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Tutankhamun's Attendants

The Death of a King

The Discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb

The King's Burial

The Succession

Before the spectacular discovery of his almost intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings (KV 62) in November 1922, Tutankhamun was a shadowy and little known figure of the late 18th Dynasty. To a certain extent he still is, despite the prominence he has acquired from the contents of his tomb.
Tutankhamun's name was known in the early years of this century from a few references, but his exact place in the sequence of the 'Amarna kings' was uncertain. Like Akhenaten and Ay, his name had been omitted from the classic king lists of Abydos and Karnak, which simply jump from Amenhotep III to Horemheb. Indeed, Tutankhamun's exact identity - and his parentage - is still a matter of some conjecture, although it is clear that the young prince was brought up at Amarna, probably in the North Palace. A number of items found in his tomb are relics of his life at the Aten court, notably the Aten's disc shown protecting him and his young wife, Ankhesenamun, on the pictorial back panel of his gold-inlaid throne.

Towards the end of Akhenaten's reign the senior members of the court, especially Ay and Horemheb, probably realized that things could not go on as they were. Smenkhkare, Akhenaten's brother (or son?) and co-regent, must have come to the same conclusion since he had left Akhetaten and moved back to the old secular capital, Memphis, where he may have been in contact with the proscribed members of the priesthood of Amun before his death and burial at Thebes. Soon after Akhenaten's death, Tutankhaten (as he then was) was crowned at Memphis. Aged about nine when he succeeded, the young king would have had no close female relatives left - his probable mother Kiya, his stepmother Nefertiti and his eider step-sisters all being dead. He was probably under the direct care and influence of Ay, the senior civil servant, and Horemheb, the military man. Tutankhaten's wife, Ankhesenpaaten, was evidently older than he since she was already of child-bearing age, seemingly having had a daughter by her father, Akhenaten.
As soon as the new king had been installed, a move was made back to the old religion. This was signified radically in Year 2 when both king and queen changed the -aten ending of their names to -amun. Tutankhamun probably had little to do with this or indeed many other decisions - his 'advisors' were the ones who held the reins and manipulated the puppet strings of the boy-king. A great 'Restoration' stele records the reinstallation of the old religion of Amun and the reopening and rebuilding of the temples. The stele is known from two copies, both of which were later usurped by Horemheb, as were many other monuments of Tutankhamun. A large number of reliefs and statues have been identified as originally belonging to Tutankhamun (the majority showing him either in the company of Amun or as the god himself); for although the inscriptions have been changed, the king's boyish features are clearly recognizable. Extensive building works were carried out at Karnak and Luxor in Tutankhamun's name, especially the great colonnade and the relief scenes of the Festival of Opet at Luxor, but all were subsequently taken over by Horemheb.

Apart from the pivotal return to Thebes and the cult of Amun, few events from Tutankhamun's reign have been documented. Military campaigns were apparently mounted in Nubia and Palestine/Syria, suggested by a brightly painted gesso box from Tutankhamun's tomb which has four spirited scenes featuring the king. One shows him hunting lions in the desert, another gazelles, whilst on the third and fourth he furiously attacks Nubians and then Syrians, who fall to his arrows. Finely carved scenes of prisoners in the Memphite tomb of the military commander.in-chief, Horemheb, lend some veracity to the scenes on the gesso box, as does the painting in the tomb of Huy, Viceroy of Nubia, which shows subservient Nubian princes and piles of tribute. It is doubtful, however, that Tutankhamun actually took part in any of the campaigns.

Tutankhamun's Attendants

In addition to the two premier figures of Ay and Horemheb, the names of other high officials who served during Tutankhamun's reign are known to us. Two of them were accorded the privilege of donating objects to the king's burial. One was Nakhtmin, a military officer under Horemheb and a relative of Ay (possibly a son). He presented five large wooden ushabtis, each inscribed with his name under the feet. There is a fine portrait head of Nakhtmin in Cairo, broken from a dyad statue with his beautiful but unnamed wife. Another official was Maya, who was Tutankhamun's Treasurer and also Overseer of the Place of Eternity (the royal cemetery), where his name is also known from a graffito in a fine hand on a wall in the tomb of Tuthmosis IV recording restorations being carried out, presumably the checking and rewrapping of the royal mummy. To Tutankhamun's tomb Maya contributed a fine large wooden ushabti (again with his name recorded under its feet), and a beautifully carved effigy of the mummified king on a lion-headed bier with two delightful ka and ba birds watching over him. Maya's tomb was located at Saqqara in 1843 by Richard Lepsius when the splendid statues of him and his wife Meryt were removed to Leiden. In 1986 the tomb was rediscovered by Professor Geoffrey Martin through a robbers' tunnel from a nearby tomb.

Another high official to have a tomb at Thebes (TT 40) was Huy, Viceroy of Nubia. A vast wall painting, about 17 ft (c. 6 m) long, shows Huy in the full finery of his office presenting the princes of north and south Nubia, together with their families and retainers, to the king. Not least amongst the representations is the entourage of a Nubian princess, she in her chariot, and the vast piles of tribute. This may all be the result of Horemheb's military foray into Nubia.

The Death of a King

Tutankhamun died young, probably during his ninth regnal year. Evidence for this is twofold. First, forensic analysis of his mummy has put his age at death at about 17. Secondly, clay seals on wine jars found in his tomb record not only the type of wine, the vineyard and the name of the chief vintner, but also the king's regnal year when each wine was laid down. The highest recorded date is Year 9, suggesting that Tutankhmnun died in that year.
There is no positive evidence on Tutankhamun's mummy as to how he met his death: he certainly did not die of consumption as was once thought. However, autopsies and Xrays have located a small sliver of bone within the upper cranial cavity. It may have arrived there as the result of a blow, but whether deliberately struck, to indicate murder, or the result of an accident, such as a fall from a chariot, it is not possible to say.

The Discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb

Several finds made in the Valley of the Kings over the years led Howard Carter to believe that the king was still somewhere in the Valley: a small faience cup bearing Tutankhamun's name (1905-6 season), the remnants of materials used in the king's enbalming and of a funerary feast or wake (1907), followed two years later in 1909 by a cache of gold frag~nents froth chariot and furniture fittings with the king's name and that of Ay as a commoner. The story of Carter's quest and his understanding patron, the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, is well known.

After many years of frustrating and meticulous working through the Valley, clearing down to bedrock, the first of a flight of 16 descending steps was found on 4 November 1922, just in front and to the north side of the entrance to the tomb of Ramesses VI (KV 9). By the next day the stairs had been cleared, revealing the top of a blocked door, sealed with the impression of the necropolis guards (the recumbent jackal over nine captives); behind it was a sloping corridor filled with debris and, at the far end, another blocked doorway. Beyond it and at right angles was a large chamber, dubbed the Antechamber, and off it to the back left was a smaller room, the Annexe. To the right was a blocked doorway in the end wall guarded by two larger-than-lifesize black wood statues of the king. Beyond that was the burial chamber, almost completely filled with the huge catafalque of four gold overlaid wooden shrines enclosing the red quartzite sarcophagus with its cracked granite lid.

Of the nest of three coffins in the sarcophagus, the innermost was of solid gold, the outer two of wood overlaid with gold. The king's mummy lay in the midst of all this splendour with its famous gold mask but, by comparison, the actual remains of the king himself were pitiful, the result of poor embalming. Beyond the painted burial chamber (the only decorated room in the tomb), through an open doorway guarded by a large recumbent wooden figure of the jackal Anubis, lay the Treasury. Here stood the great canopic wooden shrine enclosing the calcite canopic chest. The chest held four jars containing Tutankhamun's viscera, whose human-headed lids were modelled in the likeness of the king.


Hopes were high that amongst all the splendour there would be some important literary or historical documentation, but nothing of that nature was found. Apart from the king's own remains, the most moving aspect of the tomb must surely be the two stillborn mummified fetuses of baby girls, aborted at five months and possibly eight or nine months, found in the Treasury. They must have been daughters of Tutankhamun by Ankhesenamun. Had either lived, she would have taken her mother's place in due course as the Great Royal Heiress, carrying on the Amarna blood line - indeed, the whole later history of Egypt's 19th Dynasty could have been changed.

The King's Burial

The immediate availability of the gold coffin and mask as well as the large granite sarcophagus box suggests that provision for Tutankhamun's eventual burial had been in hand for some time. However, his actual death was obviously unexpected, for not only were a number of the items provided for the burial 'from stock' and originally intended for previous use, but even the tomb he was laid to rest in was not intended for him. Signs of haste are evident everywhere, since the ritual required that all preparations and the embalming be completed within a period of 70 days.

The tomb is far too small for a royal burial, and had almost certainly been granted as a royal favour to the elderly Ay in recognition of his signal service over the years. (There are other instances of high officials being granted a similar privilege of burial in the Valley of the Kings.) Because of the king's sudden demise, and the fact that this tomb was virtually ready, it was appropriated and steps immediately taken to decorate the burial chamber.

Tutankhamun's intended tomb seems to be that found by Giovanni Belzoni in 1816 at the far end of the western Valley of the Kings (KV 23) and later used by Ay. This conforms to the pattern of 18th Dynasty royal tombs and was probably chosen with a propaganda motive in view, that is to bury the king fairly close to his grandfather Amenhotep III, thereby underlining the return to old ways and the old religion.
Amongst Tutankhamun's equipment there were a number of items that had obviously come from a funerary store. At least one of the great wooden shrines had been made for Smenkhkare, as had the four small gold coffinettes that held the king's viscera. It can be seen, sometimes with difficulty, where the earlier name had been excised and Tutankhamun's added over the top. It is also possible that the second coffin of the three had also been intended for Smenkhkare, since its features are unlike the other two and the miniature canopic coffinettes are copies of it.
Even the sarcophagus box was second-hand. Extensive recurring was undertaken, to the extent of removing all the original texts (thus lowering the surface), and adding new ones; wings were also added to alter the standing figures of the goddesses (possibly because they were originally standing queens, as on Akhenaten's shattered sarcophagus? ). The granite lid was made to fit the quartzite box - obviously a different material but, again, time may have been of the essence and a suitable slab of granite was available at Thebes. In the event there was an accident and the lid was split in two.

The Succession

Tutankhamun's early death left his wife Ankhesenamun a young widow in a very difficult situation. Obviously hemmed in on all sides by ambitious men much older than herself, she took an unprecedented step and wrote to Suppiluliumas I, king of the Hittires, explaining her plight. The evidence comes not from the Egyptian records but from excavations at Hattusas in Turkey, the Hittire capital, where a copy was found in the archives. She told him her husband had died and she had no sons while he had many, so would he send one to marry her and continue the royal line. The Hittire king was highly suspicious and nqade enquiries; messengers were sent to check the details and reported back that such was the case. A Hittite prince, Zannanza, was therefore sent to Egypt to take up the queen's offer. It seems that he got no further than the border before he was murdered, and the deed can easily be laid at the door of Horemheb: he had the means as commander-in-chief of the army, the opportunity and certainly the motive.

 


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Revised: November 12, 2009.
Copyright 1997 by Anthony C. DiPaolo, M.S. / Osiris Web Design.