Perhaps only Cleopatra VII has such a tragic story as the turbulent personal history of the vanishing Princess Ankhesenamun. Born around c. 1350 B.C. Ankhesenamun or “Her Life Is of Amun” was the third of King Akhenaton and Queen Nefertiti’s six daughters. As a young girl, Ankhesenamun grew up in her father’s purpose-built capital city of Akhetaten, present-day Amarna.
Surviving evidence suggests her royal parents doted upon Ankhesenamun and her sisters. Yet her life, unfortunately, coincided with a turbulent time in Egypt’s long history. An unhealthy obsession with maintaining the purity of Egypt’s royal bloodlines intersected with tumultuous religious upheaval.
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Facts About Ankhesenamun
- Ankhesenamun was the third daughter of the Pharaoh Akhenaton and Nefertiti
- Named Ankhesenpaaten or “She lives through Aten” at birth, she later adopted the name Ankhesenamun or “She lives through Amun” after the ascension of Pharaoh Tutankhamun to the throne
- Ankhesenamun was Tutankhamun’s chief wife
- Two of her mummified stillborn daughters were discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb
- Evidence suggests Ankhesenamun could have been married to as many as four pharaohs during her life
- Her death remains a mystery with some historians contending King Ay had her murdered
- Asked to marry one of the Hittite King, Suppiluliuma I’s sons to avoid marrying her grandfather, Ay
Collectively, Egypt’s pharaohs were pre-occupied with maintaining the purity of their royal bloodlines. In their eyes, incest was the only reliable mechanism to ensure the continuity of their reign. Both the ancient Egyptians and the Pharaohs believed themselves to be the descendants of the gods and the gods manifested here on earth. They saw incest as acceptable among the royal nobility.
Akhenaton worshipped the sun deity Aton. He abolished worship of all other gods together with their priesthoods and established Aton as Egypt’s sole god, transforming Egypt into a monotheistic culture. Not surprisingly, Egypt’s priests fiercely resisted this royal edict. Abolishing the worship of Amun, the traditional head of Egypt’s religious pantheon, threatened to undermine the growing wealth and power of Egypt’s religious cults.
Facing stiff resistance to his new religious beliefs, Akhenaton looked to maintain power over Egypt’s powerful priesthoods who were contesting the wealth and influence of the Pharaohs. By maintaining his families secure grip on power, their rule would be safeguarded from rival forces.
By producing as many heirs to his throne as possible, Akhenaton hoped to protect his new and still highly contentious monotheistic religion. There is some evidence to suggest that despite being his third daughter, Ankhesenamun, married Akhenaton after her mother’s death.
Marriage To Tutankhamun
Following Ankhesenamun’s father’s death, Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten’s successive reigns proved to be short. Social and religious revolution once again swept Egypt. The old religions were restored, the worship of Aton forbidden and any evidence of Akhenaton’s rule destroyed or defaced. During this time, Ankhesenamun married her half-brother Tutankhamun in what has been interpreted as an attempt to maintain their family’s grip on the throne and on power.
Upon Tutankhamun’s ascension to the throne, Ankhesenamun became his Royal Great Wife. After their marriage, Ankhesenamun and Tutankhamun honoured the newly restored religion’s deities by changing their names to Ankhesenamun and Tutankhamun or “Living Image of Amun.” The young and inexperienced couple struggled with the demands of the throne and ruled their sprawling kingdom largely through regents, whether willingly or otherwise.
In keeping with tradition, Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun attempted to have children and produce an heir. Tragically, archaeologists discovered two very tiny mummified remains in Tutankhamun’s undisturbed tomb. Both mummies were female. Researchers hypothesise both babies died due to miscarriage, as one was approximately five months old and the other eight to nine months of age. The older baby suffered Sprengel’s deformity together with spina bifida and scoliosis. Medical scientists point to the genetic problems posed by incest as the possible cause of all three conditions.
As Tutankhamun was only known to have had one wife; Ankhesenamun, Egyptologists believe it is highly probable that both fetuses discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb are Ankhesenamun’s daughters.
At sometime during the ninth year of his reign, at the age of eighteen, Tutankhamun died unexpectedly. His death left Ankhesenamun a widow and without an heir at twenty-one years of age.
Did Ankhesenamun Marry Aye?
Amongst the royal advisors, Ay was the closest to both Ankhesenamun and Tutankhamun. He also happened to be Ankhesenamun’s grandfather. The records that have survived are incomplete and inconclusive. Amongst Egyptologists, there is a school of thought that Ankhesenamun may have married Ay following Tutankhamun’s early death, although this appears to have been a union she opposed. A ring discovered in Ay’s tomb is believed to indicate Ankhesenamun married Ay shortly before she disappeared from the pages of history. However, although no surviving monuments depict Ankhesenamun as a royal consort. On the walls of Ay’s tomb, it is Ay’s senior wife Tey who is depicted as queen, rather than Ankhesenamun.
What is clear from the official records that have come down to us is that Ankhesenamun wrote a letter to the king of the Hittites Suppiluliumas I. In it, she outlined a desperate plea for his assistance. Ankhesenamun needed a suitable candidate of royal blood to be the next king of Egypt. The fact that Ankhesenamun appealed to the king of Egypt’s main political and military rival demonstrates the level of Ankhesenamun desperation to save her kingdom.
Suppiluliumas I was naturally suspicious of the young queen’s request. He dispatched messengers to collaborate her story. When he confirmed Queen Ankhesenamun had told him the truth, Suppiluliumas I sent Prince Zannanza to Egypt accept the queen’s offer. However, the Hittite prince was murdered before he even reached the Egyptian border.
A Mysterious Death
Sometime between 1325 and 1321 B.C. Ankhesenamun queen of Egypt died under what remain mysterious circumstances. With her death, the true Amarna bloodline came to an end.
Today, Egyptologists describe Ankhesenamun as Egypt’s Lost Princess. To date, no one has located her tomb and documents or inscriptions that reveal what precisely happened to her have never been found. However, in January 2018 archaeologists announced the discovery of a new tomb near the tomb of Ay in the Valley of Monkeys near the famed Valley of the Kings. If it is the tomb of Ankhesenamun, Egyptologists may yet discover what happened to Egypt’s lost queen whose life was so blighted by sorrow.
Following the excavation of the tomb KV63, Egyptologists speculated it might have been created for Ankhesenamen. This was suggested by its close proximity to Tutankhamun’s tomb (KV62). Coffins, one bearing the imprint of women were discovered in the tomb together with jewellery, women’s clothing and natron. Pottery fragments imprinted with the partial name Paaten were also found inside the tomb. Ankhesenamen is the only member of the royal household known to carry this name, which is the diminutive of Ankhesenpaaten, Ankhesenamen’s original name. Unfortunately, no mummies were found in KV63.
Reflecting On The Past
Although she was the queen of Egypt and married to perhaps the most famous pharaoh of all, little is known about the short life and mysterious death of Ankhesenamun.
Header image courtesy: AnnekeBart [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons