Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Wives of Akhenaten

Due in no small part to his infamous attempts to change the state religion requiring the worship of numerous deities to that of just one, the sun, Akhenaten has become one of the most celebrated and famous of all the pharaohs.  This infamy has been compounded by the discovery in the twentieth century of the tomb of one of his heirs, the so-called “boy King” Tutankhamun, and the wonderful treasures that were found therein.  Numerous sculptures and monuments, some intact and many damaged or defaced are testament to his reign.  Alongside the death mask of Tutankhamun, and the bust of Nefertiti; the image of Akhenaten accompanied by his wife, Nefertiti, and their daughters under the life-giving rays of the sun remains one of the most popular and frequently replicated images from Ancient Egypt, being painted unto modern day papyrus and sold to numerous tourists and visitors to Egypt each and every year.

Despite the immediately recognisable bust of Nefertiti, in fact housed many miles from Egypt in Berlin, and the likeness of Akhenaten as described above; events surrounding his life and of his immediate family remain vague and obscure. Much of what is understood from that shadowy period in the fourteenth century B.C. still remains highly speculative and open to interpretation and guesswork.  As discussed in the previous article “The Heirs of Akhenaten”; considerable questions are raised by scholars as to the order of succession following the death of Akhenaten, and to their identities and familial relationship to Akhenaten himself.  Many of the details of the reign of Akhenaten are, to paraphrase the words of Winston Churchill “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
Although his reforms were a fraught endeavour to change the infrastructure of religious life in Egypt, Akhenaten still adhered to the traditions set by his predecessors concerning the pharaonic practice of polygamy, so as to continue his dynasty and provide heirs to the throne.  Polygamy was frequent among the pharaohs; however it was not practiced by the general Egyptian populous at large.  Furthermore, the King would frequently be married one of his sisters, following the divine traditions set by the gods, who since Creation had married their siblings thus following a divine precedent as well as keeping the royal blood pure.  Of all the King’s wives, the favourite was named the “Chief Royal Wife”, rather than “queen” (the Egyptians had no such term in their language), and all other the other royal brides were given the status of concubine, or as secondary wives.  Within the context of this article, the terms “queen” and “lady” shall be used, although not Egyptian terms, convey the status and bearing of the woman afforded such a title.
The famous bust of Nefertiti, housed in Berlin

In the role of Chief Royal wife was Nefertiti, arguably one of the most famous of all of Egypt’s queens, alongside Hatshepsut [the female pharaoh], and Cleopatra.  It was only in the late early twentieth century that Nefertiti achieved the recognition she deserved, as for many centuries her name was not known, with very little discovered  or written prior to excavations at Akhetaten [modern day Amarna], an abandoned, ruined city located some 400 kilometres north of Thebes.   In the late nineteenth century, a certain mystique was attached to Nefertiti’s mother-in-law, Tiye.  Tiye had been the consort and chief Royal Wife of Amenhotep III, seemingly a strong powerful woman, when one reads inscriptions dedicated to her, and from surviving likenesses.   It has been suggested that Tiye might have been instrumental in the religious reforms and changes carried out by her son.  However this temporary “fame” enjoyed by Tiye was soon enough superseded by that of Nefertiti.
Together with the infamous reforms brought into being by her husband, Nefertiti has achieved worldwide recognition from an elaborate, colourful limestone bust discovered in the workshop of Thutmose at Armana in 1912 by the German archaeologist, Ludwig Borchardt.  The bust had been left on a shelf which had collapsed in antiquity, found with various likenesses of other members of the Royal Family.  It is of such beauty that it has been paralleled with that of the golden death mask of Tutankhamun in terms of Egyptian sculpture.  Measuring 47 centimetres in height and weighing nearly 20 kilograms, it has been fashioned from limestone but covered with painted stucco layers.  Facially, it is almost perfectly symmetrical; however one of the eyes is absent, apparently never having been affixed to the empty socket.  Nefertiti is depicted wearing a multi-coloured floral collar, and a cap-crown and diadem that appears in the many reliefs of Nefertiti in and around Armana.  Despite its aesthetically pleasing and contemporary beauty, the work appears to have never been intended for public display nor devotional purposes, but as a presumed, lifelike model for the creation of official portraits of the queen.  

Nefertiti, whose name means “The beautiful [one] has come” was bestowed with many titles including Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt, Hereditary Princess, Sweet of Love and Great of Praises.  Her parentage and origins remain unknown, although it has been suggested that she was the daughter of Tutankhamun’s vizier and successor, Ay, brother of Tiye.  Ay’s wife, Tey, is believed to have been nursemaid or wet nurse to the infant Nefertiti.  However, the identity of her mother remains unknown.  She is believed to have had a younger sister, Mutbenret (previously thought to read as Mutnejmet), who is depicted on various works of art in the Amarna complex, and was later to marry the general, Horemheb. 

As the chief royal wife, Nefertiti played a highly important and significant role during the reign of her husband.  The dowager queen, Tiye, had revolutionised how queens were seen and portrayed in Egyptian art, being seen on an equal standing and level to her husband, the King.  A number of surviving portraits show Tiye as being of an equal height and level to her husband, and not as that of a subservient spouse, a typical, traditional portrayal.  This was to continue with Nefertiti; in fact, her might and power was accentuated.  Likenesses exist of Nefertiti with her husband in praise of the solar disc alongside her husband, but also in various scenes of the “Window of Appearance”, awarding courtiers for their services by bestowing them with collars.  As well as accompanying her husband in such scenes of worship, there are scenes of great candour and affection between the Pharaoh, his wife, and their children, showing scenes of kissing, or playful affection between the daughters and their parents.  Equally there exists a scene showing sadness and mourning within the family group, most memorably of the death and mourning by the family of one of the royal princesses, Meketaten.  Finally there are likenesses of Nefertiti on her own, wearing a King’s crown and smiting enemies and captives, a role previously exclusively reserved for the King. 
A relief showing Akhenaten, his wife Nefertiti, and two of their daughters.
In the wake of his reforms, Akhenten and Nefertiti moved from the long established royal capital and religious centre of Thebes to the newly build city of Akhetaten.  Akhenaten had by then changed his name from Amenhotep, and Nefertiti adopted the epithet of Neferneferuaten, and is thereafter referred to as Neferneferuaten Nefertiti.  Her name now meant “The Most Beautiful One of the Aten – The beautiful [one] has come.”   During her marriage to Akhenaten, she was to deliver at least six daughters who survived infancy: Meritaten [“She who is beloved of Aten”], Meketaten [“Behold the Aten”], Ankhesenpaaten [“Living for Aten”], Neferneferuaten [“The Most Beautiful One of the Aten”] Tasherit [meaning “the Younger”], Neferneferure [“The Most Beautiful One of Ra”] and Setepenre [“Chosen of Ra”]. 

The fate of Nefertiti remains unknown.  Her name disappears from the stage after year 13-14 of Akhenaten’s reign, however some scholars have proposed that this disappearance is due to Nefertiti having been named as Akhenaten’s co-regent.  Previously, it was thought that she had fell into disgrace, and her name was removed from monuments, however this theory has been dismissed.  Another theory is that she died, possibly from a plague that was sweeping Egypt at the time, and may have carried off some of her daughters at the same time.  To date, no tomb nor body of the queen has been found.  As discussed previously, suggestions have been made proposing Nefertiti assumed the throne or at least acted as a co-regent, under the name of Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten.

In 2003, it was suggested by a British archaeologist, Joann Fletcher from the University of York, identifying one of the bodies, that of the Younger Lady, as being that of Nefertiti.  Recent DNA testing and research has shown the body to be that of the mother of Tutankhamun, and daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye.  It was also been proposed that the body found resting alongside that of the Younger Lady, named the “Elder Lady” was that of Nefertiti.  Again, through DNA testing of this body and coupled with a lock of hair found in the tomb of Tutankhamun; together with analysis of the teeth, show this to be the body of an older woman, and daughter of the courtiers Yuya and Tjuju, therefore confirming its identity as being that of Tiye.

A suggestion has been made proposing that Nefertiti was in fact a princess of Mitanni, located to the northeast of Egypt in modern day Northern Syria, with the name of Tadukhipa.  Alliances had been formed between the two nations inasmuch as Amenhotep III had taken the sister of Tusharatta, King of Mitanni, Gilukhipa, as a secondary royal wife.  Tushtatta later sent his own daughter, Tadukhipa, as another wife for Amenhotep, laden with gifts of gold, cloth and precious stones.  Correspondence survives from the Amarna letters relating to this proposed marriage, however it appears that the elderly Amonophis died soon after the arrival of the princess.  From other letters, it is stated that she later married his son and heir, Akhenaten.  The attribution of Tadukhipa being Nefertiti arises from the translation of Nefertiti’s name, suggesting that she was of foreign origin.  This suggestion however doesn’t take into account if Tey was indeed Nefertiti’s nurse, as a mature princess would have no need of one.  Furthermore, if the marriage took place soon after Akhenaten ascended the throne, it doesn’t tie in with the believed sequence of events such as the birth of the first royal child, Merititan.   If not Nefertiti then, Tadukhipa’s identity has also been linked with possibly being another, significant wife of Akhenaten; the Lady Kiya.
Where information on Nefertiti, despite the relative proliferation of objects and artwork, is scant, even less survives on Kiya.  Her existence was unknown to Egyptologists until 1959.  The name “Kiya” in and of itself is unusual, appearing to have been a pet name rather than a full name.  The name contains no religious overtones or veneration towards a particular god or goddess, and simply means “monkey”.   However, it could be an abbreviation or contraction of a foreign sounding name. 

A likeness of the Lady Kiya, possibly engaged in a purifying ritual.

Whether of foreign extraction or not, Kiya certainly seems to have enjoyed a unique status whilst queen at the court of Akhenaten.  She was evidently not of royal Egyptian birth as nowhere in her titles is she named as “Heiress”, or “daughter of the God”, all of which were epithets for the daughter of a pharaoh.  Nonetheless,  Kiya was bestowed a title which no other royal wife, before or after, was afforded .  This title was as “the greatly beloved”, also affectionately referred to as “the Favourite.”   Her full titles are given as: “The wife and greatly beloved of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Living in Truth, Lord of the Two Lands, Neferkheperure Waenre [i.e. Akhenaten], the Goodly Child of the Living Aten, who shall be living for ever and ever, Kiya.”   All that survives in relation to the enigmatic Lady Kiya comes from the anonymous tomb KV55, or from Amarna itself. 
Kiya’s existence first came to archaeologists when her name and titles were noted on an unguent jar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, previously bought by the Museum in 1929 from Howard Carter.  The container itself was without provenance.   After this identification, further “discoveries” relating to Kiya’s existence were discovered, despite that certain cases her name had been removed and had been re-inscribed with the names of others, most notably the two eldest surviving daughters of Akhenaten viz. Meritaten and Ankhesenpaaten.   Kiya herself does not appear until soon after the Royal Family and entourage moved from Thebes to the newly constructed capital of Akhetaten.  This is believed to have taken place sometime after Year 5 of the pharaoh’s reign.

It is only at Amarna where her likeness appears and her attribution as the “greatly beloved" is to be found.  Sunshades were built to the south of the city, with at least one of them carrying the likeness, name and titles of Kiya.  These sunshades were similar to adjoining chapels to the temples, and there is one, the Maru-Aten, which bears the name of Kiya.  Furthermore, she is listed as having sired another daughter, whose name, sadly, has been lost.  She was also previously thought to have been the mother of Tutankamun, for which she received the honorary title of being the “Greatly beloved” however recent DNA evidence has shown this is not the case.  The mother of Tutankhamun was a daughter of Amenhotep  and Tiye, and being of royal blood, one would expect to find references to Kiya as the “God’s daughter”, and this is nowhere to be found.  In addition, the name “Kiya”, an affectionate pet name or not, would not be one which was suitable for a royal Egyptian princess.
Much like Nefertiti, the Lady Kiya disappears from the record during the final six years of her husband’s reign.  A number of theories abound as to the reasoning behind this.  One, as suggested is that she shared a similar fate to Nefertiti in that a plague swept across Egypt and was responsible for the death of numerous members of the royal household.  This is not beyond the realms of possibility as plagues were rife and prevalent in the ancient world.  However, a theory has been proposed suggesting the reason for Kiya’s disappearance was due to something far more sinister. 

One theory has been proposed that there was a considerable rivalry between the two royal wives: Nefertiti and Kiya.  Nefertiti, as Great Royal Wife became jealous of Kiya, who had risen from merely being a secondary wife to that of the King’s favourite, his “greatly beloved” – titles which had never been used before and were never to be used again for a royal bride.  It has been suggested by Nicholas Reeves that perhaps the jealous Nefertiti orchestrated a coup and this resulted in Kiya being “denounced” and sent into exile.  An alternative theory proposed by Marc Gabolde is that relations between Egypt and Mitanni became so strained, and that if Kiya were indeed Tushratta’s daughter, Tadukhipa, she was returned home to her father.    
A damaged fragment showing Kiya, affectionately kissing her daughter.

It seems that Kiya somehow incurred disfavour, so much so that her name was removed and in certain cases the likeness altered.  Kiya is often portrayed as an attractive young woman, pretty rather than stately like the noble Nefertiti.  She is also shown to be wearing large earrings and a Nubian wig; a short cropped wig which became fashionable amongst men and women during the 18th dynasty.  A plaster study of a nameless young woman in large earrings, found at the studio of Tuthmose, and on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, has generally been thought to be her likeness.  However the most intriguing story which could to the fate of Kiya comes from a mythological tale told some years later “The Tale of Two Brothers”; in a papyrus dating from approximately 150-200 years after the death of Akhenaten, and the subsequent damnatio memoriae of the Amarnan pharaohs  instigated by Horemheb.
The story tells of two brothers, Anpu and Bata.  The two brothers live together, farming the land, together with Anpu’s wife.  Anpu’s wife attempts to seduce her brother in law, however he rebukes her advances.  After Bata spurns her spurns her advances, his angry sister in law feigns sexual assault.   In anger, Anpu plans to kill his brother; however the gods intervene and warn Bata of his brother’s intentions, having believed his wife’s lies.  Bata flees with his brother pursuing him with a knife.  Bata prays, and a river of crocodiles is created dividing the brothers, and Bata swears his innocence, cutting his flesh and makes himself bleed.  Anpu then realises the truth and returns home, full of grief, and kills his adulterous wife, feeding her body to the dogs.  Before the brothers part, Bata tells his brother that he will place his heart in an acacia tree.  He advises Anpu that should he, Bata, ever be danger, that the beer in Anpu’s hand will foam.  If this happens Anpu will need to find his brother’s heart and place it in water, reviving him.

Bata then makes his way to the Valley of the Acacia, where he settles.  One day, the gods happen upon Bata, and seeing his loneliness, Re-Horakhti fashions a beautiful woman for Bata to be his wife.  The seven Hathors determine the woman’s fate is to die by the executioner’s knife.   Despite the love and loyalty of her husband, the young woman becomes bored, and against her husband’s wishes, she leaves their home.  The sea, besotted by the beauty of Bata’s wife endeavours to rape the girl, and calls upon an acacia tree to seize her by the hair for him.  However, the acacia doesn’t manage to hold the woman in its grasp, and only manages to grab a lock of her hair.  The hair is carried by the sea to Egypt, where it is washed up and perfumes the water where the Pharaoh’s launderers are cleaning the royal linen.  The linen, imbued with the divine scent from the hair, arouses the pharaoh’s interest, and realising the divine origin of the hair (as being the daughter of the god Re-Horakhti), sends envoys to locate the owner of the lock of hair.  The envoys, upon arrival in the Valley of Acacia, in a foreign land, discover the identity of the woman with the sweet scented hair. Bearing treasures and gifts from the pharaoh, the woman agrees to leave, instructing them to cut down the tree where her husband, Bata, had previously hidden his heart.  She then returns with the envoys to Egypt, where the pharaoh adorns her with jewels, and marries her, making her his greatly beloved wife.

Upon the cutting down of the tree, Bata falls to the ground, dead.  At that exact point the beer which Anpu is holding foams in his hand, and he leaves for the valley where his brother resided.  Upon discovering the body of his brother, for nearly four years he searches through the acacia leaves to find his brother’s heart.  It is not until the final day of the third year, and on the verge of giving up, does Anpu find his brothers heart.  Following his brother’s wishes he places his heart in water and revives his brother from the dead.  Bata, taKing the form of a prize bull, tells his brother to take him to Egypt where he will attempt to regain his wife.  Upon arrival in Egypt, the bull attracts much attention and is sold to the pharaoh.  Whilst in the pharaoh’s palace, Bata makes himself known to his cuckolding wife, who, in fear asks that the bull be sacrificed. Although this request upsets the pharaoh, he reluctantly agrees.  Bata then takes on other forms to remind his former wife of her misconduct, each of which she endeavours to destroy to protect her secret.  In his final transformation, he is transformed into a persea tree, which the queen orders to be cut down.  Whilt the tree is being cut down, she swallows a splinter. She then becomes pregnant bearing the pharaoh a son, a final incarnation of Bata.
A sheet from the Papyrus D'Orbiney, British Museum telling
the "Tale of the Two Brothers."
There is a lacuna in the text detailing the conclusion of the of the story, however the most popularly proposed ending for the story is that the son, an incarnation of Bata, grows up and exposes his mother for her action and exposes her actions to the court.  She is then taken away to be executed and thereafter he sends for his brother, Anpu, and together they rule Egypt. 

The suggestion has been made that Kiya was the personality (or the inspiration thereof) behind the cheating, beautiful woman in this tale.  This suggestion has arisen from the title which the wife of Bata is bestowed by the pharaoh; that of the “greatly beloved wife”, a title unique to Kiya.   Like most ancient civilisations, the Egyptians possessed an excellent oral tradition for telling tales and fables, as well as myths of the gods, in the absence of widespread literacy and written material. Given that this was written down less than two centuries afterwards, it is indeed possible that through recollection and association that there is an allegorical retelling of the eventual fate of Akhenaten’s “greatly beloved wife.”

Kiya can always be differentiated from Nefertiti, not just in inscriptions and titles, but also in appearance.  Despite her unique title, this served no religious function to the King, she is never shown wearing a crown, a diadem, nor a uraeus, all of which were emblematic of queenship, and all of which are at various junctures portrayed on the likenesses of Nefertiti.  Equally relevant is that her name is never seen contained within a royal cartouche.  She also appears with only one daughter, unlike Nefertiti who is seen with as many as six.  However there appears to be a fragmentary inscription of Kiya with Akhenaten and their daughter, notable for the absence of Nefertiti.  In addition there are fragments of Kiya’s likeness (determined in part by her large earrings and an absence of Nefertiti’s usual regalia, receiving the life giving rays of the sun, the ankh beneath her nostrils.  This bestowing of life from the Aten was exclusive to likenesses of the Royal Family which shows the elevated status that she was afforded, most likely in the absence of the Great Royal Wife.

Whatever became of Kiya, she left behind some impressive and beautiful funerary equipment, which possibly were never actually used by their intended owner.  These objects were found by Theodore Davis in the enigmatic tomb KV55, which was previously ascribed, incorrectly, as being that of Queen Tiye.  The mummy that was found in the tomb has been identified as being the father of Tutankhamun, however his identity remains obscure and indeterminate, with some scholars suggesting Akhenaten himself, and others the shadowy Smenkhkare.  The coffin is the most telling piece of evidence, and of fine, elaborate and expensive workmanship.  The shape and style of the coffin betray that it was originally intended for a woman, as the coffins with a designated male owner would have the protective wings of the goddess wrapped around them, whereas the coffins for women did not.  Furthermore, the footboard of the coffin is inscribed with an Atenist prayer, although “spoken” by a man (its occupant), there are plentiful grammatical errors to suggest that the prayer was originally intended to be “spoken” by a woman.   This coffin is of equally fine workmanship to a similar coffin found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, again also quite probably usurped and intended for a woman, demonstrating the respect in which its original owner was held.  All cartouches have been carefully excised from the coffin, and face torn off in antiquity, making the identity nearly impossible to ascertain. Additionally the wig is of an atypical style and design, and is mirrored in style on the four canopic jars, also found in the tomb.  It has been suggested that the wig design is more feminine in style, lending a further probability that the coffin’s original intended occupant was Kiya.

Suggestions have made that Akhenaten married two of his daughters in an attempt to keep the royal blood pure.  These daughters were Meritaten and Ankhesenpaaten (who later was to marry Tutankhamun).  Akhenaten’s father Amenhotep had ceremonially married his own daughter, Sitamun, and however distasteful this idea might sound to a modern audience the marriage was purely of ceremonial nature.  However, it appears that Akhenaten took his presumed marriages to his young daughters one step further, and some scholars have proposed that Akhenaten and his daughters were responsible for having sired two further daughters named Meritaten Tasherit and Ankhesenpaaten Tasherit respectively.

Finally, a suggestion has been made that Akhenaten married one of his sisters, and the fruit of their union was the birth of Tutankhamun.  Certainly the recent DNA findings have suggested that Tutankhamun was born of a brother-sister union, and that they were the children of Amenhotep III and of Tiye.  However his parentage is still subject to much debate and discussion, as the DNA found in the two foetuses buried alongside Tutankhamun are not aligned with the remains of a mummy believed to be that of Ankhesenamun, who was Akhenaten’s daughter.  If Akhenaten also were to have married one of his sisters, it seems unusual that she was not promoted to the status of Chief Royal Wife, over and above Nefertiti, and there is no mention anywhere of another wife of Akhenaten, and certainly not one of the importance and rank of being a god’s daughter, which she would have been.  Also the chronology of events does not follow through as Tutankhamun was born between years 8 and 11 of Akhenaten, and his mother died, probably murdered, when she was in her mid to late twenties.

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