Tiye: One of the Most Influential Women of Ancient Egypt
Tiye was the Great Royal Wife of the ancient Egyptian equivalent to Louis XIV – Amenhotep III. Her son Akhenaten, was one of the biggest causes of scandal during the pharaohs’ time in Egypt. She was also a grandmother of Tutankhamun, and the sister of Ay. She was one of the most influential women of Ancient Egypt, nonetheless, her name had been forgotten for centuries.
Tiye, known also as Taia, Tiy and Tiyi, is believed to have lived from about 1398 BC – 1338 BC. The story of her life is as mysterious as all the people who lived in this period. The world she lived in collapsed with the capital city of her son Akhenaten – Amarna.
According to ancient inscriptions, Tiye is a daughter of Yuya and Tuya and sister of the pharaoh Ay. Some Egyptologists say that there is no link between Ay and Tiye, but the position of her brother (known also as Anen) seems to be a proof – he was the Second Prophet of Amun and inherited most of the titles of Yuya. Apart from this, there is no other reason for the high position of Ay in the royal court - he was most likely related to Yuya, Tuya and Tiye.
A Mummy with Beautiful Hair
When in 1898 Victor Loretin discovered a chamber with hidden mummies, he saw a woman with beautiful long hair. It was unusual to see such a beautiful face and so well preserved hair on a mummy.
In 2010, DNA tests by the team of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the National Geographic Society and Siemens confirmed the pretty “Elder Lady” discovered in KV35 was Queen Tiye. The research also confirmed that the woman was Tutankhamun’s grandmother, Akhenaten’s mother, and also the mother of the “Younger Lady” discovered in KV35.
The mummy of Queen Tiye, now in the Egyptian Museum. (Public Domain)
The mummy was discovered unwrapped. It had been very badly damaged by thieves who had entered the tomb, perhaps in ancient times. The whole front of the abdomen and part of the thorax were damaged. She was discovered and described by the researcher G.E. Smith as a middle aged woman whose right arm was extended vertically at the side with the palm of the right hand placed upon the right thigh, but the left arm was crossed over the chest and she was holding in it something at the time when she was buried. This was the first suggestion that she could have been a queen. Her teeth and hair were well-preserved, however the mummy had been reburied in KV35 with almost no goods, and even without the attempt to re-wrap her.
She was perhaps originally buried in Amarna, in Akhenate's royal tomb. Akhenaten and Maketaten (her granddaughter) were buried next to her. The gilded burial shrine where Tiye appears with Akhenaten was discovered in the tomb KV55 9 (the final burial of Akhenaten), but her shabtis were discovered in WV22 tomb – the one which belongs to Amenhotep III.
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A Wise Adviser and Confidant
Tiye is believed to have been an adviser of both Amenhotep III and Akhenaten. Her position on their courts was strong. She was married to Amenhotep during his second year of reign. They were both children, but they spent their whole lives together. Tiye appears in history as a smart adviser and the most important woman in Amenhotep’s court, who also became an important person during the reign of her son.
Colossal statue of Amenhotep III. (Public Domain)
Amenhotep and Tiye had a few children, but it is unknown how many of their children survived childhood. She was also perhaps the mother of the eldest daughter of the pharaoh – Sitamun. Tiye was elevated to the position of Great Royal Wife during the reign of Amenhotep. Her other daughters may include Isis, Henuttaneb, and Nebetah (who seems to be the same person as princess Baketaten). She had at least two sons with the pharaoh as well. The first one was Thutmose – the High Priest of Ptah, and the second was born as Amenhotep IV, but is known in history as the king who created a revolution – Akhenaten.
The Great Royal Wife Tiye, matriarch of the Amarna Dynasty - now in the Neues Museum/Ägyptisches Museum in Berlin, Germany. (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Amenhotep was a sporty man, who lived an outdoor life and who was lucky to have a wife who followed him. Their court was rich, and during Tiye's lifetime Egypt looked much like a building site. It is believed that the couple had a good relationship based on much stronger links than simply sharing children. Tiye had a good education, one worthy of a king. She appeared to be her husband's adviser and confidant. She was one of very few people who was trusted by Amenhotep III. Resources show that she was intelligent, wise, self-confident and powerful. She played an active role in the politics of Egypt, foreign relations, etc. She is the first known Egyptian queen whose name appeared in official acts. It is confirmed that the king of Mitannii, Tushratta, had corresponded with Tiye.
Tiye was worshiped as the goddess Hathor-Tefnut in the temple in Sedeinga, Nubia. There were plenty of shrines dedicated to her. There was also an artificial lake built for her in the 12th year of Amenhotep's reign.
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The End of the Tale
When Amenhotep died after 39 years of his reign, Tiye arranged his burial in the Valley of the Kings in a tomb known nowadays as WV22. Tiye died, perhaps during the 12th year of Akhenaten's reign (c.1338 BC). It is believed that she could have died due to an epidemic. At the same time, many other people of her times disappeared from the pages of history.
Queen Tiye, whose husband, Amenhotep III, may have been depicted to her right in this broken statue (CC BY-SA 2.0 FR)
When she died, she was around 50 years old. Soon after her death, Akhenaten lost his authority and his city began to lose power. This period in history still holds many secrets, but it seems to be sure that Tiye was an important part of the court. With her death, an epoch in history was finished forever. The death of Tiye could be seen as a mark of the end of the magnificence of the 18th Dynasty.
Featured image: Tiye, the Great Royal Wife of Amenhotep III and mother of Akhenaten and grandmother of Tutankhamun (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Tyldesley, J., Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt, 2006.
Dodson, A., Hilton, D., The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, 2004.
Fletcher, J., Chronicle of a Pharaoh - The Intimate Life of Amenhotep III, 2000.