Portrait study thought to be of Ay, part of the Ägyptisches Museum collection in Berlin]]
Reign 1324-1320 BC or
1327-1323 BC

18th Dynasty

Dynasty {{{dynasty}}}
Praenomen Kheperkheperure-Irimaat

Everlasting are the Manifestations of Re, who does what is right.

Nomen Itinetjer Ay

God's Father

Nebty Sekhempehti dersetet

Who is mighty of strength, who subdues the Asiatics

Horus Kanakht Tekhenkhau

The strong bull, the one of glittering crowns

Golden Horus Heqamaat Sekhepertawy

The ruler of truth, who creates the two lands

Family Ankhesenamun (wife)
Burial Place WV23
Monuments Amarna Tomb

Kheperkheprure Ay was the penultimate Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt's 18th Dynasty. He held the throne of Egypt for a brief four-year period (probably 1324 BC–1320 BC or 1327 BC–1323 BC, depending on which chronology is followed), although he was a close advisor to two and perhaps three of the pharaohs who ruled before him and was the power behind the throne during Tutankhamun's reign. Ay's prenomen, Kheperkheprure, means "Everlasting are the Manifestations of Re."


Ay is believed to be a native Egyptian from Akhmim. During his short reign, he built a rock cut chapel in Akhmim and dedicted it to the local deity there: Min.[1] He may have been the son of Yuya, who served as a member of the priesthood of Min at Akhmin as well as superintendent of herds in this city.[2] If this is so, he may have been of partial Mitannian blood, since Yuya was not improbably a foreigner, possibly from Mitanni. Yuya was an influential nobleman at the royal court of Amenhotep III who was given the rare privilege of a having tomb built for his use in the royal Valley of the Kings presumably because he was the father of Tiye, Amenhotep's chief Queen.

Amarna Period

Born a commoner, Ay managed to rise through the hierarchy of Egyptian society under the "heretical" Pharaoh Akhenaten. One version of events maintains that he and his wife Tey were the parents of Akhenaten's chief wife, Nefertiti and that another of their daughters, Mutnedjmet, was the wife and queen of Horemheb, Ay's successor. Another version suggests that he was the son of Yuya and Tjuyu, thus being a brother or half-brother of Tiy, brother-in-law of Amenhotep III and maternal uncle of Akhenaten.

The two theories are not mutually exclusive, but either relationship would explain the exalted status to which Ay rose (see below), during Akhenaten's Amarna interlude, when the royal family turned their backs on Egypt's traditional gods and experimented, for a dozen years or so, with monotheism – an experiment that, whether out of conviction or convenience, Ay seems to have supported, at least for as long as it lasted[citation needed].


In his Amarna tomb, Ay's titles are give as Companion, Head of the Companions of the King, Father of the Divinity, Bearer of the fan on the right hand side of the King, Acting Scribe of the King, beloved by him, and Overseer of all the horses of the King. Some of these titles are purely standardised noble ones, but the 'Bearer of the fan on the right hand side of the King' is a very important position, and is viewed as showing that the bearer had the 'ear' of the ruler.


Ay's reign was preceded by that of Tutankhamun, who ascended to the throne at the age of nine or ten, at a time of great tension between the new monotheism and the old polytheism. He was assisted in his kingly duties by his predecessor's two closest advisors: Grand Vizier Ay and General of the Armies Horemheb. His approximately nine-year reign, largely under Ay's direction, saw the gradual return of the old gods – and, with that, the restoration of the power of the established priesthood, who were furious at having had their influence sidestepped under Akhenaten[citation needed].

Rule as Pharaoh

Tutankhamun's untimely death at the age of 18 or 19, together with his failure to produce an heir, left a power vacuum that his Grand Vizier Ay was quick to fill: Ay is depicted conducting the funerary rites for the deceased monarch and assuming the role of heir. The grounds on which Ay based his successful claim to power are not entirely clear. The Commander of the Army, Horemheb, had actually been designated as the "idnw" or "Deputy of the Lord of the Two Lands" under Tutankhamun and was presumed to be the boy king's heir apparent and successor.[3] It appears that Horemheb was outmaneuvered to the throne by the wily Ay who married Ankhesenamun to legitimise his claim to the throne. Ay was certainly a powerful figure: he was close to the centre of political power at the royal palace for some 25 years under both Tutankhamun and Akhenaten. But this was probably still not enough, however, to legitimize his claims to the throne in the highly hierarchical society of Ancient Egypt, if he was of non-royal birth especially at a time of domestic upheaval without his marriage to Tutankhamun's widow. Since he was already advanced in age upon his accession, Ay ruled Egypt in his own right for only four years. During this period, he consolidated the return to the old religious ways that he had initiated as senior advisor and constructed a mortuary temple at Medinet Habu for his own use. A stela of Nakhtmin (Berlin 2074), a military officer under Tutankhamun and Ay--who was Ay's chosen successor--is dated to Year 4, IV Akhet day 1 of Ay's reign. (Urk IV: 2110)


After his death, Ay planned for Nakhtmin to be his successor. However, Ay's plan went awry as Horemheb rose to become the last king of Egypt's 18th Dynasty instead. The fact that Nakhtmin was Ay's intended heir is strongly implied by an inscription carved on a dyad funerary statue of Nakhtmin and his spouse which was presumably made during Ay's reign. Nakhtmin is clearly given the titles rpat (Crown Prince) and zA nzw (King's Son).[4] The only conclusion which can be drawn here is that Nakhtmin was a son or an adopted son of Ay and that Ay was grooming Nakhtmin for the succession instead of Horemheb. Aidan Dodson and Dyan Hilton observe that the aforementioned statue:

"is broken after the signs for 'King's Son of', and there has been considerable debate as to whether it continued to say 'Kush', making Nakhtmin a Viceroy of Nubia, or 'of his body', making him an actual royal son. Since there is no other evidence for Nakhtmin as a Viceroy--with another man [Paser I][2]attested in office at this period as well--the latter suggestion seems the most likely. As Nakhtmin donated items to the burial of Tutankhamun without such a title, it follows that he only became a King's Son subsequently, presumably under Ay. This theory is supported by the evidence of intentional damage to Nakhtmin's statue, since Ay was amongst the Amarna pharaohs whose memories were execrated under later rulers.[5]


It appears that one of Horemheb's undertakings as Pharaoh was to eliminate all references to the monotheistic experiment, a process that included expunging the name of his immediate predecessors – especially Ay – from the historical record. Horemheb desecrated Ay's burial and had most of Ay's royal cartouches in his WV23 Tomb Wall paintings erased while his sarcophagus was smashed into numerous fragments.[6] However, the sarcophagus lid was discovered by Otto Schaden--the US Egyptologist who opened Tomb KV63 in the Valley of the Kings in 2006--in 1972 and still preserved Ay's cartouche; it had been buried under debris in this king's tomb notes Schaden in a 1984 JARCE article.[7] Horemheb also usurped Ay's mortuary temple at Medinet Habu for his own use. Uvo Hölscher (1878-1963) who excavated the temple in the early 1930s provides these details concerning the state of Ay-Horemheb's mortuary temple:

'Wherever a cartouche has been preserved, the name of Eye [ie: Ay] has been erased and replaced by that of his successor Harmhab. In all but a single instance had it been overlooked and no change made. Thus the temple, which Eye had begun and finished, at least in the rear rooms with their fine paintings, was usurped by his successor and was thenceforth known as the temple of Harmhab. Seals on stoppers of wine jars from the temple magazines read: "Wine from the temple of Harmhab."'[8]

In Fiction

Ay appears as a major character in P.C. Doherty's trilogy of Ancient Egyptian novels, An Evil Spirit Out of the West, "The Season of the Hyaena" and "The Year of the Cobra".


  1. [1]
  2. Egypt during the reign of Akhenaton
  3. Peter J. Brand, The Monuments of Seti I: Epigraphic, Historical and Art Historical Analysis, Brill, NV Leiden, (2000), p.311
  4. Wolfgang Helck, Urkunden der 18. Dynastie: Texte der Hefte 20-21 (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1984), pp.1908-1910
  5. Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, Thames & Hudson, (2004), p.151
  6. Bertha Porter, Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyph Texts, Vol 1, Part 2, Oxford Clarendon Press, (1960), Tomb 23, pp.550-551
  7. Otto Schaden, Clearance of the Tomb of King Ay (WV 23), JARCE 21(1984) pp.39-64
  8. Uvo Hölscher, Excavations at Ancient Thebes 1930/31, p. 50-51
  • Jürgen von Beckerath, Chronologie des Pharaonischen Ägypten, MÄS 46 (Philip von Zabern, Mainz: 1997), pp.201

See also

External links

Preceded by:
Pharaoh of Egypt
Eighteenth Dynasty
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