Nefertiti is one of the most fascinating Egyptian rulers in history. She was queen, but she was also a priestess and might have even been a pharaoh. Because she and her husband, Amenhotep IV (aka Akhenaten), tossed out all of the old gods and set up the sun as god in the form of Aten. This didn’t make the couple very popular, but it did give them absolute power over their subjects.
In her 12 years of rule, Queen Nefertiti was held in high regard by her husband, her royal subjects, and Thutmose, the sculptor who captured her face of a great beauty. Nefertiti was depicted as wearing the crown of a pharaoh and may have ruled as one after her husband’s death and as King Tut prepared to rule.
When she vanishes from scrolls, inscriptions, and other depictions, historians have varying views on what happened to Queen Nefertiti. Did she change her name and become Djeserkheperure Smenkhare or Smenkhkare Ankhetkheperure, a co-regent ruling singularly or alongside King Tut? Or did she simply die? History was erased in part due to the angry successors to Akhenaten’s reign. And artifacts may have been looted or moved.
Archaeologists have been searching for Nefertiti’s tomb for decades and just may have found it behind King Tut’s. A University of Arizona archaeologist, Dr. Nicholas Reeves, might have found the tomb of Nefertiti, hiding in plain sight. Signs that Nefertiti was a ruler in her own right may explain why the tomb next to King Tut’s is so large and one reserved for a higher position.
Over three thousand years later, Queen Nefertiti still holds historians and history buffs spellbound. Who was Nefertiti? Wife, mother, queen, beauty icon, punisher, or pharaoh? Read below to learn more about this fascinating Egyptian female leader and vote up the Nefertiti facts you were most surprised to learn.
Nefertiti Was More Powerful Than Previous Egyptian QueensThe fact that she is depicted with a pharaoh’s crown led archeologists to believe that Nefertiti was seen as Akhenaten’s equal and had the powers of a pharaoh. She may have even ruled as a pharaoh after the death of her husband and before the reign of King Tutankhamen as Djeserkheperure Smenkhare. In any case, the inscriptions depict a queen who is very much involved and in charge of the royal court. She was also considered a high priestess, allowing the faithful access to the god Aten through her.
Nefertiti and Akhenaten: Power CoupleNefertiti married 16-year-old Amenhotep IV when she was 15 years old. They had six daughters and possibly one son, King Tut. They ruled Egypt as equals in the mid 1300s B.C.
The power couple changed Egypt drastically by designating the sun as god, Aten, and making the sun the center of political and religious structure, replacing the god Amun. They created a new capital, Akhet-Aten, over 100 miles north of Thebes. This didn’t exactly sit well with the people, but they didn’t have a choice. Defying the pharaoh could get you killed as the couple also made themselves priests through which all citizens had to go to access Aten.
Just like any celeb power couple, they changed their names. Amenhotep became Akhenaten and Nefertiti (whose original name was “The Beautiful One Is Come”) became Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti or “Beautiful Are the Beauties of Aten, Beautiful Woman Has Come.” Much longer than Yeezus, but with the same intent.
Nefertiti’s Tomb Possibly Hidden Behind King Tut’sNefertiti may have been buried in Amarna, but due to the destruction by Akhenaten’s successors and the ravages of time, it’s not certain if that royal tomb ever held her body. In August 2015, archaeologist Dr. Nicholas Reeves discovered a secret, much larger room behind Tutankhamun’s smaller tomb.
The discovery could reveal Nefertiti’s true place within Egyptian history. The size of the tomb Dr. Reeves discovered suggests that King Tut was buried in his mother’s tomb, as Nefertiti may have been Tut’s mother or stepmother and, most importantly, the royal with the higher pedigree. Perhaps the burial logistics revolved around Nefertiti ruling as the boy king’s co-regent after the death of Akhenaten. Reeves posits that Nefertiti may have been interred first, with the door to her chamber plastered and painted over. The ghost door was found in Tut’s tomb. “If I’m wrong, I’m wrong,” Reeves said. “But if I’m right, the prospects are frankly staggering.”
Some historians suggest that Nefertiti’s tomb and trappings were used for the burial of King Tut or that she was hidden in Tut’s tomb so that enemies of her husband Akhenaten wouldn’t find her.
As well, statues depicting a female ruler were found in Tut’s tomb.
Queen Nefertiti Had Her Own TempleThe royal family of Akhenaten (formerly Amenhotep IV) lived in structures built in Karnak. One of the grandest was the Gempaaten, or palace. A temple, the Mansion of the BenBen, devoted to Nefertiti was built inside the palace.
In the third year of their reign, Nefertiti and Akhenaten are depicted as having thrown an elaborate festival in the temple. An inscription shows the ruling couple, along with their daughters and royal court, viewing the entertainment and crowds from their special viewing spot at the palace.
Her Rule Was Both Tumultuous and Lucrative for EgyptNefertiti’s rule alongside Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) saw a wealthy time in Egypt’s history, but the ruling couple’s installation of the sun as the center of government and politics ruffled a lot of feathers. Nefertiti and Amenhotep were feared, beloved, and hated.
The Nefertiti Bust Is Still a Point of Contention Between Egypt and GermanyGerman archaeologists excavated the Thutmose bust of Nefertiti in 1912 and took it to Germany under a license from the Egyptian government, which was dominated by the British as the time, while the French headed up Egypt’s antiquities department. There are varying accounts of how the Germans got the bust out of Egypt, with some stories leaning heavily toward deception.
Nefertiti’s bust ended up in Berlin in 1913, displayed at the New Museum. When the Nazis came to power, they took possession of the majority of antiquities and hid many valuable and historic works of art from all over the world. Hitler said, “I will never relinquish the head of the Queen.” The bust was discovered in a salt mine by American forces during the occupation. Nefertiti was displayed in a museum in West Berlin and later moved back to the New Museum in 2009.
Egypt considers Germany’s possession of Nefertiti’s statue as looting as its removal was done under nefarious conditions as far as they are concerned.
Nefertiti and Akhenaten Constructed Their Own CityThe pair had the city of Tell El Amarna built to worship Aten. They also demanded that the faithful move to the new city if they wanted to stay in good graces with Queen Nefertiti and the pharaoh. The old gods were given the boot, temples were closed, and priests had to conform to the new rule of law.
Nefertiti Had Many Titles During Her ReignAmong the many titles used to refer to the famous queen were:
– Hereditary Princess– Great of Praises– Lady of Grace– Sweet of Love– Lady of the Two Lands– Main King’s Wife– Main King’s Wife, his beloved– Great King’s Wife– Great King’s Wife, his beloved– Lady of all Women– Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt
Ay Was Possibly Nefertiti’s FatherNo one is absolutely sure who Nefertiti’s parents were, but some say that she’s the daughter of top adviser Ay and a wet nurse named Tey. Ay would go on to rule as pharaoh after the death of King Tut.
Was Nefertiti an Enforcer?Neferti is depicted on walls and tombs more than any other Egyptian ruler. One of those depictions shows Nefertiti about to strike a female captive. Neferiti was one of the most powerful women in Egypt and was considered the direct female conduit to Aten.
Despite Her Husband’s Philandering, Nefertiti Was Thought to Be FaithfulAkhenaten was known to sire children with other women, one of them might have been his sister and the resulting birth, King Tutankhamun. Regardless, Nefertiti is thought of, at least by historians, as his most powerful wife.
A Partial Tomb Figurine of Nefertiti Offers Conflicting Clues About Her RoleThe figurine, or shabti, was found in Amarna and experts have differing opinions as to whether this means Nefertiti was buried as a queen or as a pharaoh. It also could have simply been a votive from another royal burial.
The shabti is on display at the Louvre.
Nefertiti Had Six DaughtersMeritaten, Meketaten, Ankhes-en-pa-aten, Neferneferuaten-tasherit, Neferneferure, and Setepenre were the daughters of Nefertiti and Pharaoh Akhenaten. Meritaten may have replaced Nefertiti at court when the queen moved on to be a pharaoh, or died.
Did Nefertiti Die of the Plague?Historians have differing opinions on the death of Nefertiti, but one theory out there is that Nefertiti died six years after her husband and ruled Egypt while King Tut was being prepared to rule. Her plans to remain with the boy king until he was strong enough to rule on his own may have been cut short when she died of the plague.
Uncommon Love for Children Is Depicted in Nefertiti and Akhenaten’s InscriptionsAkhenaten showed his love for his wife and his daughters throughout many inscriptions. This was unusual for depictions of pharaohs.
Was Nefertiti’s Mummy Already Discovered?During an excavation of tomb of King Amenhotep II, aka KV-35, in 1898 by French egyptologist Victor Loret, three mummiest were discovered behind a hidden wall. The tomb, located in the Valley of the Kings, held the king’s mummy as well as others. One of those mummies, The Younger Lady, might be Nefertiti.
In 2010, Zahi Hawass, who was Egypt’s minister of state for Antiquities Affairs, wrote in a National Geographic piece that results of DNA from the three mummies prove that The Younger Lady was in fact the sister of Akhenaten, as well as King Tut’s mother.
In 2013, French Egyptologist Marc Gabolde’s DNA evidence disputed Hawass’s claim and revealed that Nefertiti was The Young Lady and not Akhenaten’s sister. Dr. Gabolde also maintained that the mummy was Tut’s real mother.
Statue of Queen Nefertiti Outrages Egypt, Is RemovedA huge bust of Nefertiti was erected at the entrance to the city of Samalout was so maligned, it was removed after just a few days. The statue, which is a far cry from the famous bust of the beautiful ruler discovered in 1912 in Amarna, outraged Egyptians.
As one person tweeted, “I guess this is what she looked like four days after she died.”
Nefertiti’s One Eye Cause For SpeculationOne of the most famous depictions of Nefertiti shows her with one blank eye, considered a blight on an otherwise beautiful face. There are widely varying speculations about the circumstances that led to the blank eye that include an apprentice failing to complete the bust, river blindness that led to an opaque cornea, or simply damage that occurred over the years.
By far the most entertaining theory is that the artist who was working to complete the bust fell in love with Nefertiti and, after his advances were rebuffed, left the eye blank as a symbol of here inability to see the true nature of the artist’s love.
Nefertiti Vanished After 12 Years, but May Have Been a PharaohAfter 12 years of rule alongside Akhenaten, Nefertiti disappeared from historical records. Some historians say she simply died. There’s also a theory that Akhenaten became displeased with her because though she bore six daughters, she gave him no male heir. Others believe she became a co-regent and ruled as Smenkhare. Historians believe she dressed as a pharaoh and that her ruling style was similar to that of Hatshepsut. Still another theory suggests that she married a foreign king.
After Nefertiti and Akhenaten’s rule, many artifacts and information were destroyed by the couple’s successors. The idea was to wipe out the record of the pharaoh and his queen.