Born: c. 1390 b.c.e.
Died: c. 1360 b.c.e.
Egypt Egyptian queen
Nefertiti was an Egyptian queen and wife of King Akhenaten who remains a mystery to scholars today. A bust (sculpture of a person's head and shoulders) of her discovered in 1913 is one of the most widely recognized symbols of ancient Egypt.
Few facts known
Nefertiti was born around 1390 b.c.e. Some believe she was of Egyptian blood, while others believe she was a foreign princess. Her name, which means "the beautiful one is come," is of Egyptian origin, and evidence indicates that she had an Egyptian wet-nurse or governess of noble rank, which has led to the belief that she was born within the circle of the Egyptian royal court. She may have been a niece or daughter of Ay, who was a keeper of records under King Amenhotep III.
When Nefertiti was fifteen years old, she married Amenhotep IV, who was a year older and became king upon his father's death. They had six daughters and, according to some, one son. During the first five years of Amenhotep's reign, Nefertiti enjoyed a high profile. Evidence of her political importance is seen in the large number of carved scenes in which she is shown accompanying him during ceremonial acts. She is shown taking part in the daily worship and making offerings similar to those of the king—acts quite unlike those usually performed by previous chief queens, all of whom had a secondary role.
In the fifth year of his reign, Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaten. He went against the beliefs of previous kings by announcing that the sun god Aten was the greatest of all Egyptian gods and the only one who should be worshipped, rather than Amen-Ra, who had long been considered supreme. Nefertiti shared his belief. Largely because of opposition over this issue, Akhenaten built a new capital called Akhetaten and moved the royal family there.
After the fourteenth year of Akhenaten's rule, there are no more pictures of Nefertiti; she simply disappears from view. Some believe she was the power behind the throne and thus responsible for the changes during the rule of Akhenaten until being dismissed from her position and banished to the North Palace at Amarna. This would mean there was a conflict within the royal family, with Nefertiti favoring the continued worship of Aten while Akhenaten and his son-in-law Tutankhamen (c. 1370–c. 1352 b.c.e.) supported a return to the worship of Amen-Ra. Most scholars, however, now suppose that Nefertiti's disappearance may simply be due to the fact that she died, and one of the king's other wives took her place at his side. A more dramatic, if less accepted, theory holds that she assumed a new, masculine identity toward the end of Akhenaten's rule—that Nefertiti and the young Smenkhkare, who ruled briefly either with or after Akhenaten and is believed by some to have been his son, were in fact the same person.
For More Information
Freed, Rita E., Yvonne J. Markowitz, and Sue H. D'Auria, eds. Pharaohs of the Sun. Boston: Little, Brown, 1999.
Tyldesley, Joyce A. Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen. New York: Viking, 1998.
Nefertiti (1390 B.C.-ca. 1360 B.C.) was an Egyptian quenn who still remains a mystery to scholars today.
One of the most famous women in antiquity, Nefertiti remains somewhat of a puzzlement to scholars because of her mysterious ancestry and her disappearance from the record during the last years of Akhenaten's reign. Some believe that she was of Egyptian blood, others that she was a foreign princess. Her name, which translates to "The Beautiful One is Come," is an Egyptian birthname—thus not indicative of a foreign birth—and evidence indicates that she had an Egyptian wet-nurse or governess of noble rank, strong support for a birth within the circle of the Egyptian royal court. She may have been a niece of Ay, who ascended to the throne after Tutankhamen.
Her role, if any, late in Akhenaten's rule remains equally unclear. During the first five years of his reign, Nefertiti enjoyed a high profile, and the large number of carved scenes in which she is shown accompanying him during the ceremonial acts he performed is evidence of her political importance. She is depicted taking part in the daily worship and making offerings similar to those of the king— acts quite unlike those relegated to the generally subservient status of previous chief queens. But after the 14th year of Akhenaten's rule, Nefertiti disappears from view. Some have hypothesized that she was the power behind the throne and thus responsible for the innovations during his rule until being dismissed from her position and banished to the North Palace at Amarna. Her banishment would therefore reflect within the royal family an ideological rift, with Nefertiti favoring the continued worship of Aten while Akhenaten and Tutankhamen supported a return to the worship of Amen-Re. Most scholars, however, now suppose that Nefertiti simply died soon after Akhenaten's 14th regnal year, after which first Meritaten and then Ankhesenpaten took her place at the pharaoh's side. A more dramatic, if less accepted, theory holds that she assumed a new, masculine, identity toward the end of Akhenaten's rule—that Nefertiti and the young pharaoh Smenkhkare were, in fact, the same person. □
Unknown–Unknown near the end of the reign of Akhenaten (1352–1336 b.c.e.)
Nefertiti's parents are not known. Scholars assume she was born to a high-ranking family. She first appears in history already the wife of Akhenaten and with him worshipping the Aten. By the fourth year of Akhenaten's reign about 1348, Nefertiti was the subject of a series of extraordinary reliefs in the new temples that the king built in Karnak. Here Nefertiti behaves like a king, smiting Egypt's enemies with a mace. Nefertiti's face in representations of her worshipping with the king and their six daughters is indistinguishable from the king's face. Nefertiti also wore other kingly symbols in art depicting her. She wore the Uraeus snake over her forehead and also wore several different crowns. In one relief she wore the Nubian hairstyle usually worn by male soldiers. Artists also depicted Nefertiti receiving life with an ankh sign from the god Aten. The only other person who held this honor was the king. All of these royal representations provide the only evidence for understanding her role in history.
Ray W. Smith and Donald B. Redford, Akhenaten Temple Project I: Initial Discoveries (Warminster, England: Aris and Philips, 1976).