Queen Nefertiti

 Queen Nefertiti

Queen Nefertiti

Arguably, to those who are not very involved in the study of ancient Egypt, Queen Nefertiti is perhaps better known than her husband, the heretic king Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV). It is said that even in the ancient world, her beauty was famous, and her famous statue, found in a sculptor's workshop, is not only one of the most recognizable icons of ancient Egypt, but also the topic of some modern controversy. She was more than a pretty face however, for she seems to have taken a hitherto unprecedented level of importance in the Amarna period of Egypt's 18th Dynasty. In artwork, her status is evident and indicates that she had almost as much influence as her husband. For example, she is depicted nearly twice as often in reliefs as her husband, at least during the first five years of his reign. Indeed, she is once even shown in the conventional pose of a pharaoh smiting his (or in this case, her) enemy.

Family Line  

Nefertiti may or may not have been of royal blood. She was probably a daughter of the army officer, and later pharaoh, Ay, who may in turn have been a brother of Queen Tiye. Ay sometimes referred to himself as "the God's father", suggesting that he may have been Akhenaten's father-in-law, though there is no specific references for this claim. However, Nefertiti's sister, Mutnojme, is featured prominently in the decorations of Ay's tomb in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank at Thebes (modern Luxor). However, while we know that Mutnojme was certainly the sister of Nefertiti, her prominence in Ay's tomb clearly does not guarantee her relationship to him. Others have suggested that Nefertiti may have been a daughter of Tiye, or that she was Akhenaten's cousin. Nevertheless, as "heiress", she may have also been a descendant of Ahmose-Nefertari, though she was never described as God's wife of Amun. However, she never lays claim to King's Daughter, so we certainly know that she cannot have been an heiress in the direct line of descent.
If she was indeed the daughter of Ay, it was probably not by his chief wife, Tey, who was not referred to as a "Royal mother of the chief wife of the king", but rather 'nurse' and 'governess' of the king's chief wife. It could be that Nefertiti's actual mother died early on, and it was left to Tey to raise the young girl. However, many other explanations have also been suggested.


Personal Life and the Relationship of King and Queen

Together, we know that Akhenaten and Nefertiti has six daughters, though it was probably with another royal wife called Kiya that the king sired his successors, Smenkhkare and Tutankhamun. Nefertiti also shared her husband with two other royal wives named Mekytaten and Ankhesenpaaten, as well as later with her probable daughter, Merytaten.

Undoubtedly, Akenaten seems to have had a great love for his Chief Royal wife. They were inseparable in early reliefs, many of which showed their family in loving, almost utopian compositions. At times, the king is shown riding with her in a chariot, kissing her in public and with her sitting on his knee. One eulogy proclaims her:
"And the Heiress, Great in the Palace, Fair of Face, Adorned with the Double Plumes, Mistress of Happiness, Endowed with Favors, at hearing whose voice the King rejoices, the Chief Wife of the King, his beloved, the Lady of the Two Lands, Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, May she live for Ever and Always"

Crucially important to Akhenaten was Femininity which was not only basic to his personal life, but also to his thinking and his faith. In fact, it is indeed difficult to find another founder of a religion for whom women played a comparable role. Akhenaten had a number of different women about him, and they are depicted in virtually every representation of a cult-ritual or state ceremony conducted by the king at his new capital honoring the sun god. Nefertiti was not the only queen to be treated well.
Each of the royal women had her own sanctuary, which was frequently called a sunshade temple. They were usually situated in a parkland environment of vegetation and water pools, emphasizing the importance of female royalty in the daily renewal of creation affected by the god Aten.

However, it was the figure of Nefertiti that Akhenaten had carved onto the four corners of his granite sarcophagus and it was she who provided the protection to his mummy, a role traditionally played by the female deities Isis, Nephthys, Selket and Neith.
One influence within the personal lives of Nefertiti and Akhenaten must have been the presence of Akhenaten's mother, Tiye. Tiye would have held a special position as a wise woman in his court, and we can only surmise that this must have had some affect on the younger couple's relationship.
Queen Tiye as the "wise woman" of El Amarna was often depicted with facial features that not only signaled old age, but life experience and wisdom calling for respect and even veneration.
When Nefertiti's face is represented with the first signs of old age, this may well signify that she has assumed the position of "wise woman" following the death of Tiye, at which point her court status would have been even further elevated.


The Religion
Nefertiti and her King lived during a highly unusual period in Egyptian history.
It was a time of religious controversy when the traditional gods of Egypt were more or less abandoned at least by the royal family in favor of a single god, the sun disk named Aten. However, it should be noted that the Egyptian religion did not actually become monotheistic, for cults related to the other gods did persist and they were never really erased from the Egyptian theology.

It is believed that Nefertiti was active in the religious and cultural changes initiated by her husband (some even maintain that it was she who initiated the new religion). She also had the position as a priest, and she was a devoted worshipper of the god Aten. In the royal religion, the King and Queen were viewed as "a primeval first pair". It was they who worshipped the sun disk named Aten and it was only through them that this god was accessed. Indeed, the remainder of the population was expected to worship the royal family, as the rays of the sun fell and gave life to, it would seem, only the royal pair.

However, many scholars presume that the Mutnodjme who later married King Haremhab is none other than the younger sister of Nefertiti. In Akhenaten: King of Egypt by Cyril Aldred, the author explains that a fragmentary statue of Mutnodjme discovered at Dendera describes her not only as "Chief Queen", but also "God's Wife [of Amun]", which he explains puts her in the line of
those other great consorts who traced their descent from Ahmose-Nefertari. This links both sisters to the cult of Amun, which he tells us could obviously not have been openly proclaimed at Amarna.

Yet we must be very careful with this link between Nefertiti and Amun by way of her sister's later attachment to the cult. Haremhab considered himself to be an adamant restorer of the old religion after the Amarna period, and so just because his Chief Queen took the title of God's Wife does not necessarily mean that Nefertiti held any real interest in that cult.
Doubtless though, Nefertiti may very well, and probably did participate in a similar manner as God's Wife in the cult of Re-Atum. Unlike other chief queens, she is shown taking part in the daily worship, repeating the same gestures and making similar offerings as the king. Where traditionally a relationship existed between God and King, now that relationship is expanded to include the royal pair.

She in fact exhibits the same fashion as God's Wife. From her first appearance at Karnak, she wears the same clinging robe tied with a red sash with the ends hanging in front. She also wears   the short rounded hairstyle. In her case, this was exemplified by a Nubian wig, the coiffure of her earlier years, alternating with a queens tripartite wig, both secured by a diadem bearing a double uraei. Sometimes this was replaced by a a crown with double plumes and a disk, like Tiye and her later Kushite counterparts.


She dressed for appeal, and if she fulfilled a similar function as God's wife of Amun in the Amarna religion, part of this responsibility would have been to maintain a state of perpetual arousal. However, since the Aten was intangible and abstract, this appeal must be to his son the king. Ay praises her for "joining with her beauty in propitiating the Aten with her sweet voice and her fair hands holding the sistrums".
In fact, as the wife of the sun god's offspring, she took on the role of Tefnut, who was the daughter and wife of Atum. After the fourth regal year, she began to wear a mortar-shaped cap that was the headgear of Tefnut in her leonine aspect of a sphinx. She was then referred to as "Tefnut herself", at once the daughter and the wife of the sun-god. Therefore, Nefertiti played an equal role with the king who was the image of Re.
Of course, as a god, no mortal could claim to be her mother, which may be the reason why Tey must content herself with the titles of "Wet-nurse" and "Governess"  In fact, it may have been that she hid her parentage to conceal the fact that the progenitors of this high and mighty princess were not also equally divine.

Nefertiti's Disappearance
Towards the end of Akhenaten's reign, Nefertiti disappeared from historical Egyptian records. For a number of years, scholars though that she had fallen from grace with the king, but this was actually a case of mistaken identity. It was Kiya's name and images that were removed from monuments, and replaced by those of Meryetaten, one of Akhenaten's daughters. It has been suggested, though there is no hard supporting evidence, that by year twelve of Akhenaten's reign, and after bearing him a son and possibly a further daughter, Kiya became too much of a rival to Nefertiti and that it was she who caused Kiya's disgrace.
It is possible that Nefertiti disappearance a number of years after that of Kiya's simply meant that she died around the age of thirty, though there are controversies on this matter as well. It may not be simple coincidence that, shortly after Nefertiti's disappearance from the archaeological record, Akhenaten took on a co-regent with whom he shared the throne of Egypt. This co-regent has been a matter of considerable speculation and controversy, with a whole range of theories. One such theory puts forward the idea that the co-regent was none other than Nefertiti herself in a new guise as a female king following the lead of women such as Sobkneferu and Hatshepsut. Another theory is that there were actually two co-regents, consisting of a male son named Smenkhkare, and Nefertiti under the name Neferneferuaten, both of whom adopted the prenomen, Ankhkheperure. Undoubtedly, like her husband who was originally named Amenhotep, she too took the new name, Neferneferuaten to honor the Aten (Neferneferuaten can be translated as "The Aten is radiant of radiance [because] the beautiful one is come" or "Perfect One of the Aten's Perfection"). Indeed, she may have even changed her name prior to her husband doing so, but rather this means she also served as co-regent is questionable.

Some scholars are considerably adamant about Nefertiti assuming the role of co-regent, and even serving as king for a short time after the death of Akhenaten. One such individual is Jacobus Van Dijk, responsible for the Amarna section of the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. He believes that Nefertiti indeed became co-regent with her husband, and that her role as queen consort was taken over by her eldest daughter, Meryetaten (Meritaten). If this is true, then Nefertiti may have even taken up residence in Thebes, as evidenced by a graffito dated to year three in the reign of Neferneferuaten mentioning a "Mansion of Ankhkheperure". If so, there could have been an attempt made at reconciliation with the old cults. He also suggests that Smenkhkare might have also been Nefertiti, ruling after the death of her husband, with her own daughter acting in a ceremonial role of "Great Royal Wife".

However, other scholars are equally adamant against Nefertiti ever having been a co-regent or ruling after her husband's death. In his book, Akhenaten: King of Egypt, Cyril Aldred references a funerary objected called a shawabti. On it was inscribed:

"The Heiress, high and mighty in the palace, one trusted [of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt (Neferkheperure, Wa'enre), the son of Re (Akhenaten), Great in] his Lifetime, the Chief Wife of the King (Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti), Living for Ever and Ever." 


Aldred claims that this shawabti, according to the above inscription, can only belong to Nefertiti, and not, as some scholars argue, a donation by her to Akhenaten's burial. Presumably, this object was made after the queen's death as it was the custom during this period to make such objects during the embalming process.

Aldred also maintains that is was the custom in orthodox funerary benedictions to follow the name of the deceased with maet kheru (justified). Akhenaten rejected this practice as part of his new religion, but even so, two of his own shawabti were nevertheless inscribed with phrase after his own death. However, even though the phrase returns to favor immediately after Akhenaten's death, it is absent from Nefertiti's shawabti, evidencing her death during his reign.

He also notes that the shawabti represents her as a queen regnant, and not as a co-regent in male attire. Though this single piece of evidence seems somewhat scanty, he believes that Nefertiti died during year 14 of Akhenanten's reign.

If he is indeed correct that Nefertiti died during the reign of her husband, his dating is probably correct. Nefertiti is depicted on a number of reliefs including that of her second daughter's burial, who is believed to have died during the thirteenth year of Akhenanten's reign. However, that is the last that we see of the queen. This is also about the time (year 14)  that dockets for delivery of wine from the estate of Nefertiti also cease, so the presumption by Aldred is that Nefertiti must have died sometime very near Akhenaten's 14th year as king.

Recent Controversy
Nefertiti is perhaps best remembered for the painted limestone bust depicting her. Many consider it one of the greatest works of art of the pre-modern world.

Sometimes known as the Berlin bust, it was found in the workshop of the famed sculptor Thutmose. This bust depicts her with full lips enhanced by a bold red. Although the crystal inlay is missing from her left eye, both eyelids and brows are outlined in black. Her graceful elongated neck balances the tall, flat-top crown which adorns her sleek head. The vibrant colors of the her necklace and crown contrast the yellow-brown of her smooth skin. While everything is sculpted to perfection, the one flaw of the piece is a broken left ear. Because this remarkable sculpture is still in existence, it is no wonder why Nefertiti remains 'The Most Beautiful Woman in the World.'

However, the bust plays a part in one recent controversy. For more than eight decades, the serenely beautiful likeness of Queen Nefertiti's head has been the most celebrated exhibit in Berlin's Egyptian Museum, attracting thousands of visitors and resisting all attempts at repatriation.
But a conceptual artwork involving the 3,300-year-old limestone bust and the body of a scantily clad woman has provoked outrage in the queen's homeland and the accusation that Nefertiti is no longer safe in Germany.
The artwork is the brainchild of a Hungarian duo called Little Warsaw, and involved lowering the head of Nefertiti on to the headless bronze statue of a woman wearing a tight-fitting transparent robe.

This angered a number of officials in Egypt for several reasons. First of all, it must be remembered that Egypt is a rather conservative society and the attachment of Nefertiti's head to an almost nude statue was seen as an affront to Egyptian sensibilities. However, it was also pointed out by some Egyptian Egyptologists that such a display might give rise to some damage to the bust.

Irregardless, this controversy is probably short lived. The display apparently only lasted for a few hours and so the controversy has largely been mitigated at this point.

A recent, more enduring controversy surrounding Nefertiti is the possible discovery of her mummy, or at least the new identification of a previously known mummy. Soon after the incident involving Nefertiti's bust, Joanne Fletcher, a noted mummification expert from the University of York in England, announced that she and her team may have identified the actual mummy of the queen.
Back in 1898, the French Egyptologist Victor Loret excavated the tomb of Amenhotep II on the Theban necropolis and came upon a remarkable find. This was the first tomb ever opened in which the Pharaoh was still in his original resting place, and, moreover, eleven other mummies were also discovered in a sealed chamber in the tomb. All but three of these mummies, due to their critical state of preservation, were transferred to the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo.

One of the three mummies that were left behind became known among Egyptologists as the "Younger Lady" and since then Egyptologists have swayed between believing this corpse to be either Nefertiti or Princess Sitamun, a daughter of Amenhotep III. Fletcher was drawn to the tomb during an expedition in June 2002 after identifying a Nubian style wig worn by royal women during Akhenaten's reign. She also pointed to other clues that suggest that this mummy might indeed be Nefertiti, such as a doubled- pierced ear lobe, which she claims was a rare fashion statement in Ancient Egypt; a shaven head; and the clear impression of the tight-fitting brow-band worn by royalty. "Think of the tight-fitting, tall blue crown worn by Nefertiti, something that would have required a shaven head to fit properly," said Fletcher.

"There is a puzzle," she conceded, and explained that in 1907, when Egyptologist Grafton Elliot Smith first examined the three mummies, he reported that the Younger Lady was lacking a right arm. Nearby, however, he had found a detached right forearm, bent at the elbow and with clenched fingers. She said that the mummy had deteriorated badly; that the skull was pierced with a large hole, and the chest hacked away. Worse still, the face, which would otherwise have been excellently preserved, had been cruelly mutilated, the mouth and cheek no more than a gaping hole. Further examination using cutting- edge Canon digital X-ray machinery, the team spotted jewelry within the smashed chest cavity of the mummy. They also noticed a woman's severed arm beneath the remaining wrappings. The arm was bent at the elbow in Pharaonic style with its fingers still clutching a long-vanished royal scepter.

Following Discovery Channel's coverage of the events, the identification of the Younger Lady's mummy as Nefertiti immediately attracted an eager audience and made headlines around the world. But Egyptologists are not so convinced. In fact, they are divided into two schools of thought. Salima Ikram, author of The Mummy in Ancient Egypt: Equipping the Dead for Eternity, sees the identification as "interesting" and one that will doubtless cause endless speculation.

Others express doubt that the remains are those of the legendary queen of beauty. Egyptologist Susan James, who trained at Cambridge University and who spent a long time studying the three mummies, told Discovery Channel, who financed the expedition, " What we know about mummy 61072 would indicate that it is one of the young females of the late 18th dynasty, very probably a member of the royal family. However, physical evidence known and published prior to this expedition indicates the unlikelihood of this being the mummy of Nefertiti. Without any comparative DNA studies, statements of certainty are wishful thinking."

For his part, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Zahi Hawass totally refutes the idea, and describes it as "pure fiction". He accuses Fletcher of lacking in experience, as "a new PhD recipient", and that Fletcher's theory was not based on facts or solid evidence, "only on facial resemblance between the mummy and Nefertiti's bust, and on artistic representations of the Amarna period in which the queen lived".

Hawass asserted, moreover, that the physical resemblance is not significant, "because all the statues of the Amarna era have the same characteristics. Amarna art was idealistic and not realistic," he said, and pointed out that in the Egyptian Museum, there were five of six mummies with the same characteristics. Mamdouh El-Damati, director of the Egyptian Museum, mentioned that this theory was not new, this being the second time that a claim to have discovered Nefertiti's mummy within this group of mummies had been made.

So controversy swirls around Nefertiti as surely as it always has, and probably always might. At best, perhaps someday we may know more about this intriguing queen, but until then we can only make guesses about her life, as well as her remains.


King Akhetaten

 King  Akhetaten

His father  : Amenhotep III
His Mother:       Tiy  
His Wives : Nefertiti, Merytaten, Kiya, Mekytaten, Ankhesenpaaten 
His Son  :     Tutankhamun 
His Daughters :      Merytaten, Mekytaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Merytaten-tasherit and others  

Burial : Akhetaten (el-Amarna); subsequently ? Valley of the Kings (Thebes)

Amenhotep IV-better known as Akhenaten, the new name he took early on in his reign-ushered in a revolutionary period in Egyptian history. The Amarna Interlude, as it is often called, saw the removal of the seat of government to a short-lived new capital city, Akhetaten (modern el-Amarna), the introduction of a new art style, and the elevation of the cult of the sun disc, the Aten, to pre-eminent status in Egyptian religion. This last heresy in particular was to bring down on Akhenaten and his immediate successors the opprobrium of later kings.

The young prince was at least the second son of Amenhotep III by his chief wife, Tiy: an elder brother, prince Tuthmosis, had died prematurely (strangely, a whip bearing his name was found in Tutankhamun's tomb). There is some controversy over whether or not the old king took his son into partnership on the throne in a co-regency there are quite strong arguments both for and against A point in favor of a co-regency is the appearance during the latter years of Amenhotep III's reign of artistic styles that are subsequently seen as part of the 'revolutionary' Amarna art introduced by Akhenaten; on the other hand, both 'traditional' and 'revolutionary' Art styles could easily have coexisted during the early years of Akhenaten's reign. At any rate, if there had been a co-regency, it would not have been for longer than the short period before the new king assumed his preferred name of Akhenaten ('Servant of the Aten') in Year 5.

The beginning of Akhenaten's reign marked no great discontinuity with that of his predecessors. Not only was he crowned at Karnak (temple of the god Amun) but, like his father  he married a lady of non-royal blood, Nefertiti, the daughter of the vizier Ay. Ay seems to have been a brother of Queen Tiy (Anen was another) and a son of Yuya and Tuya. Nefertiti's mother is not known; she may have died in childbirth or shortly afterwards, since Nefertiti seems to have been brought up by another wife of Ay named Tey, who would then be her stepmother.

The cult of the Aten

The tenth king of the 18th Dynasty was perhaps the most controversial because of his break with traditional religion. Some say that he was the most remarkable king to sit upon Egypt’s throne. There can be little doubt that the new king was far more of a thinker and philosopher than his forebears.  Akhenaten was traditionally raised by his parents, Amenhotep III and Queen Tiy (1382-1344 B.C.) by worshipping Amen. Akhenaten, however, preferred Aten, the sun god that was worshipped in earlier times.  Amenhotep III had recognized the growing power of the priesthood of Amun and had sought to curb it; his son was to take the matter a lot further by introducing a new monotheistic cult of sun-worship that was incarnate in the sun's disc, the Aten.  When early in his reign he changed his name to Akhenaten, meaning “He Who is of Service to Aten”, he also renamed his queen to Nefer-Nefru-Aten, which is “Beautiful is the Beauty of Aten.”

This detail from two adjacent blocks found at Hermopolis shows a very different aspect 
of Nefertiti, within a small cabin at the stern of the ship, smiting a captive with 
upraised mace Boston Museum

This was not in itself a new idea: as a relatively minor aspect of the sun god Re-Harakhte, the Aten had been venerated in the Old Kingdom and a large scarab of Akhenaten's grandfather Tuthmosis IV (now in the British Museum) has a text that mentions the Aten. Rather, Akhenaten's innovation was to worship the Aten in its own right. Portrayed as a solar disc whose protective rays terminated in hands holding the ankh hieroglyph for life, the Aten was accessible only to Akhenaten, thereby obviating the need for an intermediate priesthood.

At first, the king built a temple to his god Aten immediately outside the east gate of the temple of Amun at Karnak, but clearly the coexistence of the two cults could not last. He therefore proscribed the cult of Amun, closed the god's temples, took over the revenues.  He then sent his officials around to destroy Amen’s statues and to desecrate the worship sites.

These actions were so contrary to the traditional that opposition arose against him. The estates of the great temples of Thebes, Memphis and Heliopolis reverted to the throne. Corruption grew out of the mismanagement of such large levies. To make a complete break, in Year 6 the king and his queen, left Thebes behind and moved to a new capital in Middle Egypt, half way between Memphis and Thebes. It was a virgin site, not previously dedicated to any other god or goddess, and he named it Akhetaten-The Horizon of the Aten. Today the site is known as el-Amarna.

A lime stone slab, with traces of the draughtsman's grid still on it, found in the Royal Tomb of Amarna. Its style is characteristic of the early period of Akhenaten's reign. The king is accompanied by Nefertiti and just two of their daughters, but this does not necessarily indicate that these are the eldest, since others of the six may have been omitted Cairo Museum

In the tomb of Ay, the chief minister of Akhenaten (and later to become king after Tutankhamun's death), occurs the longest and best rendition of a composition known as the 'Hymn to the Aten', said to have been written by Akhenaten himself. Quite moving in itself as a piece of poetry, its similarity to, and possible source of the concept in, Psalm 104 has long been noted.

It sums up the whole ethos of the Aten cult and especially the concept that only Akhenaten had access to the god: 'Thou arisest fair in the horizon of Heaven, 0 Living Aten, Beginner of Life…there is none who knows thee save thy son Akhenaten. Thou hast made him wise in thy plans and thy power.'

No longer did the dead call upon Osiris to guide them through the after-world, for only through their adherence to the king and his intercession on their behalf could they hope to live beyond the grave.
According to present evidence, however, it appears that it was only the upper echelons of society which embraced the new religion with any fervor (and perhaps that was only skin deep). Excavations at Amarna have indicated that even here the old way of religion continued among the ordinary people. On a wider scale, throughout Egypt, the new cult does not seem to have had much effect at a common level except, of course, in dismantling the priesthood and closing the temples; but then the ordinary populace had had little to do with the religious establishment anyway, except on the high days and holidays when the god's statue would be carried in procession from the sanctuary outside the great temple walls.

The standard bureaucracy continued its endeavors to run the country while the king courted his god. Cracks in the Egyptian empire may have begun to appear in the later years of the reign of Amenhotep III; at any rate they became more evident as Akhenaten increasingly left government and diplomats to their own devices. Civil and military authority came under two strong characters: Ay, who held the title 'Father of the God' (and was probably Akhenaten's father-in-law), and the general Horemheb (also Ay's son-in-law since he married Ay's daughter Mutnodjme, sister of Nefertiti). Both men were to become pharaoh before the 18th Dynasty ended.This redoubtable pair of closely related high officials no doubt kept everything under control in a discreet manner while Akhenaten pursued his own philosophical and religious interests.

A new artistic style
It is evident from the art of the Amarna period that the court officially emulated the king's unusual physical characteristics. Thus individuals such as the young princesses are endowed with elongated skulls and excessive adiposity, while Bek-the Chief Sculptor and Master of Works-portrays himself in the likeness of his king with pendulous breasts and protruding stomach. On a stele now in Berlin Bek states that he was taught by His Majesty and that the court sculptors were instructed to represent what they saw. The result is a realism that breaks away from the rigid formality of earlier official depictions, although naturalism is very evident in earlier, unofficial art.

The power behind the throne?
Although the famous bust of Nefertiti in Berlin, the queen is not subject to quite the same extremes as others in Amarna art, by virtue of being elegantly female.Indeed, there are several curious aspects of Nefertiti's representations. In the early years of Akhenaten's reign, for instance, Nefertiti was an unusually prominent figure in official art, dominating the scenes carved on blocks of the temple to the Aten at Karnak. One such block shows her in the age-old warlike posture of pharaoh grasping captives by the hair and smiting them with a mace hardly the epitome of the peaceful queen and mother of six daughters. Nefertiti evidently played a far more prominent part in her husband's rule than was the norm.

The sandstone building slab (talatat) shows Akhenaten wearing the Red Crown and offering to the Aten's disk, whose descending rays extend the Ankh sign of life to him.

Private collection Tragedy seems to have struck the royal family in about Year 12 with the death in childbirth of Nefertiti's second daughter, Mekytaten; it is probably she who is shown in a relief in the royal tomb with her grief-stricken parents beside her supine body, and a nurse standing nearby holding a baby. The father of the infant was possibly Akhenaten, since he is also known to have married two other daughters, Merytaten (not to be confused with Mekytaten) and Akhesenpaaten (later to become Tutankhamun's wife).

An unfinished quartize head of Nefertiti, showing the draughtsman's guide lines, found in the workshops at Amarna Cairo Museum

Nefertiti appears to have died soon after Year 12, although some suggest that she was disgraced because her name was replaced in several instances by that of her daughter Merytaten, who succeeded her as 'Great Royal Wife'. The latter bore a daughter called Merytaten-tasherit (Merytaten the Younger), also possibly fathered by Akhenaten. Merytaten was to become the wife of Smenkhkare, Akhenaten's brief successor. Nefertiti was buried in the royal tomb at Amarna, judging by the evidence of a fragment of an alabaster ushabti figure bearing her cartouche found there in the early 1930s.

The king's resting place
Akhenaten died c. 1334, probably in his 16th reignal year.Evidence found by Professor Geoffrey Martin during re-excavation of the royal tomb at Amarna showed that blocking had been put in place in the burial chamber, suggesting that Akhenaten was buried there initially. Others do not believe that the tomb was used, however, in view of the heavily smashed fragments of his sarcophagus and canopic jars recovered from it, and also the shattered examples of his ushabtis-found not only in the area of the tomb but also by Petrie in the city.

Amongst the distinctly 18th Dynasty jewelry found cached outside the Royal Tomb at Amarna the small gold ring with Nefertiti cartouche is particularly significant.
Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh

What is almost certain is that his body did not remain at Amarna. A burnt mummy seen outside the royal tomb in the 1880s, and associated with jewelry from the tomb (including a small gold finger ring with Nefertiti's cartouche, was probably Coptic, as was other jewelry nearby. Akhenaten's adherents would not have left his body to be despoiled by his enemies once his death and the return to orthodoxy unleashed a backlash of destruction. They would have taken it to a place of safety and where better to hide it than in the old royal burial ground at Thebes where enemies would never dream of seeking it? It has been suggested that he was buried in tomb KV55, though other possibilities are also likely.

Tell El-Amarna

Tell El-Amarna

Tell El-Amarna was formally known as Akhetaten. The new name came from a local village called El- Till. The word Amarna came from the Bedouin tribe that settled in this village. The word Tell, in Arabic, means a mound or a small hill. But interestingly enough, Tel El-Amarna is a flat piece of land beside the Nile Valley. The ancient name, Akhetaten, means the horizon of the solar disk. It is very similar to the meaning of Amun Dwelt at Thebes, Ptah at Memphis and other gods at their favored places. King Akhenaten offered this place to be the home for his god Aton. The area is a plain field, separated from the Nile Valley by a strip of palm trees. It stretches 12 kilometers from north to south. The area is covered mostly with sand and outlined with ruins of temples, palaces and houses that archeologists discovered or are trying to find. Some tourists considered it one of the most romantic places they have ever seen because of the silence and the peaceful beauty that the area gained through the centuries.

The Tombs

There are more than twenty five tombs facing the base of the cliff front. Six tombs are located at the north side near Darb El-Malik. Nineteen of them are located at the south side. If you are going to navigate through the tombs, we do recommend a tour guide to be with you for safety reasons. These tombs were built highly complicated to protect them from the thieves, therefore a visitor could get lost. Most of the tombs start with an open court that leads to three chambers. Some of the tombs are decorated with papyrus columns that meet at a recess in the rear end which have a statue of the deceased looking toward the entrance. The famous lyrics of the Hymn to the Sun, which was composed by Akhenaten, is always found in the decorations of each tomb. The following section describes the famous tombs located in Tel El-Amarna.


Ay's Tomb

This is considered to be the finest tomb remaining in the necropolis. The drawings show Ay and his wife receiving gold collars from Akhenaten and Nefertiti while the surrounding crowd seems cheerful by this honor. There are some descriptive scenes for the streets of ancient Akhetaten which are closely observed and described. Other drawings describe a few intimate moments in the palace of Ay; a woman of the harem having her hair done, other girls are playing the harp and dancing, while others clean the house and prepare the food. In the same temple, the most complete and correct version of the Hymn to the Sun is decorating the right hand side of the doorway.

Huya's Tomb

Huya, or Yuya, was the steward of Queen Tiyi, the queen mother and wife of Amenhotep III. A Royal banquet is located to the left and right of the main hall. The banquet contains drawings for the king, queen and their children. One of the walls has a drawing for the king accompanying his Queen Tiyi to the Sunshade temple that was erected for her.

Meri-re II

Meri-re II was the superintendent of the palace of Queen Nefertiti. A unique drawing on the right wall features a celebration to honor leaders from other countries that brought some exotic gifts to the Queen. The visitors are shown in their native dresses. Other drawings show the celebration and the Pharaoh's hospitality.

Meri-re I

He was a high rank priest of Aton. A table full of offerings including a beautiful representation of a colorful rainbow is drawn on the left hand wall of the main chamber below the Aton disk. On the right hand wall, a scene of the Aton Temple which shows a depiction of the Akhetaten harbor, the palaces and the gardens of the ancient city.


He was the chief servitor of the Aton in Akhetaten. The facade that decorated the outside of his tomb is still preserved. A group of Aton worshippers are featured on the top of the outer lintel of the entrance. The group of the featured Aton Disk worshipers include the king's sister and two of her servants. In the corridor walls of the tomb, the deceased is featured as an elderly man sitting beside his daughter.

El Amarna

 El Amarna


 Amarna or el-Amarna today was the city of Akhetaten (The Horizon of the Aten). It was created by Egypt's heretic king, Akhenaten for his revolutionary religion that worshiped Aten during the Amarna Period.

The ancient capital of Akhetaten lies some 365 miles south of Cairo in a natural amphitheater between inhospitable cliffs. This narrow opening exists for some twelve kilometers along the Nile River and has a half rounded depth of about five kilometers.

This is the place where, in about the fifth year of the king's reign, we are told that by divine inspiration, Akhenaten build his capital.

The History of Discovery

The site was unknown to the European travelers other than its name, which was a village called Et Til el-Amarna. Early visitors misunderstood its name, so it became to be known as Tell el-Amarna, though there are not a single tell, or great mound marking the ancient site.

Even though John Gardner Wilkinson initially investigated the site in 1824, and soon returned with James Burton to further examine the tombs located at el-Amarna, they had at that time no idea of the its significance. It was only during this general time frame that Champollion made his initial discoveries on Egyptian writing, and so the two early explorers were unable to read the names and inscriptions they encountered on this expedition. In fact, they identified the site as Roman Alabastronopolis from a nearby alabaster quarry.

Later, Robert Hay investigated the site not only examining all the open tombs, but clearing others from beneath extensive drifts of sand. However, as was the work of Wilkinson and Burton before him, was never published. Others would also come to el-Amarna, and would also fell to publish their work, though most of their efforts are available in various museums today.

Nevertheless, due to the unique decorations in the tombs at el-Amarna, many showing the activities of the royal family not in the formal attitudes of worship repeated so often in other tombs, but in intimate and vivid detail as human beings engaged in everyday domestic affairs, scholars continued to visit the site. There was also a prevailing mystery. In fact, because of the depictions that we know understand represent Akhenaten and Nefertiti, these early explorers wondered whether this was not the home of two queens, because of the almost feminine physique of the king.

Even as the ability to read hieroglyphics spread amongst the early Egyptologists, discovering the nature of this site remained elusive. So thoroughly had the ancient Egyptians, aided afterwards by the early Christians, destroyed this place that it was not easy to find an intact cartouche bearing the name of the king or queen for whom it was built. Even when they did find cartouches, they were larger than those of other pharaohs, and surrounded by a double border. Furthermore, the signs within these were complex and difficult to interpret, but were evidently the same as those which accompanied a representation of the Sun god, Re-Horakhty found on a few monuments elsewhere.

It was finally Richard Lepsius, a disciple of Champollion and doubtless the foremost Egyptologists of his day, who came to el-Amarna to record inscriptions and take paper squeezes of the reliefs and afterwards, publish his work. This work allowed scholars to finally make advances in their understanding of the city and its king, who they initially read as Khuenaten. Now, more than a century of study has given us this king's correct name, Akhenaten, as well as revealing many of the mysteries that once surrounded the site.

The General Area

The plan of the area of el-Amarna

Located on the eastern side of the Nile River, El-Amarna, like all other ancient Egyptian capitals, was made up of temples, government establishments, utilitarian facilities such as grain silos and bakeries, palaces and common mudbrick homes, several necropolises, as well as a number of zoos, gardens and other public buildings. In fact, the scope of this city is somewhat amazing if one considers that it was founded in about 1350 BC and abandoned only some twenty years later. The population of the city has been estimated to have been between twenty and fifty thousand inhabitants.

The area of the city and its surrounding property was fixed by copies of decrees carved on fourteen tablets embedded in the cliffs on either side of the river. Hence, these stone slabs are known by Egyptologists as boundary stelae. They not only encompass the city itself, but also fields and villages on the west bank. The most impressive of these today is Stela U, which measures about 7.6 meters from top to bottom and occupies almost the entire height of the cliff in a little bay to the north of the entrance to the Royal Wadi. At the base of this Stela on both sides are the remains of a group of carved statues of the Royal Family.

These stelae give a vivid account of the king's selection and dedication of the site for his capital, following instructions from his father Aten when he illuminated a certain spot on the desert at sunrise. Much of the western side of the area, including houses, harbors and the main palace of the king, was obscured under the modern cultivation. However, there are a large number of structures that have been preserved in the desert to the east, and in general, most of the layout is discernable from foundations.

The area is divided into suburbs, with the so-called "central city" housing the Royal Palace and The Great Temple (The Per-Aten), as well as various buildings archaeologists have labeled official (police, taxes...). It is here in one such building, the 'records office', that the Amarna Letters were found by a peasant woman. This area of Amarna was completely excavated in the 1930s. The other residential areas consist of the North City or Suburb, the Main or South City, and the worker's village.

The central City was apparently carefully planned, while the other residential zones where not. In these other areas, the spaces between the earliest large houses was gradually filled up with smaller clusters of homes.

The Central City

There was an ancient road that led in from the north to the Central City, which took an identical path to the modern road of today. It is the central city that the scenes in the North Tombs depict, though the layout of this part of the area requires time and patience to follow now due to decay. Within a generation of Akhenaten's reign, most of the building material was removed, leaving mud brickwork that is now mostly gone.

The chronology of the buildings here can be fairly well determined. The Chapel in the Great Temple and the royal estate were built first, followed closely between year six and nine by the temenos wall of the Great Temple and its sanctuary, replacing the earlier chapel. The palace was begun but never completed.

The main street here is the Royal Road which is a modern name. It comes from the south and passes through the old South City moving into the Central City between the official palace and the royal estate, where it is spanned by a bridge and broadens into a square in front of the entrance facade of the Great Temple. To the east runs the West Road, continuing the High Priest Street of the South City and passing by the Records Office and stopping at the temple magazines.

Layout of the Central City

The city was dissected by two east-west streets that met the West road. The southern one stretches between the king's house and the small temple and then the records office and the clerks' houses to the south and reaches the army headquarters. The second street passes to the north of the royal estate along the southern side of the magazines. This entire district was deserted in the third year of Tutankhamun's reign.

The Temples

Here, we find the Great Aten Temple as well the Small Aten Temple. Temples at Amarna are considerably different then most cult temples of ancient Egypt. They were, of course, solar temples, with the essential elements consisting of a small obelisk on a high base and an altar. Though solar temples had been built during the Old Kingdom, the worship of the Aten did not require the equipment and architectural elements found in these older establishments, with the exception of the altar. There was no need for a naos because there is no deity to be sheltered.

However, some temple elements are essential. These attributes include a general rectangular plan enclosed within a tremenos wall which is symmetrically about a longitudinal axis and orientation with the facade facing the west. There are also the pylons as entrance fronts to courts together with a circuitous entrance to conceal the interior from the eyes of the uninitiated. There must also be a slaughter court, the altar and trees flanking the entrance approach. Most of these features, which had been characteristic of Egyptian Temples since Archaic Period, could not easily be absent even at Amarna.

The most basic element of an Aten temple is the altar, to which a ramp or stairway ascends from the west in the middle of the court, surrounded by a temenos wall. The altar platform could occasionally be surrounded by a wall and fronted with a porch. Some also could be abutted by four ramps oriented toward the cardinal points. The altar was usually surrounded by rows of offering tables. The court housing the altar could also be preceded by another court or more.

The Great Temple of the Aten

The Great Aten Temple is on the northern edge of the Central City. It is partly covered over by the modern cemetery of el-Till. The enclosure wall for this temple extended back from the modern road for some 750 meters, and is now represented by a low, straight ridge. Within, the sanctuary was very similar to that in the Small Aten Temple and is marked by a group of isolated rubble heaps near the back.


There is a long, low mound to the south of the temple running east-west with visible broken pottery. This pottery is actually broken bread moulds, and the line marks the site of the central bakeries.

The Bridge

At the end of this ridge is the massive foundations for a bridge that crossed the so called Royal Road in front of the King's House by means of brick piers. There remains some ancient timbers that once bound the brickwork together. On the far side of the road was the Great Palace, consisting of a complex of courts and halls of which only foundations remain.

The Small Temple of the Aten

In recent years, some consolidation and restoration has been carried out at the Small Aten Temple. This included the erection of a replica column. A prominent brick enclosure wall also remains, which was once strengthened by towers on the outside. There are brick pylons at the entrance, and others which subdivided the interior of this building. In the back of the temple stood the sanctuary originally built of limestone and sandstone.

This temple had a foundation layer of gypsum that is now covered over by sand. However, modern stone blocks have been laid atop the sand in order to provide the basic outlines of this temple.

A circular walk beginning at the middle of the north side of this small temple's enclosure wall reveals other parts of the Central City. There is a tall ridge of sand and some rubble that runs northward from across the street through the middle of a small palace built of mud brick. Known as the King's House, it probably accommodated the Royal Family on their visits from their North Palace. Behind the King's House and the Small Aten Temple (further from the Nile River) were a group of government buildings built of mud brick. This is actually where the famous Amarna Letters were discovered by a peasant lady in 1888.

The Main City Sometimes Known as the South Suburb

Southwards from the Small Aten Temple is The Main City, which was the principal residential area of the ancient city that ran south to the vicinity of the modern village of el-Hagg Qandil. It was the part of the city occupied by the most important people (other than the king), including the vizier Nakht, the high priest Panehsy, the priest Pawah, General Ramose, the architect Manekhtawitf and the sculptor Tuthmosis (Thutmose). Probably connected to this quarter was a river temple, still in use under Ramesses III and even later through perhaps the 26th Dynasty.

It was probably laid out just after the Central City. There is a platform here built in order to allow visitors to view the interior of one of the private houses which has been cleared and repaired in recent years. Though probably a senior official, the owner of the house is unknown. Here, there are also the ruins of grain silos.

Further south, roughly half way between el-Hagg Qandil and the desert edge of the site on the edge of the Main City, the famous bust of Nefertiti was discovered in Thutmose's workshop.

Elsewhere the city has grown up, as cities will, in an irregular haphazard way, as citizens erected buildings where they felt it was convenient. Some suggest Akhenaten lacked the resources to control the rapid growth of his new city and regulate its plan (other Egyptian cities are much more carefully laid out).

North Suburb

The North Suburb is separated from the Central City by a depression. It was apparently dominantly inhabited by essentially a middle-class including a strong mercantile component. It was not begun until the middle of Akhenaten's reign and was abruptly abandoned, apparently at the end of his reign. Afterwards, apparently the houses were re-inhabited by those who could not afford to travel back to Thebes after the end of the Amarna Period.

There were large estates built here initially between the West and East roads, and subsequently middle class houses and slums which apparently even blocked the streets were added.

The North Palace (Palace of Nefertiti)

Still further north is the North Palace that the locals call "The Palace of Nefertiti" (Kasr Nefertiti). This was a self contained residence built along three sides of a long open space, which itself was divided by a wall and pylon. The residential part had gardens and reception rooms with columns along its rear. In the northeast corner is the most famous part of this residence, consisting of a garden court. A central chamber on the north side, known as the "Green Room", was painted with a continuous frieze representing the natural life of the marshes. Each room has a window from which the sunk central garden could be viewed. In recent years, the walls have been somewhat restored and some of the missing column bases have been replaced with modern replicas. There were animal pens further to the west on the north side and also a court containing three solar altars, of which nothing now exits but their foundations. This palace was probably originally built for one of Akhenaten's major queens, but was later converted for use by Princess Meritaten.

The North City

Farther to the north where the cultivation ends at the cliffs there is also a North City, which was a separate residential area that served a major palace known as the North Riverside Palace. The palace itself is located just north of the residential area. This was probably the main residence for Akhenaten's family. Most of this is now gone, but there is a length of a massive brick enclosure wall pierced by a huge gateway at the palace.

The Desert Altars

On the road to the North Tombs, one passes a watchmen's house, and a short distance to the west and north of this lie the remains of three large mud-brick solar altars in the form of square platforms with ramps that are known as the Desert Altars. The northernmost of these had four ramps of well-rammed sand and probably an altar in the center.

The Necropolises

The necropolis consists of more than twenty-five tombs facing the base of the cliff front that is located on the east side of the desert plain, which reaches a height of about eighty-five meters and south of the Royal Wadi Six tombs are located at the north side near Darb El-Malik and known as the North Tombs. These were probably tombs owned by fairly high officials, while nineteen more tombs are located in the south and known as the South Tombs. These southern tombs were owned by a mix of officials.

These tombs are built to be highly complicated to ensure that they are protected from thieves. Most of them start with an open court that leads to three chambers. Within these chambers there are papyrus columns that meet in the rear end. There a statue of the dead would have been placed looking toward the entrance.

The North Tombs were once encroached upon by an ancient Coptic Christian settlement, and groups of little stone huts on the hillside below the tombs belong to these people, who converted tomb number six into a Church. From these tombs, there is an excellent view of the valley below.

The South Tombs are the larger of the two groups of tombs. They are cut into the flanks of a low plateau in front of a major break in the cliffs, where the rock is of poor quality. However, here one finds tomb number 25 which was built for the "God's Father", Ay, who would later become pharaoh. Though often not as imposing as the tombs in the north, they do have their charm, as well as more variety. On the other hand, many of the South Tombs contain little or no decoration and some had barely been started before the city was abandoned. Some of these tombs were also used for later burials, and amongst them are pot shards mostly dating from between the 25th and 30th Dynasty.

The Workers (or Eastern) Village

To the east in a little valley on the south side of a low plateau that runs out from the base of the cliffs between the Royal Wadi and the southern tombs there is an interesting settlement dubbed "the workmen's village". It is a walled enclosure of very regular houses along several parallel streets. Archaeologists believed it housed workers working on the rock tombs nearby (which, incidentally, though built for the royalty and courtiers, were mostly never occupied). However, this walled town had a guard house at the only exit, and it seems more likely to have been to keep the workers in than anything out (the main city was protected by no such wall, for the whole site, including the workmen's village, is enclosed by high cliffs).

The Royal Tomb

The Royal Tomb built for Akhenaten lies in a narrow side valley leading off of the Royal Wadi some six kilometers form its mouth. Its basic design and proportions are not unlike those of the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank at Thebes (modern Luxor). However, it was intended for several people, including the king, a princes and probably Queen Tiy so there are additional burial chambers. There is also an unfinished annex that may have been intended for Nefertiti. Here, the quality of the rock is poor, and so the decorations of the tomb were cut into a thin layer of gypsum plaster. Hence, most of the decorations have not survived and most of what is left is in the chambers of princess Meketaten.

Other Ruins

At Kom el-Nana, south of the main city and east of the modern village of el-Hagg Qandil is an enclosure thought to have surrounded another of Akhenaten's sun temples. Recent excavations have revealed brick ceremonial buildings and the foundations of two stone shrines. The northern side was occupied by a Christian monastery during the 5th and 6th centuries, AD. There is also far south of the city an unusual cult center known as the Maru-Aten. While it has completely disappeared under the cultivated land, this appears to have been a special function cult structure. Amarna is unique in Egypt. Even cities built up by foreign rulers did not suffer its fate. It was established most probably from scratch, and appears to have been completely abandoned a short time after Akhenaten's death. Today, considerable research continues at this location that should eventually uncover more of the secrets of the most interesting pharaoh's reign.

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