may have sought a husband following Semenkhkara’s death to fill the power vacuum left by the death of Akhenaten’s new coregent, or her sister Ankhesenamen (born Ankhesenpaaten), the widow of Tutankhamen, who perhaps feared her future without a clear heir to her young husband. Ankhesenamen may have married Aye instead of the Hittite prince, but the ring that bears their two names together is the last attributed mention of the young queen.

“In an attempt to forget this period of iconoclasm the successors to Akhenaten removed his name and the names of Tutankhamen and Aye from the lists of legitimate kings. Horemheb, Ramses II, and many others also used stone from Akhenaten’s monuments as fill for their own building programs. These buildings inadvertently protected Akhenaten’s legacy for thousands of years. As a result, with these “talatat “and the site of Tell el-Amarna, we know more about the Amarna Period than many other periods in Egyptian history.”

One inscription entitled "Tut-ankh-Amon' s Restoration after the Amarna Revolution" reads: The good ruler, performing benefactions for his father (Amon) and all the gods, for he has made what was ruined to endure as a monument for the ages (5) of eternity and he has expelled deceit throughout the Two Lands, and justice was set up [so that] it might make lying to be an abomination of the land, as (in) its first time. Now when his majesty appeared as king, the temples of the gods and goddesses from Elephantine [down] to the marshes of the Delta [had... and] gone to pieces (or fallen into neglect). Their shrines had become desolate, had become mounds overgrown with [weeds]. Their sanctuaries (or chapels) were as if they had never been. Their halls were a footpath (or trodden roads). The land was topsy-turvy and the gods turned their backs upon this land. If [the army was] sent to Djahi to extend the frontiers of Egypt, no success of theirs came at all. If one prayed to a god to seek counsel from him, he would never come [Source: all]. If one made supplication (or petition) to a goddess similarly, she would never come at all. “ [Source: James B. Pritchard, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts,” Princeton, 1969,, ANET., pp. 251-252]

After King Tut's Death

After Tutankhamun’s death there was a vacuum of power and major crisis to fill it. Tutankhamuns’s wife Anhesanamun launched a coup and pleaded for help from the Hittites. “My husband is dead,” she wrote them. “Send me your son and I will make him king.” The Hittite prince Zannanza was sent to marry her but he was killed — presumably by an assassin — as he entered Egyptian territory.

Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic, “We know that after Tutankhamun's death, an Egyptian queen, most likely Ankhesenamun, appeals to the king of the Hittites, Egypt's principal enemies, to send a prince to marry her, because "my husband is dead, and I have no son." The Hittite king sends one of his sons, but he dies before reaching Egypt. I believe he was murdered by Horemheb, the commander in chief of Tutankhamun's armies, who eventually takes the throne for himself. But Horemheb too dies childless, leaving the throne to a fellow army commander. The new pharaoh's name was Ramses I. With him begins another dynasty, one which, under the rule of his grandson Ramses the Great, would see Egypt rise to new heights of imperial power.

Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times, “An emotionally fraught transition from one regime to the next, with no clear-cut successor to the previous ruler. Worries about stability and the maintenance of law and order. Fears about foreign meddling and influence. The army at least temporarily filling the political vacuum and overseeing a transition. This sequence of events — which may sound familiar to those who followed this year’s overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s ruler of nearly three decades — actually occurred, the scholar Toby Wilkinson said in a recent essay in The Wall Street Journal, more than 3,000 years ago, after the death of the boy-king King Tutankhamen, when the army stepped in to maintain order and act as power broker. [Source: Michiko Kakutani, New York Times March 28, 2011]

Ay (ruled 1322-1319) took over as pharaoh after Tutankhamun died by marrying his widow, who vanished after the wedding. Ay may have murdered her, perhaps so he could marry another woman. Ay by then was an elderly courtier and possibly Tutankhamun’s uncle. It is not clear whether he chanced into the job or maneuvered his way in. In any case he lasted three or four years and was replaced by army commander Horemheb, who is thought to have trained King Tutankhamun in hunting and fighting and may have killed Ay. Ay was buried in a large tomb, perhaps the one originally built for Tutankhamun.

Horemheb (ruled 1319-1292) ruled for 27 years and was an able enough leader. It is not clear if he used underhanded methods to achieve power. Whatever the case he took great pains to remove Tutankhamun’s name from the historical record and died childless, paving the way for his army buddy Ramses to take power. Ramses founded a new dynasty.

Anhesanamun, Aye and Horemheb had been named as possible murderers of Tutankhamun when such theories were in vogue. Many ruled out Anhesanamun because she seemed to be genuinely close to Tutankhamun and had little to gain from his death since she had not fathered an heir to take his place. Many also rule out Horemheb because he did not seize power after the king’s death. That left Ay he served as a kind of regent when King Tutankhamun was growing up and perhaps got the taste for power and grabbed power by killing the Pharaoh. These theories are highly speculative and been largely thrown out with the latest research on Tutankhamun’s death.

Ankhesenamun, Tutankhamun’s Wife, After Tutankhamun’s Death

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Because of the unpopularity of her father Akhenaten and his iconoclastic monotheism, Ankhesenamon — Tutankhamun’s wife — didn't have the public or political support to hold on to power after Tutankhamun’s death. the throne herself. The throne of Egypt was threatened and she was on her own. According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, +]

“She feared that once the public was informed of the death of the young pharaoh the country might fall apart. Also, she was worried about the growing political powers that wanted to take control of the throne. The two leaders of these political powers were Aye, the grand vizier and Ankhesenamon's grandfather, and Horemhab (or Harmhab), the general of the army. Ankhesenamon wrote to Suppliliumas, the Hittite King, in northern Egypt for help. She asked him to send one of his sons to be her husband. If she was successful in her plan, she would have a husband with enough power to keep the enemies away, but she would still also have some control over the throne. However, Suppliliumas was suspicious and delayed sending one of his sons. This insulted the young queen and she wrote back to Suppliliumas in urgency. +\

“The Hittite king sent one of his sons, but he was murdered before he could reach her. Time ran out for Ankhesenamon and her last and only hope to sustain her power was destroyed. She was forced to marry her grandfather Aye, who was over forty years older than her. With her plan crashed and her fate sealed, she was finally able to grieve over her late husband, Tutankhamon. At his funeral, the conquered queen placed a wreath of flowers on the head of her deceased king.

Mark Millmore wrote in “Ankhesenamun was then forced to marry Ay, who, eight months after the death of Tutankhamun, became king. Traditionally a king was buried seventy days after his death, but it is possible that Tutankhamun lay unburied for eight months while the political plotting and maneuverings were being played out. Ankhesenamun rapidly disappears from the records after her marriage to Ay and her name was hacked out of some monuments and we can only imagine her fate after her attempt to bring a foreigner to rule Egypt. Ay was king for only four years then succeeded by Horemheb and although the records state the eighteenth dynasty ended with Horemheb, Tutankhamun was in fact the last member of his family to rule” Egypt. [Source: Mark Millmore, ^^^]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato,; Mark Millmore,; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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