Tiy (c. 1400–1340 BCE)

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Tiy (c. 1400–1340 bce)

Queen of Egypt who was the highly influential wife of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, the world's most powerful monarch in the first half of the 14th century bce, and mother of the enigmatic monotheistic pharaoh Akhenaten. Name variations: Taia, Teye, Tii, Tiye, and Tiyi. Pronunciation: Tee. Born around 1400 bce; died in 1340 bce; daughter of Tjuya and Yuya; common-born wife of the pharaoh Amenhotep III (Amenophis); children: four daughters and two sons, princesses Satamun, Isis, Henuttaneb, and Nebetab, and princes Thutmose (died young) and Amenhotep IV (known as Akhenaten).

Tiy, also transliterated as Teye and Tiye, was born about 1400 bce to a leading family from Akhmim, a provincial town in Middle Egypt, and died around 1340 as the mother of the pharaoh of Egypt (and mother-in-law of Nefertiti ), possibly from a plague ravaging the Near East at that time. She was first buried at the new capital city of Akhetaten (Tell el-Amarna) which her son had built and dedicated to his sole god, the sun disk or Aten. Tiy was later reburied in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes, probably during the reign of Tutankhamun. The mummies of her parents survive because their burial, also in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, was not disturbed until modern times. They reveal that her mother Tjuya was possibly of Nubian (Sudanese) extraction and that her father Yuya was of a completely different, possibly Asiatic lineage. His career as master of the royal stud farm and lieutenant general of royal charioteers suggests that he was descended from Western Asiatics, perhaps the Hyksos who had ruled the country two centuries before, and introduced the horse-drawn chariot to Egypt, and whose ouster or political defeat ushered in the Egyptian Empire period. Tiy's mother's titles included a high cultic rank in the temple of Min, the fertility god long associated with Akhmim, and also show her to have been the chief of female celebrants in the temple of Amun at Karnak, probably in accord with her son's high priestly position there. Somehow this couple became so influential at the royal court that they were able to have their daughter marry not only a prince, but the heir-apparent. It has been suggested that Yuya and Tjuya were actually the parents of the concubine who had won the favor of pharaoh Thutmose IV. This Mutemwia was the mother of his heir, Amenhotep III, for whom she ruled as regent until he was of age. Thus she would have been in a position to select his future wife from her own family circle, explaining the otherwise inexplicable influence wielded by this provincial family from Middle Egypt, whose one son, Anen, became Second Prophet at the great Karnak temple, cult place of Amun-Re, king of the gods, and whose other son, inheriting his father's positions, became the power behind the throne of the child-king Tutankhamun later in this 18th Dynasty and himself ruled Egypt briefly at its close.

The story of the common-born girl who became queen of the mightiest empire on earth and was even worshipped as a goddess with her own temples during her life has long fascinated students of ancient Egyptian history. While the portraits of Tiy, drawn from both art and written documents of her time, suggest a strong and shrewd personality, her story is not one of personal intervention with her fate but the accident of her birth as the daughter of a highly influential family. The rulers of Egypt's 18th Dynasty (1552–1295 bce), which saw the creation of Egypt's greatest empire, beginning at least with King Thutmose III contracted marriages with foreign royal houses for political reasons. As important religious and government posts in Egypt were in control of the royal family, it was of course important within Egypt too for marriages to be contracted between the Palace and leading non-royal officials. Most likely, then, Tiy's marriage was arranged at an early age by Queen Mutemwia for her son and was not the passionate romance and "First Cinderella Story" that has sometimes been claimed. On the other hand, the marriage scarab's text, which was sent, like a press release, throughout the realm to commemorate the royal marriage (the only known occurrence of such publicity was Amenhotep III's series of five different commemoratives), was commissioned when Amenhotep was already king (i.e. around 1389 bce), so that, even though he was in his early teens, he may have acted with some autonomy in this personal matter. Together the royal couple had at least six children—four daughters and two sons: princesses Satamun, Isis, Henuttaneb , and Nebetab , and princes Thutmose, heir to the throne who died young, and Amenhotep, who ascended the throne as the fourth of this name but later changed his name to Akhenaten in order to honor his chosen god.

Amenhotep III and Tiy ruled over the most powerful empire the world had ever seen, established some 200 years before. Besides being the dominant political power of the ancient Near East, Egypt possessed vast gold reserves which formed the basis of her influence among the other great powers of the 14th century bce, whose rulers sought friendly relations and royal gifts from Amenhotep, whose gold was "as plentiful as dust," or so they stated in their dealings with the Egyptian king. This wealth, at home in Egypt, supported ambitious building projects and exquisite decorative arts. Luxury, opulence, and sophistication were at their height under Amenhotep the Magnificent. Today his most impressive surviving monument is the huge but elegant temple of Luxor for which he was largely responsible. His great funerary temple, on the opposite bank of the river, now demolished, was once "wrought with gold and many costly stones"; "its floors adorned with silver and all its portals with fine gold." Before it stood two 50-foot statues of the seated king accompanied by smaller (but still over life-sized) sculptured images of his wife and mother. A huge tomb was hewn out of the cliff sides of the Western Valley, the first royal tomb alone in the majestic and awesomely quiet desolation of this lateral valley. To the venerable Karnak temple, seat of the king of the gods, he added a mighty pylon, but up and down the Nile the building of temples continued throughout his long and peaceful reign.

Amenhotep reigned for 39 years and all indications are that he and Tiy remained mutually supportive throughout their long marriage despite his huge harem and marriages with foreign princesses. Up to her time, no queen was so frequently depicted in art at the side of her husband, whether in sculptures he commissioned or in wall scenes in the tombs of private people who served in their court or government. Queen Tiy sits at her husband's side and is his equal in size in the gigantic sculptured group now dominating the central court of Cairo's Museum of Antiquities. No woman previously had ever been shown in such colossal dimensions. Also new are the portrayals in both private tomb scenes and on her own monuments of vigorous, even violent, images of the queen, portrayals previously only associated with kings. For instance, when the king and queen are depicted seated on thrones, Tiy's throne has on its side panels the queen shown as a female sphinx shaded by the symbolic fan which denotes kingly power, and as a sphinx she is depicted in more than one official's tomb as trampling enemies—female Africans and Asiatics—underfoot. Tiy is also shown wearing a special ceremonial necklace hitherto associated only with kings.

The importance of this queen, her involvement in the governing of her country, also jumps from the page of letters addressed by foreign rulers to the Egyptian court, which have remarkably survived to our time. Over a hundred years ago, in the 1880s, a peasant woman grubbing at the decaying brick walls of the abandoned city built by Tiy's son Akhenaten, now know by its Arabic name of Tell el-Amarna, came across a cache of inscribed bricks which, once scholars examined them, turned out to be tablets bearing official foreign-office correspondence written in Akkadian, the diplomatic language of the Near East at that time. Among the hundreds of letters from royal heads of state is one addressed directly to Queen Tiy and others referring to her, which leave no doubt that it was well known in official circles internationally that this queen of Egypt took a personal role in matters of state. She must have been present in the audience hall when ambassadors were received and privy to the correspondence which took place between her husband and foreign kings.

Tiy was the first queen to create out of the office of Royal Wife a position more powerful than that of King's Mother. Whether or not the dowager queen Mutemwia survived beyond the beginning of her son's marriage, she disappears from prominence and the records glorify only Tiy, who is called in official inscriptions "The Heiress, greatly praised," "Mistress of all lands," as well as "Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt and Lady of the Two Lands." When Amenhotep III published and sent throughout the ancient world (from Cyprus to Syria) an entire series of large scarabs whose backs contain texts commemorating significant events in his reign, Tiy's name and titles are recorded on scarabs of all five events commemorated. Even when he announced his reception of the daughter of the king of Mitanni (northwest Syria) as his bride, he did not fail to repeat that Tiy was his principal or Great Royal Wife, no one would replace her in his esteem and affection.

One of the events commemorated in the scarab series occurred in Year 11 (the year following the marriage of Amenhotep with the princess from Mitanni), the digging of an enormous irrigation basin (sometimes viewed as a pleasure lake) measuring some 1,200 feet wide and over a mile in length, for Queen Tiy in the district which contained her hometown and was called Zerukha. Such an excavation would have greatly facilitated the agricultural production and thus prosperity of the region, and in turn rendered the revenues needed to support the local temple where a cult for Tiy as a divinity was established. A temple-town was also dedicated to Tiy in Nubia at Sedeinga, between the second and third cataract of the Nile, north of a temple dedicated to the cult of her husband as a divinity. Today the town's name, Adey, retains the elements of the ancient name of "Mansion of Tiy." Here, in the temple, she was closely identified with Hathor, the great goddess of love and consort of the sun god, while her husband the king was worshipped as a living manifestation of the sun. Numerous sculptured

portraits of Tiy exist showing her wearing the sun disk and horns headdress of the goddess Hathor. The walls of the Sedeinga temple also depict Tiy as a striding lioness, which perhaps is meant to equate her with the violent goddess Tefnut who is associated with the region in myth.

While the capital of Egypt was in the north of the country, not far from modern Cairo, at Memphis, Amenhotep built a palace in the warmer south, on the west bank at Thebes (modern Luxor). Here, just south of the great temple of Medinet Habu at a site today called Malkata, one may see the mounds of decaying brick walls denoting a large rambling palace whose walls, floors, and ceilings had been plastered and brightly painted with scenes taken from nature: plant, bird and animal life. Most likely Tiy and Amenhotep frequented this in the winter and moved back north in the summer, which brings very high temperatures to this region. The building of the Malkata palace necessitated as well the construction of a sizeable harbor on this side of the river to accommodate the many boats and barges bringing both visitors and supplies to the royal residence. It was here, in the last decade of his reign, that Amenhotep celebrated the age-old sed festival or royal jubilee that was intended to magically reinvigorate him and allow him to continue ruling forever. From the labels written on wine jars found in the ruins of the southern palace, it is known that three such jubilees were celebrated, and scenes from two of these are preserved in the nearby tomb of one of Queen Tiy's most trusted officials. This was her chief steward Kheruef who had one of the largest private tombs at Thebes. It was hewn into the limestone cliffs to the west of the cultivated land and was some 360-feet long and contained two large columned halls, reflecting the wealth and manpower at the disposal of the queen's servant. By the attention paid in such private monuments of the time to recording the sed festivals of Amenhotep III, one gains the impression that they were the most important events of the latter part of the king's reign and all took place at the new palace in Western Thebes. In the beautifully sculpted tomb of Kheruef, the queen stands behind the throne of the king, next to the great goddess Hathor, and assumes the role of the goddess Maat, partner to the king who is the living image of Re, the sun-god. In some of the art from the last years of his reign, both Amenhotep and Tiy are portrayed with juvenile features, as if to imply that they had undergone a mystical transformation and been reborn as solar deities, never to die. This indeed would have been the goal of the sed festivals and apparently Tiy as well as the king benefited from their magical rites.

Even though Amenhotep would welcome to his harem many daughters of foreign royal families over the years, no princess ever took precedence over the strong-willed wife of his youth. Tiy has been universally deemed by scholars as energetic, bright, and imperious as well as beautiful. Her striking portrait in Cypriote yew wood, found at her palace in the north of the country at Ghurab and now in Berlin, and another stone portrait head found in Sinai and now in Cairo clearly show the same attractive but haughty face of an aging beauty accustomed to being obeyed, with similar lines around the down-turned and pouting mouth and with weary eyes. Towards the end of his life, Amenhotep III was often portrayed as obese and favoring the languid pose. He was not well, but attempted to find a cure for his ailments by appeasing the goddess of pestilence—Sekhmet of the lioness head—with more than 600 large stone statues of her set up in a magic circle around the sacred lake of the goddess Mut at Karnak. Also he received to his court the idol of the powerful Babylonian goddess Ishtar, lent him by a considerate colleague on the throne of that kingdom. The last carved scene from his reign is on a stone tablet from a private home and shows a fat and slouched Amenhotep seated next to Tiy, an arm thrown casually around her shoulders.

Tiy's power and presence at court did not end with the death of her husband, but continued well into the reign of her remarkable son. How much influence she had on her son and the religious revolution which he waged from the very beginning of his tenure is unknown. Her own brother had been Second Prophet of Amun-Re, and her first-born son, Prince Thutmose, had been a Chief Prophet in the temple of Ptah, the great state god of the capital city of Memphis, but her younger son had been educated under the tutelage of the priests of Re the sun god at Heliopolis who apparently encouraged his exclusive interest in the cult of the sun's disk. Although he eventually rejected most of the pantheon, closed the temples of other deities, and removed himself and his court to his new city in Middle Egypt, his mother did not abandon him, but visited and presumably spent much of her declining years within his family circle, enjoying her six granddaughters. Had she encouraged him in his independence and universalistic tendencies? Certainly she did not seem to have had success in limiting them, if in fact she would have so desired. Indeed, it would seem that her son was, in matters of religion, very independent of his mother because later generations did not obliterate her memory while they certainly persecuted his for the religious doctrine he had promoted in place of traditional beliefs. Perhaps her introspective and intellectual son had not approved of his parents' claims to divinity and seen the absurdity of the "rejuvenation" images in the official art during his father's last years. From the numerous anthropomorphic deities of the large Egyptian pantheon of gods, and especially the hidden god Amun, their leader, he turned away and embraced instead the visible sun's disk and its powers, recognizing it as the life-giving "father" of all nations and all beings, thus earning himself the appellation of "First Monotheist." Tiy's influence, however, continues to be seen in the queenly iconography of her famous daughter-in-law Nefertiti who also appeared in art as a sphinx trampling female foreign enemies and in other violent renditions, such as the smiting of foreign captives with a scimitar, just as a king might be portrayed. Nefertiti, like Tiy, in time took the role of primary woman in the reign of her husband, but before this happened, foreign heads of state were addressing Tiy along with her son as the rulers of Egypt.

Queen Tiy seems to have been an intelligent woman who took an active interest in matters of government. In a very long letter sent by the king of Mitanni (the Hurrian kingdom in Northern Syria and for decades Egypt's chief rival in the political world of the Near East) to her son, the young king Amenhotep IV (later Akhenaten), King Tushratta states that Tiy "knows all the words" that Amenhotep III had written in letters over the years: it is "your mother whom you must ask about all of them … the words that [your father] would speak with me over and over." In regard to presents of gold he expected to continue, as in the past, and the warm relationship that had existed between himself and Amenhotep III, Tushratta repeatedly urges the young king to ask his mother if the things that he says are not true. King Tushratta states that he had sincerely mourned at the news of the death of Amenhotep III and then states that he knows that Amenhotep IV and Tiy, his father's principal wife, were together exercising the king-ship in the place of Amenhotep III. Obviously, the outside world had a strong impression that Tiy's power in the Egyptian Empire was unmatched and continued even after the death of her husband.

One of the surviving letters from this king makes reference to a letter (EA 26) that Queen Tiy must have sent to Tushratta herself. In it, she asked him to continue to send his embassies to her son and show friendship towards Egypt. Some historians have interpreted this appeal as reflecting her uncertainty about the policies her son would pursue.

However, even if Tiy played a role in the beginning of her son's administration, it is obvious that after only a few years her daughter-in-law assumed great prominence and must have possessed a personality that was an equal match to Tiy's. The dowager queen did live on, her last record being dated to year 12 of her son's reign, and she possessed an estate at the new capital city of Akhetaten and possibly died there.

When she died in her 50s, possibly in the pandemic that was sweeping the Near East at the time and that would claim other, younger lives within the royal family, Tiy was buried in a tomb prepared for her in the cliffs of the royal valley, east of the new capital city. The fragments of her stone sarcophagus have been found there. However, once this city was abandoned as a seat of government, the royal dead were removed to the age-old royal burial ground in Western Thebes. Tiy was laid to rest under a golden canopy in a tomb (number 55) in the Valley of the Kings along with another of her relations. However at some time, possibly centuries later in the 21st Dynasty, her body was moved once again by priests to a cache of royal mummies (in the tomb of Amenhotep II) where she was "reunited" with her husband, because his mummy too was deposited in the tomb of Amenhotep II for safe keeping. Her magnificently preserved mummified body, with one arm crossed over the breast as if to hold a scepter, was found outside of its coffin and was identified by archaeologists for years as simply "the elder lady." It has been identified now by using hair samples taken from it and matching these scientifically by an electron probe with a lock of hair placed in a small golden casket labeled with Tiy's name within the tomb of Tutankhamun. This heirloom, or family keepsake, indicates a blood relationship between Tiy and Tutankhamun, who was possibly her grandson. If indeed the identification is correct, the delicate and refined features of the queen's mummy are graced by luxuriant dark wavy hair, indicating that for most of her life, this regal lady had enjoyed good health and been truly an attractive woman.


Blankenberg-Van Delden, C. The Large Commemorative Scarabs of Amenhotep III. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1969.

Edwards, I.E.S. Tutankhamun: his tomb and its treasures. NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.

Grimal, Nicholas. A History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.

Hayes, William C. "Amenhotep III's Display," in Chapter IX of The Cambridge Ancient History. 3rd ed. Edited by I.E.S. Edwards, et al. Cambridge: University Press, 1973. Vol. II, Part 1, pp. 338–346.

Kozloff, Arielle P., and Betsy M. Bryan, with Lawrence M. Berman. Egypt's Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III and his world. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Museum of Art, 1992.

Moran, William L. The Amarna Letters. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Morkot, Robert. "Violent Images of Queenship and the Royal cult," in Wepwawet. Vol. 2, 1986, pp. 1–9.

Partridge, Robert B. Faces of Pharaohs: Royal Mummies and Coffins from Ancient Thebes. London: Rubicon Press, 1996.

Redford, Donald B. History and Chronology of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt: seven studies. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967.

suggested reading:

Aldred, Cyril. Akhenaten Pharaoh of Egypt: A New Study. London: Thames and Hudson, 1988.

Arnold, Dorothea. The Royal Women of Amarna: Images of Beauty from Ancient Egypt. NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996.

Lesko, Barbara S. The Remarkable Women of Ancient Egypt. 3rd ed. Providence, RI: B.C. Scribe, 1996.

Redford, Donald B. Akhenaten the Heretic King. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.


Sculptured portraits of Tiy are located in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt; the Egyptian Museum, Turin, Italy; and the State Museum, Berlin, Germany. The painted limestone stela from a house shrine showing an old Amenhotep III and his Queen Tiy is in the British Museum, London, England.

Barbara S. Lesko , Department of Egyptology, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island