Reign 1334-1333 BC
Dynasty 18th Dynasty
Praenomen Ankhkheperure-Merywaenre
Nomen Smenkhare-Djeserkheperu
Golden Horus
Family Meritaten (wife)
Burial Place

Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare (sometimes spelled Smenkhare and Smenkare; meaning "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. Tutankhamun's reign began immediately after Smenkhkare's death. It is believed that Smenkhkare was the father of Tut and reigned for 3 years.


The identity of the Pharaoh whose praenomen is Ankhkheprure, who is usually known as Smenkhkare, is somewhat mysterious. Egyptologists do not even agree whether he was a man or a woman - although the position that he was a man is traditional, and more common. The difficulty is that Smenkhkare shares some names with Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten, and it is possible that Nefertiti was Smenkhkare, as it is not unheard of Ancient Egypt for women to become Pharaohs (e.g., Hatshepsut).

Two sets of names are associated with Smenkhkare:

  • Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten, 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;
  • Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare, who may be identified as the husband of Queen Meritaten – Akhenaten's daughter and Chief Wife after Nefertiti's death.

To date, no objects other than the wine jar label and six royal seals have been found bearing the name Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare, whereas some clearly feminine objects with the name Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten were reused in the burial of Tutankhamen. This suggests that Smenkhkare refers to a single person who was different from Nefertiti. Some suggest the fact that Smenkhkare appeared in the record about the same time that Nefertiti disappeared, and yet is still portrayed as having performed the rites reserved for the heir to the throne at Akhenaten's funeral, indicates that Smenkhkare and Nefertiti were the same person. However, it has also been suggested that Smenkhkare adopted Nefertiti's names, albeit with the masculine form of writing. Either way, since we know that Smenkhkare was married to Meritaten — eldest daughter of Akhenaten — the theory that Smenkhkare was actually Nefertiti seems unlikely; why and how would Nefertiti impersonate a man and take on her own daughter as a spouse? And yet, the throne name of Ankhkheperure is occasionally written in the feminine form Ankhetkheperure, with the feminine "t". This suggests that Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten was likely Nefertiti, and a separate individual from Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare. 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.

According to James Allen's most recent research (below), Ankheperure Neferneferuaten was Akhenaten's co-regent in the latter's final 2-3 years but this person was a lady who is different from Ankheperure Smenkhkare who was a young man at death. He certainly ruled Egypt for a brief period on his own since he is attested in his Year 1 on a wine label from "the House of Smenkhkare"[2] and the six seals with his name. Allen[3] contends that Smenkhkare was not Neferneferuaten, a junior co-regent of Akhenaten. This Neferneferuaten is attested by a Year 3 date in a graffito from the Tomb of Pere (TT 139), who was a minor Priest of Amun. This implies that in Akhenaten's final years, Neferneferuaten sought a compromise with the Amun priesthood before being replaced by Smenkhkare.


Smenkhkare's parentage is unknown — the leading theories are that he was a son of Akhenaten or Amenhotep III. Unlike the majority of other Pharaohs, the only claim he made was to have been "beloved" of Akhenaten, but he never states that the latter was his father. Moreover, 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.

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 and lasted no more than 1 year.


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 Tutankhamen, 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, and a very poorly preserved body that is considered (with about 80% certainty) to be male around 20 years of age. There are some indications that the body shares common traits with Tutankhamen, suggesting a filial relation, but the poor degree of preservation makes this difficult to ascertain. Some scholars consider this to be the mummy of Smenkhkare while others are certain that it belongs to Akhenaten because its royal cartouches were deliberately erased from the king's coffin and his royal uraeus was removed, as were many traces of Akhenaten because of his controversial religious revolution.

Although little is known about him/her, 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[4]. Smenkare's reign was probably brief, lasting perhaps no more than several months given the paucity of objects mentioning his name.

External links


  1. M. Gabolde, D'Akhenaton à Toutânkhamon, Université Lumière Lyon II, Boccard, (1998), pp.219-221
  2. Pendlebury, City of Akhenaten, vol II, pl 86 No.35
  3. The Amarna Succession by James Allen
  4. "Treasures of Tutankhamun," The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976. ISBN 0-87099-156-6.

Further reading

  • Cyril Aldred, Akhenaten, King of Egypt.Thames & Hudson, 1988.
  • Nicholas Reeves and Richard H. Wilkinson,The Complete Valley of the Kings. Thames & Hudson, 1996.
  • Peter A. Clayton, Chronicles of the Pharaohs. Thames & Hudson, 1994.

Preceded by:
Pharaoh of Egypt
Eighteenth Dynasty
Succeeded by:
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