Tutankhamun (“toot-onk-ah’moon”) – more widely known as “King Tut” – ruled during Egypt’s turbulent 18th dynasty, dying around 1325 B.C.E. He was, in fact, one of the most insignificant kings in all of ancient Egyptian history. This, of course, is highly ironic, considering that Tutankhamun has become, for modern folks, the most famous of all the kings of ancient Egypt. We have Howard Carter’s astonishing and quite accidental discovery of Tut’s tomb in 1922 to thank for this.
In an attempt to make the confusing names a bit easier to follow, here is a “cast of characters” appearing in this real-life drama (the pharaohs are listed in the order in which they ruled):
Pharaoh Amenhotep III
Queen Nefertiti, principle wife of Akhenaten
Queen Kiya, secondary wife of Akhenaten
Meritaten, oldest daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti
Queen Ankhesenamun, third daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, wife of King Tut
Hittite Prince Zannanza
THE FACTS OF TUTANKHAMUN’S LIFE
Tut’s life – like the lives of most ancient Egyptian figures – is more mystery than established fact. Egyptologists know he became pharaoh as a child, was married to a royal princess named Ankhesenamun, and died at roughly 18 years of age.
|Tut and his wife, depicted on Tut's throne.|
|Akhenaten worshipping the sun disk god.|
|The ruins of Akhetaten.|
Tutankhamun appears to have grown up in the North Palace of Akhetaten, part of the royal household (just how he was related will be discussed later).
|Ruins of the North Palace at Akhetaten.|
It is important to note that because Tutankhamun was so young when he came to the throne, his principle advisors would have been functionally running the kingdom for him, and making all the decisions. Thus, most every “official” transaction during his kingship was performed by others. It has been suggested that Tut himself may have had very little say in reinstituting the old religious traditions. Instead, these political moves would have been orchestrated by those acting in his name. The two major players in this situation were Ay and Horemheb – the former being the equivalent of a prime minister, and the latter being a prominent military leader. Both had also served in the court of Akhenaten, and both had their eye on the kingship, as we shall see.
Although Tutankhamun is depicted in art wearing the khepresh – the traditional blue war crown of the pharaohs – there is not much evidence that Tut ever actually fought in a military campaign.
|Statue of Tut wearing the Blue War Crown.|
|Tut in battle against the Syrians.|
After a relatively uneventful reign of about ten years, Tutankhamun died suddenly, of uncertain causes, and was buried hastily in a small tomb in the Valley of the Kings – a tomb that was most likely originally intended for someone else.
SPECULATION ON LINEAGE
Many historians believe that Tutankhamun was the son of Akhenaten, by one of that king’s secondary wives, Queen Kiya.
|Queen Kiya, possibly Tut's mother.|
Based on what I have read, the following is a likely (although certainly not final) scenario: Amenhotep III had two surviving sons, the elder being Akhenaten, and the younger being Smenkhkara. Upon Amenhotep’s death, Akhenaten took over, did away with the traditional gods, and forced everyone into monotheism. He is known to have had six daughters with his principle wife, Nefertiti. Of these six, Meritaten is the oldest and most prominent. One of Akhenaten’s secondary wives, Kiya, however, bore him a son – the future King Tut. Because succession was not always clear or well-established in ancient Egypt – the way it is in most monarchies today – there was some question as to whether Tut was the rightful heir to Akhenaten’s throne, since he was a son only by a secondary wife. Akhenaten’s brother, Smenkhkara, was the principle leader of this “anti-Tut” contingency. Since Tutankhamun was only a toddler at the time, Smenkhkara more or less pronounced himself pharaoh and took over the reigns of leadership. To legitimize his position, he married his niece Meritaten, Akhenaten’s oldest and most prominent child. As a result, their reign became a sort of co-regency, with Meritaten taking the throne name Neferneferuaten. Their reign, however, lasted only two or three years, cut short either by the natural deaths of both, or by a coup led by supporters of Tutankhamun. Whatever the reason, after their deaths, the path for Tut’s kingship was unimpeded, and he became the 12th pharaoh of Egypt’s 18th dynasty.
It should be quite clear by now just how many theories there are, and how little we can really know for certain when it comes to King Tut’s lineage. It all becomes a big jumble of strange names and incestuous marriages (for instance, some evidence suggests Tut’s wife, Ankhesenamun, was first married to her own father, Akhenaten, and bore him a child). What can be said for certain is that Tutankhamun was related somehow to Akhenaten and no doubt to Smenkhkara, and that Tutankhamun’s wife was the third daughter of Akhenaten, and probably Tutankhamun’s own half-sister.
The story of Tutankhamun’s death and the intrigue that surrounded it – both in how Tut died, and in what happened, politically, after his death – is perhaps even more captivating than the story of his life. These issues will be discussed in the next installment.