The Hunt for Ankhesenamun: A Murderess, Vixen or Helpless Child in this Ancient Egyptian Soap Opera? Part II
Ankhesenamun, wife of the boy-king Tutankhamun, is portrayed in many ways; as a terrified and hapless youngster; a power-hungry murderess; or a loathsome vixen who will stop at nothing to achieve her devious ends. Very few characterizations concentrate on the real person, sans the hype. This once-powerful queen surely deserves a closer look.
Eclipsing the Sun
The religious revolution of Akhenaten failed miserably and the empire was under great threat. Therefore, in Year 3 of his reign, Tutankhaten’s regents who controlled the country on his behalf decided that Atenism had run its course. The royal couple altered their names to Tutankh-amun and Ankhesen-amun, signaling a complete return to orthodoxy, and the court deserted the Sun City and subsequently, Malqata palace in Waset (Thebes) that was abandoned by Akhenaten may have been re-inhabited when the traditional religion and administrative capital were restored. Inscriptions of the boy king, such as the Restoration Stela at Karnak Temple, commemorate the end of iconoclasm and record his deep anguish at being bequeathed a country in economic and spiritual ruin.
Even though little remains in Akhetaten, the once-bustling, defiant capital of Pharaoh Akhenaten; its allure remains unchanged. A restored column in front of the Sanctuary of the Small Aten Temple in Akhetaten. Tell el-Amarna.
These tectonic shifts and proclamations were surely not the doing of either Tutankhamun or Ankhesenamun; but in all probability, that of Grand Vizier Aye believed to be the latter’s grandfather or great-uncle (son of Yuya and Thuya, hence, brother of Queen Tiye). This exceedingly powerful man had served under Amenhotep III, Akhenaten, Smenkhkare/Neferneferuaten, and now Tutankhamun. One of Aye’s many coveted titles under Akhenaten was “it-netjer” or “Father of the God”. Equally competent was Horemheb, the Generalissimo who had served as the Commander-in-Chief of the army of Akhenaten and Smenkhkare, and now, that of Tutankhamun. The child pharaoh officially designated him “iry-pat” (“Hereditary or Crown Prince”) and “idnw” (“Deputy of the King” in the entire land).
The entrance to KV62, the tomb of Tutankhamun (Bottom right) in the Valley of the Kings – that lay undisturbed for millennia beneath debris from the tomb of Ramesses VI (Nineteenth Dynasty) over which ancient workmen’s huts were built.
However, for one so young, Tutankhamun clearly could not have understood the full import of these titles, let alone grant them willfully. It could well be that Horemheb arrogated these appellations unto himself, with the active support of his coterie. This surely would not have sat well with Aye; and proof of this can be found in the fact that he named his son or grandson, Nakhtmin, as generalissimo and heir when he became pharaoh.
Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, looking in from the Antechamber. Straight ahead, the north wall shows various funerary scenes involving the deceased pharaoh. The modest size of KV62 and its sparse and hurried decoration have for long baffled Egyptologists.
Since no secondary wives of Tutankhamun are known, it must follow that in a desire to perpetuate the bloodline, it was Ankhesenamun who conceived two girls. Howard Carter posited that they were “without doubt” the unfortunate daughters of the boy pharaoh and his consort Ankhesenamun. Sadly, the mummified fetuses revealed they were stillborn.
Dr Robert Connolly, a leading anatomist who analyzed the mummified remains of Tutankhamun and the stillborn children in 2008 observed: “The two fetuses in the tomb of Tutankhamun could be twins despite their very different sizes, and thus fit better as a single pregnancy for his young wife. This increases the likelihood of them being Tutankhamun’s children.”
A statuette of Horemheb shows the King holding a pillar that is decorated with inscriptions, notably his coronation name. Horemheb launched the destruction of all vestiges of the Amarna interlude; and was particularly harsh with the memory of Akhenaten, Aye and Ankhesenamun. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
End Game in Sight
Aye had tasted power at the highest echelons for a great many years. His proximity to the royal family meant that his word was writ. But, even if he nursed a secret desire to lay claim to the throne, he could never have gotten very far as he was not of royal lineage. But the political climate had changed dramatically post the Amarna interlude, and the aging Vizier must have fancied his chances. Tutankhamun died suddenly at the tender age of nineteen, and the days of Aye playing second fiddle finally ceased.
As it shows an elderly individual, this limestone or calcite head of a statuette has been identified as Pharaoh Aye. The royal uraeus would have probably been added after completion. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.