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Monarchs of the NileNew Revised Edition$

Aidan Dodson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9789774167164

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.5743/cairo/9789774167164.001.0001

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The Kings of the Sun

The Kings of the Sun

(p.85) 10 The Kings of the Sun
Monarchs of the Nile

Aidan Dodson

American University in Cairo Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter looks at the several generations of Eighteenth-Dynasty kings whose histories were tied to “the Aten”—the sun god. The Aten has long been a designation of the physical body of the sun, but during the Eighteenth Dynasty had begun to attain a separate divine status, until, under Amenhotep III, it had become a considerable deity in its own right. However, under Amenhotep IV (later, “Akhenaten”), the Aten was to become something far more: at first paramount, and then effectively sole god. In addition, the chapter also marks a different path in Akhenaten's legacy—the reign of Akhenaten's son, Tutankhamun (“Tutankhaten”), and the “counter-reformation” movement against Atenism.

Keywords:   Aten, Eighteenth Dynasty, Akhenaten, sun god, Tutankhamun, Horemheb, Amenhotep III, Amenhotep IV, Smenkhkare

Amenhotep III

Thutmose III’s son, Amenhotep II, imitated him in his martial skill, although not in his mercy for defeated foes. He was also a considerable builder and sportsman, his prowess being much trumpeted in his inscriptions. Amenhotep was in turn followed on the throne by Thutmose IV, a younger son who may have attained power through the displacement of his elder brother, the sem-priest of Ptah and probable crown prince, Amenhotep C.

Thutmose IV’s eldest son and successor was Amenhotep III, born of Queen Mutemwia. As crown prince, he was pictured in the tomb of his tutor, Heqaerneheh, along with a number of his siblings, one of whom, Amenemhat, died young and was buried in Thutmose IV’s tomb (KV43) in the Valley of the Kings. King Thutmose was also relatively short-lived, and accordingly Amenhotep III was still young when he ascended the throne of his ancestors. Within a year or two, however, he had married Tiye (fig. 27), daughter of an Akhmimi chariotry officer, Yuya (probably his maternal uncle, to judge from genetic evidence), and his wife, Tjuiu, the marriage being perhaps marked by the issue of the first of the commemorative scarabs that were to be a feature of the reign. In his union with a commoner, Amenhotep followed Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, and his own father, in contrast with the kings of the dynasty’s earlier years, for whom marriage to a sister seemed de rigueur.

Building works began early on, as recorded by quarry inscriptions of the first two years of the reign, while in Year 2, scarabs were issued recording a hunt in which the youthful pharaoh is said to have killed ninety-six wild bulls. Year 5 saw the king leading an army through Nubia to put (p.86)

The Kings of the Sun

27. Glazed steatite statuette of King Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye; unfortunately his figure is largely broken away (Louvre Museum E 25493 + N 2312).

down a rebellion in the far south, possibly the only military operation recorded from the reign. This modest military record contrasts strongly with the martial spirit of the earlier kings of the dynasty; indeed, study of the reign of Amenhotep III clearly points to there now being far more attention paid to the arts of peace.

Any desire for physical action on the part of the king seems to have been assuaged on the hunting field. Following on from the ‘Bull Hunt’ scarabs are the ‘Lion Hunt’ series, issued to mark the king’s slaughter of over a hundred lions in the first decade of the reign. A further set of scarabs recorded the arrival of the Mitannian princess Gilukhepa as diplomatic bride; yet another commemorates the digging of a lake for Queen Tiye.

Amenhotep III was a great builder and patron of the arts. A number of temples were founded or refounded; in particular, the temple of Luxor was erected on a site first occupied under Thutmose III (fig. 28). Dedicated to the cult of royal spirit, it is both architecturally and artistically exquisite, its inner rooms containing depictions of the king’s divine birth, which make for interesting comparisons with the corresponding scenes of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari. A similar sanctuary was built at Soleb in Sudan, while Karnak and many other temples were extended and beautified. Indeed, many statues apparently made by Rameses II are in fact recarvings of Amenhotep III originals.

One would assume that the earlier part of the reign was spent in the north, at the administrative capital of Memphis. However, the second decade seems to have seen the king spending increasing amounts of time at a huge new palace complex on the western side of the river at Thebes, Malqata, where he may have been permanently resident from Year 29 onwards.

Many of the officials of the reign are known. The Amun cult at Karnak was headed first by Ptahmose, and then Meryptah, but the position of (p.87)

The Kings of the Sun

28. The main part of the temple of Luxor, built by Amenhotep III.

Second Prophet was held by the king’s brother-in-law, Anen. Interestingly enough, we only know of his relationship to the king through his being named as a son on the sarcophagus of Tjuiu, mother of the queen. For much of the reign, the Upper and Lower Egyptian vizierates were respectively held by Ramose and Amenhotep, the former nevertheless a native of the northern town of Athribis, and close relation of a number of other high officials.

Of these, the most prominent was Amenhotep-son-of-Hapu, the King’s Scribe, and apparent closest advisor. He seems to have been responsible for many of Amenhotep III’s building projects, including his memorial temple, and rose to a status without equal among the nobility. He was granted a mortuary temple near the memorial temple of the king, together with a stone sarcophagus of unusual form. Many years after his death at an age of over eighty, he was granted divine honors, and was in Ptolemaic times worshiped alongside that other deified official and architect, Imhotep, likewise acquiring a reputation for medicine.

The king and queen are known to have had at least five daughters and two sons. The elder son was Thutmose (B), presumably born fairly early in the reign. Rather like his namesake, Thutmose III, and a number of other princes since, he was appointed young to priestly office; in this he flourished, rising to the offices of high priest of Ptah at Memphis, and Overseer of the Priests of Upper and Lower Egypt, the latter effectively putting him in overall charge of Egyptian organized religion. At Memphis, he was responsible for the first known burial of the Apis bull, an incarnation of his god, thus beginning a tradition that was to last until Greek times. All indications are that ‘Thutmose V’ would have been potentially a (p.88) great king; but it was not to be. The prince-priest died around Year 30, his place in the succession being taken by his brother, Amenhotep.

Whether the latter assumed the throne on his father’s death, or served for a time as his coregent, has long been debated, with one school advocating such a joint rule beginning around Amenhotep III’s Year 30, but another insisting that the two Amenhoteps ruled consecutively without any overlap. While many interesting pieces of potential data exist in favor of a coregency, the balance of probability seems to sit with a normal consecutive succession, although a graffito of Year 30 at Meidum would seem to indicate that it was this year that Prince Amenhotep was formally proclaimed heir, presumably directly following the death of his brother.

Year 30 also saw Amenhotep III celebrating his first jubilee. Huge quantities of potsherds from Malqata record items supplied for the celebration, repeated in years 34 and 37, while elements of its ceremonies appear on temple and tomb walls (fig. 29). Some of the manifestations of the jubilee seem to have been without precedent, including filling the king’s memorial temple, still under construction, with numerous odd animal sculptures that have been suggested as forming part of a massive astronomical tableau.

The king’s health may have been failing: his mummy shows that he was corpulent and suffered severely from dental disease, while a statue of the goddess Ishtar, recorded as having been received by him from his ally, King Tushratta of Mitanni (a state which had moved from Thutmose III’s enemy to Egypt’s friend), was perhaps sent for its healing qualities. In contrast to his physical decline, the post–first jubilee depictions of Amenhotep III show him as grotesquely young, apparently as an apotheosis of the sun god Re: the jubilee celebrations seem to have included his elevation to full godhead, with depictions known of the king worshiping himself.

Little is known of the events of Amenhotep III’s last few years, save his repeated jubilees. One known action, however, was the elevation of his daughters Sitamun and Iset to the dignity of King’s Great Wife, the same title held by their still living mother, Tiye. It is unclear whether these ‘marriages’ involved the king in a physical relationship with his daughters, or whether it simply meant that they took over some of the politico-religious functions of the office of Great Wife: certainly no children may be with any confidence attributed to them.

King Amenhotep III died in or around his thirty-ninth regnal year. A tomb had been begun for him in the Western Valley of the Kings back in Thutmose IV’s reign (WV22), and here his mummy was laid to rest, in a huge granite sarcophagus, doubtless surrounded by the riches of what was (p.89)

The Kings of the Sun

29. Amenhotep III and Tiye enthroned during the king’s Third Jubilee celebrations (tomb-chapel of Kheruef, TT192).

clearly the most dazzling of Egyptian courts. Almost nothing of these riches survives; the mummy, horrifically damaged by robbers, eventually found its way to the tomb of Amenhotep II (another Third Intermediate Period hiding place for displaced royal mummies), and finally the Egyptian Museum.

A few kilometers away from the tomb stand a pair of colossal statues, the so-called Colossi of Memnon (fig. 30), which once marked the entrance of the king’s memorial temple, the biggest of its kind ever constructed. An inscription describes it as

an august temple on the West of Thebes, an everlasting temple of sandstone, wrought with gold throughout. Its floor is adorned with silver, its doorways with electrum, very wide and large, established for ever. … It is rich in statues of granite, quartzite, and every costly stone. … It is supplied with a ‘Station of the King’ wrought with gold and many costly stones. Flagstaves are set up before it, covered with electrum, like the horizon in heaven when Re rises within it. (p.90)

The Kings of the Sun

30. The memorial temple of Amenhotep III was destroyed by an earthquake early in the reign of Merenptah, who reused many of its blocks in his own temple. Today, the principal visible remains are colossal statues that adorned the pylons and the peristyle court; the so-called Colossi of Memnon that marked the entrance to the First Pylon have stood since antiquity, but others have been re-erected during the twenty-first century AD.

Alas, all gone. Only the guardian Colossi of Memnon remain, staring faceless into eternity (although gradually being joined by newly excavated and re-erected figures in front of destroyed pylons and devastated courtyards in the inner parts of the temple).

Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten, Smenkhkare, and Neferneferuaten

The earliest monuments of the new reign show few changes from the norms of the reign of Amenhotep III—indeed the representations of the king revert to the ‘classical’ style of his middle years, rather than the ‘child-god’ images of the old king’s last decade. However, a being increasingly present was the sun god, ‘the Aten.’

The Aten had long been a designation of the physical body of the sun, but during the Eighteenth Dynasty had begun to attain a separate divine status, until, under Amenhotep III, it had become a considerable deity in its own right. However, under Amenhotep IV, the Aten was to become something far more: at first paramount, and then effectively sole god. As a mark of his devotion, early in his reign, the king undertook quarrying at Gebel Silsila to obtain stone for the first great temple of the sun god (p.91) Aten, to be erected at Karnak, behind the precinct of Amun-Re. In this building, Amenhotep IV is shown with his new consort, one Nefertiti, probably the daughter of the senior army officer, Ay, who may, in turn, have been a brother of Queen Tiye (thus making Nefertiti a first cousin of her husband—perhaps twice over: see p. 104, below). What is remarkable about these depictions is that, unlike the earliest carvings of the king, which are in the purest of traditional styles, they are executed in a manner that, at first sight, contradicts everything that Egyptian art stood for.

Rather than as perfect beings, with admirable figures and features, the king, queen, and their entourage are all shown with slack jaws, scrawny features, and extravagant paunches, together with swelling hips and breasts (fig. 31). The significance of these distortions (which were for a short while only applied to the king, but rapidly spread to everyone else), stated by the chief sculptor Bak to have been introduced at the express

The Kings of the Sun

31. King Akhenaten, with his wife, Nefertiti, and daughters, Meryetaten, Meketaten, and Ankhesenpaaten, in the extreme style of his earlier years; from Amarna (Ägyptisches Museum, Berlin, ÄM14145).

(p.92) bidding of the king, remain unclear, but are perhaps intended to show the royal couple as divine beings, rather as were the exaggerations of the late, ultra-youthful, representations of Amenhotep III. Even more extreme are the series of standing statues of the king that were included in the temple’s structure. They mark the apogee of the early, extreme form of what is known as the ‘Amarna’ style of art, after the site at which the king would soon found a new city. On top of all this, the representation of the Aten in anthropomorphic form was replaced by a depiction of the sun’s disk, from which spread down solar rays, each ending in a human hand; the latter hold the sign of ‘life’ to the nostrils of the king and queen.

The building of the Karnak Aten temple complex coincided with Amenhotep IV’s celebration of a jubilee; since this was only a handful of years into the reign, this is most unusual, given that most kings waited thirty years before so doing. However, the true celebrant seems not to have been the king, rather the Aten itself. There are indications that these jubilees were intended to signify a fundamental change in the status of the royal family. Henceforth the Aten, Amenhotep IV, and Queen Nefertiti seem to have formed a trinity of incarnate solar deities, respectively the sun god, the air god Shu, and the moisture goddess Tefnut. As yet, they were operating within the broadest boundaries of the traditional Egyptian pantheon; however, those boundaries would shortly be crossed.

In Year 5, Amenhotep IV made a formal visit to a desolate plain in Middle Egypt, hemmed in on three sides by hills, and by the Nile on the fourth. There, he made a sacrifice and launched into a long proclamation, in which he declared the establishment of a new city, dedicated to the Aten, fulminating against those who opposed his plans, and providing for the institution of festivals for his god. The king’s intention that the new town should be the royal seat was reinforced by the announcement that the king, queen, and their young daughter, Meryetaten, should be buried there, together with all the court. Amid these far-reaching plans there is a further element of great import: the king is no longer ‘Amenhotep’ (‘Amun-is-content’), but ‘Akhenaten’ (‘Incarnation-of-the-Aten’), while the queen adds to her name the sobriquet Neferneferuaten (‘Beauty-of-beauties-of-the-Aten’). An account of the visit was carved on three rock stelae, in the cliffs at the northern and southern extremities of the planned settlement, to be named Akhet-Aten (‘Horizon of the Aten’)—modern Tell el-Amarna (from which derive the terms ‘Amarna art’ for the productions of Akhenaten’s reign and ‘Amarna Period’ for the reigns of Akhenaten through Ay). (p.93)

The Kings of the Sun

32. The ruins of the North Palace at Tell el-Amarna.

Over the next few years, the city grew, with the construction of palaces (fig. 32), temples, government offices, and residential quarters—our classic example of Egyptian town planning in practice. In Year 6, the king made a further formal progress around the site, adding additional boundary stelae around the cliffs behind the city and also on the opposite bank of the river. The stelae thus marked out a huge slice of the Nile Valley, with the city on one side of the river, and a great area of agricultural land on the other to supply its inhabitants with food. At around this time, Akhenaten’s Theban temple finally reached completion, only to be superseded in importance by two great sanctuaries at Amarna, with vast open courts, piled with offerings to the sun.

By this time a second daughter, Meketaten, had been born, with a third, Ankhesenpaaten, arriving around Year 6/7. Three further daughters were subsequently to join the couple’s offspring, with at least one boy fathered by Akhenaten, and most probably born of Nefertiti. One other wife is known, however, the Lady Kiya, conceivably the Mitannian princess whom Akhenaten is known to have married as a matter of state (perhaps implied by a unique wifely title, not used by any other Egyptian queen). She is named on a number of monuments, had at least one daughter, and was provided with a fine gilded and inlaid coffin, together (p.94) with calcite canopic jars before Year 9. However, although she gave birth to a daughter (whose name is unknown), she later fell from grace, had her names erased from monuments, and disappeared from view.

The royal family’s role was pivotal in the religion of the Aten. Although the visible globe of the sun might seem the obvious object of a popular devotion, this was not the case. Instead, worship of the universal god could only take place via the royal couple: in private shrines the object of devotion was a stela showing Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and their daughters adoring the sun. What was true in life was also true in death: in the tomb-chapels cut in the cliffs of Amarna for his officials, it is the royal family and their activities that dominate the scenes, contrasting markedly with the representations of ‘daily life’ that fill the corresponding tombs at Thebes and elsewhere. A key scene in a number of tombs is the royal family’s daily drive, escorted by soldiers, from their residence in the far north of the city, along the Royal Road to the palace and temples in the central city (fig. 33).

Up until Year 9, the Aten’s names, written in twin cartouches, expressed his nature in the terms of other, far older, gods: “Re-Horus-of-the-horizon lives, who rejoices in the horizon in his name of Shu, who is Aten.”

The Kings of the Sun

33. The royal family commuting by chariot from the North Riverside Palace to the central city (tomb-chapel of Meryre i, Amarna TA4).

(p.95) However, after that year the god is “Re lives, ruler of the horizons, who rejoices in the horizon in his name as Re-the-father, who has returned as Aten.” The nature of the deity is summed up in the great Hymn to the Aten, where it is described as the creator and nurturer of all the peoples and things of the world, who celebrate daily at the globe’s appearance on the eastern horizon, and hide in fear when night divides the god from them. By any standards, the Hymn is a great work of poetry, which has been attributed, rightly or wrongly, to the king himself. It has also been likened to the 104th Psalm, there being a number of places where wordings are tantalizingly similar. Modern opinion is, however, that this similarity derives from both works springing from a common Near Eastern cultural milieu, rather than any direct connection.

Links between Egypt and her neighbors in the ancient world are thrown into sharp relief by the unique survival at Akhet-Aten of an archive of letters written to the pharaoh from his vassals and his ‘brothers,’ the kings of the other contemporary great powers. This correspondence was on baked clay tablets, written in the Akkadian language (the diplomatic lingua franca of the era), expressed in cuneiform script. The surviving letters date principally from the last years of Amenhotep III and the first half of Akhenaten’s reign, implying that ‘live’ correspondence was brought to Amarna when it was occupied by the king, and taken away when the city was vacated by the court, some three years after Akhenaten’s death (see p. 99, below).

They tell us much of what passed between the potentates of the ancient world, and reveal a picture of endemic squabbling among the petty princes of Syria–Palestine, each attempting to further their own interests at the expense of their fellows. Depending on one’s reading of the letters from these princes, one may see a decline in Egyptian power, exacerbated by a gross failure on the part of the pharaoh to act on behalf of his interests in the area. Another view, however, sees merely the usual ebb and flow of the influence of great powers in an area constantly under dispute.

In the past, it was often thought that Akhenaten had embraced pacifism as part of his religious creed, and that this lay behind the aforementioned presumed failure to act militarily in the face of attempts to undermine the Egyptian position. That this interpretation is clearly wrong is shown by such scenes as that shown in fig. 34, where even his wife is depicted in a time-honored royal martial pose. In addition, a later text (page ***) seems to refer back to military actions under Akhenaten—albeit unsuccessful ones!

(p.96) The letters from the pharaoh’s ‘brothers,’ the kings of Mitanni, Babylon, the Hittites, Cyprus, and Assyria, are more concerned with diplomatic niceties—the negotiation of marriages and the exchange of gifts. The latter centers on the foreign rulers’ desire for gold, since “gold is as dust in the land of my brother (the pharaoh).”

The twelfth year of Akhenaten’s reign saw a great celebration (sometimes dubbed a durbar) at Amarna, when the products of Nubia and the Levant were brought before the enthroned king and queen. The import of this event, precisely dated on the tomb walls that record it, has been much debated, but may represent a celebration of the completion of the principal buildings of the new city. Whatever its primary import, it may be that it had a more sinister legacy—bringing into Egypt a plague that may have soon carried off a number of members of the royal family, the first perhaps being Princess Meketaten, buried in her own suite in the royal tomb. Another individual also soon to be buried there was the dowager Queen Tiye, joined soon afterward by two of Akhenaten’s younger daughters.

We have already seen how the change of Aten’s names in Year 9 excluded any divine elements other than Re and Aten himself, both direct aspects of the sun. At some point in the reign, a policy of the obliteration of the Amun, the old ‘King of the Gods,’ was implemented, workmen visiting sites throughout Egypt to remove his names and figures, plus those of his consort, Mut. This work was sometimes incredibly thorough, with obelisks scaled to remove sculptures from their apexes. Curiously, however, the rest of the Egyptian pantheon seems to have generally escaped attack—although apparently starved of state resources. Given that Amun’s title of ‘King of the Gods’ was also a target of the iconoclasts, it may have been that it was this claim to divine overlordship that injured Akhenaten’s feelings of theological propriety and inspired the assault on Amun.

Through all of this time, Queen Nefertiti had been prominent at Akhenaten’s side, her status almost the equal of her husband’s, at least once being shown in the conventional pose of a pharaoh, smiting the enemy (fig. 34). It was once thought that she fell into disgrace during the latter years of the reign, but this was a case of Egyptological mistaken identity: it was Kiya whose name and images were removed from monuments and replaced by those of Meryetaten and Ankhesenpaaten (with the image of Kiya’s daughter replaced by apparent daughters of these two princesses; the father(s) of these latter children remain a matter of debate). It is now clear from a graffito at Deir el-Bersha that Nefertiti was still active as queen in Year 16. (p.97)

The Kings of the Sun

34. Queen Nefertiti smites an enemy, on a depiction of her state barge (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 65.521).

However, soon after the durbar, a new figure seems to have appeared on the scene—a king named Smenkhkare, who took as his queen Akhenaten’s eldest daughter, Meryetaten. Smenkhkare’s identity and status have been the subject of a great deal of discussion, but it now seems most likely that he was a full brother of Akhenaten who ruled alongside him from around Year 13 for a short period, before dying before his coregent (although some have argued that he only became a king after Akhenaten’s death). A gigantic hall was added to the Great Palace at Amarna, built of bricks bearing Smenkhkare’s names, its main room possessing no fewer than 544 square columns, its ceiling painted with grapes and leaves on a yellow ground. Smenkhkare and Meryetaten were depicted in the tombchapel of Meryre ii at Amarna and on reliefs from Memphis, but the couple’s paucity of memorials suggests that their joint career was short.

Interestingly, although coruler with the founder and guiding light of the Aten religion, Smenkhkare himself seems to have been a devotee of the old, polytheistic faith. Certainly, a coffin apparently made for him (but reused in the tomb of Tutankhamun) shows no sign of the sun cult, (p.98) and a later text referring to a religious foundation of his speaks of it as being in the ‘estate of Amun’ at Thebes. However, dying while Akhenaten yet lived, Smenkhkare was not buried in his intended coffin, Akhenaten having him embalmed in Atenist fashion, without amulets, and buried in a coffin of gilded wood, inscribed with impeccably Atenist texts. The latter was the old coffin of Kiya, in store since her fall from favor, its inscriptions modified to fit a king. With the addition of an Atenist shrine made for Queen Tiye and Kiya’s canopic jars, Smenkhkare was probably buried in a tomb at Amarna intended for one or more of his nieces. There he was to rest for a few years only.

For many years it was believed that Smenkhkare changed his name to Neferneferuaten—the sobriquet used by Nefertiti—and continued to rule in that name. However, it is now clear that Neferneferuaten was a separate—and female—king. Her identity has of course been a matter for debate, but it seems most probable that she was the former Nefertiti, not only given her existing use of the name Neferneferuaten, but also her exceptional status when ‘just’ a queen. Indeed, prior to obtaining full kingly titles, one unfinished depiction indicates that she was granted the use of the crowns of a pharaoh while still only using the single cartouche of a king’s wife. One possible scenario is that on Smenkhkare’s premature death, Nefertiti took over the role of coruler without full titles, achieving full kingly status in the last year of her husband’s life, perhaps when he was already in a terminal decline.

The reason for the appointment of corulers outside the line of succession may have been to ease the succession of the young heir—Tutankhaten, born around Year 8—in the event of Akhenaten’s sudden death, given that the forces of religious reaction would be liable to pounce in the absence of an adult anointed king who could maintain the revolution until Tutankhaten came of age. This is what seems to have transpired when Akhenaten died in his seventeenth regnal year, Tutankhaten becoming king under the tutelage of Neferneferuaten.

Akhenaten’s body was certainly buried in the tomb that he had built for himself and his family at Amarna, which by his own death already held the bodies of Queen Tiye and three of his daughters. The king’s mummy was sheltered by a granite sarcophagus bearing, at its corners, protective figures of his wife, Nefertiti, shown in a pose more appropriate to the traditional goddesses of burial. However, as Neferneferuaten, she only remained as protectress of her husband’s legacy for three or four years, Amarna ceasing to be a royal city shortly afterwards and the royal tombs (p.99) emptied of their occupants. Akhenaten, Smenkhkare, and Tiye were all apparently placed in a small tomb in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes (KV55), but only remained there until the death of Tutankhamun brought to power figures implacably opposed to Akhenaten and his legacy.

KV55 was opened within days of Tutankhamun’s own funeral and the bodies of Tiye and Akhenaten removed. The queen seems to have been moved to the tomb of her husband, but nothing certain is known of the fate of Akhenaten’s mummy: most likely it was burned, the worst imaginable fate for an Egyptian. Smenkhkare’s body was left behind in the tomb, but deprived of its identity; it was found there in ad 1907.


Tutankhaten, as he was known when he came to the throne, was all but certainly the son of Akhenaten (probably by Nefertiti on genetic and historical grounds), and once appeared as a prince on a relief, found at Hermopolis and probably originally from Amarna, in which he appeared opposite one of the daughters of Akhenaten, probably his future sister-wife, Ankhesenpaaten. With the death of his father, the nine- or ten-year-old boy became king, with Ankhesenpaaten as his queen, seemingly with Neferneferuaten as his coregent and the effective ruler of the country. They initially retained Amarna as their capital, where a pair of unfinished tombs can be attributed to Tutankhaten and Neferneferuaten.

Very little is known of this first phase of the reign, but its theme seems to have been a fairly rapid shift back toward unpicking the principal religious strand of Akhenaten’s reform—the hostility to Amun. Thus, although shown under the rays of the Aten on the back of his throne (fig. 35), we find Tutankhaten—his name still incorporating the name of the upstart sun god—shown worshiping Amun and Mut on a stela, while the sole text formally dated to the reign of Neferneferuaten is a graffito written by a priest of Amun. The latter is dated to what should probably be interpreted as a joint Year 3 of Tutankhaten and Neferneferuaten, soon after which the female king disappears from view. Much of her funerary equipment was actually used for Tutankhamun’s burial, indicating that she was not buried as a pharaoh. Her disappearance also marked the end of Amarna as a capital city.

With her out of the way, and the king still underage, power then devolved on the generals Ay and Horemheb, the latter as formal King’s Deputy, and Ay with a less formal authority derived from his close familial links with the royal house. With this change, a far more aggressive approach was taken to the ‘counter-reformation’ against Atenism, the (p.100)

The Kings of the Sun

35. The back of a throne depicting Tutankhaten and Ankhesenpaaten, with their names altered to their later -amun forms, but still showing the sun’s rays of the Aten (Egyptian Museum, Cairo, JE 62028).

king and queen being renamed Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun, and a formal decree issued for the restoration of temples damaged or left neglected under Akhenaten:

Now when His Person had arisen as king, the temples of the gods and goddesses, from Elephantine to the marshes of the Delta … had fallen into neglect. Their shrines had fallen into desolation and become overgrown with weeds; their sanctuaries were as if they had never been and their halls were a trodden path. The land was in confusion, the gods having forsaken (p.101) it. If an army was sent to Syria to widen the frontiers of Egypt, it met with no success. If one prayed to a god to ask things of him, he did not come. …

After some time had passed thus, His Person appeared on the throne of his father. … See, His Person was in his palace in the estate of Thutmose I … and took counsel of his heart, searching out every effective occasion, seeking what was beneficial to his father Amun, for fashioning his august image of real electrum. He has added to what was done in former times, he has fashioned an image of his father Amun upon thirteen carrying-poles, his holy image being of electrum, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and every rare costly stone. …

The text continues, listing the king’s numerous benefactions to the gods, thus establishing Tutankhamun as the restorer of the sanctuaries abandoned during Akhenaten’s reign. Certainly there are many temple statues attributable to Tutankhamun’s reign, his tenure on the throne being distinguished by a particularly delicate artistic style that combines all the best features of Amarna and traditional work (fig. 36).

Among the Theban works in Tutankhamun’s name was the continuance of the entrance colonnade of Amenhotep III’s temple at Luxor. Karnak was embellished with three-dimensional images of Amun, Amunet, and Khonsu, not to mention a whole range of statues and sphinxes depicting the king himself. A temple in the king’s name was built somewhere at Thebes, but it is unclear whether this was at Karnak (where blocks from it were found in reused contexts) or whether it was on the West Bank (with blocks shipped over the river for reuse). Various fragments at Memphis attest to the king’s buildings there, while at Faras, in Nubia, he was worshiped as a god during his lifetime, also building a temple at Kawa in the same region.

Nubia was ruled by the viceroy Huy, well known from his fine tomb at Thebes. Other high officials were the viziers Usermontju and Pentu, with the treasurer Maya also a prominent figure, as was Ay’s likely son, the general Nakhtmin. Both Maya and Nakhtmin were to present gifts at the king’s funeral, while both the former and the King’s Deputy Horemheb built magnificent tombs at Saqqara. The superb reliefs in Horemheb’s tomb include indications of the military expeditions that Horemheb undertook to prove that the blight on campaigning referred to in the restoration decree had been removed by Tutankhamun’s generous gifts to the gods. These campaigns were aimed at reasserting Egypt’s position among her vassals and dependents; they included operations against (p.102)

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36. One of the numerous divine images produced during Tutankhamun’s reign, in this case of Khonsu, bearing the features of the king; from Karnak (Egyptian Museum, Cairo, CG38488).

Libyans, Nubians, and Asiatics, depictions of the prisoners in the tomb of Horemheb providing amazingly accurately studied images of human beings under duress. The reliefs include the victorious Horemheb’s reward before Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun.

Like all Egyptian kings, Tutankhamun would, in spite of his tender years, have given thought to his tomb. It is known that the Amarna necropolis workmen remained in place for some time into his reign and, as already noted, it seems probable that the intent was that he should be buried there. His planned resting place may have been a tomb now numbered 29 in the Amarna series, which had reached some forty-five meters into the bedrock before being abandoned—or the less finished TA27.

When the decision was made to move the royal tomb site to Thebes, work must have begun on a new sepulcher in the Valley of the Kings. Regrettably, it is uncertain as to which tomb this was, since it was never finished. The candidates are those later occupied by Kings Ay (WV23) and Horemheb (KV57). In either case, the tomb was left unfinished because, after little more than nine years on the throne, and probably not yet out of his teens, Tutankhamun died. In spite of much speculation, and a number of examinations, no certain conclusions have been reached as to the cause of death, although it may have involved catastrophic injury to his chest. Tutankhamun’s two daughters having both been stillborn prematurely, the male line of the Eighteenth Dynasty died with him.

A tomb in the Valley of the Kings (KV62), intended for a very high official (Ay?), was appropriated for the king’s burial, and after a modest extension received his mummy and funerary equipment. The latter included a number of items originally made for others but reworked for (p.103) Tutankhamun, including a coffin of Smenkhkare, and canopic coffinettes and many items of jewelry that had been made for Neferneferuaten. There, his funeral was conducted by Ay, thus attaining the status of the king’s legal heir as the person who acted in the role of ‘eldest son,’ burying his father (fig. 37).

Sealed after the king’s burial, the tomb was entered by thieves within a very short time, but little damage was done, and the tomb was blocked up once again shortly before a massive storm in the high desert brought a flash flood into the valley, carrying debris that deeply buried the tomb’s entrance. It was thus to remain hidden until 1922, when Howard Carter’s excavations revealed the tomb and its treasures to the world.


The first appearance in history of the future King Ay is as Master of Horse at the court of Akhenaten. His tomb was intended to be one of the largest at Amarna, and reflects his high status. There is no evidence for his having held any priestly office and, like many of the men of power at the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty, he was first and foremost a soldier.

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37. The funeral of Tutankhamun, carried out by Ay as the legal basis for his succession; tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62).

(p.104) Although we have no explicit statement of the fact, it is likely that Ay hailed from Akhmim, where he was to cut a rock chapel to the local god, Min. It is also likely that he was a relation, quite probably the son, of another Akhmimi worthy: Yuya, the father of Queen Tiye. As a brother-in-law of Amenhotep III, his prominence would be easily explicable. In addition, however, there is circumstantial evidence for his being the father of Queen Nefertiti (possibly by a sister of Amenhotep III, to judge from the genetic heritage of Tutankhamun), thus further reinforcing his position at court.

Ay retained his high status during Tutankhamun’s reign, particularly after the demise of Neferneferuaten (possibly his own daughter: one wonders at his role in her downfall!) and, on that king’s death, ascended the throne, probably as the man with the closest royal connections left alive. His need to make an outright statement of his legitimacy on the wall of the tomb of his predecessor is well explained by the events that seem to have immediately followed Tutankhamun’s death. As we learn from the Hittite archives, the widowed queen (clearly Ankhesenamun) wrote to Suppiluliumas, the Hittite king, requesting one of his sons for her to marry and make pharaoh. As one might imagine, this request came as something of a surprise, and it was only after Hittite agents had confirmed the truth of Tutankhamun’s lack of a son that a prince, one Zannanza, was dispatched.

He never arrived in Egypt, being killed in Syria while en route, leaving Ay to become undisputed king on the day he conducted Tutankhamun’s funeral. This event appears to have taken place some eight months after the young king’s death, doubtless delayed well beyond the traditional seventy days by the diplomatic and political maneuverings of the ‘Hittite Candidacy.’ Although a finger ring, now in Berlin, associates Ankhesenamun’s name with that of Ay, the former then vanishes from history. Her dealings with the Hittites may have been regarded as treasonable by the winning faction, and there are cases where her name and figure have been hacked from at least one monument, in a manner suggesting her disgrace.

Ay’s accession marked the definitive break with the heritage of Akhenaten with the likely destruction of the ‘Heretic’s’ body. Little is known of the events of Ay’s reign, although major figures continued in office from Tutankhamun’s regime (but apparently not the King’s Deputy Horemheb). Ay undertook building work at a number of locations, including his probable home town of Akhmim, where he constructed a rock temple and a gateway to the main civic temple, including colossal (p.105) statues of himself and his queen, Tey (the latter later being usurped for Meryetamun, daughter of Rameses II).

Already an old man, Ay died after a reign of only four years, being by then at least seventy years old; the king’s son, Nakhtmin, may have engaged in a struggle for the succession with Horemheb, who appears to have spent Ay’s reign politically sidelined. Certainly Nakhtmin’s monuments were mutilated after his demise.

Ay built his memorial temple at Medinet Habu, and had WV23 prepared for his burial in the West Valley of the Valley of the Kings, a tomb that may have been begun for Tutankhamun. Ay’s burial there by Horemheb seems to have been somewhat perfunctory, carried out probably only to legitimize the succession, and in later years Ay’s memory suffered the same affronts as those of Akhenaten and that king’s immediate successors, the figures of Ay and his wife being erased in his tomb (fig. 38).

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38. A wall from the tomb of Ay (WV 23). Uniquely, he included a scene of fishing and fowling in his burial chamber, a break with tradition, as such motifs are otherwise found only in mortuary chapels.


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39. Horemheb, depicted while still only a general, in his tomb at Saqqara, being rewarded by Tutankhamun. After his accession, a uraeus was added to his brow to signify his assumption of kingship (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden, H.IIII.CCCC).


The first unequivocal appearance of Horemheb is under Tutankhamun, as army chief and King’s Deputy, although some have recognized an earlier incarnation in a Troop Commander Paatenemheb, who had begun a tomb at Amarna that was never completed. Horemheb’s close colleague, Maya, almost certainly served Akhenaten at Amarna, probably being identical with one May, who also owned a tomb at the ‘Heretic’s’ capital. These two men had superbly decorated tombs built for themselves at Saqqara during the reign of Tutankhamun (fig. 39), Saqqara rivaling Thebes as the burial place of major figures in the national administration during the late Eighteenth Dynasty, at least one vizier of Amenhotep III/IV having previously been buried there.

(p.107) Horemheb appears to have been Tutankhamun’s nominated heir in the absence of any offspring of his own, but lost out to Ay for the actual succession, and seems to have played no political role during the latter’s reign; nevertheless, he was ultimately able to obtain the throne on Ay’s demise. On a statue made following his succession, and now in Turin, an inscription gives a summary of his earlier career, and then recounts how his local god, Horus of Hnes, elevated him to the throne, probably a divine justification of his having won the struggle for power on Ay’s death. Horemheb’s wife as king was one Mutnedjmet, possibly the known sister of Nefertiti of this name, and thus probably also a daughter of Ay, adding a further family aspect to the struggle among Horemheb, Ay, and Nakhtmin.

Although some Akhenaten material had begun to be dismantled back in the time of Tutankhamun, and major attacks on Akhenaten’s memory begun immediately after Tutankhamun’s death, it was with Horemheb that the first attempts seem to have been made to write the Amarna Period out of history. A statue base of Horemheb is known from the city of Amarna itself, indicating some continuing official occupation there, but this was probably accompanied by the demolition of many buildings for stone to reuse. Most definitely, the Aten temples at Karnak were taken down and immediately employed in the foundations and filling of Horemheb’s own construction in honor of Amun-Re (fig. 40). In particular, these building programs included the addition of the Second, Ninth, and Tenth Pylons. At Luxor, he continued the work of Amenhotep III, Tutankhamun, and Ay, usurping the latter two’s monuments both here and elsewhere: many of the statues and reliefs today bearing Horemheb’s cartouches were actually made for Tutankhamun or Ay.

As might be expected from a former general, some military operations were undertaken during Horemheb’s reign, perhaps following on from those that he had carried out under his predecessors, but they seem to have been of strictly limited extent. Reliefs on the north face of the Tenth Pylon and on the adjacent courtyard wall attest to a Syrian campaign, but little is known of it, nor of a Nubian operation also depicted in the king’s rock-cut sanctuary at Silsila. The Karnak inscriptions also provide evidence of trade contact with Punt.

The domestic leitmotif of the reign is apparently given by the edict that was presumably promulgated early on, although no date survives. Inscribed on a stela on the north face of the Tenth Pylon at Karnak, with a duplicate known from Abydos, it describes the king’s desire to remedy various excesses committed by servants of the state. Its provisions detail the harsh (p.108)

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40. Horemheb as king, offering to Amun, on the Tenth Pylon at Karnak.

punishments to be borne by those who transgressed the royal will: official extorters faced the removal of their noses and then exile; soldiers who stole animal hides would receive a hundred blows and five open wounds. Further measures guard against official bribery and corruption, the whole document giving the impression of a coordinated body of laws intended to stamp out widespread arbitrary excess on the part of state officialdom.

The decree is likely to represent Horemheb’s official view of the state of affairs in Egypt during the latter part of Ay’s reign, perhaps as an implicit justification for Horemheb’s taking of the throne. That some (p.109) lawlessness, nevertheless, subsisted during Horemheb’s own reign is shown by the robbery and restoration of the tomb of Thutmose IV in Horemheb’s eighth regnal year. The graffito recording the restoration shows it to have been in the hands of the treasurer Maya, who had a few years earlier contributed to the burial of Tutankhamun. Maya died not many years later, and was interred in his magnificently decorated tomb at Saqqara, which lay alongside that of his erstwhile colleague, and now monarch, Horemheb. Also at Saqqara, two of the series of Apis burials, inaugurated by Prince Thutmose B back in the reign of Amenhotep III, are attributable to Horemheb’s reign, buried in two rooms of a single tomb. One room of this sepulcher was found intact in 1852.

As already noted, as a private individual, Horemheb had begun to construct a tomb of the largest dimensions at Saqqara. On Horemheb’s accession, uraei were added to the brows of his figures on the tomb’s walls. However, a tomb of conventional royal type was eventually begun in the Kings’ Valley (KV57), and the former memorial temple of Ay taken over and rebuilt on a much larger scale. The old Saqqara tomb seems to have been used for the burial of family members, perhaps including Queen Mutnedjmet: bones found in one part of the substructure are of a woman, in poor health and aged around forty-five, who had lost her life in childbirth, probably in the thirteenth year of Horemheb’s reign.

The decoration of Horemheb’s Theban tomb was still unfinished at his death. The exact length of his reign is unclear, the highest unequivocal date being in the fourteenth year, on wine jars from KV57. However, a Nineteenth Dynasty text mentions a fifty-ninth year that seems to be a conflation of Horemheb’s own years with the aggregate of the reigns of Akhenaten through Ay, suggesting a reign of some three decades. Some bones that survived when his tomb in the Valley of the Kings was first opened may have been those of the king, but they do not seem to have been examined, and their location is now unknown.

Dying without surviving issue, Horemheb was the last king of the Eighteenth Dynasty. As his successor he chose Paramessu, an old military colleague and now his (probably northern) vizier, who accordingly became Rameses I, the founder of a new dynasty, the Nineteenth. (p.110)