Everyone has heard of the famous boy king, Tutankhamun, but the name of his beloved sister and wife Ankhesenamun is rarely uttered.
The tragic life of Ankhesenamun was well documented in the ancient reliefs and paintings of the reign of her parents, the pharaoh Akhenaten and his great royal wife Nefertiti, until the death of Tutankhamun when the young queen seems to have disappeared from the historical records.
Ankhesenamun (“Her Life is of Amun”) was a queen of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. She was the third of six known daughters, and became the great royal wife of her half-brother Tutankhamun when he was just 8 to 10 years old and she was 13.
It is possible that she was briefly married to Tutankhamun’s successor, Ay, believed by some to be her maternal grandfather. It has also been posited that she may have first been the wife of her father, Akhenaten.
In fact, Tutankhamun’s parents had also been brother and sister, resulting in some of the genetic conditions that the boy king suffered, including a cleft palate and club foot. The pharaohs believed they were descended from the gods and incest was seen as acceptable so as to retain the sacred bloodline.
Ankhesenamun was born in a time when Egypt was in the midst of an unprecedented religious revolution (c. 1348 BC). Her father had abandoned the old deities of Egypt in favour of the one ‘true’ god of Aten (the Sun disc), thereby creating the first monotheistic religion.
His revolutionary actions weren’t taken easily by the priesthood and the Egyptians followers of Ra. It was difficult for such a traditional culture to reject their old gods, and the priesthood—which held a great deal of power—put up a fierce resistance.
Ankhesenamun had two older sisters – Meritaten, Meketaten – and together, the three of them became the “Senior Princesses” and participated in many functions of the government and religion.
Various reliefs found in Egypt appear to suggest that Akhenaten may have attempted to father children with all three of his eldest daughters, the second of whom seems to have died during child birth (this scene is depicted inside a royal tomb).
After the death of her father, Akhenaten, and following the short reigns of his successors, Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten, Ankhesenamun became the wife of Tutankhamun. Following their marriage, the couple were quick to restore the old religion, disregarding Akhenaten’s actions.
Although both Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun were still children, together they ruled Egypt for the next ten years.
During their reign, history shows that Tutankhamun had an official adviser named Ay who most likely was the grandfather of Ankhesenamun, and who probably played an influential role in the lives and decisions of the young couple.
During their reign, it is believed that Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun conceived two children (both girls) who were born prematurely and died. Evidence comes from the mummified remains of two babies found in Tutankhamun’s tomb and DNA analysis confirmed that they were daughters of Tutankhamun.
One of the children is known to have had a condition called Spengel’s deformity in conjunction with spina bifida and scoliosis.
At about the age of eighteen or nineteen, Tutankhamun died suddenly, leaving Ankhesenamun alone without an heir in her early twenties. The grieving queen would have to continue in her official capacity as queen of Egypt and play a major role in finding a successor.
An inscribed ring and gold foil fragments found in the Valley of the Kings depict Ankhesenamen together with her husband’s successor, Ay, but there is no clear indication that they were married.
Her name never appeared within his tomb and it is believed that she may have died during or shortly after Ay’s reign, as she disappears from history shortly after his period.
It is not known where she was buried, and no funerary objects with her name are known to exist. This leaves the possibility that her tomb is still somewhere out there, waiting to be discovered. This may help to unravel the final fate of Ankhesenamun.
Featured image: A gold plate found in Tutankhamun’s tomb depicting Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamen together.
By April Holloway, Ancient Origins
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