Nefertiti (c. 1336 BCE) 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.
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. The historian Peter B. Heller notes:
What is so striking about Nefertiti's life and work is that, even though her likeness – derived from Thutmose's bust of her – is one of the best-known and most frequently reproduced in the world, and while she lived at a time when Egypt was the most cultured and most powerful nation on earth, remarkably little is known about her (3).
Nefertiti and Akhenaten were deeply devoted to each other and constantly together.
Nefertiti & Akhenaten
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.
Nefertiti appears with Akhenaten,
...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:
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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 (3).
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). The historian Barbara Watterson describes the palace:
The royal apartments were built on an especially grand scale: the king's bedroom, for example, measured nearly 8 metres by 5 [26 feet by 16.5], and this excludes a raised recess to house the royal bed. The floor in the great hall of the king's palace was painted to represent a pool in the marshes and that in the palace next door a pool with plants and water birds. The entire ceiling of the great hall was patterned with flying vultures; that of the king's bedroom with a row of vultures. The ceilings of many rooms in the palace were painted with spirals and interweaving designs, combined with naturalistic forms such as flying birds (151).
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. The Egyptologist Zahi Hawass explains:
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 (39).
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.
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:
- She fell out of favor with her husband because she could not produce a male heir and so was replaced by Kiya.
- She abandoned the religion of Aten and was banished by Akhenaten.
- She committed suicide in grief over the loss of her daughter.
- 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] (47).
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.
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.
14 Interesting Facts about Queen Nefertiti
The mysterious ancient queen ‘Queen Nefertiti’ was one of the most powerful women in the ancient times. Nefertiti was an Egyptian queen and consort of King Akhenaten who remains a mystery to researchers even today. It is believed that she lived an epoch from around 1370 B.C. to 1330 B.C. A bust of Queen Nefertiti discovered in 1912 is one of the widely acknowledged symbols of antiquated Egypt. Here are few interesting facts about Queen Nefertiti:
1. An Icon of Feminine Beauty
After Cleopatra, Nefertiti is the second most acclaimed “Empress” of Ancient Egypt in the Western imagination. She got the status of a celebrity after the discovery of her 3,300-year-old painted limestone bust in 1912. Nefertiti’s eminence as the most beautiful women & icon of female beauty in today’s culture is a benchmark. The name Nefertiti signifies the same, “The beautiful one has arrived.”
Source: Wikipedia, image: wikimedia.org
2. The Origin and Bloodline
Nefertiti’s origins are still confusing. The most prevalent theory says that Nefertiti was the daughter of the prestigious official, Ay, who later became Pharaoh. It is believed that Ay’s wife Tey looked after her as wet-nurse after Nefertiti’s mother died. This fact came to light through inscriptions from the Amarna period Tey is called, “nurse of the Great Royal Wife.” We might never know the truth of this bloodline.
3. Great Royal Wife
Tomb wall depicting Queen Nefertari, the great royal wife of Pharaoh
Nefertiti got married to Amenhotep IV at the beginning of his reign. Her exact age is unknown, but she was around 15 at the time. Nefertiti then turned into the ‘Great Royal Wife’ of Amenhotep IV and helped to promote Akhenaten’s perspectives. Together they saw the wealthiest time in Ancient Egyptian history.
Source: learnodo-newtonic.com, image: wikimedia.org
4. Nefertiti’s Supremacy
Nefertiti ruled alongside her husband Akhenaten during the eighteenth dynasty (1550-1292 BC). During their reign, Egypt went through a major religious revolution, in which, a new practice of henotheism ‘the worship of one god only’ is adopted over polytheism. The old divinities had been disregarded, temples shut down, and priests were compelled to change their ways.
Source: kingtutone.com, image: wikimedia.org
5. The Power-puff Queen
Painting from grave chamber of Nefertiti
Although Nefertiti’s reign lasted only for 12 years but, she was one of the most powerful queens who ever ruled. Nefertiti is found predominant in the depictions on the walls and tombs built during Akhenaten’s rule, portrayed in different roles as a supporting queen accompanying the king during ceremonial acts. While in other depictions she is shown taking part in the daily worship and making offerings to God Aten, driving a chariot or hitting the enemy. As a queen, she showed herself in ways only Egyptian kings did.
Source: encyclopedia.com, image: wikimedia.org
6. Embracing the New Names
To honor the deity, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten, the name by which he is known today. Nefertiti changed her name to Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti. The embracing of the new name was a sign of the continually expanding significance of the faction of the Aten.
Source: Wikipedia, image: wikimedia.org
7. The Royal Family
Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and their children
Akhenaten had 6 daughters from his chief Royal wife, Nefertiti. As Akhenaten wanted a son, he married several other women including his sister with whom he fathered a son later known as King Tutankhamun (Tut). King Tut married one of Nefertiti’s daughters (his half-sister).
Source: annoyzview.wordpress.com, image: wikimedia.org
8. Queen of Titles
Nefertiti enjoyed many titles. Few of them includes Hereditary Princess Great of Praises Lady of Grace, Sweet of Love Lady of The Two Lands Great King’s Wife, his beloved, Lady of all Women and Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt.
9. Mesmerizing Beauty
Nefertiti Bust in Old Museum Berlin
The beauty of Nefertiti is so mesmerizing that only her Bust captivated the public with her dazzling beauty for about 100 years. One of the German Archaeologist who revealed the bust wrote in his diary: “It is one of an alive Egyptian artwork. It cannot be portrayed in words. You must see it.”
Source: theguardian.com, image: wikimedia.org
10. Magical Makeup
Nefertiti formed her own kind of make-up utilizing the Galena Plant.
Source: newworldencyclopedia.org, image:
11. The Bond of Love
Probable painting of King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti
Nefertiti and Akhenaten both were said to be in deep love and inseparable. King Akhenaten’s love was well-known for his wife, and as a couple they were often seen riding in chariots together, even kissing in public and with her sitting on his knee, a dynamic not generally seen in depictions of ancient pharaohs.
Source: web.archive.org, image: wikimedia.org
12. Mystique Disappearance
Queen Nefertiti disappeared from the historical records around the 12th year of Akhenaten’s rule. There are several theories behind this. Some think she died because of Plague. Some speculate she was elevated to the status of co-regent “equal in power to the Pharaoh” and began to dress like a man. Another theory introduces the idea of two co-regents, a male son, Smenkhkare, and Nefertiti under the name Neferneferuaten. Nefertiti’s disappearance is still a mystery.
13. A Long Forgotten History
Nefertiti history was long forgotten and hidden until the Bust of Nefertiti was found in 1912.
14. Nefertiti Revealed?
Study of Tutankhamun’s 3,300-year-old tomb revealed some wall markings that indicated a hidden doorway. Also, the size of Tutankhamun’s tomb is smaller than what it should have been for the final resting place of an Egyptian king. The hidden doorway and other facts suggested that there could be another chamber and the Tomb was originally made for the queen. It will be an astonishing archaeological discovery if it proves true.
As to the subject of Nefertiti’s mother, there’s a whole other layer of doubt and dispute. If we are assuming that she was the daughter of Ay, Nefertiti’s mother would presumably be Tey, Ay’s wife at the time. However, antiquity makes no mention of Tey being the mother of Nefertiti, merely recording that she was Nefertiti’s nurse.
Historians have suggested that Ay had another wife who must have died young, leading him to remarry with Tey.
She May Have Reigned As Pharaoh
Wikimedia Commons Akhenaten and Nefertiti were depicted together with such frequency that many believe the two held equal power over Egypt.
The idealized imagery of earlier pharaohs was done away with. Depictions of Akhenaten included rather feminine hips and highly exaggerated features, while the imagery of Nefertiti slowly progressed into being virtually indistinguishable from Akhenaten.
This was a clear departure from her earlier imagery as a stereotypical young woman. Her final depictions during Akhenaten’s reign returned to a more realistic version, albeit far more regal than her pre-royal depictions, which suggested that she held equal power over Egypt.
The walls of temples and tombs constructed during Akhenaten’s rule showed Nefertiti alongside the pharaoh with such frequency that Egyptologists and historians believe they ruled side by side. No other Egyptian queen has been depicted alongside her pharaoh as frequently as Nefertiti.
Flickr In 1912, the bust of Nefertiti was discovered in Amarna, Egypt by German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt.
Numerous depictions showed Queen Nefertiti in positions of power, from defeating an enemy in battle, to leading the worship of Aten, to commanding a chariot. She was even explicitly depicted in numerous reliefs wearing the crown of a pharaoh.
After she gave birth to six daughters, Akhenaten took other wives — including his own sister, with whom he fathered King Tutankhamen. King Tut would eventually take Nefertiti’s third daughter, Ankhesenamun, as his wife.
But despite affecting such substantial changes in religious and cultural worship and potentially co-ruling Egypt, Nefertiti suddenly vanished.
Queen Nefertiti of Egypt
The name Nefertiti means “the beautiful woman has come”. She is believed to have been the daughter of as army officer named Ay (but still was not confirmed), later a pharaoh himself, and his wife Tey. Ay, though born a commoner, rose through the ranks to become chief advisor to the pharaoh, Akhenaten. His beautiful daughter was noticed by the pharaoh and he took her for his Great Royal Wife or chief consort.
Queen of Egypt
The exact date of Nefertiti’s marriage to Akhenaten (then known as Amenhotep IV) is believed to be about 1350 BC. They are known to have had six children around 1339 BC. The pharaoh also had a son by another wife, Kiya who would become the pharaoh Tutankhamun.
In 1346 BC Amenhotep IV introduced the worship of the previously obscure god Aten, the name given to the sun-disk itself. Nefertiti played a large role in this religious revolution. The pharaoh began the construction of a new capital city to be named in his honour and a year later changed his name to Akhenaten (‘effective spirit of Aten’) in honor of his god and proof of his fidelity to the deity. By Year 7 of his reign the new capital was nearing completion and the seat of power was moved from Thebes. Dedicated to the royal couples religion, the city of Akhenaten was completed in 1341 BC and contained some of the most massive temples of ancient Egypt. Nefertiti’s power had grown considerably over time. As co-regent with the pharaoh she is considered by many historians to be the most powerful woman on earth at the time.
Small house stele of Amenhotep IV with his wife Nefertiti and children.
Nefertiti’s rise to prominence may partly have been due to her husband’s obsession with Aten and his neglect of the affairs of state. Problems on the northern frontier at Canaan and wars among-st Egypt’s allies were largely ignored. A plague in the region finally resulted in the pharaoh sending troops to Canaan. The plague became a pandemic and resulted in many deaths in the new capital of Akhenatan and the belief that the gods had turned against the pharaoh.
Nefertiti as Pharoah Neferneferuaten
With the death of Akhenaten in 1334 or 1336 BC, Nefertiti succeeded to the throne. Her step-son, Tutankhmen was only 9 at the time and the queen took the name of Neferneferuaten. As pharaoh, Nefertiti is believed to have abandoned the Aten religion and moved the capital back to Thebes in order to curry favor with the people and powerful priests.She spent the time left to her educating her daughter now known as Ankhasunamun and step-son Tutankhamun in the old religion and preparing them to rule Egypt.
There is a theory that Nefertiti was still alive during the early years of Tutankhamun’s reign and that she had considerable influence over him.
Nefertiti mysteriously vanishes from historical records and is never mentioned again after 1336 BC. The most popular theory is that she died in the plague that was sweeping Egypt at the time. Her tomb in the Valley of the Kings was never completed and her body had not been found. She simply ceased to be a force in Egyptian history but her memory lives on in sculptures, reliefs and eulogies.
Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson 2004
Joyce Tyldesley, Nefertiti Egypt’s Sun Queen Penguin USA 1999
King Tut, Queen Nefertiti, and Their Incestuous Family Tree
If the investigations into King Tut's tomb reveal hidden rooms, could those chambers hold the burial of Nefertiti, the long-lost queen who is doubly connected to the teenage pharaoh? If so, they might add one more mummy to his intriguingly interwoven family ties.
More than a century of excavations in and around Egypt’s Valley of the Kings has revealed 64 tombs and other related chambers. The treasure-filled burial of King Tutankhamun, known now as KV62, is by far the most famous. But many other royal tombs and mummies from ancient Egypt's 18th and 19th Dynasties have also come to light.
Beginning in 2007, Egyptian scientists conducted genetic tests on 16 royal mummies. Those pictured here were identified as Tut's near and dear—his grandparents, his parents, his wife, and two mummified foetuses who were found in his tomb and were most likely his daughters.
But there's one legendary royal mummy from this period who’s missing, and whose name pops up every time there's a new discovery in this royal cemetery—the beautiful Queen Nefertiti. She was the principal wife of Akhenaten, Tut's father. Tut's mother was a different wife, whose name we don't know. That makes Nefertiti Tut's stepmother.
Tut's family ties are further complicated by the royal custom of incest during this period. Tut married his half sister Ankhesenamun, a daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaten. And that makes Nefertiti his mother-in-law.
Nefertiti's lone solo album, 1993's L.I.F.E. (Living in Fear of Extinction), fared better critically than commercially. Despite production from Guru and DJ Pooh, along with guest spots from King Tee,…
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Artist Biography by Andy Kellman
Nefertiti's lone solo album, 1993's L.I.F.E. (Living in Fear of Extinction), fared better critically than commercially. Despite production from Guru and DJ Pooh, along with guest spots from King Tee, DJ Premier, and MC Lyte, it failed to gather steam. The rapper's Islamic beliefs were instilled through her parents, who were both employed by Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad. Born in Chicago and transplanted to Los Angeles, Nefertiti was also a political activist, assisting Jim Brown's Amer-I-Can program and lecturing frequently within her community.
Nefertiti The Queen
Nefertiti, which translates, as “the beautiful one has come forth” was the wife of the controversial Pharaoh Akhenaten. Nefertiti is believed to have been the daughter of Ay, the vizier to king Amenhotep III. Nefertiti’s father Ay was a tutor to the future Amenhotep IV and may have introduced Nefertiti to the prince when they were still children.
She is thought to have grown up in the royal palace at Thebes and by the age of eleven was engaged to Amenhotep’s son, the eventual Amenhotep IV. Certainly Nefertiti and Mudnodjame her sister regularly appeared at the royal court at Thebes so the two would have encountered each other regularly.
Ancient images and inscriptions support the view that Nefertiti was devoted to the cult of Aten. However, as every Egyptian routinely followed his or her own devotions as part of their normal life, there is no reason to suggest Nefertiti was an early proponent of either monotheism or of elevating Aten above the other gods in the ancient pantheon competing for followers amongst the ancient Egyptian populace.
Even today, Nefertiti retains her almost magnetic attraction for controversy. In 2003 CE Joann Fletcher a British archaeologist identified a mummy known as the “Younger Lady as matching surviving descriptions of Nefertiti. The Discovery Channel subsequent broadcast of Fletcher’s theory assumed the identity of the queen’s mummy had been confirmed. Regrettably, this was not the case. Egypt subsequently banned Fletcher from working in the country for a time. It seems final resolution of the mummy’s identity awaits a future discovery.
In 2003 this controversy was reignited when the Neues Museum allowed Little Warsaw, two artists to position the bust on a bronze nude to illustrate how Nefertiti may have appeared in real life. This ill-judged decision prompted Egypt to renew its efforts to repatriate the bust. However, the bust resides in the Neues Museum where it has been safely ensconced since 1913. Nefertiti’s alluring bust continues to be one of the museum’s signature artworks and a star of its permanent collection.
Reflecting On The Past
Rarely does an ancient work of art strike such a resounding chord with contemporary audiences as Nefertiti’s bust has done. The irony is it was originally merely a prototype for Thutmose’s apprentices.
Header image courtesy: Zserghei [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Quest to find Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile
Nefertiti is one of the most famous queens of ancient Egypt, second only to Cleopatra. While many aspects of her life are well-documented, there are many mysteries surrounding her death and burial. While hundreds of royal mummies have already been recovered in Egypt, Nefertiti’s mummy has remained elusive.
Neferneferuaten Nefertiti lived from 1370 BC until 1340 BC. She was married to the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten, who gave her many titles, including: Great Royal Wife, Hereditary Princess, Great of Praises, Lady of Grace, Sweet of Love, Lady of The Two Lands, Great King’s Wife, Lady of all Women, and Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt. Nefertiti was known for being very beautiful, and her name means “the beautiful one has come.” While little is known about Nefertiti’s origins, it is believed that she was from an Egyptian town known as Akhmim and was closely related to a high official named Ay. Others believe Nefertiti came from a foreign country.
The Wilbour Plaque, Brooklyn Museum. Nefertiti is shown nearly as large as her husband, indicating her importance. Image source: Brooklyn Museum .
Nefertiti is well-known as one of the most powerful female leaders from ancient times. Akhenaten considered her to be an equal counterpart, and went to great lengths to ensure that others saw her as such. She is shown in reliefs smiting her enemies in battle, or wearing the pharaoh crown. However, about twelve years into Akhenaten’s reign, Nefertiti’s image disappeared from the depictions entirely. The reason for her disappearance is unknown, although there is speculation. Some say that Nefertiti died. Others say that she was elevated in status to be equal to the pharaoh, in which case she may have begun dressing like a man.
In 2012, the discovery of an inscription dating to Akhenaten’s reign may have answered some questions about what happened to Nefertiti. The badly legible text indicated that Nefertiti was alive in the second-to-last year of Akhenaten’s reign, and that she was not ruling at the level of a pharaoh at that time.
However, the greatest mystery surrounding Nefertiti to this day is the location of her mummified remains. There have been several mummies found that could potentially be the remains of Nefertiti, but none that have been conclusively identified.
In 1898, an archeologist named Victor Loret found two female mummies that could likely be the remains of Nefertiti. The two mummies were found inside the tomb of Amenhotep II in KV35 in the Valley of the Kings. The two mummies were named “The Elder Lady” and “The Younger Lady.” In 2001, it was suggested that The Elder Lady was, in fact, Nefertiti. This was based on evidence that the estimated age of death was around the late 30s or early 40s, which is in alignment with Nefertiti’s likely age upon death. Some also said that the face of the mummy matched busts of Nefertiti.
Tomb KV35 was found in the well-known Valley of the Kings. Image source .
Later tests suggested that the mummy was actually that of Akhenaten’s mother, Queen Tiye. This left open the possibility that “The Younger Lady” was Nefertiti. On June 9, 2003, archaeologist Joann Fletcher, a specialist in ancient hair from the University of York in England, announced that the “Younger Lady” showed a number of characteristics that pointed to it being Nefertiti. Fletcher referred to her doubled-pierced ear lobe, which was a "rare fashion statement in Ancient Egypt" a shaven head and the clear impression of a tight-fitting brow-band worn by royalty.
The remains of the "Elder Lady" and “Younger Lady”, along with an unknown male. Image source .
Fletcher's team claimed that the mummy they examined was damaged in a way suggesting the body had been deliberately desecrated in antiquity. Mummification techniques, such as the use of embalming fluid and the presence of an intact brain, are suggestive of an eighteenth dynasty royal mummy. Other features support the identification were the age of the body, the presence of embedded nefer beads, and a wig of a rare style worn by Nefertiti.
Could the mummy of the “Younger Lady” be Nefertiti?
However, most Egyptologists dismiss Fletcher's claims as unsubstantiated, stating that a mummy cannot be identified based on circumstantial evidence such as hairstyle or fashion features. The eighteenth dynasty was one of the largest and most prosperous dynasties of ancient Egypt, and a female royal mummy could belong to any number of the royal wives or daughters from the dynasty's more than 200 years on the throne. Therefore, in order to conclusively confirm whether the Younger Lady is indeed Nefertiti, detailed DNA analysis must be conducted, and this has not yet taken place.
The quest to find the famous queen highlights the fact that the desert sands of Egypt have not yet given up all their secrets.
Featured image: The iconic bust of Nefertiti, discovered by Ludwig Borchardt, is part of the Ägyptisches Museum Berlin collection, currently on display in the Altes Museum. Image Source .
History With Kids
So significant is the 1912 arrival of Nefertiti&rsquos bust in Berlin, this event has been included in the city&rsquos &lsquominiature history&rsquo at Little Big City Berlin. Understandably a great attraction with an accessible story of Berlin for children, but also an enjoyable experience for adults too.
A miniature representation of Ludwig Borchardt carrying a very recognisable bust of Nefertiti. Included in a reconstruction of a 1920s street in Berlin at Little Big City Berlin.
Visiting Berlin? If you are planning a trip to Berlin, check our List of Things to Do in Berlin.