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Nefertiti - Queen of Egypt

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A bust of Nefertiti in Egyptian Museum in Berlin

Nefertiti was an 18th-Dynasty Queen of Egypt; she co-ruled Egypt with her husband and may have ruled alone after his death.

Nefertiti (which literally means 'a beautiful woman has arrived') was the daughter of Ay (who would become Pharaoh after Tutankhamun's death) and the beloved wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Nefertiti and Akhenaten had six daughters but no sons. Her third daughter, Akhesenpa'aten1 married Tutankhamun.

Was Nefertiti a Pharaoh?

Nefertiti was initially Queen - she was the primary wife of Akhenaten. However, cartouches2 show that throughout Akhenaten's reign, his wife was given more and more power, gradually becoming co-ruler, and even possibly taking over as ruler after Akhenaten's death (under the name Pharaoh Smenkhkare3).

During her marriage, she changed her name to Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti. Once she attained the power and status of a Pharaoh (while co-ruler with Akhenaten) she changed her name again to Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten. This person disappeared from all records but someone named Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare (possibly another change of name for Nefertiti?) took over as Pharaoh when Akhenaten died.

It is not universally accepted that this was Nefertiti; some writers suggest that this person was a brother or close family relative of Tutankhamun. However there are no records of Pharaoh Smenkhkare prior to this, and there was no further mention of Nefertiti in writings.

It is thought that Nefertiti tried to hold on to the Egyptian throne by appealing to the King of the Hittites (King Suppiluliumas) to send one of his sons to marry her and co-rule over Egypt. Such a marriage in the eyes of the Egyptian people would have been considered treason, as the Hittites were mortal enemies of the Egyptians. The Hittite King did, however, send his son Prince Zananza in response to Nefertiti's request, but he was assassinated en route.

Where was Nefertiti Buried?

Pharaoh Akhenaten and his mother Queen Tiy were buried in a royal tomb at Akhetaten (now called Amarna). Provision was also made to bury Nefertiti there as well, but the tomb was not safe from grave robbers, so the mummies were moved to the Valley of the Kings (almost certainly by Pharaoh Tutankhamun). In 1907, a tomb called KV55 was found and the remains of Akhenaten and Queen Tiy were uncovered. There were no burial items in this grave, and the mummified remains of Akhenaten had also been defiled by the grave-robbers.

There is no trace of Nefertiti/Pharaoh Smenkhkare anywhere. If she was given the full burial rights of a reigning monarch by Tutankhamun or his regents4 then this tomb remains hidden. If this tomb were to be discovered today, intact, it would have the same impact on the world that Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb had in 1922.

A famous and exquisite limestone bust of Nefertiti, sculpted by Thutmose5 in 1360 BC, was discovered by German archaeologists and is housed in the Berlin Museum. Its companion piece, a bust of Akhenaten, had been smashed. The Egyptian government requested the return of this priceless work of art but Adolf Hitler refused.

Barbra Streisand as Nefertiti

American actress and singer Barbra Streisand, dressed as the Egyptian queen, sang next to a copy of the bust of Nefertiti during her TV special Color Me Barbra on 25 January, 1966. The likeness was uncanny!

1Literal translation: 'Living through the god Aten'.2Egyptian writings/inscriptions on stone.3Alternative spellings: Smenkhare, Smenkare.4He was only nine years old at the time.5Sometimes spelt 'Djutmose'.

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