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Seshat (also given as Sefkhet-Abwy and Seshet) is the Egyptian goddess of the written word. Her name literally means “female scribe” and she is regularly depicted as a woman wearing a leopard skin draped over her robe with a headdress of a seven-pointed star arched by a crescent in the form of a bow. This iconography has been interpreted as symbolizing supreme authority in that it is common in Egyptian legend and mythology for one to wear the skin of a defeated enemy to take on the foe’s powers, stars were closely associated with the realm of the gods and their actions, and the number seven symbolized perfection and completeness. The leopard skin would represent her power over, and protection from, danger as leopards were a common predator. The crescent above her headdress, resembling a bow, could represent dexterity and precision, if one interprets it along the lines of archery, or simply divinity if one takes the symbol as representing light, along the lines of later depictions of saints with halos.

A relief from the back of the throne of a seated statue of Ramesses II depicting the Egyptian goddess of writing Seshat. 13th century BCE, Luxor Temple, Egypt.

Among her responsibilities were record keeping, accounting, measurements, census-taking, patroness of libraries and librarians, keeper of the House of Life (temple library, scriptorium, writer’s workshop), Celestial Librarian, Mistress of builders (patroness of construction), and friend of the dead in the afterlife. She is often depicted as the consort (either wife or daughter) of Thoth, god of wisdom, writing, and various branches of knowledge. She first appears in the 2nd Dynasty (c. 2890- c. 2670 BCE) of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150 – c. 2613 BCE) as a goddess of writing and measurements assisting the king in the ritual known as “stretching of the cord” which preceeded the construction of a building, most often a temple.

The ancient Egyptians believed that what was done on earth was mirrored in the celestial realm of the gods. The daily life of an individual was only part of an eternal journey which would continue on past death. Seshat featured prominently in the concept of the eternal life granted to scribes through their works. When an author created a story, inscription, or book on earth, an ethereal copy was transferred to Seshat who placed it in the library of the gods; mortal writings were therefore also immortal. Seshat was also sometimes depicted helping Nephthys revive the deceased in the afterlife in prepration for their judgment by Osiris in the Hall of Truth. In this capacity, the goddess would have helped the new arrival recognize the spells of The Egyptian Book of the Dead, enabling the soul to move on toward the hope of paradise.

Unlike the major gods of Egypt, Seshat never had her own temples, cult, or formal worship. Owing to the great value Egyptians placed on writing, however, and her part in the construction of temples and the afterlife, she was venerated widely through commonplace acts and daily rituals from the Early Dynastic Period to the last dynasty to rule Egypt, the Ptolemaic Dynasty of 323-30 BCE. Seshat is not as well known today as many of the other deities of ancient Egypt but, in her time, she was among the most important and widely recognized of the Egyptian pantheon.

Responsibilities & Duties

According to one myth, the god Thoth was self-created at the beginning of time and, in his form as an ibis, lay the primordial egg which hatched creation. There are other versions of Thoth’s birth as well but they all make mention of his vast knowledge and the great gift of writing he offered to humanity. Thoth was worshipped as early as the Pre-Dynastic Period (c. 6000- c. 3150 BCE) at a time when Egyptian writing consisted of pictographs, images representing specific objects, prior to their development into hieroglyphics, symbols representing sounds and concepts. At this time, Thoth seems to have been considered a god of wisdom and knowledge – as he remained – and once a writing system was developed it was attributed to him.

A limestone relief slab depicting Seshat, the Egyptian goddess of writing. ca. 1919-1875 BCE. (Brooklyn Museum, USA).


Perhaps because Thoth already had so many responsibilities, the Egyptians transferred the supervision of writing to the goddess Seshat. Egyptologist Richard H. Wilkinson notes how Seshat appears in reliefs and inscriptions in the Early Dynastic Period as a goddess of measurements and writing, clearly indicating she was already an important deity at that time:

Representations show the king involved in a foundation ritual known as “stretching the cord” which probably took place before work began on the construction of a temple or of any addition. These depictions usually show the king performing the rite with the help of Seshat, the goddess of writing and measurement, a mythical aspect which reinforced the king’s central and unique role in the temple construction (Symbol & Magic, 174).

Seshat’s responsibilities were many. As record-keeper she documented everyday events but, beginning in the Middle Kingdom (c. 2613-c. 2181 BCE), she also recorded the spoils of war in the form of animals and captives. She also kept track of tribute owed and tribute paid to the king and, beginning in the New Kingdom (c. 1570-1069 BCE), was closely associated with the pharaoh recording the years of his reign and his jubilee festivals. Egyptologist Rosalie David notes how she “wrote the king’s name on the Persea tree, each leaf representing a year in his allotted lifespan” (Religion and Magic, 411). Throughout all these periods, and later, her most important role was always as the goddess of precise measurements and all forms of the written word. The Egyptians placed great value on attention to detail and this was as true, if not more so, in writing as any other aspect of their lives.

Importance of Writing in Egypt

The written word was considered a sacred art. The Greek designation hieroglyphics for the Egyptian writing system means “sacred carvings” and is a translation from the Egyptian phrase medu-netjer, “the god’s words”. Thoth had given the gift of writing to humanity and it was a mortal’s responsibility to honor that gift by practicing the craft as precisely as possible. Rosalie David comments on the Egyptian ideal of writing:

The main purpose of writing was not decorative and it was not originally intended for literary or commercial use. Its most important function was to provide a means by which certain concepts or events could be brought into existence. The Egyptians believed that if something were comitted to writing it could be repeatedly “made to happen” by means of magic (Handbook,199).

The spells of The Egyptian Book of the Dead are the best examples of this concept. The Book of the Dead is a guide through the afterlife written for the deceased. The spells the soul speaks help one to navigate through assorted dangers to arrive at the perfect paradise of the Field of Reeds. One needed to know how to avoid demons, how to transform one’s self into various animals, and how to address the entities one would meet in the next world and so the spells had to be precise in order to work.

A detail from the Book of the Dead of Aaneru from Thebes, Third Intermediate Period, XXI Dynasty, 1070-946 BCE. (Egyptian Museum, Turin)

The Book of the Dead evolved from the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom but, even before this time, one can see the Egyptian precision in writing at work in the Offering Lists and Autobiographies of tombs in the latter part of the Early Dynastic Period. Writing, as David notes, could bring concepts or events into existence – from a king’s decree to a mythological tale to a law, a ritual, or an answered prayer – but it also held and made permanent that which had passed out of existence. Writing made the transitory world of change into one everlasting and eternal. The dead were not gone as long as their stories could be read in stone; nothing was ever really lost. The sacred carvings of the Egyptians were so important to them that they dedicated whole sections of temples or temple complexes to a literary institution known as The House of Life.

House of Life

The House of Life was a combination library, scriptorium, institute of higher learning, writer’s workshop, print shop/copy center, publisher, and distributor. The Egyptians referred to the institution as Per-Ankh (literally “House of Life”) and it is first mentioned in inscriptions from the Middle Kingdom. These were located in temples or temple complexes and would have been presided over by Seshat and Thoth no matter which god the temple was dedicated to. Since the gods were thought to literally reside in their temples, this arrangement would be comparable to having a permanent house-guest in one’s home who takes care of responsibilities one may value but simply has not time for. Wilkinson notes how “by virtue of her role in the foundation ceremony [Seshat] was a part of every temple building” (Complete Gods, 167). She was also an integral part of the temple through her supervision of the House of Life. Historian and Egyptologist Margaret Bunson describes their function:

Research was conducted in the House of Life because medical, astronomical, and mathematical texts perhaps were maintained there and copied by scribes. The institution served as a workshop where sacred books were composed and written by the ranking scholars of the times. It is possible that many of the texts were not kept in the Per-Ankh but discussed there and debated. The members of the institution’s staff, all scribes, were considered the learned men of their age. Many were ranking priests in the various temples or noted physicians and served the various kings in many administrative capacities (204-205).

The scribes were most commonly associated with the sun god Ra in earlier times and with Osiris in later periods no matter which god resided in a particular temple. Bunson claims that probably only very important cities could support a Per-Ankh but other scholars, Rosalie David among them, cite evidence that “every sizable town had one” (Handbook, 203). Bunson’s theory is substantiated by the known structures identified as a Per-Ankh at Amarna, Edfu, and Abydos, all important cities in ancient Egypt, but this does not mean there were not others elsewhere; only that these have not been positively identified as yet.

The Papyrus Lansing is an anthology of texts praising the profession of the scribe, dating to the New Kingdom of Egypt.

Seshat’s role at the House of Life would have been the same as anywhere else: she would have received a copy of the texts written there for the library of the gods where it would be kept eternally. Rosalie David writes:

It would seem that the House of Life had both a practical use and a deeply religious significance. Its very title may reflect the power of life that was believed to exist in the divinely inspired writings composed, copied, and often stored there…In one ancient text the books in the House of Life are claimed not only to have the ability to renew life but actually to be able to provide the food and sustenance needed for the continuation of life (Handbook, 203-204).

It is a certainty that the majority of the priests and scribes of the Per-Ankh were men but some scholars have pointed to evidence for female scribes. Since Seshat was herself a divine female scribe it would make sense that women practiced the art of writing as well as men.

Female Scribes

Women in ancient Egypt enjoyed a level of equality unmatched in the ancient world. It is well substantiated that women could be, and were, scribes in that we have names of female physicians and images of women in important religious posts such as God’s Wife of Amun; both of these occupations required literacy. Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley writes:

Although the only Egyptian woman to be depicted actually putting pen to paper was Seshat, the goddess of writing, several ladies were illustrated in close association with the traditional scribe’s writing kit of palette and brushes. It is certainly beyond doubt that at least some of the daughters of the king were educated and the position of private tutor to a royal princess could be one of the highest honour.

It is known, for example, that the female pharaoh Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE) hired a tutor for her daughter Neferu-Ra and that Queen Nefertiti (c. 1370- c. 1336 BCE) was literate as was her mother-in-law, Queen Tiye (1398-1338 BCE). Still, when it comes to the majority of women in Egypt, images and inscriptions leave some doubt as to how many could actually read and write. Egyptologist Gay Robins explains:

In a few New Kingdom scenes, women are depicted with scribal kits under their chairs and it has been suggested that the women were commemorating their ability to read and write. Unfortunately, in all cases but one, the woman is sitting with her husband or son in such a way that it would cramp the available space to put the kit under the man’s chair, and so it may have been moved back to a place under the woman’s. This happens in a similar scene when the man’s dog is put under the woman’s chair. So one cannot be sure that the scribal kit belonged to the woman. If there was a large group of literate women in ancient Egypt, they do not seem to have developed any surviving literary genres unique to themselves (113).

While this may be true, one cannot discount the possibility that female scribes were responsible for works of literature, either in creating or copying them. Egyptian society was quite conservative and written works generally adhered to a set structure and theme throughout the various periods of history. Even in the New Kingdom, where literature was more cosmopolitan, literature still adhered to a basic form which elevated Egyptian cultural values. Arguing that there were few female scribes based on there being no “women’s literature” in ancient Egypt seems in error as the literature of the culture could hardly be considered “masculine” in any respect save for the kings’ monumental inscriptions.

In the famous story of Osiris and his murder by Set it is not Osiris who is the hero of the tale but his sister-wife Isis. Although the best-known creation myth features the god Atum standing on the ben-ben at the beginning of time, an equally popular one in Egypt has the goddess Neith creating the world. Bastet, goddess of the hearth, home, women’s health and secrets, was popular among both men and women and the goddess Hathor was regularly invoked by both at festivals, parties, and family gatherings. The deity who presided over the brewing of beer, the most popular drink in Egypt, was not male but the goddess Tenenet and the primary protector and defender of Isis when she was a single mother safe-guarding Horus was the goddess Serket. Seshat is only one of a number of female deities venerated in ancient Egypt reflecting the high degree of respect given to women and their abilities in a number of different areas of daily life.

Seshat the Foundation

As noted, although Seshat never had a temple of her own, she was the foundation of the temples constructed in her role as Mistress of Builders and her participation in the ritual ceremony of “stretching the cord” which measured the dimensions of the structure to be raised. The floor plan of the temple was laid out through the “stretching the cord” ceremony after an appropriate area of land had been decided upon. Wilkinson comments on the process of situating a temple and Seshat’s ritual role in this:

The rite involved the careful orientation of the temple by astronomical observation and measurement. Apparently this was usually accomplished by sighting the stars of a northern circumpolar constellation through a notched wooden instrument called a merkhet and thus acquiring a true north-south orientation which was commonly used for the temple’s short axis. According to the texts, the king was assisted in this ritual by Seshat (or Sefkhet-Abwy), the scribal goddess of writing and measurement (Temples, 38).

In addition to setting the foundation of the temple, Seshat also was responsible for the written works that temple produced and housed in its House of Life and, further, for gathering these works into her eternal library in the realm of the gods. Although Thoth was responsible for the initial gift of writing, his consort Seshat lovingly gathered the works that gift produced, presided over them in the libraries on earth, and kept them eternally safe on her shelves in the heavens. As writing was both a creative and preserving art, one which brought concepts to life and caused them to endure, which bestowed eternal life on both the writer and the subject, Seshat would be considered by the ancient Egyptians as the goddess responsible for the preservation of Egyptian culture and its enduring fascination among the people of the present day.



Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare Djeser Kheperu (sometimes spelled Smenkhare, Smenkare or Smenkhkara) was a short-lived pharaoh in the late 18th dynasty. His names translate as ‘Living are the Forms of Re’ and ‘Vigorous is the Soul of Re – Holy of Forms’. His reign was during the Amarna Period, a time when Akhenaten sought to impose new religious views. He is to be distinguished from his immediate predecessor, the female ruler Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten (usually identified as Nefertiti). Unlike Neferneferuaten, Smenkhkare did not use epithets in his royal name or cartouche.

King Smenkhare

Very little is known of Smenkhkare for certain because later kings, beginning with Horemheb, sought to erase the entire Amarna Period from history.

Smenkhkare was known as far back as 1845 from the tomb of Meryre II. There he and Meritaten, bearing the title Great Royal Wife, are shown rewarding the tomb’s owner. The names of the king have since been cut out but had been recorded by Lepsius circa 1850.

Later, a different set of names emerged using the same throne name: “Ankhkheperure mery Neferkheperure [Akhenaten] Neferneferuaten mery Wa en Re [Akhenaten]”. This led to a great deal of confusion since throne names tended to be unique. For the better part of a century, the repetition of throne names was taken to mean that Smenkhare changed his name to Neferneferuaten at some point, probably upon the start of his sole reign. Indeed, Petrie makes exactly that distinction in his excavation notes of 1894.

Smenkhkare King

Akhenaten’s nominal successor was Smenkhkare, probably a younger brother of the king, but it appears that they may have died within months of each other. Smenkhkare’s two-year reign was in reality a coregency during the last years of Akhenaten’s life. A graffito in the tomb of Pairi at Thebes (TT 139) records a third regnal year, and there are indications that Smenkhkare was preparing the ground for a return to the old orthodoxy and had left Akhetaten. He was married to Merytaten, the senior heiress of the royal blood line, but she seems to have predeceased him. Her sister Ankhesenpaaten thus became the senior survivor of the six daughters – having herself borne a small daughter by Akhenaten, named after her – and was married to the young Tutankhaten, the heir apparent (who was later to change his name to Tutankhamun).

Mysteries of Smenkhkare

The scenes in the tombs of Meryre II and Huya (located in the Amarna Northern tombs necropolis) depicting the “reception of foreign tribute” are the last clear view of the Amarna period. The events depicted in the tomb of Meryre II are dated to the second month of Akhenaten’s regnal year 12. (In the tomb of Huya they are dated to year 12 of the Aten.)

They show the last appearance of the royal family as a whole (that is: Akhenaten and his chief-queen Nefertiti, together with their six daughters), which scholars have dated to their satisfaction. These scenes are the first dated occurrence of the latter name-forms of the Aten. After this date, the events at Amarna and their chronology become far less clear. It is only with the accession of Tutankhamun, and the restoration early in this king’s reign, that events appear to become clear again.

A scene from the tomb of Meryre II, depicts pharaoh Smenkhkare and his Great Royal Wife Meritaten handing out tribute from the “window of appearances”. The inscription was recorded upon discovery, but has since been lost.

This image is commonly taken to be Smenkhkare and Meritaten, though it may be Tutankhaten and Ankhesenpaaten. Image: wikipedia

It is in this late Amarna period that Akhenaten’s co-regent and probable immediate successor comes to the fore. Akhenaten is generally assumed to have died in the late autumn of his 17th regnal year (after the bottling of wine in that year). Nefertiti disappears from view somewhat earlier (around regnal year 14); the reasons for this are unclear and under scholarly debate (see below). Around the same time a new co-regent is first attested.

Another Historical Context

Many of the questions surrounding Akhenaten’s co-regent and successor revolve around the names attested for this individual (or individuals). Two closely similar, yet distinct sets of names, appear in the records available for the late Amarna period. These are:

  • Ankhkheprure+epithet Neferneferuaten+epithet (sometimes transliterated as Nefernefruaten)
  • Ankhkheprure Smenkhkare Djeserkheperu

Both these sets are written in two cartouches. The epithets in the former name-set are “desired of Neferkheprure/Waenre” (i.e. Akhenaten). The first set of names also sometimes appears in feminine form as “Ankhetkheprure Neferneferuaten” and sometimes the epithet for the nomen is then replaced by “beneficial to her husband”. The former set of names appears to be earlier, and the association of these names with Akhenaten seems more substantial than is the case for the latter set. Both names are associated with Meritaten as great royal wife.

Both sets of names are only poorly attested. To date, no objects other than a wine jar label and six royal seals bearing the names of Ankhkheprure Smenkhkare Djeserkheperu are known. Only one named-depiction of Smenkhkare along with Meritaten (in the tomb of Meryre II) is known. Some objects with the names of Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten were reused in the burial of Tutankhamun (see below), and the female variant of these names appears on faience-ring bezels.

Because of the presence of the feminine Ankhetkheperure Neferneferuaten, scholars have generally dropped the old view that there was only one, male individual involved. The theory used to suggest he first acted as Akhenaten’s co-regent under the name Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten and, after the death of Akhenaten, succeeded him under the name Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare.

Several theories have been proposed to accommodate a woman:

  • To some scholars, the shared prenomen, function, and queen indicate that there is only one person associated with these different names. They seek to identify this individual as a female member of the royal family
  • Others, based on the feminine variation of the Neferneferuaten name on the one hand, and the identification of the body in KV55 as that of Smenkhkare (see below), see evidence for two distinct individuals, one female and the other male

It must be noted there is disagreement as to which names belong to each individual.

The mystery of Tomb 55 in the Valley of the Kings

A great deal of controversy surrounds the question of Smenkhkare’s mummy and burial. In January 1907, Edward Ayrton (working for Theodore Davis) discovered the badly water-damaged contents of an unfinished tomb in the Valley of the Kings (KV 55). Arguments have raged ever since over the identity of the occupant of the rishi-type coffin, because the cartouches on it had all been hacked out. Initially Davis believed he had found the tomb of Queen Tiy – the damaged body being identified as female – and published it as such.

Subsequently, the body changed sex and was identified as Akhenaten, the previously thought female characteristics of the skeleton being paralleled with those of Akhenaten’s portrayals, especially the pelvic area. More detailed forensic examination, however, now suggests that the body belonged to Smenkhkare, and serological examination (blood grouping) of tissue, as well as close skull measurement comparisons, indicate that the occupant was a brother, or possibly half-brother, of Tutankhamun – the entrance to whose tomb (KV 62) is a mere 15 yards (13.7 m) away across the Valley floor.

At one time, it appears that there were three bodies in the tomb. One of them was that of Queen Tiy, and parts of her great gold overlaid wooden sarcophagus shrine were found there. Her body was probably taken from here round into the West Valley to join her husband, Amenhotep III, in KV 22 (p. 119). Four alabaster canopic jars with finely carved female heads wearing the characteristic court wig of the period were found in the tomb; they show evidence of having been adapted by the addition of a royal uiaeus to the brow which was subsequently broken off. Unfortunately they are uninscribed, but were presumably en suite with the coffin. It has been suggested that the canopic lids are portraits of Kiya, a hitherto obscure junior queen of Akhenaten.

The cartouches on the coffin had all been deliberately hacked out, literally to deny the occupant access to the next world because loss of name was a terrible thing. The texts still in place, however, had feminine endings to the appropriate words, indicating that the coffin had been made for a royal female. This was thought possibly to have been Merytaten, Smenkhkare’s wife, or now, Kiya. The cartouches, it was suggested, had been hacked out because the perpetrators believed that the occupant was the hated Akhenaten (his could have been the third body in the tomb at the time).

It seems that they hoped to remove the bodies of Queen Tiy and Smenkhkare from the contamination of association with the heretic king Akhenaten, but made a mistake and removed Akhenaten’s body instead. On that basis, somewhere in a small undiscovered tomb or cache in or near the Valley of the Kings, Akhenaten’s body may still lie undisturbed. It will be accompanied by whatever of Smenkhkare’s funerary equipment was removed from Tomb 55, and that should include ushabti figures for Smenkhkare because, although examples are known for the rest of the royal family, not even a fragment of one survives bearing his name.



Ankhesenamun (ˁnḫ-s-n-imn, “Her Life Is of Amun” or “Living through Amun”; c. 1348 – after 1322 BC) was a queen of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. Born as Ankhesenpaaten, she was the third of six known daughters of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten and his Great Royal Wife Nefertiti, and became the Great Royal Wife of her half-brother Tutankhamun.[1] The change in her name reflects the changes in Ancient Egyptian religion during her lifetime after her father’s death. Her youth is well documented in the ancient reliefs and paintings of the reign of her parents. Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun shared the same father but Tutankhamun’s mother has recently been established by genetic evidence as one of Akhenaten’s sisters, a daughter (so far unidentified) of Amenhotep III.

She was most likely born in year 4 of Akhenaten’s reign and by year 12 of her father’s reign she was joined by her three younger sisters. He possibly made his wife his co-regent and had his family portrayed in a realistic style in all official artwork.

Ankhesenamun was definitely married to one king; she was the Great Royal Wife of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. It is also possible that she was briefly married to Tutankhamun’s successor, Ay, believed by some to be her maternal grandfather.[2] It has also been posited that she may have been the Great Royal Wife of her father, Akhenaten, after the possible death of her mother, and co-regent of Akhenaten’s immediate successor, Smenkhkare.

Recent DNA tests released in February 2010 have also speculated that one of two late 18th dynasty queens buried in KV21 could be her mummy. Both mummies are thought, because of DNA, to be members of the ruling house.

There is little known about Ankhesenamun. She was initially known by her birth name of Ankhesenpaaten (meaning “She lives through the Aten” or “Living through the Aten”) in her earlier years of life. Written, throughout history, are variations of her name as this was altered during her marriage to Tutankhamun. She was approximately thirteen years old when she married Tutankhamun who was most likely her half-brother. Tutankhamun was probably around eight years old at the time that this marriage occurred. This historical timeline is known as the Amarna Period.

The alteration of names for both Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun occurred as they changed their form of worship from one God to another. Their reign initially included the worship of the God Aten (known as “The Sun-Disc) and this eventually changed to the worship of the God Amun (known as the “The Hidden One”). Sometimes Ankhesenamun is written as Ankhesenamon, Ankhesenamum, and other variations on the name.

What is known about Ankhesenamun is that she was born the third daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. History tells us that there were at least six known daughters born to this famous couple; Meritaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Nefernefruaten ta-Sherit, Nefernefrure, and Setepenre. The first three daughters appear to have had a more prominent position in the family hierarchy as they are depicted more frequently in pictures than the last three daughters.

It appears that Akhenaten, Ankhesenamun’s father, may have attempted to father children with the first three eldest daughters. It is suggested that Ankhesenamun’s second eldest sister may have died giving child birth. This is deducted from a scene found in the royal tomb which portrays a vivid display of this occurrence (a woman dying due to child birth). It is most likely that Akhenaten also fathered children from his other two daughter’s Meritaten and Ankhesenamun. Those children carried the names of their respective mothers with the addition of “ta-sherit” (junior) after their names. Including “ta-sherit” to the name of children who had the same name as their respective mothers, appeared to be the standard practice of that time.

As Nefertiti, Akhenaten’s queen disappears from history, Akhenaten marries the eldest daughter Meritaten. She now becomes the Chief Queen after her mother Nefertiti. Also during Akhenaten’s reign, he names Smenkhkare as co-regent (a person who would reign in conjunction with him). It was sometimes the practice of Kings or Pharaohs to name co-regents during their reign. Co-regents tended to be son’s or proposed heirs to the throne. During this time, Akhenaten decides to wed Meritaten (his daughter and current wife) to Smenkhkare for his wife. Akhenaten then takes Ankhesenamun, the third daughter, as his next new wife. Ankhesenamun now becomes the Chief wife of Akhenaten for a short period.

It appears that shortly after, both Meritaten and Akhenaten die and then Smenkhkare marries Ankhesenamun. History shows that they are married for approximately one to three years and then Smenkhkare also dies. Tutankhamun is named the next pharaoh and Ankhesenamun and Tutankhamun are then married. Although both are still children, Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun go on to rule Egypt over the next ten years. During the ten years, Ankhesenamun gives birth to two children (both girls). Both girls are born premature and die. One of the children is now known to have had a condition called Spengel’s deformity in conjunction with spina bifida and scoliosis. The two mummy encasements were found during the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

During their reign, history shows that Tutankhamun had an official adviser named Ay who most likely was the grandfather of Ankhesenamun. In addition, it seems that Ay most likely took advantage of the fact that both Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun were very young and he most probably had a heavy hand in molding and shaping Tutankhamun’s thinking in the early years. This likely occurred as changes and decisions during those early years of Tutankhamun’s rule carried the weight of a more-versed and more-mature ruler and could not have been done by a child of eight years old.

As Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun began to mature, Tutankhamun suddenly died for no apparent reason. Tutankhamun was about 18 years of age when he passed away and once again Ankhesenamun was left without a husband. The standard mourning period was 70 days and it appears that several major things occurred during this timeframe; 1) Tutankhamun’s burial site seems to have been put together in a haphazardly way, 2) Ankhesenamun is not mentioned or depicted at the burial site or are there any personal items of Ankhesenamun buried with Tutankhamun as this was the standard practice of including “wifely items” with the dead pharaohs, and 3) History now shows us that Ankhesenamun may have tried to contact the Hittite King Suppiluliumas for help. King Suppiluliumas was a well-known enemy of Egypt at that time.

Upon further review of Tutankhamun’s burial site, it seems that the walls were not fully painted as would have been fitting for a pharaoh of that time. Why? It also appears that many of the items found in the tomb were borrowed and did not belong strictly to Tutankhamun. Again the question is why? Speculation is that Ay, who was most probably in control of the burial procedures, was in a hurry to get everything completed and sealed as he may have been the person responsible for Tutankhamun’s death. Why does speculation lean toward that theory? Most likely because he had much control over the rule of Egypt during Tutankhamun’s rule until the boy king began to mature. He probably wanted him out of the way. In addition, history shows that he married Ankhesenamun shortly after Tutankhamun died and thereby became Egypt’s new pharaoh. Upon review of Tutankhamun’s skull, there is some evidence that Tutankhamun may have died a more brutal death than once thought and Ay is at the top of the list as a possible murderer.

In addition, the standard practice of that time would have been to mention and provide many items of the “Chief wife” of a pharaoh in a burial site. Unfortunately, there is little mention of Ankhesenamun at the burial site. The fact that any personal items belonging to Ankhesenamun at Tutankhamun’s tomb are missing make things even more suspicious. Why would this occur? Could it be that Ay may have been planning to take Ankhesenamun (most probably his granddaughter) as his wife and thereby become the new Pharaoh? It would not have been fitting to have his new wife depicted in Tutankhamun’s tomb. By marrying Ankhesenamun he would then have a direct link to the throne and be more readily accepted as Egypt’s new ruling pharaoh.

Amun The third suspicious piece to this puzzle is a letter sent to a Hittite King named Suppiluliumas from an Eqyptian queen. There is speculation that the letter could have been sent from another queen because the names referenced in the letter do not specifically mention Ankhesenamun or Tutankhamun but rather use the names Dahamunzu and her dead husband Niphururiya. However, upon further review of the Hittite phonetic translations of Egyptian language at that time, it would have been translated to point towards Ankhesenamun as the queen asking for help and Tutankhamun as the king having died. The letter states, “My husband has died and I have no son. They say about you that you have many sons. You might give me one of your sons to become my husband. Never shall I pick out a servant of mine and make him my husband!…I am afraid!” Why would Ankhesenamun be afraid? Could it be that she knew that Ay had contributed to her husband’s death? Could it be that she had seen Ay depicted in Tutankhamun’s tomb wearing the royal crown’s of Egypt with his name clearly written in hieroglyphs as the presiding priest over Tutankhamun’s picture?


Upon receiving the request for help from the Eqyptian queen, King Suppiluliumas sent Hattusa-zita, a chamberlain, to verify that this was a true request and not a plan of treachery. Hattusa-zita returned verifying that this was not a scheme but rather a true plea for help. King Suppiluliumas then sent his youngest son Zanannza to marry the Egyptian queen (more than likely Ankhesenamun). Upon entering Egypt the whole group was murdered.

Ankhesenamun was left with no other alternative than to marry Ay who was at least 40 years her senior. A blue-glass finger ring has since been found containing both Ankhesenamun and Ay’s engraved names. This is further evidence that this marriage took place after Tutankhamun’s death. Shortly thereafter, Ankhesenamun disappears from history and even in Ay’s tomb there is no evidence that she was the chief wife.

Rather, it is Tiy who appears in Ay’s tomb. But as history writes itself, Ankhesenamun had married 4 pharaohs in her short lifetime; Akhenaten (her father), Smenkhkare (more than likely her half-brother), Tutankhamun (more than likely her half brother), and Ay (probably her grandfather).

Source: King Tut (, Wikipedia (



Nefertiti was the wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. Her name means, `the beautiful one has come’ and, because of the world-famous bust created by the sculptor Thutmose (discovered in 1912 CE), she is the most recognizable queen of ancient Egypt.

She grew up in the royal palace at Thebes, probably the daughter of the vizier to Amenhotep III, a man named Ay, and was engaged to his son, Amenhotep IV, around the age of eleven. There is evidence to suggest that she was an adherent of the cult of Aten, a sun deity, at an early age and that she may have influenced Amenhotep IV’s later decision to abandon the worship of the gods of Egypt in favor of a monotheism centered on Aten. After he changed his name to Akhenaten and assumed the throne of Egypt, Nefertiti ruled with him until his death after which she disappears from the historical record.

Nefertiti’s Reign

She ruled alongside Akhenaten during the eighteenth dynasty (1550-1292 BC).  She lived in Tell El Amarna, a city constructed by the pharaoh to worship their god Aten. There, they safeguarded their family and their beliefs—it became the center of Egypt’s new religion. It’s believed that Nefertiti was probably a distant relative to Akhenaten and a favorite queen to the pharaoh. Nothing is known about the queen’s childhood and no evidence has yielded who her parents are. Some believe her father could be Aye due to inscriptions found inside his tomb proclaiming him the father of her sister Mutnodjmet.

During her reign as queen, Egypt went about many radical religious changes. Hundreds of years of culture and worship had been exchanged for a new radical concept— Monotheism. The old gods had been disregarded, temples shut down, and priests forced to change their ways. Many historians believe this transition could have been hostile and was not adopted so easily by the citizens or priests.

Her reign with Akhenaten was unlike the traditional ways Egypt had seen. She was more than just a typical queen and helped to promote Akhenaten’s views. Her reign was only 12 years, but she was perhaps one of the most powerful queens to ever rule. Supporting her husbands’ beliefs she changed her name to Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti meaning, “The Aten is radiant of radiance [because] the beautiful one has come.” Her importance was greatly valued by Akhenaten and he went to great lengths to show her as his counterpart. As queen, she took on powerful roles and showed herself in ways only Egyptian kings did. For example, she was often shown with the crown of a pharaoh or was depicted in scenes of battle smiting her enemies. Akhenaten valued her so much, that he also allowed her to practice that art of priesthood and she too was allowed to make offerings to Aten.

Many Egyptologists believe that perhaps Akhenaten was born with deformities that hindered his role as king. One of the ailments that were believed he had was bad vision. This illness could have made his job difficult, in turn, he could have put trust into Nefertiti allowing her to decide many important matters. He trusted her so much, that he went as far as placing her name next to his in his royal cartouche. This was very unique and could have symbolized her as equal status next to Akhenaten.

Other depictions show the couple side by side often with their children in a utopic fashion. In one stela, found in Tell el Amarna, the couple is seated together. Akhenaten is giving his daughter an earring while his wife Nefertiti has the other two daughters on her lap. In this depiction, the queen is having a wonderful time and is shown in a loving manner with her husband and children. Both are shown as equal counterparts in their status and family affairs.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti

Times of her Youth & Marriage

Even though it appears that Nefertiti was the daughter of Ay, this claim is far from substantiated. Inscriptions refer to Ay’s wife, Tiye (or Tey) as Nefertiti’s wet nurse, not her mother, and nothing is known of Ay’s lesser wife. Ay, in addition to his other duties, was tutor to the young Amenhotep IV and may have introduced the prince to Nefertiti when both were children. Nefertiti and her sister, Mudnodjame, were certainly regular members of the court at Thebes and, whether or not Ay introduced her to Amenhotep IV, the two would have known each other simply for that reason.

Ancient images and inscriptions indicate her early interest in the cult of Aten but, as every Egyptian favored one god or another, there is no reason to believe that she had any ideas relating to monotheism or elevating Aten above the other gods (as has been suggested by some scholars). All that can be stated with certainty is that both sisters were adherents of Aten and may have influenced Amenhotep IV’s interest in that cult from an early age. Any definitive statements regarding her influence on the rise of monotheism in Egypt must of necessity be speculative as there is no conclusive evidence to support it; just as there is little information on her life in general.

By the time she was fifteen years old she was married to Amenhotep IV and, after the death of Amenhotep III, she became queen of Egypt. It is at this stage that some scholars claim she most exerted her influence on Amenhotep IV to abandon the ancient religion of Egypt and initiate his religious reforms but, again, this is unsubstantiated.

Nefertiti & Akhenaten, a deeper look

In the fifth year of his reign (some sources claim the ninth), Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten, abolished the religious practices of Egypt, closed the temples, and decreed Aten the one true god. While it is possible he created monotheism out of a genuine religious conviction, it is more probable that it was a political manoeuver to cut the power and wealth of the priests of the god Amun, whose cult was extremely popular. Throughout the 18th dynasty the cult of Amun had increasingly grown in wealth and prestige so that, by Akhenaten’s time, the cult’s priests were almost as powerful as pharaoh. Instituting monotheism, and proscribing the old religion, would have completely restored power to the throne; and that is precisely what it did. The god Aten was now considered not only a powerful god of Egypt but the god of creation, the one true god of the universe.

At the site of Akhetaten (Amarna), the new city dedicated to the god Aten. In the sixth year [of Akhenaten’s reign] Nefertiti’s name was changed to Nefernefruaten which means `Beautiful in beauty is Aten’. Nefertiti lived with Akhenaten in Amarna where he conducted religious services to Aten. (Bunson, 185).

The couple had six daughters: Meritaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Nefernefruaten-tasherit, Neferneferure, and Setepenre, but no sons. With his lesser wife, Kiya, Akhenaten had two sons, Tutankhamun and possibly Smenkhkare (though Smenkhare’s lineage is disputed). Akhenaten married two of these daughters, Meritaten and Ankhesenpaaten (later, Ankhsenamun, wife of Tutankhamun) and may have had children with them (though this is also disputed). What is clear, however, from stele and inscriptions which survived the later purge of their reign, is that the royal couple was deeply devoted to each other and constantly together or with their daughters. Regarding Nefertiti’s physical appearance at this time, Heller writes:

“It is surmised that she must have been about four feet, six inches tall, the height of an average Egyptian woman of the time. It is known from her depictions that she often went about scantily dressed, as was customary in the warm climate. Otherwise, she appeared in the traditional garb of a clinging gown tied by a girdle with ends falling in front; at times, she is depicted coiffed with a short wig. She probably had a shaven head to improve the fit of her unusual tall blue crown. It is known that she identified with her husband’s heresy and that, according to Akhenaten’s poetry, he loved her dearly. It is also known that her beauty was legendary”

The royal family originally lived at the palace of Malkata in Thebes, which was built under the reign of Amenhotep III but renovated under Akhenaten and re-named Tehen Aten (meaning `the splendor of Aten).

Watterson, and others, also point out that the palace was abundant in gold decorations and ornate reliefs. However opulent Malkata was, the new palace at the city the couple founded, Akhetaten, was even grander and, more importantly, served a symbolic purpose in the new religion of Aten.

As part of his religious revolution, Akhenaten decided to leave Thebes and move to a virgin site that would be dedicated to his new cult. The new city was located in Middle Egypt, and called Akhetaten, `Horizon of Aten’. It was laid out parallel to the river, its boundaries marked by stelae carved into the cliffs ringing the site. The king himself took responsibility for its cosmologically significant master plan. In the center of his city, the king built a formal reception palace, where he could meet officials and foreign dignitaries. The palaces in which he and his family lived were to the north, and a road led from the royal dwelling to the reception palace. Each day, Akhenaten and Nefertiti processed in their chariots from one end of the city to the other, mirroring the journey of the sun across the sky. In this, as in many other aspects of their lives that have come to us through art and texts, Akhenaten and Nefertiti were seen, or at least saw themselves, as deities in their own right. It was only through them that the Aten could be worshipped: they were both priests and gods. -Egyptologist Zahi Hawass explains.

Egyptian Royal Woman – Possibly Nefertiti

In her role as part of the divine couple, Nefertiti may also have been co-regent. Akhenaten joined his cartouche (his seal) with hers as a sign of equality and there is evidence that she took on the traditional duties of pharaoh while her husband busied himself with theological reformation and architectural renovations. Images which have survived depict her officiating at religious services, receiving foreign dignitaries, moderating diplomatic meetings, and even in the traditional royal role of the king smiting the enemies of Egypt. None of these images would have been created if there were not some truth behind the stories they depict and so Nefertiti must have wielded more power than any woman in Egypt since the time of Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE). From the royal palace at Akhetaten, she sent forth the royal decrees and made the decisions which, according to tradition, were the responsibility of her husband.

Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia (,


The Disappearance & Controversy of Queen Nefertiti

Around the year 14 of Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s reign, their daughter Mekitaten died in childbirth at the age of 13. An image in relief from the time shows the couple standing over their daughter’s body in mourning. Shortly after this, Nefertiti vanishes from the historical record. There have been many theories offered to explain her abrupt disappearance and, among these are:

  1. She fell out of favor with her husband because she could not produce a male heir and so was replaced by Kiya.
  2. She abandoned the religion of Aten and was banished by Akhenaten.
  3. She committed suicide in grief over the loss of her daughter.
  4. She continued to rule under the name of Smenkhkare until her step-son, Tutankhamun, was old enough to assume the throne.

Of these theories, none of them can be substantiated but the fourth, and even that, many argue, is uncertain. The leading proponent of the Nefertiti-as-Smenkhkare theory is Zahi Hawass who writes:

This king [Smenkhkare] is shown as a male in the company of Meritaten as `his’ queen; however, his throne name was virtually identical to that of Akhenaten’s coregent, now convincingly identified as Nefertiti. Whether this king was Nefertiti herself or an otherwise unattested son of Akhenaten’s (or Amenhotep III’s) he or she died only two years after ascending the throne, and left Egypt in the hands of a young boy named Tutankhaten [later Tutankhamun].

The problems with the other theories are that Akhenaten already had a male heir in Tutankhamun and so would not have deserted his wife on that account (theory one); there is no evidence to support Nefertiti leaving the cult of Aten (theory two); she was still living after the death of her daughter and the throne name of Akhenaten’s successor is the same as hers (theory three). The reason why theory two has long remained popular is because of evidence that the worship of the old gods began to revive toward the end of Akhenaten’s reign and, it is thought, this could not have happened without some kind of royal support or encouragement.

Since it is considered impossible that Akhenaten would have abandoned the religion he created, it is speculated that it was his coregent who was behind this. The revival of the old religious practices, however, could easily have been a grassroots movement by the people of Egypt who had grown tired of being forced to neglect the traditional faith of the land. The Egyptians held that their actions were intimately tied to celestial balance and that their relationship with the gods was of vital importance. In abandoning the old gods of Egypt, Akhenaten would have thrown the universe out of balance and it is quite likely that the former priests of Amun, and those of other cults, finally decided to try to restore harmony to the land on their own, without consulting their ruler. Since it is known that Nefertiti was a devotee of Aten prior even to Akhenaten’s conversion, and that she regularly took part in religious services, as well as the fact that no images or inscriptions give any evidence that she forsook the cult, it is highly unlikely that she would have led a return to the traditional religious practices of Egypt.

The hatred the people had for the new monotheistic religion of their pharaoh is exemplified in its complete eradication after the death of Akhenaten’s successor Tutankhamun. Tutankhamun himself, upon taking the throne, abandoned the religion of Aten and returned Egypt to traditional practice. His successor, Ay, (possibly the same man suggested as Nefertiti’s father) continued his policies but the last pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Horemheb, went further than either of them. Horemheb, claiming he had been chosen by the gods to restore the true religion of Egypt, tore down Akhenaten’s temples, defaced his stele, and tried to eradicate all evidence that the heretic king and his family had ever ruled Egypt. It is because of Horemheb’ s decrees that so little is known of Nefertiti, and other royals linked with the Amarna Period, in the present day. The wonder, really, is not that so little is known but that, considering Horemheb’s hatred of Akhenaten’s reforms, and his dedication to the mission of erasing the king and his family from history, that modern day scholars have any information on the Amarna Period at all.

Unfinished bust of Nefertiti

The Controversy, Modern-day Controversy

Nefertiti was the subject of controversy, between Egypt and England, when the British archaeologist, Joann Fletcher, claimed to have found the queen’s mummy in 2003 CE. Fletcher’s claim was based on details of a mummy, known by Egyptologists as the “Younger Lady”, which she felt matched depictions of Nefertiti. The Discovery Channel aired Fletcher’s theory as though the mummy of the queen had been positively identified when, in fact, this was hardly the case. As a result, Fletcher was banned from working in Egypt because of an alleged breach in protocol which requires all archaeologists working in the country to first report their findings to the Supreme Council of Antiquities before releasing anything to the international press. Although this ban was later lifted, and Fletcher returned to Egypt, the controversy surrounding the mummy is unresolved. Fletcher’s supporters claim that the “Younger Lady” is Nefertiti while those who side with Hawass maintain the opposite. The very same details are used by both sides to support their claim and it seems unlikely there will be any resolution until some future discovery is made which lends more weight to one side than the other.

Nefertiti has also caused an on-going dispute between Egypt and Germany over the famous bust presently residing in the Egyptian Museum (Neues Museum) of Berlin. Nefertiti’s face is one of the most instantly recognizable images from antiquity, perhaps, only second to her step-son Tutankhamun. Even if one does not know the queen’s name, statuettes and posters of the famous bust have been reproduced world-wide. Even so, when it was discovered in 1912 CE, no one knew who Nefertiti was. The bust would have been remarkable for its beauty, of course, but not for the individual it represents. Because of the decrees of Horemheb, the royal family had been forgotten. Inscriptions from Horemheb’s reign show him as the successor of Amenhotep III, completely erasing the reign of the `heretic king’ and his successors. The bust was created c. 1340 BCE by the court sculptor Thutmosis as a model for his apprentices in their representations (whether sculpture or painting) of the queen. Because it was a model, and never intended for display, only one eye is completed. The Egyptian Museum of Berlin describes the Bust of Queen Nefertiti as “one of the first ranking works of Egyptian art mostly due to the excellent preservation of the colour and the fine modeling of the face…the bust is made of limestone which is covered with modeled gypsum. The eye is inlayed with crystal and the pupil attached with black coloured wax. The second eye-inlay was never carried out” (1).

The bust is housed in Room 2.10 of the Egyptian Museum of Berlin in Germany where it was taken after its discovery at Amarna. Hawass writes, “One day in the winter of 1912 CE, a German archaeologist named Ludwig Borchardt was excavating at Tell al-Amarna when he found a beautiful bust of Nefertiti in the workshop of a sculptor named Thutmosis” (39). What happened after this discovery is an ongoing, often heated, debate between Egypt and Germany.

Since the enforcement of the rules governing antiquities in Egypt was fairly lax in the early 20th century CE (as, in some areas anyway, were the rules themselves) it does not seem there can ever be any way to resolve the dispute. The Germans claim that Borchardt found the bust, made a legal declaration of his find, and then brought the piece back to Germany. The Egyptian claim (as articulated by Hawass) argues that “the German mission covered the head with mud to disguise its beauty so that during the division of antiquities at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo the curator did not notice its remarkable features. Therefore, the bust was allowed to go to the Berlin Museum” (39). The Egyptians, then, claim the bust was obtained illegally and should be returned to Egypt; the Germans, of course, argue it is their legal property and should remain in the museum. Hawass notes that, “Plans were made to return [the bust] to Egypt just before World War II, but Hitler asked to see it before it left the country, fell in love with it, and refused to let it out of German hands” (41). This claim has also been disputed by the German government and the former, and current, director of the Egyptian Museum of Berlin.

In 2003 CE this controversy became more heated when the museum allowed two artists, known as Little Warsaw, to place the bust on a bronze body of a naked woman in order to show what the queen may have looked like. This very poor decision resulted in Egypt renewing its efforts for repatriation of the bust but, as the Little Warsaw exhibit lasted only a few hours, the controversy cooled and the bust remains where it has been since 1913 CE and where it continues to be one of the most popular pieces of art, if not the most popular, in the permanent collection.

Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia (




Akhenaten (r. 1353-1336 BCE) was a pharaoh of Egypt of the 18th Dynasty. He is also known as `Akhenaton’ or `Ikhnaton’ and also `Khuenaten’, all of which are translated to mean `successful for’ or `of great use to’ the god Aten. Akhenaten chose this name for himself after his conversion to the cult of Aten. Prior to this conversion, he was known as Amenhotep IV (or Amenophis IV). He was the son of Amenhotep III (1386-1353 BCE) and his wife Tiye, husband of Queen Nefertiti, and father of both Tutankhamun (by a lesser wife named Lady Kiya) and Tutankhamun’s wife Ankhsenamun (by Nefertiti).

His reign as Amenhotep IV lasted five years during which he followed the policies of his father and the religious traditions of Egypt. However, in the fifth year, he underwent a dramatic religious transformation, changed his devotion from the cult of Amun to that of Aten, and, for the next twelve years, became famous (or infamous) as the `heretic king’ who abolished the traditional religious rites of Egypt and instituted the first known monotheistic state religion in the world and, according to some, monotheism itself.

His reign is known as The Amarna Period because he moved the capital of Egypt from the traditional site at Thebes to the city he founded, Akhetaten, which came to be known as Amarna (also Tell el-Amarna). The Amarna Period is the most controversial era in Egyptian history and has been studied, debated, and written about more than any other.

Amenhotep IV Becomes Akhenaten

Amenhotep IV may have been co-regent with his father, Amenhotep III, and it has been noted that the sun-disk known as the `Aten’ is displayed on a number of inscriptions from this period of the earlier king’s reign. The Aten was not new to the rule of Akhenaten and, prior to his conversion, was simply another cult among the many in ancient Egypt. It should be noted that `cult’ did not have the same meaning in this regard as it does in the present day. There was absolutely nothing negative in the designation of a community of worshippers being known as a `cult’ in ancient Egypt. It carried the same meaning then as a member of the Christian community today being designated a Baptist, a Lutheran, a Presbyterian, or Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. The gods and practices of the various cults all represented the same end: eternal harmony and balance.


Amenhotep III ruled over a land whose priesthood, centered on the god Amun, had been steadily growing in power for centuries. By the time Amenhotep IV came to power, the priests of Amun were on almost equal standing with the royal house in wealth and influence.

The historian Lewis Spence writes, “With the exception of Ra and Osiris, the worship of Amun was more widespread than that of any other god in the Nile Valley; but the circumstances behind the growth of his cult certainly point to its having been disseminated by political rather than religious propaganda” (137). By the time of Amenhotep IV, the Cult of Amun owned more land than the king. In the 5th year of his reign, Amenhotep IV outlawed the old religion and proclaimed himself the living incarnation of a single all-powerful deity known as Aten and, by the 9th year, he had closed all the temples and suppressed religious practices.

Amenhotep IV moved his seat of power from the traditional palace at Thebes to one he built at the city he founded, Akhetaten, changed his name to Akhenaten, and continued the religious reforms which resulted in his being despised as `the heretic king’ by some later writers while admired as a champion of monotheism by others.

Stela of Akhenaten

Akhenaten’s monotheistic

Some historians have praised Akhenaten’s reforms as the first instance of monotheism and the benefits of monotheistic belief; but these reforms were not at all beneficial to the people of Egypt at the time. The historian Durant, for example, writes that Akhenaten’s reforms were “the first out-standing expression of monotheism – seven hundred years before Isaiah [of the Bible] and an astounding advance upon the old tribal deities” (210). Those `old tribal deities’ of Egypt, however, had encouraged peace, harmony, and the development of one of the greatest ancient cultures the world has ever known.

The polytheism of the ancient Egyptians encouraged a world view where peace and balance were emphasized and religious tolerance was not considered an issue; there is not even a word directly corresponding to the concept of `religious tolerance’ in the ancient Egyptian texts. A hallmark of any monotheistic belief system, however, is that it encourages the belief that, in order for it to be right, other systems must necessarily be wrong. This insistence on being the sole arbiter of ultimate truth leads to intolerance of other beliefs and their suppression; this is precisely what happened in Egypt. The names of the god Amun and the other gods were chiseled from monuments throughout Egypt, the temples were closed, and the old practices outlawed.

“Dating to this point in Akhenaten’s reign was a campaign to excise the name of gods other than the Aten, especially Amun, from the monuments of Egypt. This was done with violence: hieroglyphs were brutally hacked from the walls of temples and tombs. This was probably carried out, at least in part, by illiterate iconoclasts, presumably following the orders of their king. [Akhenaten] carried out a religious revolution the like of which had never been seen before in Egypt. His reign represents a significant departure from religious, artistic, and political norms.” – Egyptologist Zahi Hawass

Priests of Amun who had the time and resources hid statuary and texts from the palace guards sent to destroy them and then abandoned their temple complexes. Akhenaten ordained new priests, or simply forced priests of Amun into the service of his new monotheism, and proclaimed himself and his queen gods.

Neglecting Egypt’s Allies

The pharaoh as a servant of the gods, and identified with a certain god (most often Horus), was common practice in ancient Egypt but no one before Akhenaten had proclaimed himself an actual god incarnate. As a god, he seems to have felt that the affairs of state were beneath him and simply stopped attending to his responsibilities One of the many unfortunate results of Akhenaten’s religious reforms was a neglect of foreign policy.

From documents and letters of the time it is known that other nations, formerly allies, wrote numerous times asking Egypt for help in various affairs and that most of these requests were ignored by the deified king. Egypt was a wealthy and prosperous nation at the time and had been steadily growing in power since before the reign of Queen Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE). Hatshepsut and her successors, such as Tuthmosis III (1458-1425 BCE), employed a balanced approach of diplomacy and military action in dealing with foreign nations; Akhenaten chose simply to largely ignore what happened beyond the borders of Egypt and, it seems, most things outside of his palace at Akhetaten.

Watterson notes that Ribaddi (Rib-Hadda), king of Byblos, who was one of Egypt’s most loyal allies, sent over fifty letters to Akhenaten asking for help in fighting off Abdiashirta (also known as Aziru) of Amor (Amurru) but these all went unanswered and Byblos was lost to Egypt (112). Tushratta, the king of Mitanni, who had also been a close ally of Egypt, complained that Amenhotep III had sent him statues of gold while Akhenaten only sent gold-plated statues.

Akhetaten & Art

The famous Stele of Akhenaten, depicting the royal family, shows the rays of the Aten touching them all and each of them, even Nefertiti, depicted with the same elongation as the king. To consider these images as realistic depictions of the royal family, afflicted with some disorder, seems to be a mistake in that there would be no reason for Nefertiti to share in the king’s supposed disorder. The depiction, then, could illustrate Akhenaten and Nefertiti as those who had been transformed to god-like status by their devotion to the Aten to such an extent that their faith is seen even in their children.

One aspect of Amarna Period art which differentiates it from earlier and later periods is the intimacy of the images, best exemplified in the Stele of Akhenaten showing the family enjoying each other’s company in a private moment. Images of pharaohs before and after this period depict the ruler as a solitary figure engaged in hunting or battle or standing in the company of a god or his queen in dignity and honor. This can also be explained as stemming from Akhenaten’s religious beliefs in that the Aten, not the pharaoh, was the most important consideration (as in the Stele of Akhenaten, it is the Aten disk, not the family, which is the center of the composition) and, under the influence of the Aten’s love and grace, the pharaoh and his family thrives.

Akhetaten’s Monotheism & Legacy

This image of the Aten as an all-powerful, all-loving, deity, supreme creator and sustainer of the universe, is thought to have had a potent influence on the later development of monotheistic religious faith. Whether Akhenaten was motivated by a political agenda to suppress the power of the Cult of Amun or if he experienced a true religious revelation, he was the first on record to envision a single, supreme deity who cared for the individual lives and fates of human beings. Sigmund Freud, in his 1939 CE work Moses and Monotheism, argues that Moses was an Egyptian who had been an adherent of the Cult of Aten and was driven from Egypt following Akhenaten’s death and the return to the old religious paradigm.

“This image of the Aten as an all-powerful, all-loving, deity, supreme creator and sustainer of the universe, is thought to have had a potent influence on the later development of monotheistic religious faith. Whether Akhenaten was motivated by a political agenda to suppress the power of the Cult of Amun or if he experienced a true religious revelation, he was the first on record to envision a single, supreme deity who cared for the individual lives and fates of human beings. Sigmund Freud, in his 1939 CE work Moses and Monotheism, argues that Moses was an Egyptian who had been an adherent of the Cult of Aten and was driven from Egypt following Akhenaten’s death and the return to the old religious paradigm.” – Freud quotes from James Henry Breasted, the noted archaeologist

Freud recognizes that the Cult of Aten existed long before Akhenaten raised it to prominence but points out that Akhenaten added a component unknown previously in religious belief: “He added the something new that turned into monotheism, the doctrine of a universal god: the quality of exclusiveness” (24). The Greek philosopher Xenophanes (c. 570-c.478 BCE) would later experience a similar vision that the many gods of the Greek city-states were vain imaginings and there was only one true god and, though he shared this vision through his poetry, he never established the belief as a revolutionary new way of understanding oneself and the universe. Whether one regards Akhenaten as a hero or villain in Egypt’s history, his elevation of the Aten to supremacy changed not only that nation’s history, but the course of world civilization.

To those who came after him in Egypt, however, he was the `heretic king’ and `the enemy’ whose memory needed to be eradicated. His son, Tutankhamun (c.1336-1327 BCE) was given the name Tutankhaten at birth but changed his name upon ascending the throne to reflect his rejection of Atenism and his return of the country to the ways of Amun and the old gods. Tutankhamun’s successors Ay (1327-1323 BCE) and, especially, Horemheb (c. 1320-1292 BCE) tore down the temples and monuments built by Akhenaten to honor his god and had his name, and the names of his immediate successors, stricken from the record.

In fact, Akhenaten was unknown in Egyptian history until the discovery of Amarna in the 19th century CE. Horemheb’s inscriptions listed himself as the successor to Amenhoptep III and made no mention of the rulers of the Amarna Period. Akhenaten’s tomb was uncovered by the great archaeologist Flinders Petrie in 1907 CE and Tutankhamun’s tomb, more famously, by Howard Carter in 1922 CE. Interest in Tutankhamun spread to the family of the `golden king’ and so attention was brought to bear again on Akhenaten after almost 4,000 years. His legacy of monotheism, however, if Freud and others are correct, influenced other religious thinkers to emulate his ideal of a one, true god and reject the polytheism which had characterized human religious belief for millenia.

Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia (, photo: Pinterest.


El-Amarna Royal Tomb

El-Amarna Royal Tomb (EA26) – There are two groups of rock-cut tombs at el-Amarna situated at the north and the south ends of the cliffs encircling the city of Akhetaten. These are the tombs of favored officials of the court of Akhenaten, containing many scenes depicting the royal family in the distinctive style of Amarna art. Between the north and south tombs lies the entrance to the Royal Wadi (Wadi Abu Hasa el-Bahri) in which the king’s own tomb was constructed.

The entrance to the Royal Wadi is often said to take the form of the hieroglyphic symbol of the horizon, the akhet in the center of which the sun rises each morning. It was perhaps this natural shape which determined Akhenaten to site his new city here on the wide sandy plain on the east bank of the Nile. Until recently the wadi has been a fairly inaccessible place with a narrow boulder-strewn track leading to the Royal Tomb. Akhenaten’s tomb lies in a small side valley of the main wadi – which used to entail a tough walk of 6km each way from the mouth of the wadi. However, since 2004 there is a new tarmac road going all the way up to the Royal Tomb, making access for visitors much easier. There is a generator to provide lighting in the tomb, which is currently undergoing restoration. Although much of the decoration once carved into the plaster over poor quality limestone walls is now destroyed, the tomb itself is a very evocative place.

The Royal Tomb began with similar proportions to the earlier tombs in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes. However, several chambers for subsidiary burials of members of the royal family were cut after the early death of the king’s second daughter Meketaten. Was the king ever buried here? This is a question which is impossible to answer with certainty, although fragments of Akhenaten’s sarcophagus and a great number of shabti figures belonging to the king were discovered, suggesting that the king was interred here after his death, probably in year 17 of his reign. When the tomb was first found in the 1880s by locals it was already plundered and badly damaged.

The entrance to the Royal Tomb is at the level of the valley floor and faces east, suggesting that it may have been designed to allow the sun’s rays to illuminate the tomb each morning. Alternatively, it may have been the king’s intention that divine energy flooded out of the tomb at sunrise to awaken the temple and the city. A steep flight of stone steps, with a central ramp to allow access for the sarcophagus during construction, leads down into a wide sloping corridor. At the far end of the corridor is a large square chamber with remains of two square rock-cut pillars on a raised platform – the king’s burial chamber. The chamber originally had four pillars, but two were probably cut away when extra space was needed for the sarcophagus of the king’s mother, Tiye, fragments of which were identified in recent years. A small chamber was also begun in the upper right-hand wall but left unfinished.

Fragile traces of decoration at ceiling level can still be made out, giving the names and titles of the Aten, Akhenaten and Nefertiti, but little else now survives. The scenes which once decorated the walls of the royal burial chamber were of offering ceremonies to the Aten at which the royal family officiated. A well was constructed in front of the king’s burial chamber, a feature which was to appear in many later royal tombs at Thebes. The walls which form a chamber at the top of the well shaft were once plastered and decorated with reliefs of the royal family.

Beyond the well, back towards the tomb entrance, at the top of a short flight of stairs, a doorway leads to a series of three apartments. Since their discovery, they have been known as chambers alpha, beta, and gamma and were identified as the funerary chambers of Princess Meketaten. The central chamber (beta) is undecorated, but the two other rooms were decorated with carved and painted scenes of the royal family making offerings to the Aten. In chamber alpha, there are important scenes depicting the king and queen mourning the death of a woman on a funeral bier. Behind the royal couple, a nurse carries an infant in her arms and the presence of a fan-bearer suggests that the child was also royal. The assumption is that the death represents a mother after childbirth. Although better preserved than other chambers in the Royal Tomb, the scenes in chamber alpha are damaged and the woman is not named, but a similar death-bed scene in chamber gamma names the deceased as Princess Meketaten. This gives rise to the idea that all three chambers belonged to the king’s second daughter, who probably died in childbirth. This assumption has been recently challenged and it is now suggested that the body represented on the walls of chamber alpha may have been another royal lady – possibly the king’s lesser wife Kiya, who is a candidate for the mother of Tutankhamun, or even another daughter. Details of the reliefs in these chambers were copied by French epigraphists in 1894 at a time when the scenes were still almost complete, and without these drawings, we would know even less than we do about the mysterious occupant of these apartments.

Further along the main corridor towards the entrance, another doorway opens into a further winding corridor leading to a series of chambers. It is suggested that this may have been a secondary royal tomb intended for the burial of Queen Nefertiti or the reinterment of Amenhotep III, but it was left unfinished and undecorated.

The mysteries of the Amarna Royal Tomb seem only to increase with time and with each new investigation. Several other tombs had been quarried in the Royal Wadi, both in the main wadi and in the northern and southern side-valleys, but all of them were left unfinished. Many artifacts have been found over the years in the area of the Royal Tomb, leading to diverse theories about the history of the royal family, but we are still left with very little real evidence from this enigmatic period of history.