By the time Tutankhamun had ascended the throne in the late fourteenth century BC, the once great empire was no more with much of it having been lost. These circumstances need to considered and understood when reflecting upon the events surrounding the events of the Armana era during and after the death of Akheneten. Egypt’s relations with her neighbours had become increasingly strained with power struggle occurring between the nations; in particular between Egypt, Hatti, and Mitanni. Hatti, and its subjects, the Hittites, were endeavouring to expand their own empire under their king, Suppiluliuma I. With records of events in Egypt are sparse for the reigns of the pharaohs during the “Amarna period”, one has to draw upon the Hittite records for information relating to this turbulent period of Egyptian history. Some of these events are recorded in the fragmentary Deeds of Suppiluliuma, compiled after his death by his son, Mursili II.
In Hatti, a onetime general named Suppiluliuma had captured the throne by force, overthrowing king Tudhaliya III. The disillusioned Suppiluliuma had served under the deposed king’s father, Tudhaliya II. Suppiluliuma seems to have set about expanding the Hittite empire through alliances and dynastic marriages with his own family. He also took full advantage of the rather erratic behaviour of the Egyptian pharaoh, Akhenaten. Akhenaten appears to have had a lack of interest and concern in Egyptian foreign affairs preferring to focus upon implementing his monotheistic reforms, and the building of the city of Akhetaten. Owing to this apparent indifference to events around him, Egypt lost much of its empire to the north following Hittite invasions. These acts of aggression against the various kingdoms incited discontentment amongst the subjects, leading to further disruption and revolution.
|Suppiluliuma, the Hittite leader.|
Nonetheless, Hatti further sought to extend its empire, and went to war with Mitanni. Mitanni had long been one of Egypt’s allies, owing to dynastic marriages between the royal princes of Egypt and princesses of Mitanni. Eventually the Egyptians decided to act, and in the region of Kadesh, the Egyptians attempted to defend the city. This conduct probably followed from repeated requests made by its king to Akhenaten as can be seen in the Amarna letters. Despite these requests, Egypt lost hold of the city. Subsequent attempts of later pharaohs Tutankhamun and Horemheb to regain the city were largely unsuccessful, and it did not return to Egyptian rule until the reign of Seti I. The victorious Suppiluliuma sent forces elsewhere in Mitanni as well as to Amqu (modern day Northern Lebanon). The Armana letters recount events that occurred in Amqu by Abdi-Risa, its ruler:-
|One of the Amarna letters.|
“Say to the king, my lord, my god, my Sun: Message of Abdi-Risa, your servant, the ruler of Enišasi. I fall in the dirt under the feet of the king, my lord, seven times and seven times. Look, we are in Amqu, in cities of the king, my lord, and Etakkama, the ruler of Qinsa (ie Kadesh), assisted the troops of Hatti and set the cities of the king, my lord, on fire. May the king, my lord, take cognizance, and may the king, my lord, give archers that we may (re)gain the cities of the king, my lord, and dwell in the cities of the king, my lord, my god, my Sun." [EA 363]
Following events at Amqu, the Deeds of Suppiluliuma record that: “[The Egyptians] were afraid. And since, in addition, their lord Nibhururiya had died, therefore the queen of Egypt, who was Dakhamunzu, sent a messenger to [Suppiluliuma].” In this message, the apparently destitute dowager queen wrote stating that “my husband has died. I do not have a son. But they say, many are your sons. If you would give me one of your sons, he would become my husband. I shall never pick out a servant of mine and make him my husband. I am afraid.”
Having received this request for help and a dynastic marriage, not unsurprisingly, it was greeted by Suppiluliuma with both surprise and suspicion. Such an event was unprecedented. Previously, under the reign of Amenhotep III, the pharaoh had made it clear that dynastic marriages in Egypt were specifically to be just between foreign princesses and Egyptian princes or kings, and never the reverse. Evidence of this prejudice against marriages of Egyptian princesses to non-Egyptians is detailed in the Armana letters. In the correspondence, a request for a marriage to a royal princess was made to Amenhotep III by the Babylonian king Kadašman-Enlil, appealing to his status as pharaoh and ruler (“You are still the king, and can act as you wish”.) In a somewhat contradictory statement, Amenhotep III appears to express his dismay at such an idea. Reference is made to as one of his sisters being previously sent as a consort to Babylon, yet no one has seen her and knows whether she is alive or dead since her departure from Egypt. Scant surviving evidence of marriages between Egyptian royal males remains, and is found in the Armana letters and inscribed upon a few scarabs commemorating the marriage made between the pharaoh and a foreign princess. These princesses were usually given a household and taken as a secondary wife.
|Drawing showing the likeness of an Egyptian princess, found on a vase in Ugarit|
It is intriguing to find evidence that at some point during the late 18th dynasty of a marriage having occurred between an unnamed royal princess (or lady of the court) and of Niqmaddu II, king of Ugarit, incised on the surviving fragments of an alabaster vase. Christiane Desroches Noblecourt suggested stylistically that the lady depicted upon the vase appears to date from the final years of the reign of Akhenaten up until to that of Ay, which suggests that a possible candidate of this union was one of the surviving daughters of Akhenaten. The elaborately dressed lady, who strongly resembles an Egyptian, is shown to be in Niqmaddu’s presence, standing beneath a kiosk or canopy, pouring him a drink. Despite this seemingly dramatic swing in foreign relations, there is no evidence elsewhere to suggest that Akhenaten detracted from standard policy in relation to alliances and marriages, leaving the identification of the lady obscure.
Wary to this request made from the Egyptians, Suppiluliuma exclaimed that “such a thing has never happened to me in my whole life”. However, with his curiosity aroused, and appreciating the importance and value of an alliance between Egypt and Hatti, Suppiluliuma sent a chamberlain to further investigate the truth behind this extraordinary request.
|A likeness of Akhenaten and his Chief Royal Wife, Nefertiti.|
Despite the request for a dynastic marriage between the dowager queen and a royal Hittite prince, Suppiluliuma still successfully took hold of the city of Kadesh that winter. The following spring, the chamberlain returned to the Hittite court with a messenger from the queen. The messenger addressed the king, further imploring the Hittite ruler for his aid, and for a son to be sent to Egypt for the widowed queen to marry and make her husband. The letter addressed the Hittite king’s doubts, once again making a more specific, urgent request for an alliance via marriage to be made between the two families. As relayed in the Deeds, Dakhamunzu reaffirms her desperate need, saying:-
“Why did you say ‘they deceive me’ in that way? If I had a son, would I write to you of my shame and that of my country? You didn’t believe me and have told me so. My husband has died. I have no son. Never shall I take a servant of mine and make him my husband. I have written to no other country but yours. They say you have many sons, so give me one of yours. He will be my husband, and to Egypt he will be king.”
Suppiluliuma remained suspicious and after numerous negotiations with the Egyptian messenger finally decided to send one of his sons, Zannanza, to Egypt. Suppiluliuma was concerned nonetheless and feared that his son would be captured and taken hostage once in Egypt. His fears were justified, en route to Egypt, possibly even before he arrived, the Hittite prince was killed. His death was treated with immediate suspicion by the Hittites and their ruler, who believed the Egyptians to have been responsible for his being murdered. Reporting back to Suppiluliuma, they told him of how Zannanza had been killed by the people of Egypt. After grieving, and anger and retaliation for the murder of his son and the treachery of the Egyptians, Suppiluliuma once again attacked Anqu. He then returned victorious to his capital, Hattusa, with Egyptian prisoners and hostages. Unbeknownst to Suppiluliuma and his heir Arnuwanda II, the hostages were carrying a deadly plague to which both rulers were to later succumb.
The identity of Dakhamunzu remains enigmatic and uncertain; Three possible candidates have been proposed as being the dowager queen in question. These women are Nefertiti, and two of her daughters, Meritaten and Ankhesenamun. At one time, in the early days of scholarship; it was suggested that Dakhamunzu was simply a Hittite corruption of the name Ankhesenamun, the widow of Tutankhamun. However, this explanation now seems to be improbable and unjustified. It is now generally accepted and believed that the name is derived from the Hittite rendering of the Egyptian ta hemet nesu, an Egyptian title meaning “the King’s wife” rather than being a proper name. The confusion arises from confusions in the recognised chronology of events in pharaonic Egypt’s historical timescale, allowing for approximately twenty years to be placed on either side of events that occur within its history. Further confusion surrounds the identity of the deceased pharaoh, named “Nibhururiya”. This Hittite interpretation of his name might refer to the prenomen of either Akhenaten [Neferkheperure] , or Tutankhamun [Nebkheperure].
|A likeness of the young Meritaten, daughter of Akhenaten.|
|Close-up of the the gold shrine, showing Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun.|
In the identification of Nibhururiya as Tutankhamun, the case rests upon the facts that Tutankhamun left no surviving (male) heirs. Additionally, his widow appears to have eventually married Ay. Ay may well have been her own grandfather; but also had been grand vizier in the court of the late Tutankhamun. This status could well have been seen as that of being a servant despite his close affiliation and blood ties with the royal family. Although most accept this marriage as having occurred, evidence for a marriage between Ankhesenamun and Ay is rather tenuous, based upon the existence of one ring , and another reported as having been seen by Percy Newberry. In a letter written to Howard Carter, Newberry speaks of having found a ring bearing the cartouches of Ay and Ankhesenamun together, suggesting that the two were at one point married. A ring similar to the one described which bears both inscriptions is housed in Berlin. The marriage itself would have been purely to reinforce Ay’s claim to the empty throne. Despite her royal heritage and being the “daughter of a god”, Ay never made Ankhesenamun his Chief Royal Wife; that accolade and title having been conferred to the lady Tey. Tey had been married to Ay for many years and had been named as being the former wet-nurse of Nefertiti. Ankhesenamun appears in none of the funerary decorations in Ay’s tomb suggesting that he did not wish her to accompany him into the afterlife as his consort.
The eventual fate of Ankhesenamun remains uncertain. Noblecourt proposed that she was executed by Horemheb, possibly as a result of her role in the Zannanza affair. Her body is now believed to be one of the ladies whose skeletal remains were found in KV21; having been named as Mummy KV21A, and through DNA testing as being the mother of the foetuses found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. The recently discovered tomb KV63 has been suggested having been Akhenaten’s original resting place, owing to its close proximity to KV62. This theory is supported by the presence of a woman’s coffin, women’s clothing and jewellery, as well as pottery bearing the partial name of “-paaten”, Ankhesenamun’s birth name, being found in the tomb.
Not all scholars agree with the identification of the anonymous queen as being Ankhesenamun, but propose the suggestion her identity might be attributed to either Nefertiti or Meritaten. Certainly both women had attained the title of “Chief Royal Wife” and would have seen themselves as being “the King’s wife”. Nefertiti’s attribution of this title and status is obvious from the role she played during her husband’s reign, but in relation to Meritaten, it remains somewhat more obscure and vague. Meritaten seems to have entertained this title during the reign of her father, whom she apparently later married (and may have sired his children). She also would appear to have been the “Chief Royal Wife” of at least one of his successors/co-regents, viz. Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten and Smenkhkare (see The Heirs of Akhenaten for further details on this fascinating subject).
|The Newberry ring, showing the cartouches of Ay and Ankhesenamun|
William McMurray has corroborated the theories proposed by Reeves in his article Towards an Absolute Chronology for Ancient Egypt where McMurray makes use of astronomical phenomena such as solar eclipses, as well as sources outside of Egypt and the Near East, to draw together a chronology of events. In parallel to this research, Jared Miller has attempted to draw up a chronology of events that took place in the Hittite empire. His theories have furthered the likelihood of Akhenaten being the deceased pharaoh “Nibhuririya”. In calculating the probable times of the year of Akhenaten and Tutankhumun’s deaths; a suggestion of late September has been made for that of Akhenaten based upon the vintaging of wine around this time, and that of late December based upon the flora and fauna found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Comparing these findings with the seasons recounted in the letters to Suppiluliuma and the taking of Anqu, the first letter appears to the Hittite king would appear to have arrived in the late autumn. This theory is further endorsed by the Amarna letters which speak of the military campaigns in Anqu, echoing those reported in The Deeds of Suppiluliuma. The city of Akhetaten (where the letters were found) was abandoned during the reign of Tutankhamun coinciding with the restoration of the old religion and return to Thebes as the royal capital. These events back up the theory that Tutankhamun cannot have been “Nibhururiya.” Horemheb (given the name/title of Armaa) has recently been suggested as being the commander and viceroy in Asia mentioned in a Hittite document which relates to events from regnal years 7 and 9 of Suppiluliuma’s successor, Mursili II. This position of responsibility would have been held by Horemheb prior to his ascension to the throne, further ruling out the likelihood of Tutankhamun as being the deceased king.
For scholars such as Reeves who believe that Akhenaten was succeeded as pharaoh by his consort, Nefertiti, under the newly adopted kingly name of Nefneferuaten Ankhkheprure, all of these goings-on this were part of her gradual progression from Chief Royal Wife to (possibly) co-regent to sole ruler/pharaoh. Therefore, although Nefertiti (under her newly assumed name) might well have been recognised as pharaoh by her court, she would still have been seen as the (former) king’s wife to neighbouring kingdoms. Most telling is that thus far neither a tomb nor funerary goods have ever been located and identified with having belonged with definite certainty to Nefertiti. There is a broken shabti figure bearing her name and queenly titles; but it also bears traces of her husband’s name and titles, which suggests that the figure could indeed have been intended for the burial of the latter as a votive offering.
|The fragment of the shabti figure in the Louvre.|
When considering the political climate Egypt found herself in, it seems unlikely that foreign powers would have recognised a woman ascending to the throne and taking on the duties of kingship. The presence and rule of a female pharaoh during this period is mentioned in later (inaccurate) histories, notably those of Manetho. Faience bezel rings have been found at Armana, which have female pharaonic epithets inscribed upon them. This era continues to remain shrouded in mystery, and facts cannot be determined with any definite certainty. Other scholars have suggested that Nefertiti predeceased her husband by several years, and that Akhenaten was succeeded by Meritaten. This theory was popularised by Krauss in the late 1970s, identifying Meritaten as the daughter named by Manetho as “Akenkheres”, of “Oros” (i.e. Akhenaten). This would make the shadowy, ephemeral pharaoh Smenkhkare as being either the servant she demonstrated such reluctance to marry, or in an even less likely circumstance, that it was Zannanza under a newly assumed, and more Egyptian, name.