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: Portraits of Akhenaten and Nefertiti from the workshop of Thutmose, the royal sculptor. Tell el-Amarna. Neues Museum, Berlin. (Photo: Heidi Kontkanen)

The Dakhamunzu Chronicles: End Game of the Sun Kings—Part I

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The history of the dying days of the Eighteenth Dynasty remains shrouded in mystery. The late Amarna succession and its aftermath remain an unsolved conundrum. Out of the mist of this perplexity appears a desperate supplication written by a Sun Queen—the last scion of a royal family that was now irrevocably trapped in the throes of obliteration. With the jury still out, only further research can enable us to establish the identity of Dakhamunzu, a helpless yet daring lady who battled to save her life – and above all – the future of Egypt itself.

inted wall relief shows Akhenaten, Nefertiti and two of their daughters, Meritaten and Meketaten, making offerings to the Aten. Tomb of Meryre II, Tell el-Amarna.

A painted wall relief shows Akhenaten, Nefertiti and two of their daughters, Meritaten and Meketaten, making offerings to the Aten. Tomb of Meryre II, Tell el-Amarna. (Photo: Oliviero Piccinali)

AN EMPIRE IN PERIL

"My husband died, a son I have not. But to thee they say, the sons are many. If thou wouldst give me one son of thine, he would become my husband. Never shall I pick out a servant of mine and make him my husband. I am very afraid!”

Discovered in the ancient Hittite capital of Hattusa (Boghaz Koy, modern Turkey), these poignant words were inscribed on a cuneiform tablet that was a part of the annals of the Hittite king, Suppiluliuma I called ‘The Deeds of Suppiluliuma’ written by his son, Mursilli II. It has long been believed that this was the desperate plea of the young widow, Queen Ankhesenamun (Ankhesenpaaten), who, finding herself all alone following the demise of her entire family— including the recent death of her half-brother and husband Pharaoh Tutankhamun— made a final, desperate bid to save the dynasty and ensure her own survival and the continuation of the royal bloodline.

The lower half of a restored column in front of the Sanctuary of the Small Aten Temple. Tell el-Amarna.

The lower half of a restored column in front of the Sanctuary of the Small Aten Temple. Tell el-Amarna. (Photo: Heidi Kontkanen)

Little about this period can be positively ascertained. Lacking definitive proof, Egyptologists have thus far been unable to arrive at a consensus on the real author of this controversial letter. However, there has always been a toss-up between two prime candidates: Queen Nefertiti, and her third daughter Ankhesenamun. Even though this saga has provided adequate cause for befuddlement, most scholars now tend toward the latter; but the evidence is inconclusive either way. Meritaten, the eldest daughter of Nefertiti, is considered a third contender who may have penned this contentious document; a proposal that has its share of adherents.

A limestone bust from Amarna that is believed to depict Princess Meritaten. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

A limestone bust from Amarna that is believed to depict Princess Meritaten. Musée du Louvre, Paris. (Photo: Aoineko/ CC BY-SA 1.0 )

In the early days of its discovery, it was assumed that “Dakhamunzu” (or Dahamunzu) mentioned in the tablet was a misreading of Sankhamun; which linguists who specialized in the languages of the ancient Near East held to be a version of Ankhesenamun. But this emendation has since been discarded; for it is now believed that Dakhamunzu is a Hittite vocalization or rendering of the Egyptian title “Ta Hemet Nesu” (King's Great Wife). So, is it only the Akkadian transliteration of a female royal title that caused the conundrum? Not really.

Experts could easily have solved this puzzle ages ago, if only they knew the identity of the pharaoh whose unexpected demise impelled his terrified widow to make such an extraordinary plea. In the Hittite letter, the deceased ruler is referred to only by his prenomen or throne name. Therefore, the "Niphuria" or "Nibhururiya" could either be Neferkheperure (Akhenaten) or Nebkheperure (Tutankhamun).

Detail from a group statue: Akhenaten and Nefertiti clasp each other’s hands in a depiction of tender affection. Neues Museum, Berlin.

Detail from a group statue: Akhenaten and Nefertiti clasp each other’s hands in a depiction of tender affection. Neues Museum, Berlin. (Photo: Heidi Kontkanen)

But who was this “servant” Dakhamunzu feared so greatly?

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Top Image: Portraits of Akhenaten and Nefertiti from the workshop of Thutmose, the royal sculptor. Tell el-Amarna. Neues Museum, Berlin. (Photo: Heidi Kontkanen)

By Anand Balaji

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