Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Nefertiti – Where Did She Come From and Where Did She Go?

When Aten gets stuck on Earth, he goes to Ancient Egypt at the beginning of the Amarna period so that he can steal the gold kept in the vaults of the great temple of Amen at Karnak. He manages to drag most of the Egyptian royal family into his adventures and this includes possibly the most beautiful queen to ever reign in Egypt, Nefertiti.  Although in the Aten Sequence books Nefertiti’s exploits are all fictional, there is a real mystery surrounding the historical queen as her origins are shadowy and we don’t know how or when she died. So who was this charismatic, glamorous Egyptian queen, whose name was ‘a beautiful woman has come’?  Where did she come from and what happened to her?

Queen Nefertiti - Berlin Museum
Queen Nefertiti

There are many theories about the origins of Nefertiti.  She is first documented historically after the accession to the throne of her husband Amenophis IV, who later became known as Akhenaten.  She was his Great Royal Wife, and unlike earlier Egyptian consorts, who were shadowy figures, was depicted on temple and tomb walls and in statuary in equal size to her husband.  She is also shown engaging in some unusual activities for a queen, such as driving her own chariot and even smiting the enemies of Egypt, imagery that is normally reserved for kings.  The precedent had been set in the earlier reign of her husband’s father Amenophis III, when his Great Royal Wife Tiye was given prominence on many of his monuments. Also unusual in Egyptian art, were the images of the royal couple kissing and embracing and showing affection to their daughters.  Either they really were a devoted couple in love; or that putting emphasis on or depicting the love and closeness of the royal family was important in some way to the new cult of the Aten.

It is very unlikely that Nefertiti was a daughter of Amenophis III, as her titles do not include ‘King’s Daughter’, ‘King’s Daughter Whom He Loves’ or ‘King’s Daughter of His Body’.  She is referred to as ‘Heiress’, ‘Lady of the Two Lands’, ‘Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt’ and ‘Great Royal Wife’, but none of these titles imply in any way that she came from a royal background.

It has been postulated that Nefertiti was a foreign princess; sent from the court of either the Hittites or the Mitanni to be married to pharaoh and cement alliances between the two countries.  However, there is no evidence to either support this or refute it.   Several princesses from foreign courts are on record as arriving in the harem of Amenophis III.  Tadukhipa, the daughter of Tushratta King of Mitanni arrived at court in Year 36, and has been identified both with Nefertiti and a lesser wife of Akhenaten called Kiya.

If Nefertiti was, indeed, of Egyptian descent; then who were her parents?  Her only known relative is her sister, or half-sister, Mutnodjmet, whose name means ‘Sweet One of Mut’.  She is referred to in inscriptions in tombs at Amarna as ‘sister of the King’s Great Wife, Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti’ and is often portrayed with the elder three of Nefertiti’s own daughters. Mutnodjmet is also frequently depicted being accompanied by two dwarfs.  She is believed to have been a daughter of Ay and Tey, as she features prominently in their tomb at Amarna
Ay was a prominent courtier of Akhenaten’s, holding the title ‘Overseer of All the Horses of His Majesty’.  He is thought to have been the son of Yuya and Thuya,who originated from the regional town of Akhmin, therefore making him a brother to Tiye, the Great Royal Wife of Amenophis III.  Therefore, if Ay was also the father of Nefertiti, this would explain how she was close enough to the Royal Family to marry one of the princes.  However, there is no indication that Ay’s wife Tey was Nefertiti’s birth mother, as nowhere does she claim the title of Queen’s mother, only that of nurse.  Neither does Ay claim the title of ‘Queen’s Father’; but he did claim the title ‘God’s Father’ which had been held by his father Yuya before him.  Yuya was a fairly uncommon name in Ancient Egypt, which has led to a belief that he, too, was of foreign origin.

Nefertiti was influential in Akhenaten’s breaking away from the old god’s of Egypt and the adopting of the worship of the Aten.  By year 5, Amenophis IV had changed his name to Akhenaten and by Year 7 the royal couple with their daughters had moved to the new capital they had built at Akhetaten, modern day Amarna.  The couple had six daughters, Meritaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Neferneferuaten, Neferneferure and Setepenre.  There is no evidence that they had any sons; but Amenophis III in the previous reign had never mentioned any of his sons on his monuments, so there could have been princes that we have no evidence for.  Amenophis III also paved the way to the prominence of the Amarna princesses on their father’s monuments, as he portrayed his daughter’s with their names and titles on his statues and temples.  Indeed, several of them were also given the title ‘King’s Wife’, indicating that they were married to their father, although we do not know whether these marriages were actual or purely symbolic.

The cracks seem to have started appearing at Akhetaten around Year 12.  Princess Meketaten appears to have died at that time.  There are theories that she died in childbirth, or that she died of a plague that was sweeping through the Middle East during this period.  The two younger princesses’, Neferneferure and Setepenre also seem to disappear from the records around that time, also possibly victims of the plague.

Nefertiti herself disappears from history around Year 14 of her husband’s reign.  The question is did she die, did she fall from grace in some way, or did she change her name and rule briefly as co-regent and as pharaoh after her husband’s death?  There are no historical records of her death and there is no evidence of her being buried in the royal tomb at Amarna, although some jewellery bearing her cartouche was discovered outside.

Royal Chariot at Amarna
Royal Chariot at Amarna

In the tomb of Amenophis II in the Valley of the Kings, three mummies were found in a side chamber.  One of these, known as the ‘Younger Woman’ was put forward as being the mummy of Nefertiti.  The style of mummification points to the late 18th dynasty, there was a distinctive wig in the ‘Nubian’ style known to be worn by Nefertiti found nearby, the mummy has double piercing in her ears as Nefertiti is depicted as having, the lower half of the face is mutilated, and a snapped off arm in the bent position reserved for royal women of the period was believed to have belonged to the body.  However, other women of the royal court are depicted wearing similar wigs and with double pierced ears.  It was believed that the mutilation of the face was a deliberate act to destroy the identity of the mummy after embalming had taken place, as an act of vengeance against the wife of the ‘heretic’ king.

However, it has been argued that if the wound had been inflicted post-embalming there would be fragments of bone and dried flesh in it.  Indeed, it was pointed out that there were very few pieces of the relevant bones found in the sinus cavity and therefore it was most likely that the wound was inflicted before death.  It was also found that the bent arm did not actually belong to the mummy; but it was rather a straight arm also found in the vicinity that was the correct one.  However, when the DNA of the ‘Younger Woman’ mummy was analysed during the ‘Tutankhamun Family Project’ in 2010, it was shown that this royal lady was, in fact, one of the daughters of Amenophis III and Queen Tiye and the mother of the famous boy king Tutankhamun. Which daughter is not certain, but although Amenophis III married several of his daughters, there is no evidence that he married either Nebetah or Baketaten, so they could have married their brother and given birth to Tutankhamun.

So the mummy of the beautiful Queen Nefertiti has still not been found. Positively identifying her remains may have given us valuable evidence about how she was related to the royal family, her health during her life and, possibly. give us the cause of her death.  So what was her eventual fate?  The ‘fall from grace’ theory comes from the fact that some cartouches and titles of Nefertiti were thought to have been removed from monuments and replaced by those of her daughter Meritaten’s.  It is now believed, however, that it was one of Akhenaten’s other queens, Kiya, whose name and titles were replaced.

Nefertiti as an older woman
Nefertiti as an older woman

The theory that seems to be gaining popularity is the one that Nefertiti lived on for several years under a different name, either as a Co-Regent with Akhenaten or as pharaoh on her own.  It is believed by some that she first changed her name to Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten as Co-regent and then to Ankhkheperure Smenkhare, as she ruled briefly alone.  Some of the evidence for this comes from the Co-Regency Stela in the Petrie Museum in London, which depicts Akhenaten, Nefertiti and Meritaten.  At some time later Nefertiti’s name was chiselled out and replaced with Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten, and Meritaten’s replaced with that of her sister Ankhesenpaaten.  The two names have also been associated with the ephemeral pharaoh Smenkhare, who is thought to have ruled for approximately three years after the death of Akhenaten, and who was believed to be married to the royal couple’s eldest daughter Meritaten.  It has been suggested that Nefertiti assumed the crown as Smenkhare, and that Meritaten acted as her queen consort after the death of Akhenaten.

It may be that we will never really know what happened in those shadowy years at the court at Akhetaten.  Is the truth still buried under the shifting sands of Egypt, or has all the evidence been lost forever?  There is undoubtedly a lot still to be found, and new discoveries, such as the new tomb KV 63 in the Valley of the Kings, will hopefully fill in some of the missing details of the this fascinating period in Egypt’s ancient past.

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Queen Nefertiti image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Older Nefertiti image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Amarna Chariot Image Kurohito Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported 

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