Bust of Nefertiti

Nefertiti (egyptian nfr.t-iitj = the beauty that has come) was the Great Royal Wife (or chief consort/wife) of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (later Akhenaten), and mother-in-law of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. She may have also ruled in her own right under the name Neferneferuaten briefly after her husband's death and before the accession of Tutankhamun. Her name roughly translates to "the beautiful (or perfect) woman has come". She also shares her name with a type of elongated gold bead, called nefer, that she was often portrayed as wearing. She was made famous by her bust, now in Berlin's Altes Museum, shown to the right. The bust is one of the most copied works of ancient Egypt. It was attributed to the sculptor Thutmose, and was found in his workshop. The bust itself is notable for exemplifying the understanding Ancient Egyptians had regarding realistic facial proportions.

She had many titles, at Karnak there are inscriptions that read Heiress, Great of Favour, Possessed of Charm, Exuding Happiness, Mistress of Sweetness, beloved one, soothing the king's heart in his house, soft-spoken in all, Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt, Great King's Wife, whom he loves, Lady of the Two Lands, Nefertiti.


Nefertiti's parentage is not known with certainty, but it is now generally believed that she was the daughter of Ay, later to be pharaoh.[1] This would make her daughter Akhasunamun, who later was Aye's queen, his own granddaughter. Another theory that gained some support identified Nefertiti with the Mitanni princess Tadukhipa. The name Nimerithin has been mentioned in older scrolls, as an alternative name, but this has not yet been officially confirmed. It has also been suggested that Nefertiti was a daughter or relative of Amenhotep III, or of the high Theban nobility.

Depending on which reconstruction of the genealogy of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs is followed, her husband Akhenaten may have been the father or half-brother of the Pharaoh Tutankhaten (later called Tutankhamun).

The exact dates of when Nefertiti was married to Amenhotep IV and later, promoted to his Queen are uncertain. However, the couple had six known daughters. This is a list with suggested years of birth:

In Year 4 of his reign (1346 BC) Amenhotep IV started his worship of Aten. The king led a religious revolution, in which Nefertiti played a prominent role. This year is also believed to mark the beginning of his construction of a new capital, Akhetaten, at what is known today as Amarna. In his Year 5, Amenhotep IV officially changed his name to Akhenaten as evidence of his new worship. The date given for the event has been estimated to fall around January 2 of that year. In Year 7 of his reign (1343 BC) the capital was officially moved from Thebes to Amarna, though construction of the city seems to have continued for two more years (till 1341 BC). The new city was dedicated to the royal couple's new religion. Nefertiti's famous bust is also thought to have been created around this time.

In an inscription estimated to November 21 of year 12 of the reign (approx. 1338 BC)[citation needed], her daughter Meketaten is mentioned for the last time; she is thought to have died shortly after that date. Circumstantial evidence which shows that she predeceased her husband at Akhetaten include several shabti fragments of the Queen's burial which is now located in the Louvre and Brooklyn Museums.[2] A relief in Akhenaten's tomb in the Royal Wadi at Amarna appears to show her funeral.

During Akhenaten's reign (and perhaps after) Nefertiti enjoyed unprecedented power, and was perhaps the most powerful woman on earth. Some time during the reign she was made co-regent: the pharaoh's equal. She was depicted on temple walls the same size as the king, signifying her importance, and shown worshipping the Aten alone. Perhaps most impressively, Nefertiti is shown on a relief from the temple at Amarna which is now in the MFA in Boston, smiting a foreign enemy with a mace before the Aten. Such depictions are reserved for the pharaoh alone, and yet Nefertiti was depicted as such.


Around Year 14 of Akhenaten's reign (1336 BC), Nefertiti herself vanishes from the historical record, and there is no word of her after that date. Theories include a sudden death by a plague that was sweeping through the city or a natural death. A previous theory that she fell from disgrace is now discredited since the deliberate erasures of the monuments belonging to a queen of Akhenaten has now been shown to refer to Kiya instead.[3] Regardless, the verifiable knowledge of this episode has been completely lost to history.

In keeping with the theory above, Nefertiti is perhaps responsible for abandoning the Aten religion, and moving the capital back to Thebes. This would have been the only way to please both the people and the powerful priests of Amun. Nefertiti would have prepared for her death and for the succession of her daughter, now named Ankhasunamun, and her stepson, Tutankhamun. They would have been educated in the traditional way, worshipping the old gods. Nefernefruaten dies after two years of kingship.

She was succeeded by Tutankhaten, who is thought to have been a son of either Amenhotep III or Akhenaten. He married Nefertiti's daughter Ankhesenpaaten. The royal couple were young and inexperienced, by any estimation of their age, and Ankhesenpaaten bore two still born (and pre-mature) daughters whose mummies were found by Howard Carter in Tutankhamen's tomb. Some theories believe that Nefertiti was still alive and had an influence on them. If this is the case that influence and presumably her own life would have ended by year 3 of Tutankhaten's reign (1331 BC). In that year, Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun, as evidence of his worship of Amun, and abandoned Amarna to return the capital to Thebes.

As can be seen by the suggested identifications between Tadukhipa, Nefertiti, Smenkhkare and Kiya, the records of their time and their lives are largely incomplete, and the findings of both archaelogists and historians may develop new theories vis-à-vis Nefertiti and her precipitous exit from the public stage.

The mummy discovered?

As Nefertiti's tomb was never completed and was found in the valley of the kings, the location of Nefertiti's body has long been a subject of curiosity and speculation.

Joann Fletcher, 2003

On June 9, 2003, archaeologist Joann Fletcher, a specialist in ancient hair from the University of York in England, announced that Nefertiti's mummy may have been one of the anonymous mummies stored in tomb KV35 in the Valley of the Kings known as "the Younger Lady". However, an independent scholar in the field of Egyptology, Marianne Luban, had already made the same speculation as early as 1999 in an article posted on the Internet, entitled "Do We Have the Mummy of Nefertiti?" Luban's points upholding the identification are the same as those of Joann Fletcher. Furthermore, Fletcher suggested that Nefertiti was in fact the Pharaoh Smenkhkare. Dr. Fletcher led an expedition funded by the Discovery Channel that examined what they believed to have been Nefertiti's mummy.

The team claimed that the mummy they examined was damaged in a way suggesting the body had been deliberately desecrated in antiquity. Mummification techniques, such as the use of embalming fluid and the presence of an intact brain, suggested an eighteenth dynasty royal mummy. Other features the team used to support their claims were the age of the body, the presence of embedded nefer beads, and a wig of a rare style worn by Nefertiti. They further claimed that the mummy's arm was originally bent in the position reserved for pharaohs, but was later snapped off and replaced with another arm in a normal position.

However most Egyptologists, among them Kent Weeks, Peter Locavara and Jimmy Dunn, generally dismiss Fletcher's claims as unsubstantiated. They claim that ancient mummies are almost impossible to identify with a particular person without DNA; and as bodies of Nefertiti's parents or children have never been identified, her conclusive identification is impossible. Any circumstantial evidence, such as hairstyle and arm position, is not reliable enough to pinpoint a single, specific historical person. The cause of damage to the mummy can only be speculated upon, and the alleged revenge is an unsubstantiated theory. Bent arms, contrary to Fletcher's claims, were not reserved exclusively to pharaohs; this was also used for other members of the royal family. The wig found near to the mummy is of unknown origin, and cannot be conclusively linked to that specific body. Finally, the 18th dynasty was one of the largest and most prosperous dynasties of ancient Egypt, and a female royal mummy could be any of a hundred royal wives or daughters from 18th dynasty's more than 200 years on the throne.

In addition, there is controversy about both the age and gender of the mummy. On June 12, 2003, Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities, also dismissed the claim, citing insufficient evidence. On August 30, 2003, Reuters further quoted Dr. Hawass as saying, "I'm sure that this mummy is not a female", and "Dr Fletcher has broken the rules and therefore, at least until we have reviewed the situation with her university, she must be banned from working in Egypt."[4] Hawass has claimed that the mummy is female and male on different occasions.[5]


More in hope than expectation, when a new tomb with sarcophagi was found near the entrance to Tutankhamun's tomb in February 2006, the UK papers jumped on the possibility that one of them might contain the mummy of Nefertiti.[6] However, the coffins proved to be empty and stuffed with pillows instead.[7]


Nefertiti's place as an icon in popular culture is secure. She has become a celebrity; after Cleopatra she is the second most famous "Queen" of Egypt in the European imagination and influenced through photographs the changed standards of feminine beauty of the 20th century.

In Fiction

  • Nefertifi appears as Akhenaten's successor (also known as Smenkhare) in the first of a trilogy of historical novels by P.C. Doherty, "An Evil Spirit Out of the West".


  1. Egypt State Information Service - Famous women
  2. Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, (Thames & Hudson), 2004, p.156
  3. Dodson & Hilton, op. cit., p.156
  4. [1] Hawass comments - No Discrimination
  5. Times Online - King Tut tut tut
  6. BBC News - Pharaonic tomb find stuns Egypt
  7. At Tomb, Pillows but no Mummies so far

Further reading

  • Cyril Aldred, Akhenaten: King of Egypt (Thames and Hudson, 1988) contains much material on her
  • Rita E. Freed, Yvonne J. Markowitz, Sue H. D'Auria, Pharaohs of the Sun: Akhenaten – Nefertiti – Tutankhamen (Museum of Fine Arts, 1999)
  • Joyce Tyldesley, Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen (Viking, 1999)
  • Donald Redford Akhenaten : The Heretic King, Princeton, 1984

External links

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