Flourished Circa 1332-1322 b.c.e.
King, dynasty 18
Intact Tomb. Tutankhamun is famous today because English archaeologist Howard Carter discovered his intact tomb in 1922. His historical importance rested on the reversal of Akhenaten’s policy that suppressed the traditional Egyptian religion as well as its administration and political structure.
Family. The identity of Tutankhamun’s parents is uncertain. DNA studies have demonstrated that he was descended from members of the royal family of Dynasty 18 (circa 1539-12957 1292 b.c.e.). His parents could have been either Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye or Akhenaten and an unknown queen. Tutankhamun never claimed a king or queen as a parent and no previous royalty claimed him as a son. His birth name was Tutankhaten, which clearly indicates that he was born in Tell el Amarna during the time that the Aten was worshiped there as the sole god of Egypt. He married the third daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, whose birth name was Ankhesenpaaten. She changed her name to Ankhesenamun when Tutankhamun changed his name to honor the restored god of Egypt, Amun. No children were born to this couple and the family of Dynasty 18 died out with them. Since Tutankhamun was a child of nine or ten when he came to the throne, two army generals, Ay and Horemheb, advised him on policy. First Ay, then Horemheb, followed Tutankhamun on the throne. There is no evidence that Tutankhamun was murdered, though much speculation surrounds his death at around age nineteen.
Politics. Tutankhamun followed Akhenaten’s immediate successors who ruled perhaps four years on the throne. He returned the royal court to Memphis, the traditional residence for the royal family before the time of Amenhotep III. The Restoration Stela, a text found in the Karnak Temple of Amun, recounted the young king’s policy to restore the cult of Amun throughout Egypt after a period of disorder. The stela used language familiar from many previous kings’ inscriptions. The land was said to be in disorder; the gods’ temples were in ruins. Even more specifically, the stela described a military defeat in Syria. Tutankhamun then claimed that he had restored order and rebuilt the temples. The gods now aided the army. In spite of the fact that the stela used many well-known formulae to describe the situation, the language probably matched the facts better than it ever had previously. The treasurer Maya depicted scenes of a trip he made to each of the temples to oversee their restoration. Horemheb also used similar language when he came to the throne. Scholars believe that Horemheb referred to policies he initiated along with Ay while acting as regent for Tutankhamun.
Death and Burial. Tutankhamun’s death came while the army was fighting the newly active Hittites at Amqa near Qadesh. Queen Ankhesenamun sent a letter to the Hittite king Shupiluliuma asking for a Hittite prince to assume the Egyptian throne. After several letters were exchanged, the suspicious Shupiluliuma sent his son Zananza. Some scholars have blamed Horemheb for this prince’s murder while on his way to Egypt. Ay and then Horemheb followed Tutankhamun on the throne.
Vast Riches. Tutankhamun’s opulent burial revealed the riches Egypt buried with its dead kings. Unfortunately, few of the thousands of objects buried in the tomb have been studied in much detail.
Howard Carter, The Tomb of Tutankhamen (London: Sphere, 1972).
Christine El Mahdy, Tutankhamen: The Life and Death of a Boy-King (New York:York St. Martin’s Press, 1999).
Nicholas Reeves, The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, and the Royal Treasure (London & New York: Thames & Hudson, 1990).