Ancient Egypt Wiki
Preceded by:
Pharaoh of Egypt
18th Dynasty
Succeeded by:
Akkadian Cuneiform: Anaḫurureya

Bust of a youthful Amarna King, possibly Smenkhkare.

1334-1333 BC or
1324-1323 BC (<1 year)
Living are the
Manifestations of Re
Vigorous is the Soul of Re,
Holy of Forms
Father Amenhotep III (?)
Mother Tiye (?)
Consort(s) The Younger Lady (?),
Issue Tutankhamun (?)
Burial KV55 (?)
Monuments Hall of Smenkhkare in
Amarna Palace Complex

Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare (ancient Egyptian smnḫ-kꜣ-rʿ, "Strong is the Soul of Ra") was a Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, successor of Akhenaten, and predecessor of Tutankhamun. Smenkhkare's rule lasted for approximately 1 year.[1] Other Egyptologists suggest that this pharaoh's independent reign may have been as short as a few months. He may have only been a co-regent to Akhenaten and/or Neferneferuaten. If a young age around 18-25 years at death for the KV55 mummy is accepted, it would almost certainly be his and in that case he fathered Tutankhamun with his sister before he ascended the throne.

Name and Identity[]

The identity of the Pharaoh(s) using the Throne Name Ankhkheperure remains subject to much scholarly interpretation. The original consensus, introduced by Percy Newberry,[2] was that Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten were names of the same person, although there was little unanimity as to which name was the earlier. Since 1973, Neferneferuaten/Smenkhkare was argued to have been a woman.[3] In 1978, it was proposed that there were two individuals using the same throne name, Ankhkheperure; a male king Smenkhkare and a female Neferneferuaten.[4] Neferneferuaten has been theorized to be Meritaten, Neferneferuaten Tasherit, or, most likely, Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti.

Typically, throne names in Ancient Egypt were unique. Thus, the use of similar titulary led to a great deal of confusion among Egyptologists.[5] However, James Peter Allen points out that Smenkhkare can be differentiated from Neferneferuaten.[6] Smenkhkare's throne name always appears as just Ankhkheperure, without epithets, while Neferneferuaten often includes epithets referring to Akhenaten such as; Mery-Neferkheperure ("Beloved of Neferkheperure"), Mery-Waenre ("Beloved of Waenre") and Akhet-en-hyes ("Effective for her Husband"). Some versions of the throne name of Neferneferuaten also include the feminine "t", resulting in Ankhetkheperure.

Two sets of names associated with Smenkhkare:

  • Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare, who may be identified as the husband of Queen Meritaten, Akhenaten's daughter, and ruled briefly during or after Akhenaten's reign.
  • Ankh(et)kheperure-Merywaenre Neferneferuaten-Akhetenhyes, who is probably the queen we know as Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten of the Eighteenth Dynasty, and who may have ruled as co-regent with her husband.

It has been suggested that Smenkhkare adopted Neferneferuaten's names, albeit with the masculine form of writing without epithets referring to Akhenaten, or less commonly, the other way around; that Neferneferuaten adopted Smenkhkare's name instead. Dodson argues that naturally the "short" and "simple" version of the throne name used by Smenkhkare should precede the "long" and "elaborate" version (extended by epithets) used by Neferneferuaten.[7]

Few objects have been found bearing the name Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare, whereas some clearly feminine objects with the name Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten were reused in the KV62 burial of Tutankhamun.

A fragmentary stela from Amarna, now known as the Coregency Stela, adds more evidence as well as more confusion. It is known that the stela originally portrayed three figures, identified as Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Meritaten. However, at some point after the stela was made, the name of Nefertiti had been gouged out and replaced with the name Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten, and Meritaten's name had been replaced with that of Akhenaten and Nefertiti's third daughter, Ankhesenpaaten. Why Nefertiti's clearly feminine figure would be renamed with a throne name in the masculine spelling is still debated to this day, as is the reason for Meritaten's usurpation by Ankhesenpaaten.


See also: 18th Dynasty Family Tree.

Smenkhkare's parentage is unknown — the leading theories are that he was a son of Akhenaten or Amenhotep III. Whenever any of Akhenaten's daughters were referenced, they were referred to as "the king's daughter, of his loins, (daughter's name)". That there was no reference to another son would seem unlikely in a largely patriarchal society. Furthermore, as evidenced by Cyril Aldred (a prominent Egyptologist), Smenkhkare would have to have been born at least three years before Akhenaten's reign began, making it very unlikely (given Akhenaten's assumed minimum age of 12 at ascension) that he was Akhenaten's son. Given that Akhenaten produced six daughters but no known sons, this makes it plausible for Smenkhkare to be a younger son of Amenhotep III and, therefore, a brother of Akhenaten.

Smenkhkare is known to have married Akhenaten's eldest daughter, Meritaten, who was his Great Royal Wife. nscriptions mention a King's Daughter named Meritaten Tasherit, who may be the daughter of Meritaten and Smenkhkare. Further, Smenkhkare has also been put forth as a candidate for the mummy in KV55. If so, he would be the probable father of the prince Tutankhaten, who would eventually become Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Dates and Length of Reign[]

Clear evidence for a sole reign for Smenkhkare has not yet been found. There are few artifacts that attest to his existence at all, and so it is assumed his reign was short. To date, no objects other than the wine jar label and six royal seals have been found bearing the name Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare. A wine docket from "the House of Smenkhkare" attests to Regnal Year 1.[8] A second wine docket dated to Year 1 refers to him as "Smenkhkare, (deceased)" and may indicate that he died during his first regnal year,[9][10] but may just as well refer to the first regnal year of his successor instead.

Chronological Position of Smenkhkare's Reign[]

Academic consensus has yet to be reached about when exactly Smenkhkare ruled as pharaoh and where he falls in the timeline of Amarna. In particular, the confusion of his identity compared to that of Pharaoh Neferneferuaten has led to considerable academic debate about the order of kings in the late Amarna Period. Aidan Dodson suggests that Smenkhkare did not have a sole reign and only served as Akhenaten's co-regent for about a year around Regnal Year 13. However, James Peter Allen depicts Smenkhkare as successor to Neferneferuaten and Marc Gabolde has suggested that after Smenkhkare's reign, Meritaten succeeded him as Neferneferuaten.

Coregency with Akhenaten[]

Per Dodson's theory, Smenkhkare served only as co-regent with Akhenaten and never had an individual rule and Nefertiti became co-regent and eventual successor to Akhenaten. Smenkhkare and Meritaten appear together in the tomb of Meryre II at Amarna, rewarding Meryre. There, Smenkhkare wears the khepresh crown, however he is called the son-in-law of Akhenaten. Further, his name appears only during Akhenaten's reign without certain evidence to attest to a sole reign. The names of the king have since been cut out but were recorded around 1850 by Karl Lepsius. Additionally, a calcite "globular vase" from Tutankhamun's tomb displays the full double cartouches of both pharaohs. However, this is the only object known to carry both names side-by-side. This evidence has been taken by some Egyptologists to indicate that Akhenaten and Smenkhkare were co-regents. However, the scene in Meryre's tomb is undated and Akhenaten is neither depicted nor mentioned in the tomb. The jar may simply be a case of one king associating himself with a predecessor. The simple association of names, particularly on everyday objects, is not conclusive of a co-regency.

Coregency with Neferneferuaten[]

Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten could potentially have been coregents after the death of Akhenaten, sharing not only the throne of Egypt, but also their throne name Ankhkheperure.

Successor to Neferneferuaten[]

Arguing against the co-regency theory, Allen suggests that Neferneferuaten followed Akhenaten and that upon her death, Smenkhkare ascended as pharaoh. Allen proposes that following Nefertiti's death in Year 13 or 14, her daughter Neferneferuaten-Tasherit became Pharaoh Neferneferuaten. After Neferneferuaten's short rule of two or three years, according to Allen, Smenkhkare became pharaoh. Under this theory, both pharaohs succeeded Akhenaten: Neferneferuaten as the chosen successor and Smenkhkare as a rival with the same prenomen, perhaps to challenge Akhenaten's unacceptable choice. However, a hieratic inscription discovered at the limestone quarry at Dayr Abu Hinnis suggests that Nefertiti was alive in Akhenaten's Year 16, undermining this theory. There, Nefertiti is referred to as the pharaoh's Great Royal Wife.

Furthermore, work is believed to have halted on the Amarna tombs shortly after Year 13. Therefore, the depiction of Smenkhkare in Meryre's tomb must date to no later than Year 13. For him to have succeeded Neferneferuaten means that aside from a lone wine docket, he left not a single trace over the course of five to six years.

Foreign Policy[]

Due to his short reign, there is little evidence regarding the foreign policy during Smenkhkare's reign. One of the Amarna Letters has been controversially attributed to Smenkhkare; EA 41 was written by the Hittite king Šuppiluliuma I of Hatti to a Pharaoh referred to in the letter as Ḫuria or Ḫureya, congratulating him with ascending to the throne of Egypt. The argument rests on the fact that 'to Ankhkheperure' would mean 'ana Anaḫurureya' in Akkadian, and that one of the 'ana's was erroneously omitted.[citation needed] However, the general consensus is that the Ḫuria in the letters is an erroneous reference to Napḫurureya (i.e. Akhenaten).[citation needed]

Monuments and Attestations[]

Smenkhkare and Meritaten

This image is commonly taken to be Smenkhkare and Meritaten

In the tomb of Meryre II is a roughly painted scene depicting a king and queen. It names the "King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Ankhkheperure, Son of Re, Smenkhkare, Holy-of-Manifestations, given life forever continually" as the husband of "the Chief Wife, his beloved, the Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Lady of the Two Lands, Meritaten" — it was through her royal blood that he may have claimed legitimacy to the throne, as was the practice in the period. This is the only known depiction of Akhenaten's successor, which suggests that his reign was short.

Hall of Smenkhkare[]

While there are few monuments or artifacts that attest to Smenkhkare's existence, there is a major addition to the Amarna palace complex that bears his name. It has been speculated to have been built in approximately Year 13 of Akhenaten for Smenkhkare's coronation as co-regent.


In 1907, Arthur Weigall and Theodore Davis discovered a tomb known as "Tomb 55" in the Valley of the Kings. The tomb itself is a mystery, as the door bears the name Tutankhamun, the shrine bears hieroglyphs stating it was made for Queen Tiye, and the sarcophagus indicates that it was designed for Akhenaten's second wife Kiya, four cardinal bricks bearing the name of Akhenaten. Smenkhkare may have been (re-)buried in this tomb, which might have served as an Amarna royal cache.


Main article: KV55 Mummy


A single gilded coffin was found in the KV55 tomb. It was originally made for a woman and only later adapted to accommodate a king, through alterations to its inscriptions and the addition of a false beard, a uraeus and the royal scepters (crook and flail).[11] It is also recognized that the four canopic jars discovered near the coffin belonged to Akhenaten's secondary wife Kiya, and that the female heads on the stoppers of the jars portray her. Like the coffin, the canopic jars were altered for the burial of a king through the erasure of Kiya's titulary and the addition of a royal uraeus to each portrait head. It is now widely accepted that the coffin was originally intended for Kiya.[11]

All personal names inscribed on the coffin and the canopic jars were excised in antiquity, rendering the identity of the human remains inside the coffin a matter of long debate. Over the past century, the candidates for this unknown Amarna Pharaoh have been either Akhenaten or Smenkhkare.[11][12][13]


Evidence that the occupant of the coffin was Akhenaten is provided by the four magical bricks found inside the tomb. Whereas the age determination of the skeletonized mummy itself leads to suggest a young age at death and argues against such an identification,[14] favoring Smenkhkare as its identity despite that fact that his name is not attested in the tomb.

Further supporting an identification with Smenkhkare; the KV55 mummy does not seem to be the father of the female mummy KV21a. The latter has been identified as the probable mother of the two foetuses found in Tutankhamun's tomb, thus making an identification with Ankhesenamun likely, the known daughter of Akhenaten and the only known wife of Tutankhamun.

In March 2021, the results of a new forensic facial reconstruction of the KV55 mummy were released.[15]


Although little is known about him, Smenkhkare's face may actually be the most well-known of all the Pharaohs: the image often used to illustrate books, and exhibitions on Tutankhamun may well be of Smenkhkare. It comes from the middle coffin of Tutankhamun's tomb (pharaohs were buried in a series of 3 coffins, like Russian dolls), and it clearly differs in appearance from the images on the inner and outer coffins. With a number of other artefacts in Tutankhamun's tomb bearing Smenkhkare's name, and with a reconstruction from the mummy in KV55 bearing a strong similarity, it may well be the face of Smenkhkare. Being more attractive than the alternatives (notably in being more mature, less boyish), the image has however been widely adopted in modern times for illustrations of Tutankhamun. Smenkhkare's reign was probably brief, lasting perhaps no more than several months given the paucity of objects mentioning his name.

See also[]


  1. Gabolde 1998, p. 219-221.
  2. Newberry 1928.
  3. Harris 1973, p. 15–17.
  4. Krauss 1978, p. 43-47.
  5. Dodson 2009a, p. 34.
  6. Allen 1988.
  7. Dodson 2009b.
  8. Pendlebury 1951, pl 86.
  9. Pendlebury 1951, pl lxxxvi and xcvii.
  10. Allen 2006, p. 5.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Davis 1990.
  12. Aldred 1988, p. 205.
  13. Gabolde 2009, figs. 2-6.
  14. Strouhal 2010.
  15. Galassi et al. 2021, link.


  • Aldred, C., 1988: Akhenaten, King of Egypt. Thames & Hudson, London.
  • Allen, J.P., 1988: Two Altered Inscriptions of the Late Amarna Period. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol. 25.
  • Allen, J.P., 2006: The Amarna Succession.
  • Davis, T.M., 1990: The Tomb of Queen Tiyi. KMT Communications.
  • Dodson, A., 2009a: Amarna Sunset: Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb, and the Egyptian Counter-Reformation. The American University in Cairo Press.
  • Dodson, A., 2009b: Amarna Sunset: the late-Amarna succession revisited. In: Beyond the Horizon: Studies in Egyptian Art, Archaeology and History in Honour of Barry J. Kemp. Eds: S. Ikram & A. Dodson.
  • Gabolde, M., 1998: D'Akhenaton à Toutânkhamon. Université Lumière Lyon II, Boccard.
  • Gabolde, M., 2009: Under a Deep Blue Starry Sky. Causing His Name to Live: Studies in Egyptian Epigraphy and History in Memory of William J. Murnane.
  • Harris, J.R., 1973: Neferneferuaten. GM 4, p. 15–17.
  • Krauss, R., 1978: Das Ende der Amarnazeit (The End of the Amarna Period). Hildesheim.
  • Newberry, P.E., 1928: Akhenaten's Eldest Son-in-Law 'Ankhkheperure'. JEA 14.
  • Pendlebury, J.D.S., 1951: The City of Akhenaten. Part III, Vol II.
  • Strouhal, E., 2010: Biological Age of Skeletonized Mummy from Tomb KV 55 at Thebes. Anthropologie (1962-), Vol. 48 (2).

External links[]

Pharaoh of Egypt
Eighteenth Dynasty