Who was Nefertiti?

by: Daan Akkerman

Nefertete/ Smenchkare

For over fifteen years Nefertiti was the most influential woman of Egypt. She was worshiped as a goddess by her people and reigned together with Amenophis IV, a 18th dynasty ruler of the New Empire, who adopted for himself the name 'Achnaton' when he ascended the throne around 1353 AD.
Still, little know is about this queen. From around 1336 BC there are no traces of her in history, at the time she must have been about 30 years old.
Nefertiti married pharaoh Achnaton, son of Amenophis III, in the fourth year of his reign. At that time, she must have been about 15 years old; Achnaton was at least 14.
Because of this marriage, this stunningly beautiful young woman became one of the most powerful female rulers ever in Egypt. She was deeply loved; she was worshiped by her people.
During all the important events she was at her king's end, almost equal in status. However, there the trail ends. So far nobody has been able to find any indication which might shed light on Nefertiti's mysterious disappearance ... or is there a macabre explanation after all?

Was Nefertiti Achnaton's heir(ess) to the throne?

Because Smenchkare and Nefertiti used the same title - Neferneferuaton - some experts believe that Nefertiti rose to the throne after pharaoh Achnaton's death in 1336 A.D., which explains the mysterious disappearance of Nefertiti after the death of Achnaton.

After the death of Achnaton, Nefertiti was able to take on her/his authentic name again namely: Smenchkare. Even though Achnaton or his concubine Kia had a son- namely Tutankhamun - strangely enough he appointed Smenchkare as his heir to the throne.

It is still not officially known who this regent really was. It is likely that it was Nefertiti, who thereby was able to legitimately rule as pharaoh Smenchkare.

However, according to some Egyptologists, Smenchkare was another son of Amenophis III, but others believe that Smenchkare was a half brother of Achnaton, or another member of the royal family, or was Smenchkare a pseudonym for Nefertiti?

Where did Nefertiti or Smenchkare come from? According to one theory, Nefertiti/Smenchkare was the daughter/son of Tiye (or Tiy) and Ay (also called Aya ).

In that case, her/his father would have been a prominent official at the court of Amenophis III and a confidant of Achnaton. According to this theory, which is quite prevalent among Egyptologist these days, Nefertiti/ Smenchkare would have been part of the highest circles of Egyptian society.

An explanation for the mysterious disappearance of Nefertiti might be: Nefertiti was a boy/man, who had a relation and marriage of convenience with Achnaton from the age of fourteen.

Homosexual relations were quite common in the times of Achnaton, definitely for the elite such as priests and pharaohs, which would explain why Nefertiti behaved as a pharaoh and had the same status as Achnaton.

Direct sexual contact with his concubines was not needed to ensure a lot of offspring for the pharaoh; they would also get children by other members of the royal family, and as such they were all legitimate children of the pharaoh, belonging to the same royal family.

Yet little is known about the fate of the woman (or man) of Achnaton. How she died has not been established with certainty. For more than fifteen years, Nefertiti was Egypt's most influential woman.

More than any other Egyptian queen, Nefertiti has been immortalized in temples and monuments.

It is plausible that the stunningly beautiful queen even held the position of high priestess, a position which was generally only reserved for kings.

Not only is her/his beauty legendary, so is her/his exceptional position of power. Together with her/his spouse, pharaoh Achnaton, Nefertiti was responsible for a religious revolution. Together they replaced the traditional Egyptian pantheon of gods by one single god, the sun god Aton.

For example, there exists a rock on which part of her name can be deciphered, as well as one of here honorary titles, which translates as "Her royal highness the wife of the pharaoh".

On several depictions Nefertiti is shown on a chariot, with a scepter in her hand - the symbol of highest authority within the state. On other depictions she is also depicted as leader of her nation, whereby she defeats Egypt's enemies with a truncheon or sword.

She traveled in a royal sedan and she would distribute golden medals to the elite. At no time before or since has any other royal spouse ever been depicted in this manner.

During the reign of Nefertiti and Achnaton, the temple of Karnak had an enormous entrance gate on the east side. In this complex they have been able to reconstruct almost 100 scenes with depictions of ritual acts. Most depictions show Nefertiti as the center of holy rituals, such as the presentation of offerings.

The tradition even requires that the offerings would only be presented to the pharaoh himself or to a "wife and concubine of the god". These frescos prove that Nefertiti had as much status and power as the pharaoh himself.

Even though the newly established religion did not have the position of "wife and concubine of the god", Nefertiti honored the god Aton with rituals which could be compared with the rituals which were performed by the male companions of Amon. Thus it seems that Nefertiti used the religious tradition of the "concubines of the god" to acquire the status of goddess for herself/himself.

Has the mummy of Nefertiti been found?

The British Egyptologist Dr. Joann Fletcher is convinced she has found the mummy of the legendary Nefertiti, who once ruled along the side of pharaoh Achnaton.

At present the research by Dr. Fletcher is focused on finding evidence for her theory that she has discovered the embalmed body of the woman who without doubt - after Cleopatra - is Egypt's most famous queen.

The mummy, catalogued as "Nr. 61072", lies in a side gallery of the grave chamber of Amenophis II together with the mummified bodies of another woman and a boy.

Furthermore she found an impression of a head band which was used exclusively by members of the royal family and the head was shaven, which, according to Dr. Fletcher, is necessary to properly wear headgear such as the famous blue crown.

The tentative conclusion of the British research team is that this mummy - which was found under an enormous heap of linen - was at least a woman of royal status from the Armana period.

Another detailed indication is provided by one of the two bodies which were found in the grave next to "Mummy 61072" . This mummy appears to be the embalmed body of queen Ti.

At least that was the conclusion of American and Egyptian scientists who performed a series of hair analyses in the 19'70's. Ti was the wife of Amenhotep III and the mother of Achnaton. Will this Nefertiti mystery ever be unrevealed?

However, there are also experts who have voiced their doubts. They are not convinced by the evidence which Fletcher and her colleagues have presented. According to these critics, the rediscovered mummy she researched could just as well been someone else's, for example one of Achnaton's daughters who, according to some sources, also was an unknown female pharaoh.

Thus, despite all the extensive research, the more than 3000 year old mummy with catalogue number 61072 remains a mystery. A comparative DNA analysis would be useful to permanently reveal the secret of the body. However, to date no remains of Nefertiti's children or other close blood relatives have been found, which makes such a genetic investigation impossible.

Conclusion: Nefertiti was a man/boy who at a very young age "married Achnaton" as a wife and companion until the death of Achnaton and suddenly disappeared after that only to reappear in the same year as Schmenkare (his original name) and ruled as pharaoh after the death of Achnaton. After the death of Schmenkare, his younger brother in law Tutankhamun taken over his position.

Obviously with this thesis it is not possible that Nefertiti has given birth to children and that her body will be found somewhere. It is more likely that the embalmed body of Schmenkare will be found with indications of his relation with Achnaton.

The body found by Dr. Fletcher could just as well be of any other female member of the royal family from that era.