The Tragic Life of Ankhesenpaaten

The Tragic Life of Ankhesenpaaten

Hollywood depictions aside, there is little doubt among academics that Tutankhaten led a challenging and tragic life for reasons explained in my blog post, King Tut - A Different Perspective.

He wasn't the only one to live such a life. His half-sister/wife, Ankhesenpaaten, led a life that was equally challenging and tragic to his own, and for reasons that were quite unique. Yet we rarely if ever hear her story. Instead we're force fed hyperbolic made-for-tv stories that paint a caricature of Tutankhaten that are simply nowhere near truth. His wife, if mentioned at all in these shows and documentaries, many times is mentioned merely as a minor support character whose life purpose seems to be little more than a mindless adornment to the almighty pharaoh.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Had things been different, Ankhesenpaaten would have grown up to be a force to be reckoned with. Just like her mother, and grandmother as we'll discuss later. I'll argue her character is of a caliber that rivals some of the 'greatest' heroes of the ancient world. Because her life turned tragic so quickly, we must infer her genuine strengths and character through her endurance as an individual.

She endured more in her life than most; certainly more than pharaohs immediately subsequent to her husband (Ay, and Horemheb). And while it's commonplace to admire the strength and character of those whose lives were filled with grand achievements accomplished through minimal adversity, I think it's far more important that we as a society learn to recognize and extol the grand achievement of survival by those who spent their lives enduring relentless injustices only to be forgotten by history.

Heroes don't always wield swords.

The problem in establishing who Ankhesenpaaten was and what she endured, is that women in the ancient world (this includes gods, or goddesses as some feel the need to refer to them as) tend to have their existences deliberately erased or maligned such that history either remembers them as someone they weren't, vaguely remembers them, or simply doesn't remember them at all. Ankhesenpaaten has been no exception to this veritable axiom of ancient historicity.



To avoid confusion, I mention here that I refer to Akhesenamun as Ankhesenpaaten. I prefer to use her birth name, because I am convinced Akhesenamun was a name given to her by the Grand Vizier, Ay, through his calculated manipulation of Tutankhaten. It's not a name she would have chosen for herself, nor one given to her by her mother.

Her name, along with Tut's, were changed by Ay, and not by their own volition. The name change was an act on Ay's part to suggest to the wider Egyptian world that things were returning to normal after nearly 2 decades of monotheism under Akhenaten. Certainly Ay was appealing to the powerful priest class, of which those employed, er, worshipped at the temples to Amun were among the most powerful... which is to say wealthy. That wealth was compromised not long after Akhenaten took power.

When Akhenaten announced there was only one god, and that all other gods were non-existent, he effectively unemployed every priest in the nation who was not already worshipping Aten.

As a side note, readers might note Wikipedia suggests the form of religion invented by Akhenaten could be more accurately described as monolatry. I couldn't disagree with this nonsense more. Akhenaten specifically said that not only was the one true god Aten—a figure that could not be depicted in any human form—but that this was the one true god for all peoples; not just Egyptians.

This sort of divine universality was unprecedented. If we're to somehow assume monaltry over monotheism in this regard, then we must also reexamine the god of Abraham revealed to a budding nation centuries later who specifically mentions other gods in his Ten Commandments, and elsewhere.

I find the predetermined pseudo-academic need to fine-tune label these religions in what's an obvious ideological competition between who was the first to establish monotheism, as less of a pursuit of truth, and more of a revelation of just how inherently polarizing monotheism is. An irony if ever there was one given the notion that monotheistic belief is supposed to unite all peoples under one banner. Though history doesn't seem to support this idealized version of the three major western religions at all.

At any rate, this is a philosophical tangent I'm admittedly not qualified to pursue. All I can say is Akhenaten, insofar as I can see, established the world's first monotheistic belief system at Egypt's peril. Given the extreme conservativism of Egypt over the thousands of years of its existence at that point, one might expect all things to return to the old ways nearly immediately upon Akhenaten's death. But they didn't. Not for 3 years.

Neither Akhensenpaaten or Tut's names were change for 3 years after Akhenaten's death. Furthermore, the move back to Egypt's traditional capital at Niwt-'Imn, renamed during the New Kingdom from its original name of Wasset, wasn't done until 3 years after Akhenaten's death. Niwt-'Imn is often referred to as "Thebes" by today's historians. Thebes is a Latin corruption of the Greek name for the city, "Thebai". Today the city's official name Luxor.

More often than not, the names of cities we hear of throughout ancient Egypt, are Greek versions or corruptions or even misidentities of Egyptian originals. In fact, "Egypt" itself is not only a corruption, but a relic of mistaken identity. Egypt is actually the corrupted name of an ancient city, not the nation itself. I explain this in more detail in King Tut - A Different Perspective for those interested in this little tangent.

There is little doubt the Grand Vizier, Ay, was behind the capital move back to Niwt-'Imn from Akhenaten's remote capital Akhetaten. But we must wonder why he waited 3 long years to do so. Egypt was in turmoil from years of Akhenaten's hands-off style of rule. This is made abundantly clear in the Amarna Letters of which he largely ignored. As another slight tangent (I can't help myself), the name "Amarna" comes from modern times. The site of Akhenaten's capital of Akhetaten is refered to by modern locals as Tel al-Amarna, and this is where terms like the "Amarna Letters", and the "Amarna Period" get their names. Anyway...

All that Ay orchestrated happened about 3 years after Akhenaten's death, meaning no significant shifts back to tradition were made despite Egypt's great need for a quick return to tradition. If not Egypt at large, then certainly for the elite priest class of temples worshipping gods other than Aten.

This lag suggests that Ay wasn't able to make the changes he (and many other Egyptians) wanted. That included the commander in chief of the army, Horemheb. According to Egyptologist, Bob Briar, there are three pillars to Egyptian society that simply had never been changed, nor should be. Those are one, the role of the military (to go out and beat up surrounding cultures and bring home the loot). Two, the role of the pharaoh (to lead those armies and supply the temples with the loot). And three, the religion (a non-polarizing polytheistic belief in many gods). Akhenaten changed them all. In fact, he even changed the art. A style set in stone (literally) since the earliest dynasties of the Old Kingdom.

There simply is no modern-day equivalent to which I could adequately make a comparison in order to convey just how dramatic his shifts were. All that can be said is the changes were extraordinarily drastic with profound adverse political, military, religious, and psychological effects on Egypt. Tremendously so; and even to say that is an understatement.

It is possible that the reason Ay was unable to manipulate the 9-year-old Tut to initiate the changes necessary to return Egypt to its traditions for the 3 years immediately after Akhenaten's death, was because there was another pharaoh in charge. One who couldn't be manipulated.

That pharaoh was probably Nefertiti. She ruled under the self-chosen pharaonic name of Neferneferuaten. And I'm excited to say that this fascinating theory has been suggested by those qualified to do so: (Dodson, Aidan, Amarna Sunset: Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb, and the Egyptian Counter-Reformation. The American University in Cairo Press. 2009, ISBN 978-977-416-304-3).

The theory makes sense given the fact the name Neferneferuaten shows up in archeological evidence as having succeeded Akhenaten, despite Horemheb's attempts to erase this history. It also makes circumstantial sense, because it explains why changes weren't made much sooner after Akhenaten's death.

Nefertiti would have ruled in the same full capacity as Hatshepsut had generations earlier; Her influence and power being on par with any other pharaoh of a unified Egypt. She did not rule as "queen". Egypt had no queens despite what Hollywood and the History channel suggest. Female rulers were pharaohs, and wore the false beard just like the men. With exception to the 18th Dynasty, the Great Wives of pharaohs were the bloodline through which any prospective pharaoh must marry in order to rule Egypt. This is known as the Heiress Theory, and is testament to the powerful role women played throughout ancient Egypt's history.

With regard to Nefertiti, I'll go a step further and say that she essentially ruled Egypt even during her husband's life. Akhenaten was more of a priest than pharaoh. He did not want to deal with what he saw as worldly affairs, but at least recognized the growing need to deal with them. At least cursorily. This is why he appointed co-regents. To do the 'dirty work' he wanted nothing to do with.

One of the Amarna tablets (letters).

One of the Amarna tablets (letters).

Metaphorically speaking, Nefertiti's hands may have been tied somewhat during her husband's life. But upon his death, she certainly seemed to waste no time in handling Egypt's business with vigor. I suggest this because the last of the infamous Amarna tablets were written around 1332 bce, shortly after Akhenaten's death and during Nefertiti's reign; or what I and some actual Egyptologists believe.

I have no doubt Nefertiti would have continued to rule Egypt in the same successful fashion as Hatshepsut had. Sadly, in her third regnal year, Nefertiti died. How she died is anyone's guess. Our knowledge of the history of rulers during the Amarna period has severely suffered by the hands of Horemheb's implementation of damnatio memoriae. (Horemheb was commander in chief of Egypt's practically unused army during Tut's rule, ultimately becoming pharaoh after Ay's death.)

It's possible Nefertiti died of natural causes. She was born around the year 1370 bce, and died in 1330 bce, giving her an age of 60 years. 60 was a ripe old age in those days. Though not for reasons to do with shorter human lifespans of the ancients. The difference between lifespan and life expectancy is explained more thoroughly in my post, Living to be 1,000 Years Old - Is Nonsense for those interested.

She may have otherwise died of illness; perhaps even some form of cancer. Cancer has unfortunately been a reality among humankind for thousands of years. The symptoms described of Hatshpesut's agonizing death suggest she died from rampant bone cancer, complicated by diabetes.

As for Nefertiti, we may never know how she died. But we do know that once she was gone, the only two people left with royal blood were the young Tutankhaten, and his half-sister, Ankhesenpaaten. (Be warned however, that not all Egyptologists are convinced she died after Akhenaten.) These were two children left alone in a world in which they were surrounded by unrelated power-starved adults eager to return Egypt to its centuries-old traditions.

In King Tut - A Different Perspective, I discussed how Ay was able to manipulate Tut to control Egypt as he saw fit. That he didn't need to murder the young pharoah as proposed by the great Egyptologist, Bob Briar (love that guy). But in that blog post I didn't talk much about Ankhesenpaaten, who was at this point going by the Ay-given name of Akhesenamun. I'll continue to use her birth name however, out of deference.

Tut may not have been aware he was being manipulated, but we can be certain Ankhesenpaaten was.

Unlike Tut, Akhesenpaaten had her health and all her mental capacities. She was keenly aware of everything going on around her. Afterall, she was raised by two of the most powerful and influential women of all time in Nefertiti and her grandmother Tiye. She would have been intelligent, clever, intuitive, and above all else, cautious. If not all these things at the age of 9, then certainly within a few short years thereafter.

She must have been forced to grow up much faster than any child ever should. It would have been a matter of survival. She was surrounded by power-hungry commoners, particularly with regard to the Grand Vizier, Ay; the one most responsible for Tut's manipulation. I have no doubt she saw right through his bullshit.

I mentioned she was rendered by two of the most influential and powerful women the world has ever known, and I think that point deserves more explanation. Her mother, Nefertiti, along with her grandmother, Tiye would have rivaled the power and influence of the late Hatshepsut, and that of the Greek-descended pharaoh, Cleopatra in the centuries to come.

These women were gods of their time, in the same right as the pharaoh himself. And I don't mean this figuratively as a point of perspective. They were believed to be gods by their people, and more often than not, truly believed themselves to be gods. This engrained psyche would have had tremendous and positive impact on the young Ankhesenpaaten.

She was raised to believe the truth of her own divinity, and within the love and nurturing of her parents; both of whom I have no doubt loved her and her siblings deeply as depicted in the house altar below.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti with three of their daughters. Fluid depictions like this were unprecedented in Egyptian history.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti with three of their daughters. Fluid depictions like this were unprecedented in Egyptian history.

The famous bust of Nefertiti.

The famous bust of Nefertiti.

Her father had a temple built exclusively for Nefertiti, and in it nearly all depictions were either of her mother, or her mother with her daughters; this would of course include Akhesenpaaten. He even had one built for Akhesenpaaten's grandmother, Tiye, as well as two other solar shrines known as "Sunshades of Ra" (also for at least two other female members of the royal family). Though previous pharaohs had often built one Sunshade of Ra, Akhenaten built no less than 5 (4 that we know of at Akhetaten).

Clearly Akhesenpaaten felt a sense of great worth within the Royal Family. She would have lived at the very center of a cult complex several football fields in size, complete with temples, administrative buildings, and even an industrial-scale brewery (not that she was a beer aficionado, but you never know).

Her young life was likely filled with love, support, joy, and a solid sense of self worth. Though all this would have been in context of her being sheltered from the rest of the Egyptian world, which was increasingly falling into chaos due in large part to her father's hands-off style of rule (save for his religion).

Her privileged life, as great as it was, didn't last for long.

Around the 12th year of her father's reign, when Ankhesenpaaten would have been maybe 7 years old, archeologists believe bubonic plague swept through the region. This infectious disease killed countless people, including prominent members of the Royal Family. Among those whose lives were taken were two, possibly three, of Ankhesenpaaten's sisters. Sisters she would have played with and been lovingly attached to I'd imagine.

Her sister, the young Setepenre, died when she was only a year or two old. Her other sister, Nefernefurure, also died of the plague. Their deaths would have been a horrible sight to witness, which we can be sure Ankhesenpaaten did. Her young sisters would have been bed-ridden; coughing up blood, suffering from bouts of delerium, and relentless gastrointestinal ailments.

Not to be crude, but there were no toilets or plumbed running water in ancient Egypt (like there was on Kapadar or Crete as historians mistakenly call it). Given the lack of restroom facilities and all the luxuries they offer, Ankhesenpaaten would have either seen her mother (and possibly the Royal Scribe, Meryre II) cleaning up after her stricken sisters, or she would have been involved in the demoralizing cleanup herself.

It's possible a third sister died of plague as well; Meketaten. But some Egyptologists believe her death could have been tragic in another way. It has been suggested that this sibling died during childbirth. Traumatic as is, but made more so by the fact the stillborn child was likely the offspring of her own father, Akhenaten.

I understand fairly well that we ought not put a modern lens on ancient perspectives, but had Ankhesenpaaten's sister died in this way, it must have been quite traumatic. Particularly if the father was Akhenaten. But again, I'm viewing this from a skewed modern perspective.

Her sisters weren't the only victims of the plague. It may have taken the life of her powerful grandmother, Tiye as well. One can only imagine what went through the mind of young Ankhesenpaaten when she watched as her god-like grandmother was reduced to a heaving, weakened, shadow of her former self. To be made utterly vulnerable before her very eyes. I'd imagine this would have been devastating to a child who no doubt looked up with great love and admiration to her grandmother.

The mummy of the Great Wife, Tiye

The mummy of the Great Wife, Tiye

History is very good at remembering dates, battles, and leaders. But it tends to be lackluster when it comes to conveying the human condition as it relates to intimate adversity hidden behind the closed doors of loving families. And this is no exception. Tiye's slow death, alongside that of Ankhesenpaaten's sisters, must have been psychologically calamitous for a child.

Ankhesenpaaten's step-mother, the Mitanni princess Kiya, may have also died of the plague. Though some have said she was disgraced and exiled in a coup engineered by a "jealous Nefertiti" (Reeves, 1999), but I tend to favor the theory that she died of plague instead. To be honest, I find the ongoing need by some historians over the decades and centuries to depict powerful women as jealous bitches to be rather mundane and dense. If anything, it's more revealing of the accusor than the accused.

This was (and continues) to be done with the Greek god Hera for instance. A god whose most ancient depictions give her a character that is quite far from being jealous, or conniving. I could easily give dozens of powerful examples from the ancient world both divine and mortal, but will simply say that I find the practice maligning the women of history to be abhorently dishonest, with no right to claim in the realm of acadmia any more than predeterminism belongs in the realm of science. It's probably prudent for me to mention at this point that I'm not a feminist. One doesn't need to be in order to make what I think is a rather obvious observation of historiography. I find today's corruption of 19th and 20th century feminism to be rather polarizing, ironic, self-subverting, and hypocritical in many ways. Additionally, there seems to be an expanding need to create more and more labels to further separate people from each other these days. It's disheartening for me to see.

At any rate, I imagine for Ankhesenpaaten, that seeing her powerful grandmother, and beloved sisters reduced to phantoms before her very eyes, only to ultimately exhale their last breath to have to have been profoundly life altering in a most unjust way.

To complicate her young life further, in the years after the plague had swept through the region, her own father took it upon himself to impregnate Ankhesenpaaten.

Again, it would be folly on my part to put a modern lens on this, but as a victim of years-long severe sexual and physical abuse by my own father when I was just a young child, I can say with some authority that Ankhesenpaaten would have been severely traumatized; regardless of what society at that time dictated was acceptable. Maybe I'm wrong on that point, but a child's mind is only able to absorb so much regardless of what context adults tell them to put it in. There is an independent intelligence in children that adults (who were children themselves obviously) seem to forget.

Ankhesenpaaten carried her child to term. As a man, I'll never know the pain and emotional experience of child birth, but I can sympathetically acknowledge this life event was both traumatic and life-altering for the young Ankhesenpaaten. Indeed, the pregnancy alone would have kindled a unique and powerful emotional bond between herself and her unborn child. A child by her father no less.

She was quite disturbingly young. The earliest her father could have impregnated her would have been around his 16th regnal year, which means Ankhesenpaaten wasn't much older than 11. It's difficult to maintain ones classical bearings, when putting child rape in context of what was acceptable in ancient cultures.

At any rate, Ankhesenpaaten gave birth to a girl; Ankhesenpaaten Tasherit. A name likely given by her father. Some say this may have been the daughter of Ankhesenpaaten and the co-regent Smenkhare (who was married to Ankhesenpaaten's older sister), but I tend to think the father was in fact the peculiar Akhenaten himself. Smenkhare may have died from the plague that swept through the region long before Ankhesenpaaten would have been old enough to become pregnant.

No one knows what became of Ankhesenpaaten's daughter. It's likely she died very young. Given the fact Ankhesenpaaten Tasherit was inbred, she may have been born with all sorts of tragic genetic malformities, some of which may have ultimately taken her life. I have no evidence for this, so consider this possibility with a grain of salt.

If this is the case, then Ankhesenpaaten loved and cared for a daughter that needed far more attention than most other infants. I can empathize with this, as can (especially) my mother, as my older sister was born with Rubenstein Taybi, made complicated by severe scoliosis, and other ailments that are too many to list.

The mother's love is as great as it would be for any child, but the underlying stress is unique and considerably more taxing. I can only imagine how much more difficult it would have been for a child to raise another child with such complications. In this light, rearing Ankhesenpaaten Tasherit would have been a beautiful-yet-tragic reality borne upon Ankhesenpaaten by her own father. I have to wonder how Ankhesenpaaten's young mind made sense of it all.

Apparently she was able to, because she courageously endured, and I'd imagine without complaint. That kind of courage is of a caliber equal or greater to any battle-hardened soldier facing seemingly insurmountable odds at the frontline of some war waged between two elitist assholes. I think it behooves us to make a passionate assumption that Ankhesenpaaten did all she could for her daughter, despite the inimical circumstances thrust upon her.

When her daughter died, we can reasonably assume Ankhesenpaaten was overcome by a confusingly contradictory feeling of deep grief and relief. Such a paradoxical concoction of emotions could only fester or forge a burdened young mind. I like to think Ankhesenpaaten was the type to take such a traumatic event and use it to forge herself into a stronger person. Only the strong can avoid festering thoughts, lest they become victims of suicide or become hollowed shells; the latter of which is just another form of drawn-out suicide in my opinion.

Not all hope was lost. There may have been a brief period of hope for Ankhesenpaaten when her father died. If not because he died, then certainly because her powerful and loving mother took Egypt's reigns. But it may also been a time when the perceptive Ankhesenpaaten began to notice the Grand Vizier's (Ay's) feigned support for Nefertiti. A foreshadowing of things to come.

I don't imagine Ay (or Horemheb for that matter), would have liked having a woman as pharaoh. But what can a weak men of questionable character do against the might of a powerful woman like Nefertiti?

Not a damn thing. That's what.

But as mentioned earlier, Nefertiti's rule was brief. She apparently died in her 3rd regnal year, leaving the young Ankhesenpaaten quite literally alone in a world filled with injustice that would only become worse for her. And now she was alone with only a mentally and physically challenged half brother, of whom the conniving Grand Vizier Ay wasted little time making his puppet. Ankhesenpaaten no doubt realized this, even at her young age.

Be that as it may, tradition dictated that she marry her half-brother; a marriage undoubtedly lacking in both romance and attraction (at least on Ankhesenpaaten's part). But she did her duty, because she knew this was what was best for Egypt. Or so I imagine. She also had little choice, as there was no alternative.

Limestone relief showing Nefertiti smiting a female captive onboard a barge.

Limestone relief showing Nefertiti smiting a female captive onboard a barge.

As the Great Wife, she would have been witness to years of Ay's calculated manipulation of her brother. And I think it isn't out of bounds to assume there were times she stood up for Tut. In fact, I think it's very likely she did. Afterall, she was the descendant of Tiye and Nefertiti; two no-bullshit women that handled their business.

But having no support, it is possible her challenges were met with physical and/or emotional abuse at the hands of Ay. I don't believe this stopped her; at least not for some time. I think she hit back literally and metaphorically speaking. I also have no evidence whatsover to support the fiction that Ay was abusive, save for the letter she wrote to the Hittie king after Tut's death, in which she specifically states that she is afraid.

But if we assume abuse, then with enough sustained abuse, even the most determined can start to become sapped. I suggest this because of a desperate message she sent to the Hittite king in the years to come. We'll come back to that shortly.

Standing up for her half-brother/husband wasn't all she may have done. In my post, King Tut - A Different Perspective, we discuss the many tragic ailments suffered by Tutankhaten. I think it's fair to assume the greatest support he recieved through his life came from Ankhesenpaaten. Just as she had done for her deceased daughter, she now did for her half-brother/husband. Not only did she likely care for him, but she would have also had to deal with his autism. An unproven theory I put forth in the above-linked blog post.

As mentioned in that previous post, I base my theory of Tut's autism on the fact that Horemheb made it a point to say he was the only one capable of calming the young pharaoh during his many emotional flare ups. Maybe. But I think Ankhesenpaaten did too, and far more frequently than Horemheb ever did. Afterall, she was with Tut (I imagine) nearly constantly.

I imagine she not only took care of him for all his physical ailments (and there were many), but that she also helped calm his often-confused mind, and did all she could to shield him from the near constant contrivances of Ay; a two-faced pilgarlic that even Horemheb would later attempt to erase from history.

More tragedy would enter the young Akhesenpaaten's life. She had two miscarriages with Tut. Mummified stillborn fetuses have been found, and shown to be her daughters by Tut. Again, the impact these deaths would have had on her must have been tremendous.

After about a decade of hardship (for both Ankhesenpaaten and Tut), Tutankhaten died. (I give what I believe are the most sensical reasons for his death in the above-linked blog post.) As if she weren't already alone in a subversive royal court, now Ankhesenpaaten was truly and utterly alone. There was only one degree of separation between herself and the power-hungry, and likely abusive Grand Vizier.

Notably, Ay didn't marry Ankhesenpaaten immediately upon Tut's death. While he may have changed Egypt back to tradition nearly immediately after Nefertiti's death, he wasn't able to marry Ankhesenpaaten and become pharaoh for quite some time after Tut's death. This suggests that Ankhesenpaaten weilded more threatening power than many give her credit for. Perhaps she wasn't as sapped afterall. That's admirable given the circumstances.

Perhaps she had the support of Horemheb or others within the Royal Court, albeit weakly so if she did. But for whatever reason, Ay was unable to force a quick marriage and secure the throne. I think this had everything to do with Ankhesenpaaten's unbreaking inner strength and determination to not become that hollow shell mentioned above. We should consider, that greater men had folded under simpler circumstances.

Not so with Ankhesenpaaten.

It was at this point she sent a desperate message to the powerful Hittite king, Suppiluliuma who was no doubt taking advantage of Egypt's lack of military intervention in the north. I tell his story in slightly more detail in my blog post, King Tut - A Different Perspective for those interested.

Unfortunately for Ankhesenpaaten (and fortunately for Egypt), the prince Suppiluliuma sent was murdered before he reached Niwt-'Imn. His murder was very likely orchestrated by Ay, as it would take government-sponsored coordination to take out a powerful Hittite prince who would have no doubt been surrounded by an elite heavily armed entourage.

Sadly, Ay ultimately got his way, and Ankhesenpaaten was forced to marry him. One can only imagine the abuse she received in the months/years to follow. Her name vanishes from the records, and we know nothing of what became of her. Did she finally break and take her own life out of hopelessness spawned from a life filled with injustice? Was she murdered by Ay in a fit of rage? Or did she live out her life into old age, even after Ay's death, consigned to oblivion either within Egypt or in exile? We may never know.

However, in the early 20th century two finger rings were found, one has been lost on the antiquities black market (I assume), and the other is in a museum in Germany I believe. On these rings were double cartouches depicting the names of both Aye, and Ankhensenpaaten (Ankhensenamun in the cartouche). In Egypt, to become pharaoh, one had to marry a Great Wife; a woman whose bloodline was royal. And at the time, the ONLY person in Egypt with royal blood was Ankhensenpaaten.

So we have proof in these finger rings that Ay indeed married Ankhensenpaaten. He would have had to in order to become pharaoh. But then we do not see any evidence of her having been his wife in Ay's tomb. In fact, there is a cartouche of a Great Wife that isn't clearly legible, but it is too short to contain the name of Akhensenamun (as she was called by the time she was forced to marry Ay). The cartouche is very short. And Aye's first wife, to whom he was married as a commoner, was very short: Tey.

Not only is there no depictions of Ankhensenpaaten in Aye's tomb, but there is no tomb for Ankhensenpaaten whatsoever. At least, if there is, it hasn't been discovered, nor is it likely at this point. Ay only ruled for 3 maybe 4 years before his death. Ankhensenpaaten disappears from the records almost immediately after marrying him. Perhaps this suggests foul play. It seems extraordinarily suspect to me. And there's more...

I'll posit the possibility she was dead before Ay's death, because if she were alive, she'd have been married to Horemheb; the next pharaoh of Egypt, and Tut's former general. As mentioned, for a man not of royal lineage to become Pharaoh, he'd have had to have married a woman of royal lineage; and Ankhensenpaaten was the only woman in all of Egypt with this qualification. Yet, there is no mention of Horemheb having married Ankhensenpaaten.

For all these circumstantial reasons, I personally believe she was murdered. For those who've read my King Tut blog post, you'll know I don't subscribe to the Tut murder conspiracy at all. However, with Ankhensenpaaten, I do. If she wasn't murdered, she was exiled. But I'm not sure Ay would be that cold hearted. Believe me, in Egypt, it was far worse to be exilied from the land where your afterlife was otherwise ensured, than it was to be murdered. In fact, remaining on Egyptian soil was so engrained in Egyptian society for this reason that they never extended their borders for 3,000 years. They'd go, beat up on the Kush (Nubians), go beat up on their neighbors to the north, but they never occupied their lands. Why? Because they weren't Egyptian lands tied to the myth of Osiris and Iset (aka Isis in Hellenized form). They weren't lands where one could be resurrected in the afterlife.

So I lean towards the possibility, that Ankhensenpaaten was murdered, and Ay's first wife, Tey, became the Great Wife (the hemet weret).

The best we can do to honor her existence, is to recognize that all the greatness today's media enjoys bestowing upon Tutankhaten (who accomplished little in his difficult life), that there was another who simultaneously stood both alone and by his side. A person who endured a tragic and challenging life without complaint, and with self-inspired purpose.

In fact, I think one of her lasting legacies to which many of us can find strength in, is that despite everything, Akhesenpaaten mustered the courage to continue living day to day despite the near constant injustices heaved upon her.

That heroism alone deserves our respect and admiration. I think in this sense, we can take away more from the obscure life of Akhesenpaaten, than we could from countless other pharaohs in Egypt's great history.

I hope everytime readers of this obscure little blog see, hear, or read about Tutankhaten, that the first image that comes to mind isn't that famed gold funerary mask, but an enduring and inspiring image of Ankhesenpaaten.

Thanks for reading..

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