It is around the time of Amenophis IV-Akhenaton’s religious revolution in Egypt, that Tutankhaton, the future Tutankhamun, is born. Very certainly the son of Akhenaton, but not of Queen Nefertiti. Tutankhaton is a bastard, born of one of the women in the royal harem, whose name we don’t know. He has a studious childhood, like any pharaoh’s son.
During this time, Akhenaton, strongly encouraged by Nefertiti, perfects his reform. He writes a “Hymn to the Sun”, an act of ardent faith in the new god, the text of which was found in the ruins of his capital – the town is today called Tell el-Amarna. And then his father, the old Amenophis III, dies. Having become the sole master of Egypt, Akhenaton goes wild. Not satisfied in having stripped the Amun priests of their powers, he wants to efface all traces of the Amun cult. Under the supervision of his officers, the kingdom’s artisans are affected to demolition tasks. On the frontons of all the temples, on the monuments, on the statues, the effigies of Amun, the symbols of Amun, are chiselled off. Nothing must remain of him. The clergy, the nobles, try to excite the population against the heretic. In vain… Akhenaton is the strongest, and he is popular. And he is still young. Plus, to be sure that his work will be perpetuated, he has raised to the throne beside him, as co-regent, his half-brother, Smenkhera. The future is sombre for the Amun faithful… From now on, they will call Akhenaton “the great scoundrel”.
Akhenaton dies suddenly – some say assassinated – after seventeen or eighteen years of reign. Smenkhera follows shortly after. A successor to Akhenaton must be found. The new pharaoh must be of royal blood – essential for legitimacy – but he must also be sufficiently malleable to allow the priests to restore the old religion. As far as we know, Akhenaton does not have a direct heir: Queen Nefertiti only gave him girls, unless all her sons died – we don’t really know. But there’s Tutankhaton. He fills all the conditions: his royal filiation is established, and he is only nine. An easy prey for the lords and priests.
That, in its main lines, could be the story of the accession of Tutankhaton to the throne of the pharaohs. It is a version of the events which has the advantage of being coherent, but it is not universally admitted. Certain egyptologists do not believe in the co-regency of Amenophis III and Amenophis IV. But if we consider that the reigns of these two pharaohs succeeded each other without overlapping, we have to admit that Tutankhamun was around twenty-two years old at his accession to power. As he reigned about ten years, he would have been over thirty when he died. However, the examination of his mummy unquestionably reveals that he was a very young man, twenty at the most. To deny the co-regency, means leaving no place for Tutankhamun in the History of Egypt… This is what the egyptologists who, like Howard Carter, consider that we know nothing about the life and death of Tutankhamun, do not hesitate to affirm. Other scholars estime that he was not the son of Amenophis IV, but his brother. These facts are all the more difficult to verify as family relations, in the dynasties of the pharaohs, were very far from the Christian conceptions which commonly rule today’s Western societies. It was not rare, at this epoch, to see daughters marry their fathers and give them children. Not only were there marriages between sister and brother (almost the height of banality) but also between grandfathers and granddaughters, grandsons and grandmothers; uncles, nieces, step-sisters, danced an unbelievable matrimonial saraband. You could be the son of your mother and the father of your mother’s children. Far from being considered a crime or even simply inadvisable, incest was blessed by the gods. For example, the third daughter of Akhenaton and Nefertiti, Ankhsenpaaton, married her father, with whom she had a daughter. Akhenaton was therefore both the grandfather and the father of this child… As for Ankhsenpaaton, this marriage followed by a maternity consecrated her “divine essence” in the eyes of her contemporaries, because it was understood that a pharaoh, who was both king and god, could only have a child with a woman who also came from the divinity. Later, Ankhsenpaaton became Tutankhamun’s wife.
Two people dominate then in the royal palace. Queen Nefertiti and the Grand Vizir Ay, who is, by the way, her presumed father (for Nefertiti’s genealogy is hardly clearer than than of Tutankhamun). Ay also bears the title of “general lieutenant of the chariots”, for which it is difficult to find a modern equivalent. He was something like the recognized chief of the Egyptian high nobility and general-in-chief of the army. He disposed therefore of considerable power and influence.
Nefertiti and Ay seek to assure a smooth succession. They know that the disappearance of “the great scoundrel” risks setting off a religious war. In hiding, and soon out in the open, the priests of Amun prepare their vengeance against the Aton zealots. Will they try to overthrow the dynasty in favour of a new king entirely devoted to their religion? And what would then remain of the power exercised by Nefertiti and Ay over Egypt’s empire? This has to be avoided at all costs.
At this decisive hour for the country’s destiny, Ay reveals his great political capabilities. By imposing Tutankhaton, thanks to the army’s support, he softens up the priests, who are not afraid of a child. At the same time, he assures the continuity of power… he finds his principal ally in the person of the chief of the Egyptian armies in Asia, General Horemheb. For the moment, the priests are cleverly manipulated. Without leaving them any time for reflection, Ay announces that the young prince will take Ankhsenpaaton for his wife and that he will be solemnly crowned.
To be continued.