Ankhesenamun, Daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti

Figure N-1. Ankhesenamun offers bunches of lotus blossoms to her husband Tutankhamun. She wears the same braided sidelock favored by Akhenaten’s daughters late in his reign, as well as the long red sash previously worn by Nefertiti and Tiyi. Detail of a carved and painted ivory box lid from the tomb of Tutankhamun.


Queen of Egypt, Great Royal Wife of Tutankhamun, third of the six daughters of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. She was born Ankhas-na-pa-Atan or Ankhesenpaaten, “She lives for the Aten,” in Year 3 or 4 of her father’s reign.

She changed her name to Ankhas-na-Amun or Ankhesenamun about Year 2 of her husband’s reign, substituting the name of Amun for Aten. At the same time, her husband changed his name from Tut-ankh-Atan (Tutankhaten) to Tut-ankh-Amun (Tutankhamun).

Ankhesenamun is memorable both as the last survivor of the Tuthmoside dynasty and as a maverick worthy of her father Akhenaten. After her husband’s death, when she was between 22 and 25, Ankhesenamun proclaimed herself the legitimate heiress of Egypt’s throne. To consolidate her position, she tried to forge an alliance with her country’s most formidable enemy, the Great Kingdom of Hatti. Her effort ended in failure.

After the enthronement of Tutankhamun’s successor, Aya, Ankhesenamun disappears from history. The year and manner of her death are unknown.

ankhesenpaaten in akhet-aten

Ankhesenamun’s earliest years are much better known than her last. Under the name of Ankhesenpaaten, she appears on numerous artifacts excavated in the ruins of the holy city of Akhet-Aten. Along with her two older sisters, Maritaten and Makitaten, she is represented in tomb reliefs, private stelae, and some of the later Boundary Stelae. Many of these artifacts contain the earlier didactic name of the Aten, placing them between Year 5 and Year 8 of Akhenaten’s reign. Within this short span of time, Ankhesenpaaten is depicted in various stages of maturation, initially as a bald naked baby and eventually as a stylish little girl wearing a gown and sandals.

In the tomb of Aya (Tomb 25), one of the earliest Amarna tombs to be decorated, Nefertiti and Akhenaten are represented in the Window of Appearance throwing gold shabyu-collars to Aya and his wife, Tiyi (see Figure N-2, below). This was probably one of the first Ceremonies of Reward to be staged in Akhet-Aten, honoring the royal couple’s favorite courtiers. As if to emphasize the importance of the event, the three eldest princesses accompany their parents in the Window of Appearance. Both Maritaten and Makitaten wear sidelocks, indicating that they are no longer babies. Maritaten assists her parents in throwing gold, while Makitaten simply holds a collar in reserve. Ankhesenpaaten, who is bald and completely naked, remains in her mother’s embrace and plays no active role in the ceremony.

Another relief, in the tomb of Api (Tomb 10), shows a later stage of Ankhesenpaaten’s development, even though like Aya’s tomb it features the earlier version of the divine name (see Figure N-3, below). During a formal ceremony of Atenist worship, Akhenaten and Nefertiti offer images of Tefnut and Shu to the Aten, while their three eldest daughters solemnly attend them. All three girls wear sandals, gowns, and sidelocks, and all three shake sistra (metallic percussion), appearing almost identical except for the variation in their heights. Of course, Ankhesenpaaten’s maximum age in Year 8 was five, despite the air of elegant self-possession with which the artist has portrayed her.

N-2 N-3
Nefertiti and her daughters give gold to Aya during a Ceremony of Reward

Figures N-2 and N-3. Two scenes from the childhood of Ankhesenpaaten. In Figure N-2 (left) she accompanies her mother Nefertiti and her two older sisters, Maritaten and Makitaten, in the Window of Appearance in Akhet-Aten. The occasion is a Ceremony of Reward honoring Aya, to whom Nefertiti and her daughters throw golden shabyu-collars. Ankhesenpaaten stands to the right of her mother, a bald naked toddler. In Figure N-3 (right), the three eldest princesses assist their parents in a ceremony of Atenist worship. All shake sistra (metallic percussion) and wear identical gowns. Again, Ankhesenpaaten stands on the right. Line drawings by Norman de Garis Davies of reliefs in the Amarna tombs of Aya (#25) and Api (#10).

A badly damaged painting in the King’s House of Akhet-Aten, also featuring the Aten’s earlier didactic name, contains the first known depiction of all six of Nefertiti’s daughters. This evidence demonstrates that Nefertiti gave birth to the youngest of them, Satapnara, by the last months of Year 8. Since none of the six girls were twins, and since Ankhesenpaaten was third in the sequence, we cannot plausibly assign her a birthdate later than the first half of Year 5. Moreover, Amarna monuments (including this painting) consistently associate Ankhesenpaaten with her two older sisters rather than with any of her younger sisters. The asymmetry in Ankhesenpaaten’s associations might indicate that Nefertiti paused in her childbearing after her third daughter arrived. Given the foregoing considerations, it seems reasonable to posit a date of Year 3 or Year 4 for Ankhesenpaaten’s birth.

The child spent her father’s reign in one of the palaces of Akhet-Aten, probably the North Riverside Palace. She is the only one of Akhenaten’s daughters whose nurse has been identified. A young woman named Tia had charge of Ankhesenpaaten during her earliest years, while Nefertiti bore three more daughters in quick succession. Tia is depicted in a temple relief wearing a finely braided wig as she stoops to care for the little girl.

Among the other companions of Ankhesenpaaten’s childhood were her aunt Mutnadjmat (Nefertiti’s younger sister) and Mutnadjmat’s two servants, a pair of dwarfs with comical names. Monuments of the early years at Akhet-Aten depict Mutnadjmat as an adolescent, older than Maritaten but not fully adult. She closely attends her nieces at Ceremonies of Reward and festivals of Atenist worship, as if she were playing the role of governess. Her dwarf companions, a young man and woman, might have assisted Nefertiti in special acts of worship — an inference suggested by the inclusion of the queen’s name in their epithets, and by the fact that dwarf celebrants were an important part of traditional worship during the Old Kingdom, when the solar cult first flourished.

Figure N-4. Maritaten and Makitaten, first and second daughters of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, assist their parents in the formal worship of the Aten by shaking sistra and (most likely) singing. This relief is a fragment of one of the Boundary Stelae of Akhet-Aten, executed in the Extreme Style.

Official art represents the intimate life of Akhenaten and his family as relaxed and affectionate. Both parents seem extremely indulgent to their daughters. However, all such scenes clearly served religious and propaganda purposes, since they appear in tomb reliefs and private stela as the channel or object of individual Atenist devotion. Thus we cannot be certain that the princesses’ childhood was as idyllic as it was portrayed. What does seem likely is that, despite the forbidding enclosure walls and the secluded garden courts of Akhenaten’s palaces, there was no fundamental division between his family’s public and private lives. As soon as his daughters were old enough to stand still for extended periods and shake sistra on cue, they were incorporated into the celebration of Aten’s cult and placed on frequent public display.

One of the grandest celebrations of Ankhesenpaaten’s childhood was the ceremony of foreign tribute in Year 12. Along with all five of her sisters, Ankhesenpaaten accompanied her parents as they sat enthroned in the royal pavilion, receiving the homage and the treasures of all lands. Her age would be about eight, so we may conclude that this was the first time she saw such a variety of foreign princes or such an accumulation of wealth in a single place.

For the remainder of her father’s reign, however, Ankhesenpaaten would have attended many more somber rituals than gaudy festivals. After Year 12 the mortality rate within the royal family dramatically increased. Relief decoration in the Amarna Royal Tomb from Year 14 or 15 represents Ankhesenpaaten and her family mourning her older sister Makitaten. Queen Tiyi died about the same time, and the funerals of Kiya, Nefernefrura, Nefertiti, and Akhenaten himself ensued within three more years. Some writers explain this mortality as the effect of a pestilence such as bubonic plague, which was either native to Akhet-Aten or introduced there by the foreign visitors of Year 12. It is inarguable that various instances of epidemic disease are attested in West Asia around this time, but we have no firm indication, other than the deaths of Akhenaten’s family, that mortality increased in Egypt.

One death was surely unrelated to an epidemic — that of Makitaten, whose passing may have had a profound effect on Ankhesenpaaten. Even if Queen Tiyi’s death preceded Makitaten’s, she was an old lady whose demise had been anticipated. Makitaten, on the other hand, was the first of Ankhesenpaaten’s juvenile relations to die, passing away aged only about 13. The circumstances of her death may well have induced a degree of foreboding in her sister, for a reason that contemporary readers will probably find disturbing. Once Makitaten reached puberty, her father Akhenaten took her as a sexual partner. She conceived a child and died delivering it, no more than a child herself. As the next oldest daughter, Ankhesenpaaten was next in line for her father’s attentions.

Of course, we are only speculating as to her reaction. Ankhesenpaaten also saw another older sister, Maritaten, successfully deliver a baby, and then go on to assume the rank of Great Royal Wife. Rather than dreading her father’s eventual approach, Ankhesenpaaten may have looked forward to it, eager to assume the ceremonial and dynastic honors that would accompany the birth of a child.

Figure N-5. Two Amarna princesses, depicted in the Mature Style of Amarna, current after Year 9. Each wears a long braided sidelock associated only with the daughters of Akhenaten. Nothing concrete identifies these girls, but their relative ages are suggestive. Only the three eldest daughters of Akhenaten reached adolescence during their father’s reign, and Makitaten died within a year or so of becoming fertile. Thus the girl on the left is probably Maritaten or Ankhesenpaaten. Both of them are described as having given birth to daughters by the end of their father’s reign, so the girl on the right might be one of those daughters, rather than a younger sister.

Given her youth, however, Ankhesenpaaten did not become fertile until Year 15 or 16. About that time, we find inscriptions at Akhet-Aten mentioning a child named Ankhesenpaaten Tasharit, daughter of Akhenaten and Ankhesenpaaten. By now pharaoh had already installed an individual named Ankhkheprura Nefernefruaten as his co-regent and promoted Maritaten to the status of Great Royal Wife. Thus it is uncertain what sort of future he envisioned for Ankhesenpaaten.

Before Ankhesenpaaten’s daughter could learn to speak, Akhenaten himself died. The immediate aftermath of his death is perhaps the most vexing issue in Amarna studies. We simply do not know who was left alive to mourn him, or who initially succeeded him as pharaoh. One jar docket from Amarna contains a date of “Year 17” that has been effaced and replaced by “Year 1.” Neither of the associated pharaohs is named, but the first is clearly Akhenaten. The second is unlikely to be Ankhkheprura Nefernefruaten, who by this time would have attained Year 2 or Year 3. On the basis of an unfinished painting in the tomb of Marira II, it can be argued that Ankhkheprura Smanakhkara Djeserkhepru was Akhenaten’s immediate heir. However, we cannot rule out Tutankhamun.

For a short time, Ankhesenpaaten’s life would have continued as before. No particular palace is identified as her residence in Akhet-Aten. By the reign of Smanakhkara, however, the city was well-furnished with luxurious quarters. We can picture Ankhesenpaaten living either in the North Riverside Palace or in the Great Riverside Palace. At first she might have been accompanied by her daughter, but since this child is not attested after Akhenaten’s death, we must conclude that Ankhesenpaaten Tasharit quickly followed the rest of her family to the tomb.

Nor was she the last. Within a year or two of Akhenaten’s death, King Smanakhkara and Queen Maritaten also passed away. Ankhesenpaaten was now truly a survivor — one of only two or three living members of what had quite recently been a large family. The first element of her personal name — ankhas, “she lives” — may have seemed prophetic.

Smanakhkara left no children. The remaining male heir of the long-running Tuthmoside dynasty was Tutankhaten, younger son of Akhenaten and younger brother of Ankhesenpaaten. His age was 9 or 10, while his sister was between 13 and 16. Tutankhaten was duly installed as pharaoh in the Great Temple of Amun in Thebes, in the most significant demonstration to date of the reconciliation between Aten and Amun. Part of the ceremonial probably included a proclamation of his marriage to Ankhesenpaaten, who now succeeded her grandmother, mother, and older sister as Great Royal Wife and Lady of the Two Lands.

Figure N-6. Bust of an unknown Amarna princess, executed in the Mature Style. This exceptionally fine piece dates from the second half of Akhenaten’s reign, when the Mature Style was in vogue for royal portraits. Given the subject’s apparent age (neither a small child nor a full-grown adult) and the absence of a specific date, this bust might represent any one of pharaoh’s three eldest daughters. The broad cheekbones, round full face, and slightly pursed lips recall portraits of Tiyi from the reign of Amenhotep III. The braided sidelock recalls reliefs of the Amarna princesses from the latter part of Akhenaten’s reign, and portraits of Ankhesenamun from Tutankhamun’s reign. Thus this sculpture is as likely to represent Ankhesenpaaten as Maritaten or Makitaten.

ankhesenamun in memphis and thebes

With their accession the young monarchs repeated a dynamic that had last obtained almost sixty years earlier, when their grandparents, Amenhotep III and Great Royal Wife Tiyi, began their career as child-rulers. This repetition may have seemed to ordinary Egyptians like a restoration of the great days of Amenhotep. In any event, it surely offered the promise that the social rifts opened by the Amarna revolution would now be healed.

Like their grandparents, Tutankhaten and Akhsenpaaten were initially surrounded by familiar courtiers who had served their family for decades. Chief among them was Aya, Divine Father and Master of the Horse, and his wife Tiyi, Nefertiti’s nurse. Many Egyptologists have noted that Aya’s name and titles (especially yati-natjar or Divine Father) recall those of Yuya, and that Aya apparently played the same role of mentor for Tutankhamun as Yuya did for Amenhotep III.

Aya’s principal rival, whose influence perhaps was not felt until a few years into the reign, was Harimhab, a scribe of northern origin who rose quickly to the rank of general of all the armies of Egypt. He may or may not have been the same person as Paatenimhab, a military man who bore almost identical titles late in the reign of Akhenaten.

Other important figures of the reign included Nakhtmin, a military officer who was apparently related to Aya, possibly his son; Maya, Overseer of the Treasury and Overseer of Works in the Valley of the Kings; and the viziers of the north and south, Usir-mantu and Pantju. The latter may have been the same Pantju who served Akhenaten as Chief Physician and who was rewarded with Tomb 5 in Akhet-Aten (Reeves 31).

Pharaoh Tutankhaten spent the first year or two of his reign in residence in his father’s city. Worship continued in the major Aten temples, while construction resumed at the Gam-pa-Aten in Thebes for the first time in over a decade (Redford ??). The Mature Style of Akhenaten’s later reign remained the prevailing aesthetic at court.

One change was quickly evident. In a break with the policies of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten, the Great Royal Wife no longer occupied a central role in ceremonial life. Many artifacts of the reign mention only Tutankhamun, never his queen. As a result, outside of the contents of his tomb, very few of the surviving monuments of this reign represent or refer to Ankhesenamun. We have correspondingly little evidence for her life and experience during the nine years when she was Egypt’s queen.

Two mummified fetuses were discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb, in the chamber known as the Treasury. Each was interred in a nested pair of gilt coffins, and the two mummies were placed side by side in a plain wooden box that was jumbled completely without ceremony among other boxes of mortuary furnishings. At autopsy, both fetuses were determined to be female. The smaller of the two had been delivered prematurely. The larger was probably carried to term, to die during or immediately after birth.

Although the focus of considerable debate, these two fetuses are commonly considered to be the offspring of Tutankhamun by Ankhesenamun, his only attested wife (Reeves 123-124). They are our principal evidence for the queen’s activities during her husband’s lifetime. Given the physical immaturity of Tutankhamun upon his enthronement, the older of these two females must have been delivered no earlier than Year 3, and possibly later.

Momentous decisions had already been implemented by this time. In Year 2, the king and queen replaced the -aten element in their names with -amun, signifying a complete reversal of royal ideology. At the same time, the court permanently abandoned Akhet-Aten and removed to Memphis, where the favored royal residence became the House of Aakheperkara (Thutmose I). From this palace, pharaoh issued the chief policy statement of his reign, the so-called Restoration Decree. Without naming names, this document repudiates and demonizes the reign of Akhenaten as a time of sacrilege and misfortune. Pharaoh now makes amends by restoring the privileges and incomes of the major cults, principally those of Amun in Thebes and Ptah in Memphis. The decree stops well short of penalizing the cult of the Aten, which continued throughout Tutankhamun’s reign in the major capitals of Egypt.

Ankhesenamun’s two unsuccessful pregancies must have occurred during the second half of the reign, after the move to Memphis and the restoration of the traditional cults. Her failure to bear a son would have disastrous consequences within a short time.

Figure N-7. Ankhesenamun (left) and Tutankhamun (right) distribute the Gold of Reward to General Harimhab. This fragmentary relief was removed from the Saqqara tomb of Harimhab. It is one of the few artifacts of Ankhesenamun that does not derive from the ruins of Akhet-Aten or the tomb of Tutankhamun. This scene demonstrates that, at least on some formal occasions, Ankhesenamun accompanied her husband during public appearances, just as her mother Nefertiti and her grandmother Tiyi had done. The subject of the scene — a generous reward for Harimhab — contrasts ironically with its present condition — defaced at Harimhab’s orders once he enforced the damnatio memoriae against Akhenaten’s family. The king and queen are standing in a raised pavilion, with Tutankhamun leaning forward to throw gold to his general. In a continuation of this scene, not shown, Harimhab is depicted as a diminutive figure laden with shabyu-collars. Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden.

The last few years of Tutankhamun’s reign were a time of military activity, both in Nubia and in West Asia, as attested by the decoration of the Saqqara tomb of Harimhab, various fragmentary inscriptions from Thebes, and a crucial Hittite document named The Deeds of Suppiluliumas. Harimhab was the supreme commander of Egypt’s armies at this time. He probably concentrated his attention on West Asia, given his personal base in Memphis and the high political stakes involved in any Asian conflict. During Year 8 (probably) and Year 9 (certainly), troops under his leadership were active in Syria, in the neighboring regions of Kadesh and Amqa.

Egyptian forces were mired there in a conflict with the Hittites when Tutankhamun abruptly died. He was about 19, having spent nine full years as king. Most likely his death occurred at home in Egypt rather than on a military campaign abroad. His wife immediately took control of the situation.

the widowed queen of egypt

The most dangerous and engrossing chapter of Ankhesenamun’s life begins with her husband’s death. By tradition, the next pharaoh took office as soon as his predecessor passed away, even though the official coronation had to wait until after the royal funeral, at least 70 days later. Evidence from The Deeds of Suppiluliumas suggests that affairs did not run quite so smoothly after Tutankhamun’s death. It seems likely that Ankhesenamun managed to keep power in her own hands for several months, and it is very possible that no successor was immediately announced.

The Hittite narrative is clear on one important point: Ankhesenamun did not try to repeat the career of her predecessor Hatshapsut, who dared to crown herself king. Instead, she pursued a completely novel strategy, one that flabbergasted her contemporaries.

The author of The Deeds of Suppiluliumas was the Hittite king’s son, Mursilis II. Although his chronicle is our only source for this episode in the Amarna story, it is unusually authoritative. Mursilis was a direct contemporary of Ankhesenamun, in full command of the facts as they were understood by the Hittites, and apparently an eyewitness to many of the events that he describes.

The episode begins in the midst of the Second Syrian War of Suppiluliumas, while the Great King of Hatti is campaigning against his old enemy, Tushratta of Mitanni. The latter is an exile in Carchemish, his armies no longer a serious threat to Hittite hegemony. Substantial Egyptian forces have been deployed in the regions of Kadesh and Amqa to protect Egypt’s interests in Syria.

From The Deeds of Suppiluliumas:
The first letter of Ankhesenamun

While my father Suppiluliumas was in the country of Carchemish, he sent Lupakkis and Tarhunta-Zalmas to the country of Amqa. They ravaged the country of Amqa and brought back to my father prisoners and cattle, large and small.

When the Egyptians learned of the destruction of Amqa, they were afraid, for their master, Niphururiya, had just died.

The widowed queen of Egypt sent an ambassador to my father and wrote to him in these terms: “My husband is dead and I have no son. But they say that you have many sons. If you would give me one of your sons, he would become my husband. I would never take a servant of mine and make him my husband.”

When my father learned this he called together the council of the great and said: “Since the most ancient times such a thing has never happened before.” He decided to send Hattusa-Ziti, the chamberlain, saying, “Go, bring me information worthy of belief. They may try to deceive me. And as to the possibility that they may have a prince, bring me back information worthy of belief.”

[After Desroches-Noblecourt 275 and Bryce 195-196]

Although some writers have tried to identify the Egyptian king as Akhenaten (Naphururiya in cuneiform spelling) and the unnamed widow as Nefertiti or Maritaten, Trevor Bryce sums up the position of most contemporary specialists in his recent work, The Kingdom of the Hittites: “The case for Tutankhamun seems virtually irrefutable” (193). The evidence is straightforward. Tutankhamun was the first pharaoh of his dynasty to die without leaving either a biological or an adoptive heir, and the only pharaoh of the Amarna period whose widow could honestly say that Egypt had no royal prince ready to assume the throne. Akhenaten left two sons behind; Smanakhkara left his younger brother; only Tutankhamun had no male survivor. Thus Ankhesenamun must be the Egyptian queen who figures in Mursilis’ narrative.

Suppiluliumas was encamped in Syria when he received her letter. His amazement seems perfectly genuine and appropriate. As he puts it: “Since the most ancient times such a thing has never happened before.” The queen’s own grandfather, Amenhotep III, had already enunciated one reason for the Hittite’s amazement. In an exchange of letters with the King of Babylon, Amenhotep famously stated: “From time immemorial no daughter of the King of Egypt is given to anyone” (Amarna Letter EA 4, Moran 8). Another good reason for Suppiluliumas’ disbelief would be the longstanding tradition that international marriages involved the exchange of royal daughters only, never of royal sons. Yet now, for the first time in the history of the East Mediterranean, Ankhesenamun was proposing a marriage alliance that would have immediate dynastic and geopolitical consequences.

Her desperation seems palpable. Had she a son, her position would be secure. The child would be crowned pharaoh while Ankhesenamun became the real ruler of the country. The absence of a son demanded a husband. When she says, “I would never take a servant of mine and make him my husband,” the servant to whom she refers must be one the three most powerful men at the royal court: Aya, Nakhtmin, or Harimhab. Whether her distaste reflects snobbery (only a king’s son is worthy of the daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti!), personal dislike (an imponderable factor at our present remove), or some specific political concern (as seems most likely), the probable object of her antipathy was Harimhab. Ankhesenamun knew that she could hold on to power only as the wife of pharaoh. For whatever reason, she considered a Hittite husband her best hope of retaining the status that she enjoyed, while apparently she regarded General Harimhab as her worst.

The narrative of Mursilis indicates that Ankhesenamun made no attempt to conceal the death of Tutankhamun. News of pharaoh’s passing reached both the Egyptian and Hittite armies in Syria before Ankhesenamun’s letter reached Suppiluliumas. Such news, and such a letter, would have traveled at maximum speed. Thus Suppiluliumas might have received Egypt’s offer while preparations were still under way for Tutankhamun’s funeral.

But the Hittite king was disinclined to accept this offer at face value. After dispatching his ambassador to Egypt, Suppiluliumas proceeded with his plans to sieze Carchemish and do away with his old nemesis, Tushratta. His army accomplished the first goal after a siege of only seven days; a band of Mitanni conspirators accomplished the second with similar ease. The fugitive Tushratta was assassinated by a cabal led by his own son, Shattiwaza — a sadly appropriate end for a man who first achieved kingship through the murder of his older brother. Having subdued all of the former territories of Mitanni, Suppiluliumas left two of his sons to rule as viceroys in Syria while he returned to the royal capital, Hattusas, in central Anatolia (Bryce 195).

Meanwhile, Ankhesenamun was unable to negotiate an agreement with the Hittite ambassador, Hattusa-Ziti. Her anxiety grew. She sent the ambassador back to Hatti in the company of her own envoy, Hani, who carried another letter from her. By now, some months had surely passed since the dispatch of her first letter to Suppiluliumas. Even if Tutankhamun’s funeral had not yet occurred at the time of Ankhesenamun’s first writing, it was surely solemnized by this time.

Our only clue to the timing of the young king’s burial is provided by the floral offerings in his tomb, which date the event quite neatly to the first half of March, during the season of Drought (i.e., Shamu, also known as Harvest). This calendar date is distinctly misaligned with what we know of the negotiations between Ankhesenamun and Suppiluliumas. Pharaoh’s death was both preceded and followed by major military maneuvers, as described in The Deed of Suppiluliumas. For the Hittites, as we know, summer was the season of war, because winter snows blocked the passes in their Anatolian homeland. The Hittite king had sent Ankhesenamun his original reply in summer or autumn, while he was with his armies in Syria. He received her second embassy in spring, after an interval of half a year, while he was in Hattusas.

Thus we have two alternative chronologies for these negotiations of Ankhesenamun and Suppiluliumas. Either Ankhesenamun buried Tutankhamun about the same time as she began writing to the Hittites, or she waited almost until the negotiations were concluded before taking this final step. The first alternative is problematic because, as we know from a tomb painting, Aya appeared in kingly regalia to officiate at Tutankhamun’s funeral, thus claiming the throne for himself. Yet for him to do so would seem to invalidate Ankhesenamun’s ongoing negotiations. The second alternative is even more problematic. Tutankhamun’s burial shows every sign of being rushed, not carried out over an extended period. Furthermore, Egyptian sensibilities would doubtless be offended by such a failure to promptly inter the king and name his successor. It seems a hard to accept that Ankhesenamun could leave her husband unburied and Egypt without a pharaoh for so many months.

Whichever alternative we accept, Ankhesenamun was in deep distress. The dynastic crisis entered its second round, once more narrated by Mursilis:

From The Deeds of Suppiluliumas:
The second letter of Ankhesenamun

The ambassador of Egypt, the lord Hani, came to my father. Because my father had instructed Hattusa-Ziti when he went to the country of Egypt, saying,”Perhaps they have a prince, they may be trying to deceive me and do not really want one of my sons to reign over them,” the Egyptian queen answered my father in a letter in these words:

“Why did you say ‘they deceive me’ in that way? If I had a son, would I have written to a foreign land about my country’s shame and my own? You did not believe me, and you even told me so!

“He who was my husband is dead. I have no son. Never will I take a servant of mine and make him my husband. I have written to no other country. Only to you have I written. They say you have many sons, so give me one son of yours! To me he will be husband, and in Egypt he will be king.”

[After Desroches-Noblecourt 276 and Bryce 195-196]

Ankhesenamun anticipated that her own words, filtered through the medium of clay tablets, would be insufficient to sway the Hittites. So her ambassador Hani had a special role to play, one that he apparently executed to perfection. He addressed Suppiluliumas with the following impassioned speech:

From The Deeds of Suppiluliumas:
Speech of Hani, Ankhesenamun’s ambassador

“O my Lord! This is our country’s shame! If we had a son of the king at all, would we come to a foreign country and persist in asking for a lord for ourselves? Niphururiya who was our Lord is dead. He has no son. Our Lord’s wife is solitary. We are seeking a son of our Lord of Hatti for the kingship in Egypt. And for the woman, our Lady, we seek him as her husband. Furthermore, we went to no other country, only here did we come. Now, O Lord, give us a son of yours!”

Because my father was generous, he granted the lady’s request and arranged to send his son.

[After Bryce 195-196]

In Mursilis’ retelling, Hani chooses his words very carefully. He states: the king is dead, the king has no son, the king’s wife has not remarried, and the queen’s next husband will be king. This account of the Egyptian’s speech does not rule out the possibility that Aya had already assumed the throne as a sort of caretaker king, theoretically ready to step down once Ankhesenamun came up with an appropriate consort. (The Hittites, of course, could not be faulted for doubting whether such a gentleman’s agreement would ever be honored.) In any event, neither Hattusa-Ziti nor the rest of the Hittite court were naive or impractical men, and they were convinced of Ankhesenamun’s fundamental sincerity.

Thus her audacious plan entered its critical phase. Suppiluliumas dispatched the fourth of his five sons, Zannanzas, along with a Hittite escort, to Egypt to become her husband. In a traditional dynastic marriage, the Egyptian ambassador would accompany the foreign contingent. We are uncertain if Hani so accompanied Zannanzas. But we do know that the Hittites were ambushed by Egyptian troops before they reached Egypt, and Zannanzas himself was slain — the first time that an Egyptian marriage alliance ever met such a fate.

At the same time, Ankhesenamun vanished. We may conclude that she was just as much a victim of treachery as were the Hittites. Someone in Egypt who knew her plans set out to thwart them, and he was resourceful enough to succeed. Our suspects are the same as before: Aya, Nakhtmin, and Harimhab. Aya benefited from the death of Zannanzas because he was thereupon confirmed as pharaoh of Egypt. Yet neither Nakhtmin nor Harimhab necessarily suffered. Aya was an old man, aged 60 or more upon his enthronement. He was unlikely to reign long, whereas the youthful Zannanzas might have founded a new dynasty. If either Nakhtmin or Harimhab directly supported Aya’s succession, they might have done so with the conviction that he was the lesser of the evils.

Thus we cannot be sure which member of the queen’s inner circle betrayed her ambitions and ended her royal eminence. We cannot even be sure that Ankhesenamun outlived Tutankhamun by many months. Perhaps she was murdered along with Zannanzas, or perhaps she was exiled to some decaying provincial palace to live out her days in obscurity. Decades of war would pass before Egypt attempted another alliance with the Great Kingdom of Hatti.

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