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A bust of Nefertiti
Neferneferuaten Nefertiti ("Beautiful are the beauties of Aten, the beautiful one has come") was the consort of Akhenaten, the "heretic pharaoh" who briefly replaced Egypt's traditional pantheon of gods with a monotheistic cult of Sun-worship. A bust of Nefertiti, on display at the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, is a masterpiece of ancient Egyptian art. She served as a regent during Akhenten's declining years and may have briefly succeeded him as pharaoh.

Nothing is known of Nefertiti's natal family except that she had a sister named Mutbenret. Nefertiti was about 17 when she married Akhenaten. They had six daughters together. The "Early Proclamation" issued in the fifth year of Akhenaten's reign lists only Meritatan, the eldest. Also at this time, Nefertiti's name was extended to "Neferneferuaten Nefertiti." The "Later Proclamation" of Year 6 gives two daughters, Meritatan and Meketaten. It is thought that children were proclaimed after weaning. According to an inscription discovered in 2012, Nefertiti was present at a ceremony in Amarna in Year 16, near the end of Akhenaten's reign.[1]


In Year 15 or 16, a regent with the reign name Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten was appointed. This reign name is obviously related to Nefertiti's personal name (Neferneferuaten Nefertiti), and the regent is most likely Nefertiti herself.[2] Meritaten served as Neferneferuaten's queen. (Even a female ruler needed a queen to preside with her at temple ceremonies.)

The cartouches for Neferneferuaten generally include one of several epithets describing her link to Akhenaten. Cartouche epithets usually consist of a title stated unapologetically, so these cartouches are something of an oddity. The Neferneferuaten cartouches have been grouped into three types. In some, she was described as "desired of Akhenaten." In others, she was "effective for her husband." In a few late inscriptions, she was "Akhenaten-less." This last group of inscriptions suggest that she was Egypt's sole ruler, at least for a brief period. All three types of inscriptions suggest that she was anxious to assert the legitimacy of her rule, which was presumably being challenged.[3]

The dakhamunzu incident

The Hittite records for the period describe how the widow of an Egyptian king sent to the Hittite court to request the hand of a prince in marriage. The queen in question is referred to only as dakhamunzu, which means "the king's wife." A demarche from the reign of Amenhotep III boasts that no Egyptian prince had ever married a foreigner, so this was apparently unprecedented.[4] If Nefertiti survived her husband, as the recently discovered Year 16 inscription suggests, then she may well be the queen mentioned in the Hittite records.

Struggle for succession

Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten was succeeded by Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare, a brother of Akhenaten and the father of Tutankhamun. It was highly unusual for two pharaohs to use the same prenomen. This situation suggests that Smenkhkare did not recognize the legitimacy of Neferneferuaten's reign. Some writers argue that Neferneferuaten and Smenkhkare were the same person using two different reign names. But Neferneferuaten was female while Smenkhkare was male, so this is unlikely. Meritaten continued to serve as queen. Burial goods prepared for Neferneferuaten's funeral were found in Tut's tomb. This suggests that a pharaonic burial was prepared for her, but then denied. The unused burial goods were then repurposed for Tut's tomb. Unable to accept the female pharaoh, Smenkhkare may have demoted Nefertiti to queen.

Various authors have argued that mummy KV35YL ("The Younger Lady") is Nefertiti. Genetic testing has shown that the Younger Lady is Tut's mother, so this is unlikely. If Tut had been a son of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, he would have been Akhenaten's heir. A head wound on the Younger Lady, who was most likely the wife and sister of Smenkhkare, shows that she died a violent death. So perhaps she was a victim of the Nerfertiti/Smenkhkare succession struggle.


  1. A. Van Der Perre, "Nefertiti's last documented reference [for now]," in F. Seyfried (ed.) In the Light of Amarna. 100 Years of the Nefertiti Discovery, (Berlin, 2012), 195-197.
  2. Almost every assertion about this period is the subject of scholarly dispute -- and this includes the claim that Nefertiti was a regent or pharaoh. The nomenclature here (Neferneferuaten Nefertiti and Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten) follows the usual relationship between an Egyptian personal name and a reign name. "Neferneferuaten" was also the name of a daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. J.P. Allen suggests that the regent was this daughter, not Nefertiti. The Year 16 inscription, discovered since Allen's work was published, suggests that Nefertiti was still alive at the end of Akhenaten’s reign. It is unlikely that she would have been passed over for a child who was probably around 10 at this time.
  3. Allen, James P., "The Amarna Succession," Causing His Name to Live: Studies in Egyptian Epigraphy and History in Memory of William J. Murnane, University of Memphis, 2007.
  4. Ludwig D. Morenze and Ludz Popko, A Companion to Ancient Egypt (2010), p. 114.