Ancient Egypt Wiki
Preceded by:
Pharaoh of Egypt
18th Dynasty
Succeeded by:
Alternative Spelling: Aya/Eje

Stone bust of Ay.

1323-1319 BC or
1313-1309 BC (4 years)
Everlasting are the Manifestations
of Re, Righteous in Acts
God's Father, Ay
Horus name
Strong Bull, of Glittering Crowns
Nebty name
t t
Mighty of Strength, who
Subdues the Asiatics
Golden Horus
Ruler of Order, who
(re)-created the Two Lands
Father Yuya (?)
Mother Tjuyu (?)
Consort(s) Iuy (?), Tey, Ankhesenamun
Issue Nefertiti (?), Mutbenret (?),
Nakhtmin (?)
Died 1319 or 1309 BC
Burial KV23
Monuments Chapel of Min at Panopolis,
Mortuary temple at Medinet Habu
For other pages by this name, see Ay.

Kheperkheperure-Irymaat Ay (ancient Egyptian: ỉy) was the penultimate Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt's 18th Dynasty. He held the throne of Egypt for a brief four-year period (probably 1323-1319 BC or 1313-1309 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, Kheperkheperure, means "Everlasting are the Manifestations of Re".

Origins and Family[]

See also: 18th Dynasty Family Tree.

Ay is believed to have been from Panopolis (modern Akhmim). During his short reign, he built a rock-cut chapel there and dedicated it to the local deity Min. He may have been the son of the courtier Yuya and his wife Tjuyu, making him a brother of Tiye and Anen.[1] This connection is based on the fact that both Yuya and Ay came from Panopolis and held the titles 'God's Father' and 'Master of Horses'. A strong physical resemblance has been noted between the mummy of Yuya and surviving statuary depictions of Ay.[1] The mummy of Ay has not been located, although fragmentary skeletal remains recovered from his tomb may represent it,[2] so a more thorough comparison with Yuya cannot be made. Therefore, the theory that he was the son of Yuya rests entirely on circumstantial evidence.

Ay's Great Royal Wife was Tey, who was known to be the wet-nurse to Nefertiti. It is often theorised that Ay was the father of Nefertiti as a way to explain his title 'God's Father' as it has been argued that the term designates a man whose daughter married the king. However, nowhere is Ay areferred to as the father of Nefertiti.[3] In Ay's AT25 tomb at Amarna a certain lady named Mutbenret is depicted and attested as "Sister of the King's Great Wife (Nefertiti)", making her a potential daughter of Ay as well.

Nakhtmin, Ay's chosen successor, was possibly his son or grandson. His mother's name was Iuy, a Chantress of Min and Isis at Panopolis.[4] She may have been Ay's first wife.


In his AT26 tomb at Amarna, Ay's titles are given. He held titles such as "Sole Companion" and "Acting Scribe of the King, his beloved". Furthermore, the attested title of "Fanbearer on the King's Right Hand" is a very important position, which indicates a close relationship with the pharaoh. The final "God's Father" title is the one most associated with Ay, and was later incorporated into his royal name when he became pharaoh.[5] He had also been a commander in the army prior to his promotion to "Superintendent of the King's Horses",[5] which is the highest rank in the elite charioteering division of the army, just below the rank of General.[6]

Prior to Accession[]

Amarna Period[]


Portrait study thought to be of Ay, part of the Ägyptisches Museum collection in Berlin.

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 Tiye, 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]

Ay had built a rock-cut tomb for himself (Southern Tomb 25) at Amarna during the reign of Akhenaten. The Great Hymn to the Aten was also inscribed in his tomb.

Under Tutankhamun[]

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]

Rise to Kingship[]

Ay KV62

Ay depicted in KV62 as pharaoh performing the Opening of the Mouth ceremony on his predecessor Tutankhamun.

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.[7] 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.

Dates and Length of Reign[]

Since he was already advanced in age upon his accession, Ay is believed to have 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.[8]

Monuments and Attestation[]


Ay initiated building projects at his hometown of Panopolis (modern Akhmim). This includes a rock-cut chapel dedicated to the local deity Min, which overlooks the city and surrounding area. It is unknown exactly how extensively Ay had built at Panopolis, since much of his work there would have been usurped by his successors. A large colossal statue of a queen, which had been usurped by Ramesses II for his daughter-wife Meritamen, stylistically dates to Ay's reign and therefore probably depicts his queen, Tey.[9]

Mortuary temple[]

Main article: Mortuary temple of Ay and Horemheb.

Ay had began construction on his own mortuary temple at Medinet Habu. Due to the usurpation by his successor Horemheb, it is uncertain whether Ay was able to complete this building project during his reign or whether it was finished by Horemheb for the latter's own use. Uvo Hölscher, 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".[10]

Burial and Succession[]

Ay was interred in his KV23 rock-cut tomb in the Western Valley of the Valley of the Kings, which has often been argued to have been initially intended for his predecessor, Tutankhamun. If this were the case, the tomb must have been unfinished for the latter's untimely death.

Prior to his death, Ay designated Nakhtmin to succeed him as pharaoh, since Nakhtmin was clearly given the title Crown Prince (ỉrỉ-pꜥt).[11] However, his succession plan went awry, as Horemheb became the last king of Egypt's 18th Dynasty instead of Nakhtmin. 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 also attested with the title King's Son [...], and there has been considerable debate as to whether it continued to say "Kush", making Nakhtmin a Viceroy of Kush, or "of his body", making him an actual King's Son or an adopted son of Ay.[12]


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. This included the usurpation of Ay's mortuary temple at Medinet Habu for his own use. Horemheb desecrated Ay's burial and had most of Ay's royal cartouches in his KV23 tomb erased while his sarcophagus was smashed into numerous fragments.[13] However, the intact sarcophagus lid was discovered in 1972 by Otto Schaden. The lid had been buried under debris in this king's tomb and still preserved Ay's cartouche.[14]

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Aldred 1957, p. 33.
  2. Schaden 1984, p. 58.
  3. Van Dijk 1996, p. 31-32.
  4. Van Dijk 1996, p. 33.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Dodson 2009, p. 95.
  6. Hindley 2006, p. 27-28.
  7. Brand 2000, p. 311.
  8. Urk IV: 2110.
  9. Dodson 2009, p. 103.
  10. Hölscher 1931, p. 50-51.
  11. Helck 1984, p. 1908-1910.
  12. Dodson & Hilton 2004, p. 151.
  13. Porter 1960, p. 550-551.
  14. Schaden 1984, p. 39-64.


  • Aldred, C., 1957: The End of the El-'Amarna Period. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 43.
  • Beckerath, J. von, 1997: Chronologie des Pharaonischen Ägypten. MÄS 46 (Philip von Zabern, Mainz: 1997), pp.201
  • Brand, P.J., 2000: The Monuments of Seti I: Epigraphic, Historical and Art Historical Analysis. Brill, NV Leiden.
  • Dijk, J. van, 1996: Horemheb and the Struggle for the Throne of Tutankhamun. Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology.
  • Dodson, A./Hilton, D., 2004: The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson, London.
  • Dodson, A., 2009: Amarna Sunset: Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb, and the Egyptian Counter Reformation. The American University in Cairo Press.
  • Helck, W., 1984: Urkunden der 18. Dynastie: Texte der Hefte 20-21. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin.
  • Hindley, M., 2006: Featured Pharaoh: The God's Father Ay. Ancient Egypt.
  • Hölscher, U., 1931: Excavations at Ancient Thebes 1930/31.
  • Porter, B., 1960: Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyph Texts. Vol 1, Part 2, Oxford Clarendon Press.
  • Schaden, O., 1984: Clearance of the Tomb of King Ay (WV 23). JARCE 21.

External links[]

Pharaoh of Egypt
Eighteenth Dynasty