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Dancing Bes figures on the left outer arm of the Sitamun's chair; and detail of the face mask of one of the coffins of Yuya; design by Anand Balaji

Bedazzling Treasures of Yuya and Tjuyu: K46 and the Golden Road to Nobility – Part I

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Queen Tiye stands head and shoulders above all the Great Royal Wives of ancient Egypt. Though it is said that her background was that of a commoner, she rose to prominence mainly due to her resourceful parents, Yuya and Tjuyu. Persons of obviously no mean ability, the combined efforts of these two nobles ensured that Egypt enjoyed a time of unprecedented prosperity during the reign of their son-in-law, Amenhotep III.

The colossal limestone group statue of Amenhotep III, Queen Tiye and their daughters – Henuttaneb, the largest and best preserved, in the center; Nebetah on the right; and another, whose name is destroyed. The sculpture rises seven meters in height dwarfing all other statues in the central hall of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. This monolith originated from Medinet Habu in Western Thebes.

The colossal limestone group statue of Amenhotep III, Queen Tiye and their daughters – Henuttaneb, the largest and best preserved, in the center; Nebetah on the right; and another, whose name is destroyed. The sculpture rises seven meters in height dwarfing all other statues in the central hall of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. This monolith originated from Medinet Habu in Western Thebes.

Queen Tiye (circa 1398 – 1338 BC) whom the Sun King Amenhotep III wedded when he ascended the throne as a 12-year-old, was the jewel in his crown. Soon after their marriage, the pharaoh exalted his spouse to the position of Great Royal Wife; an honor that was denied even to his beloved mother, Mutemwiya. This sent a strong message that Tiye superseded the king’s own mother – if one took into account the fact that she is portrayed only in his artworks and monuments - for instance the Colossi of Memnon group statue - and not in those of her husband, Thutmose IV. So, what was the background of the new queen, whom Amenhotep was so clearly smitten by?

This fragment from the tomb of Userhat (TT47) at Thebes depicts Queen Tiye seated in a kiosk with her husband, King Amenhotep III. This exquisite portrait was stolen from the tomb, and, after sustaining damage, found its way to the Brussels Royal Museum.

This fragment from the tomb of Userhat (TT47) at Thebes depicts Queen Tiye seated in a kiosk with her husband, King Amenhotep III. This exquisite portrait was stolen from the tomb, and, after sustaining damage, found its way to the Brussels Royal Museum.

The Advent of Queen Tiye

 “A statue of the treasurer Sobekhotep holding a prince Amenhotep-merkhepesh probably shows the king shortly before his father's death, and a wall painting in the tomb of the royal nurse Hekarnehhe (TT 64) describes the tomb-owner as the royal nurse of Prince Amenhotep, portraying the prince as a youth rather than a small naked child. The age of the king at accession could have been anywhere between 2 and 12, with a later age perhaps to be preferred given that Amenhotep's mother, Mutemwiya, was barely more visible than Tiaa and Merytra, the preceding two kings' mothers

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[The author thanks Heidi Kontkanen , Hossam Abbas, Dave Rudin and Dario Nannini for granting permission to use their photographs. The public archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art can be accessed here.]

Top Image: Dancing Bes figures on the left outer arm of the Sitamun's chair; and detail of the face mask of one of the coffins of Yuya; design by Anand Balaji (Photo credit: Heidi Kontkanen); Deriv.

By  Anand Balaji

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