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Who was Tut? "TutWatch"
March 25, 2005

The basics about the Boy King


Tutankhamun came to the throne around 1343 B.C. and ruled for a decade, dying ca. 1333 B.C. of unknown causes at the age of about 19 years. Tut was the son of Akhenaten, something we know from an inscription. Who Tut's mother was is open to question; some scholars have suggested Kiya, a secondary wife of Akhenaten, others Nefertiti. We can't be certain one way or the other (or rule out some other royal consort, for that matter). He was originally known as Tutankhaten (Living-image-of-the Aten), in reference to his father's devotion to the cult of the solar disk or Aten, but with his ascension and restoration of the god Amun, he changed his name to Tutankhamun. His chief queen was Ankhesenpaaten (Ankhesenamun), the third daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.

Tutankhamun came to the throne as a child and was guided, or controlled, by his chief courtiers, including Ay (probably the father of Nefertiti and possibly Tut's grandfather) and Horemheb (the head of the army). Tut's early death has often been explained as a murder orchestrated by one or the other of these two as the young pharaoh was reaching an age at which his independence would be asserted more and more. This simple scenario is, however, not provable. There's no evidence, for example, that Tutankhamun was murdered.

Artist Winifred Brunton created as series of "portraits" of Egyptian pharaohs and notables including a young Tutankhamun and his queen, Ankhesenamun.

Tutankhamun's reign was marked by something of a revival, as recorded in the inscription known as the Restoration Stela, which reads in part:

He [Tutankhamun] restored everything that was ruined, to be his monument forever and ever. He has vanquished chaos from the whole land and has restored Ma'at [the goddess of divine order] to her place. He has made lying a crime, the whole land being made as it was at the time of creation.

Now when His Majesty was crowned King the temples and the estates of the gods and goddesses from Elephantine as far as the swamps of Lower Egypt had fallen into ruin. Their shrines had fallen down, turned into piles of rubble and overgrown with weeds. Their sanctuaries were as if they had never existed at all. Their temples had become footpaths. The world was in chaos and the gods had turned their backs on this land. If an army was sent to Djahy to extend the boundaries if Egypt, it would have no success. If you asked a god for advice, he would not attend; and if one spoke to a goddess likewise she would not attend. Hearts were faint in bodies because everything that had been, was destroyed....

Then His Majesty considered in his heart and looked for something which would be effective for his father Amun. He made the holy statue out of...electrum, lapis lazuli, turquoise and every noble and precious stone....

(English translation by Benedict G. Davies)

Archaeological evidence that shows this inscription wasn't just empty rhetoric. Many of Tut's monuments were taken over by his successors, especially his general Horemheb, who had them re-inscribed as their own, but this includes a statue of Tut as the god Amun, the Restoration Stela (of which there was more than one copy), and other works. This makes it difficult to assess the achievements of Tut's rule. Certainly the worship of Amun was restored under him, and the capital established by his father at Amarna was largely abandoned. Military campaigns were undertaken beyond Egypt's borders and apparently with some success (a relief from Horemheb's tomb at Saqqara shows the general being rewarded for his service). Were these the initiatives of a teenage pharaoh or the policies of his advisors? Probably the latter, but things were happening during Tut's rule. That he is often labeled "insignificant" except for his tomb is a reflection of his early demise, not inactivity on the part of his administration.

After Tut's death there were no heirs; two mummified fetuses found in his tomb may be his and Ankhesenamun's. His widowed queen may be the author of letters to the Hittite ruler asking for a prince to wed. A prince was eventually sent to Egypt but died enroute (or was murdered, some claim). Ay became pharaoh and, after a brief reign, was succeeded by Horemheb.

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  • For more on Tutankhamun and the exhibition, see TutWatch.

© 2005 by the Archaeological Institute of America