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For over a decade, Nefertiti, wife of the heretic king Akhenaten, was the most influential woman in the Bronze Age world: a beautiful queen blessed by the sun god, adored by her family, and worshipped by her people.
Her image and her name were celebrated throughout Egypt and her future seemed golden. Suddenly Nefertiti disappeared from the royal family, vanishing so completely that it was as if she had never been. No record survives to detail her death, no monument serves to mourn her passing, and to this day her end remains an enigma—her body has never been found. Fully revising her classic biography of Egypt’s sun queen, historian Joyce Tyldesley draws on a wealth of scholarly and archeological evidence to investigate the truth behind the life, times, and mysterious disappearance of the legendary Nefertiti.
The Imperial Family
Words to be spoken by Amen, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands in front of her majesty ... `Amenhotep III, ruler of Thebes, is the name of this child whom I have planted in your womb ... His shall be an excellent kingship throughout the entire land. My soul is his, my honour is his, my crown is his. It is he who shall rule the Two Lands like Re for ever.'
Once upon a time, a long time ago in a far-away land, the king of the gods, Amen-Re, fell in love with a fair maiden who dwelt in the southern Egyptian city of Thebes. Thoth, his ibis-headed messenger, was dispatched to Egypt where he discovered that the maiden, Mutemwia, was indeed fair, easily the most beautiful woman in the land, but that she was a married lady, a wife of King Tuthmosis IV. Amen-Re found himself haunted by thoughts of Mutemwia's charms. He very much wanted to sleep with her, but knew that she would always be faithful to her husband. So Amen-Re hatched a cunning plan to seduce his beloved, and to make her the mother of his child. When night fell, the great god disguised himself as Tuthmosis and crept into the bedchamber where Mutemwia lay dreaming:
There he found her as she slept in the innermost part of her palace. His divine fragrance awoke her. Amen went to her immediately, he lusted after her. When he had appeared before her he allowed her to see him in the form of a god; the sight of his beauty made her rejoice. Amen's love entered her body, and the palace was filled with the fragrance of the god, as sweet as the scents from Punt ...
Nine months later Mutemwia bore a son whom Amen-Re decreed should be named Amenhotep after her husband's father. That son was destined to become Nebmaatre Amenhotep III, Ruler of Thebes, the Good God, Lord of the Two Lands, Son of Re, Lord of Appearances, and Beloved of Amen.
Amenhotep III acceded to the throne of the world's only acknowledged superpower in his early teens, his father, Tuthmosis IV, having ruled for only nine years. During his brief reign Tuthmosis had raised an obelisk at the Karnak Temple, campaigned successfully in Nubia and established good diplomatic relations with the Syrian kingdom of Mitanni by marrying the daughter of King Artatama I. His main claim to fame was, however, that he had instigated the world's first rescue archaeology by freeing the great sphinx at Giza from the sand which threatened to overwhelm it completely. A stela set between the paws of the sphinx tells us how, as a young prince hunting in the Giza desert, Tuthmosis had fallen asleep in the shadow of the monument. The sun god, Re-Harakhty, had spoken to him in a dream and had asked that the sphinx be saved from his sandy grave. As a reward, the grateful god granted Tuthmosis the throne of Egypt, even though he was only a younger son of Amenhotep II. The body of Tuthmosis IV, now housed in Cairo Museum, shows that the king died an emaciated young man whose long, narrow face was, in the opinion of the anatomist G. Elliot Smith, `very effeminate [in] appearance'.
Thanks to the military expertise and administrative skills of his 18th Dynasty forebears who had ruled Egypt for almost 200 years, the young Amenhotep III inherited an empire whose borders stretched from the fourth Nile cataract in Nubia to northern Syria, and whose sphere of influence extended much further afield. Following Egyptian tradition the widowed Mutemwia ruled as regent during the first few years of her young son's reign, and under her guidance Amenhotep grew into the archetypal New Kingdom monarch, healthy, vigorous and brave. His courage in the hunting field was unprecedented; by his own account he shot 102 savage lions in the first ten years of his reign, while in a single day's hunting in the Faiyum he killed no fewer than fifty-six wild bulls. His bravery on the field of battle was less easy to prove. The well-trained Egyptian army was second to none in the ancient world, and a severe shortage of enemies willing to face inevitable defeat made it virtually impossible for Amenhotep to enjoy the sort of victorious campaign which had enhanced the reputations of earlier 18th Dynasty kings. This difficulty was eventually overcome by elevating a minor Nubian scuffle in Year 5 into the status of a full-blown war. Amenhotep's victory against the vile Ibhat, which yielded a meagre 740 living captives and 312 hands cut from the bodies of the dead, was commemorated by a series of stelae erected at strategic points in Nubia, while monumental carvings along Egypt's southern border at Aswan showed Amenhotep in the traditional role of pharaoh as defender of Egypt, smiting his enemies in the presence of the gods.
The predictable behaviour of the River Nile made Amenhotep's own country the most prosperous and fertile in the ancient world. The annual inundation, or flooding, ensured that the Egyptian farmers could, with relatively little effort, grow crops which were the envy of their neighbours and, while the agricultural land was under water, provided a vast labour force available for work on state projects. If the Nile failed to flood, or if the waters rose too high, there could be grave problems, but Amenhotep was truly blessed by Amen, and the Nile behaved impeccably throughout his lengthy reign. Grain was grown in vast quantities; it was used to pay the wages and to make the bread and beer which were staples of the Egyptian diet, while any surplus was stored in vast warehouses to provide against future lean times. Amenhotep's highly efficient civil service, which included a band of tax collectors who visited the primary producers on a regular basis to extract payment in kind, ensured that the warehouses were constantly topped-up.
Life was good for those who dwelt along the Nile. A wide range of vegetables, fruit, fish, fowl, small game and meat was available to supplement the basic diet of bread and beer. The thick Nile mud, sun-dried into bricks, made an excellent and very cheap building material, while both limestone and sandstone were available for the more permanent construction of temples and tombs. Flax was grown to spin into linen cloth, papyrus was grown for paper, and the deserts which bounded the Nile Valley were exploited for their precious metals and minerals which included gold, turquoise, amethyst and jasper. Only good quality timber was missing; this had to be imported from Lebanon. This superabundance of natural bounty had been boosted during the earlier part of the 18th Dynasty by the booty brought back from successful foreign campaigns. As the Egyptian empire grew, the royal coffers were further supplemented by the taxes and tribute extracted from Asian and African vassals eager to remain on good terms with their overlord. Egypt now held control over Nubia's mineral riches, and a steady stream of gold flowed into the treasury. At the same time there was an expansion in merchant shipping and an increase in foreign trade which was accompanied by an influx of exotic visitors who introduced new ideas and new skills so that Aegean, Asian and African influences started to creep into the hitherto rather insular Egyptian arts and crafts. Egypt was now truly cosmopolitan in a way that she had never been before.
Exaggerated rumours of Amenhotep's fabulous wealth spread throughout the Near East. His brother kings were envious and not too proud to try to divert some of that wealth towards themselves. A surprisingly large part of the surviving 18th Dynasty diplomatic correspondence is concerned with lists of valuable goods exchanged between kings, and there was a great deal of childish bickering over the relative values of presents expected, requested, received and sent. Tushratta of Mitanni, newly ascended to his throne, was certainly not too embarrassed to ask point-blank for a generous allocation of gold:
May my brother treat me ten times better than he did my father ... May my brother send me in very great quantities gold that has not been worked, and may my brother send me much more gold than he sent to my father. For in my brother's country gold is as plentiful as dirt.
Tushratta's letter was accompanied by a greeting gift which, although lacking the `very great quantities of gold' which were so desirable, nevertheless included one inlaid golden goblet, twenty pieces of lapis lazuli, ten teams of horses, ten chariots and thirty men and women.
Egypt's New Kingdom population of approximately 4 million benefited from the strong economy. As the king grew ever richer he was able to pass his wealth downwards by creating employment for vast numbers of labourers and craftsmen. The civil service and the army had developed into efficient professional units; bureaucrats and soldiers were now rewarded for acts of outstanding loyalty or bravery by a gift of gold presented at a special ceremony by the grateful king. The priesthood of Amen-Re, already in receipt of a good income from its numerous assets supplemented by generous offerings from the royal palace, was now entitled to a large share of all foreign tribute, and the enormous temple storehouses were slowly filling. The new-found affluence of the Egyptian elite was reflected in the fashions of the day, which rejected the pure lines of the classic linen sheath dresses, kilts and tunics popular during the Old and Middle Kingdoms in favour of more frivolous garments; voluminous pleated, folded and fringed clothes were worn with full make-up, an array of semi-precious jewellery, earrings -- a new fashion for men and women -- and long, heavy wigs. The brightly painted tombs of the nobles on the west bank at Thebes suggest a relaxed hunting, fishing and banqueting lifestyle which makes the more muted Old and Middle Kingdom scenes appear positively austere.
Amenhotep, officially head of the army, the priesthood and the civil service, relied heavily upon the small core of bureaucrats who ran the country on his behalf. Included in his cabinet were men of high birth, born to inherit their fathers' positions, who had been raised alongside the king in the royal school, and men of more humble origin who had, by their exceptional intelligence and ability, earned promotion to the most influential positions in the land. Amenhotep gathered around him some of the finest administrators in his country's history, and Egypt's prosperity throughout his reign bears witness to their success. Most famous of all his bureaucrats was Amenhotep son of Hapu, a relatively humble man from the Delta town of Athribis who rose to become `Scribe of Recruits' and `Overseer of All Works of the King', and who was the mastermind behind the tasteful elegance of many of Amenhotep's Theban monuments. Amenhotep son of Hapu was richly rewarded for his services; he was allowed to place his own statues in the temples of Amen and Mut at Karnak and was eventually given the unprecedented honour of a splendid mortuary temple close to that of his master on the west bank at Thebes. For many years after his death Amenhotep son of Hapu was revered as a wise man and worshipped as a demi-god at the Theban site of Deir el-Bahri. His cult continued until the Graeco-Roman period.
Freedom from expensive and time-consuming foreign campaigns allowed Amenhotep and his ministers to turn their attention inwards, towards the improvement of their own land. Making full use of the vast wealth and surplus labour at his disposal, and deploying some of the best architects and craftsmen which Egypt was ever to produce, Amenhotep instigated a building programme for the glorification of Egypt's gods and, of course, the commemoration of his own name. Construction started on an unprecedented scale up and down the Nile as insignificant mud-brick chapels were demolished to be replaced by impressive stone temples dedicated to an array of local gods. Heliopolis (temple of Horus), Sakkara (the Serapeum), Hermopolis (temple of Thoth) and Elephantine (temple of Khnum) were among those regional centres which benefited from the king's generosity. Nubia received more than her fair share of new monuments, while at the northern capital of Memphis the `Castle of Nebmaatre', a temple dedicated jointly to the god Ptah and to Amenhotep himself, dazzled all who saw it.
At Thebes the Karnak complex, home of the state god Amen-Re and his family, saw building works at the temples of Mut and Montu. The beautiful White Chapel of Senwosret I, now demolished, was used as filling inside a magnificent decorated pylon or gateway which Amenhotep built to face the river, while a smaller undecorated pylon flanked by two colossal statues of the king was constructed on the south side of the temple of Amen. Gazing from an elegant plinth over the sacred lake, an outsized stone scarab-beetle observed the aquatic processions of the god and his entourage. All these monuments, erected with surprising speed given that Amenhotep's architects and builders were working without the modern benefits of steam power and the combustion engine, were well designed and well built, each lavishly decorated by master-craftsmen using the finest materials that the treasury could supply. Amenhotep himself tells us that his temple of Montu combined every type of noble and precious metal; the principal materials used included vast amounts of electrum (a mixture of silver and gold), gold, bronze and copper, augmented with lapis lazuli and turquoise.
Three kilometres to the south of Karnak stood the hitherto rather shabby Luxor Temple, a shrine dedicated jointly to Amen, to the ithyphallic god Min and to the celebration of the divine royal soul or Ka. Amenhotep rebuilt Luxor as a sandstone palace fit for the gods, so that it formed a suitable theatre for the annual Opet Festival, a lengthy celebration during which the king's own identity would effectively merge with that of Amen. This connection with the divine soul made Luxor an eminently suitable place for Amenhotep to tell the story of his divine conception as the son of Mutemwia and Amen-Re, a story-line which he had copied wholesale from the walls of King Hatchepsut's mortuary temple at nearby Deir el-Bahri.
The new Luxor Temple was linked to the Karnak Temple by an avenue of sphinxes, which allowed the gods to travel in public splendour between their various homes. Amenhotep was particularly fond of public processions, and he covered Thebes with a network of sacred routes connecting all the major east and west bank temple sites. On festival days the whole city celebrated as the gods emerged from the darkness of their shrines to sail along the processional avenues in their sacred boats carried high on the shoulders of their priests, accompanied by an entourage of soldiers, musicians, acrobats and dancers. The proper enjoyment of festivals was taken very seriously. At the west bank village of Deir el-Medina the workmen were given official leave from their labours in the Valley of the Kings in order to brew festival beer, while those afflicted with severe post-festival hangovers were allowed further time off work to recover.
On the west bank at Thebes Amenhotep built himself an immense mortuary temple of unprecedented luxury, recording its splendours on a stela housed within the temple itself:
A fortress made out of fine white sandstone, wrought entirely with gold, its floors decorated with silver and all of its doors decorated with electrum ... Its lake was filled by the high Nile, possessor of fish and ducks, and brightened with baskets of flowers. Its workshops were filled with male and female servants ...
The temple functioned during the king's lifetime as a temple of Amen. After his death it would become more specialized, dedicated to servicing the cult of the dead king for all eternity.
Unfortunately, the mortuary temple intended to last for ever did not survive the vandalism of later pharaohs, most notably the 19th Dynasty King Merenptah, who demolished it in order to re-use its stone in their own buildings. However, the two seated quartzite statues of the king, each measuring 21.3m from pedestal to crown, which had originally flanked the temple entrance, remained untouched. There they still stand, isolated and battered but unbowed, beside the modern tourist road which leads to the west bank ferries. During the Graeco-Roman period these figures became known as the Colossi of Memnon, a corruption of Amenhotep's throne name, Nebmaatre, into the name of the legendary Ethiopian hero who had been killed by the Greek Achilles at Troy. Visitors to Thebes were taught that Memnon himself was buried at the feet of the northern monument, and when every morning an eerie moaning sound was heard to emanate from this figure, the noise was understood to be Memnon greeting his mother Eos (Aurora), goddess of the dawn. In fact the noise was the result of structural damage caused by an earthquake; its exact cause is not known and various theories have been suggested including the evaporation of night-time moisture from within the statue, wind whistling through the fissures in the figure, or the expansion of the stone warmed by the morning sun. When the Roman emperor Septimus Severus restored the monument, Memnon was heard to cry no more.
Every Egyptian king needed a queen to complete his role and supply the next heir to the throne. The divine triad of Osiris, Isis and Horus set the pattern for the ideal royal family and, just as Egypt could not function without a king, the king who took the role of Osiris could never be complete without his wife (Isis) and the son who would eventually replace him (Horus). Amenhotep III had inherited his father's harem and was not short of female companions, but he needed an official consort. He was therefore married within two years of his assumption to a young lady named Tiy, and Tiy, at twelve or thirteen years of age, became queen of the most powerful country in the world.
... King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nebmaatre, son of Re, Amenhotep ruler of Thebes, given life, and the king's principal wife Tiy, may she live. The name of her father is Yuya and the name of her mother is Thuyu; she is the wife of a mighty king ...
During the first eleven years of his reign Amenhotep `published' a series of large scarabs inscribed with several lines of text commemorating important events. These scarabs, issued in the same way that a contemporary monarch might issue a commemorative medal or coin, were distributed throughout Egypt and sent abroad to impress his fellow kings. The undated scarab issued to publicize the royal marriage makes it clear that Tiy was the daughter of a non-royal couple named Yuya and Thuyu who hailed from the prosperous town of Akhmim on the east bank of the Nile, opposite the modern town of Sohag. That an 18th Dynasty king should select a queen who was not already a high-ranking member of the royal family was curious but certainly not unprecedented. Marriage with a close relative may have had many advantages but it was not compulsory and, although many kings chose to marry a full or half-sister, Tuthmosis III and Amenhotep II had both selected non-royal women as their principal wives. Amenhotep's own mother, Mutemwia, although she used the non-specific title of `Heiress', never claimed to be the daughter of a king.
Amenhotep seems to have intended his marriage scarab to make an unusual situation clear to his people; to confirm that Tiy, although of relatively humble extraction, was not to be classed as a minor wife or a concubine. She was his consort, the queen of a great empire, and it was her son who would one day inherit the throne of Egypt. In fact Tiy was of humble birth only when compared to her exalted in-laws. Yuya and Thuyu were certainly not the `Egyptians of mediocre, if not of low, extraction' identified by Gaston Maspero and others; they were members of the wealthy and educated elite who effectively formed non-royal dynasties parallel to the royal dynasty, handing positions of trust and power from father to son. Such families were often linked by marriage both to each other and to the royal family, and it is possible that Yuya was already related to the young king, perhaps as the brother of Mutemwia. Yuya, a former army officer, held several important posts including `Overseer of the King's Horses' and `God's Father' and served as a high-ranking priest of Min. Thuyu, like many upper-class women, was included among the musicians of the state god Amen, and she was also active in the more local cults of Min and Hathor. Like her husband, she held a series of positions at court but, not surprisingly, the title which gave her most pleasure and which was repeated over and over again in her tomb was that of `Royal Mother of the Chief Wife of the King'.
The queen's brother, Anen, was a man of some standing who served as an official of Re at Karnak and, more importantly, as the Second Prophet of Amen at Thebes at a time when the cult of Amen was one of the most powerful and wealthy presences in Egypt. Anen was eventually interred alongside the great and the good in the prestigious Sheik Abd el-Gurna burial site on the west bank at Thebes, where curiously his damaged tomb makes no mention of the fact that he was brother-in-law to the king. His sister's marriage may well have helped his career, but royal patronage via a sister was not something which Anen cared to acknowledge. Indeed, Anen's parentage is confirmed only because Thuyu includes his name on her sarcophagus, suggesting that he may have predeceased both his mother and his sister.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that Tiy had a second brother, a man called Ay. We know that a courtier of this name rose to prominence under Amenhotep IV, but unfortunately Ay does not include details of his parentage in his elaborately decorated tomb. We can tell that Ay was close to the royal family as he refers to himself as the `One trusted by the good god' and `Foremost of the companions of the king'. He includes among his many accolades some of Yuya's titles, including `Overseer of the King's Horses' and `God's Father'. As it was common practice for the first-born son to inherit his father's titles, and as Ay is known to have dedicated a chapel to Min at Akhmim, home town of Yuya and Thuyu, a link to the family of Tiy seems indicated. Even the names of Yuya and Ay hint that the two may have been related; we are not altogether certain how Yuya was pronounced but it is likely to have been something close to `Aya', and both names may in fact have been nicknames or shortened forms of a more traditional Egyptian name. Cyril Aldred has even suggested that there was a close physical similarity between Yuya and Ay, with both displaying a large nose, receding forehead, protruding cheek-bones, prominent lips and a deep jaw. However, as we do not have Ay's body, this resemblance is based on Ay's portraits and statuary and is therefore not as clear-cut as we might wish.
`Yuya' -- perhaps because it was a nickname -- was certainly an unusual name in ancient Egypt; the semi-literate artisans who were charged with labelling their patron's monuments and funerary goods had trouble with the spelling and each eventually produced his own Yuya variant. Mis-spellings were by no means uncommon in Egyptian tombs, but Yuya's name seems to have caused more problems than most, and this has led to suggestions that Yuya may have been an Asiatic with an unfamiliar foreign name. The idea that Tiy may have been of foreign blood, possibly a Syrian princess, seemed an attractive one to those who first studied her. Flinders Petrie was quite firm in his belief that Tiy, who he felt bore a striking resemblance to depictions of Asiatic prisoners at Karnak, was of northern Syrian extraction and Wallis Budge concurred, agreeing that the queen, with her fair complexion and blue eyes, `has all the characteristics of the women belonging to certain families who may be seen in North-eastern Syria to this day'. Others proclaimed Tiy to be of Lebanese extraction. In stark contrast, Tiy has also been claimed as a woman of Nubia-Kush with `full dark Africoid looks'.
The suggestion that Tiy and Yuya were blue-eyed blondes can be dismissed at once; the blue eyes were the unfortunate result of a modern misinterpretation of an ancient portrait. The idea that Tiy may have been of Nubian or Central African origin is worthy of more serious consideration as Tiy does appear, on some of her sculptures, to have typical Nubian features, with a broad nose and full lips. The famous wooden head recovered from Gurob actually shows Tiy as black (Plate 3); this is, however, carved from a dark wood and is counterbalanced by other representations which depict Tiy as white. Added to this evidence is a sudden vogue for short curly Nubian-style wigs among the ladies of the court, and the rising importance of the queen, which some have linked to the more matriarchal nature of the Nubian royal family. Against this theory is the undisputed fact that Egyptian sculptures were never intended to be exact likenesses; they conveyed the essence of the person rather than his or her appearance, and a lady with a light-brown skin could be painted as white (living), or black or green (deceased).
In fact, the remarkably well-preserved mummified bodies of Yuya and Thuyu do not show the Central African appearance which has been assigned to Tiy and, while Yuya has been interpreted as having an unusual, almost European, physiognomy, Thuyu is generally regarded as a typical Egyptian woman. There is no reason to view Tiy as anything other than an Egyptian although it remains possible that her father may have been of (unspecified) foreign descent. Egypt, a corridor linking Africa to the Near East, had always been racially well-mixed and most families would have contained their quota of lighter- and darker-skinned members. The preoccupation with `colour' and the idea of `race' cutting across national boundaries is a very modern one. The Egyptians themselves drew a simple distinction between the people of Kmt who spoke Egyptian and followed Egyptian customs, and the foreigners who did not.
Yuya and Thuyu lived to a good old age, eventually receiving the ultimate accolade of a double burial in the Valley of the Kings, the graveyard normally reserved for the tombs of the pharaohs. Although their tomb, now numbered as KV 46, was robbed soon after it was sealed and their mummy wrappings were disturbed by the thieves, the two white-haired bodies remained encased in their nests of wooden coffins until 1905, when their unidentified tomb was rediscovered by an American expedition led by Theodore M. Davis. Davis has described the opening of the tomb, apparently a highly dramatic and almost fatal occasion, in an account which perhaps owes more to dramatic licence than to historical accuracy. Davis was accompanied on this momentous occasion by Arthur Weigall, acting Chief Inspector for the region, and Gaston Maspero, Director General of Cairo Museum. When opened, the tomb proved confusing, very dark and very hot, lit only by the candles carried by the archaeologists. The eager explorers were forced to descend a steep passageway and then scramble through the small hole made by the robbers in the doorway which blocked the burial chamber. Maspero, the stoutest member of the party, could only enter the chamber after much pushing and shoving from his colleagues. Once inside, however, it was Maspero who, bending over the gilded coffin, first read the name of the deceased as `Yuya'. This gave Davis a great thrill:
Naturally excited by the announcement, and blinded by the glare of the candles, I involuntarily advanced them very near the coffin, whereupon Monsieur Maspero cried out, `Be careful!' and pulled my hand back. In a moment we realized that, had my candles touched the bitumen, which I came dangerously near doing, the coffin would have been in a blaze. As the entire contents of the tomb were inflammable, and directly opposite the coffin was a corridor leading to the open air and making a draught, we undoubtedly should have lost our lives ...
The expedition beat a hasty retreat and returned some time later, having rigged up an electric light. They found that Yuya and Thuyu had been buried with a magnificent collection of goods for use in the Field of Reeds, including two Osiris beds of growing corn and a full-sized chariot suitable for a former `Overseer of the King's Horses'. Although Maspero offered him a share of the treasure Davis rightly felt that such an important collection should not be split up and, although some items eventually made their way to the Metropolitan Museum, New York, most of the contents of the tomb are now housed in Cairo Museum.
Amenhotep III may have made an unconventional choice of bride, but his selection was a wise one. Tiy was to prove not only a fertile queen, but an astute woman of great political ability, well able to play an active part in her husband's reign. Almost immediately she became a force to be reckoned with; a powerful and influential figure with a high public profile and a string of impressive titles: `King's Great Wife ... The Heiress, greatly praised, Mistress of All Lands who cleaves unto the King ... Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lady of the Two Lands'. Mutemwia was quickly relegated to the background as Tiy became Egypt's first lady.
Although strong queens had been a feature of the earlier 18th Dynasty, Tiy's immediate predecessors had been remote figures of little political importance. Tradition dictated that the queen, or rather the `King's Great Wife', for there was no word for queen in Egyptian, should remain in the background, supporting her husband as and when required. The absence of the specific title `Queen' both reflects the general shortage of kinship terms within Egypt and reinforces the overwhelming importance of the king. Tiy, however, soon abandoned the customary queenly reticence. She became the first consort to be regularly depicted beside her husband and the first queen whose name was consistently linked with that of the king on both official inscriptions and more private objects. A colossal statue designed for inclusion in Amenhotep's mortuary temple even shows Tiy at the same scale as her husband, an important development in a culture where size really did matter because size was directly equated with status.
Her religious profile rose equally high, and Tiy was allowed an increasingly prominent role in the rituals of her husband's reign. The queens of Egypt had traditionally been associated with the ancient goddess Hathor, who herself could appear as a royal wife and mother, and the features and actions of the two had often been blurred together so that the queen could appear as the living representative of Hathor on earth. Hathor, the cow-headed goddess of love, motherhood and drunkenness, was allied to the solar cults through her roles as the daughter of Re and the mother of the solar child, and was the alter ego of the fierce lion-headed goddess of war Sekhmet. Tiy became the first queen to adopt Hathor's cow horns and sun disc in her formal head-dress, and the first queen to be consistently associated with the use of the sistrum, a religious rattle whose handle usually featured Hathor's head. The sistrum was used to provide the music which would soothe the gods during worship. Its inclusion as part of the iconography of queenship serves to signify Tiy's new dual role of queen-priestess.
At the same time Tiy became closely identified with Maat, daughter of Re and personification of truth, who, in an ideal world, would be the constant companion of the king. In the Theban tomb of the Queen's steward Kheruef(TT 192), Tiy and Hathor accompany the seated Amenhotep III. Tiy is here taking the role of Maat, and indeed is specifically described as `The Principal Wife of the King, beloved of him, Tiy, may she live. It is like Maat following Re that she is in the following of Your Majesty [Amenhotep III].' In the contemporary tomb of Ramose (TT 55), where we see Amenhotep IV sitting on a throne with Maat beside him, Maat has been given Tiy's features.
Towards the end of his reign Amenhotep established a cult to a deified form of himself, `Amenhotep, Lord of Nubia'. Tiy gradually became regarded as the female counterpart of this semi-divine king until a temple was dedicated to her at Sedeinga in Nubia, the complement of her husband's fortified temple at nearby Soleb. Here Tiy appears in the guise of Hathor-Tefnut, `Great of Fearsomeness', and she is seen in the form of a striding sphinx stalking across the tops of the temple pillars. This is not our only representation of Tiy as a sphinx. A carnelian bracelet plaque now held in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, shows Tiy as a winged sphinx holding her husband's cartouche in her human arms, while in the tomb of Kheruef she assumes the role of defender of Egypt as a sphinx trampling underfoot two bound female prisoners. Although the queen-sphinx was by no means an unusual symbol in 18th Dynasty art, such sphinxes had hitherto been essentially passive. Now we see Tiy, as she dominates the enemies of Egypt, appropriating a role formerly reserved for the king. The origins of the queen-sphinx motif are obscure, although it is generally agreed that she is connected with the solar deities as a daughter of the sun god. Some experts identify the queen-sphinx with Hathor in the form Sekhmet, while others have suggested that she may be linked to Tefnut, daughter of the creator god.
Convention dictated that husbands should love their wives, and Egyptian kings always took care to be seen to be behaving in a conventional manner. Nevertheless, the pride which Amenhotep obviously took in his bride, the unprecedented prominence which he allowed her and his habit of linking her name to his on all possible occasions, must be taken as a sign that Amenhotep felt a deep affection for Tiy. Seldom are we able to detect such a genuine emotion amid the conventions and calculated formulae of Egyptian monuments.
Tiy was not -- to modern eyes at least -- a great beauty. Her image, preserved in sculpture and painting, shows a determined-looking lady with a triangular-shaped face and the heavy-lidded almond-shaped eyes typical of the art of her time. Her face is often dominated by the long, heavy wig which dwarfs her features. Tiy rarely smiles, and her mouth frequently has a decided downward cast which gives her a dissatisfied expression. Beauty is, however, in the eye of the beholder, and at least one observer has seen in Tiy's portraits `a face of pure Egyptian type, youthful and sweet, with a slightly projecting chin'. Others have sensed the power behind the mask, noticing `a realistic interpretation of imperious royal dignity', and interpreting Tiy as a ruthless and determined woman, initially pretty but growing increasingly `pinched and shrewish'.
Although Tiy was the beloved of Amenhotep III, she was by no means his only beloved. The kings of the New Kingdom were polygamous, maintaining large harems which included their numerous wives, sisters and aunts plus a multitude of children and the servants and administrators who looked after them. The royal harem was housed in one or more permanent harem-palaces, which the king visited as he travelled between the royal residences which were dotted up and down the Nile. The harem of Amenhotep III, as befitted the ruler of a vast empire, was enormous, and throughout his reign the king took a keen interest in increasing its numbers so that by his death it housed well over 1,000 women. There was no disgrace in being a secondary or minor wife -- indeed it was an honour to be selected for the king -- but with one husband among so many it could never be a full-time occupation. In the secluded seraglios of the Ottoman Empire the women idled away their days in preparing themselves for a royal visit that might never come. In more down-to-earth Egypt the ladies of the harem were semi-independent, receiving an income from the palace and from their own estates, but also running a highly profitable textile business supervising the women who wove the linen cloth which Egypt consumed in such great quantities in her funerary rites.
The majority of the royal women were Egyptian ladies who provided the king with pleasure, status, and doubtless many children, but who had no political or ritual importance. Their names go unrecorded, and their children are ignored in the royal histories. Occasionally a harem lady would have the great good fortune to give birth to a future king. She would then be elevated to the status of `King's Mother' and enjoy national prominence during her son's reign. This was, however, exceptional, as it depended upon the failure of the queen consort to produce a surviving male heir, and the ability of the mother to promote the cause of her own son.
Included among the women of the harem were a number of foreigners. Some were girls of lowly birth, sent as tribute or booty to the Egyptian court, while others were the daughters and sisters of minor rulers bound by oath of allegiance to Amenhotep. These vassals could not resist the demands of the `father' who controlled them, and sent their daughters as brides -- and perhaps hostages -- as and when required. A few privileged royal brides were the daughters or sisters of rulers of importance who could confidently address the mighty king of Egypt as `brother'. We know that Amenhotep contracted several of these diplomatic unions and was married to at least two princesses from Mitanni, two princesses from Syria, two princesses from Babylon and a princess from the Anatolian state of Arzawa. This trade in royal brides was strictly one-way traffic: Amenhotep demanded and received his foreign wives, but when Kadashman-Enlil of Babylon requested an Egyptian princess, Amenhotep turned him down with a flat refusal, even though Kadashman-Enlil's own sister was already a bride in the Egyptian harem. Amenhotep's original letter on this subject is unfortunately lost, but the Babylonian's indignant reply, quoting Amenhotep's words, was preserved in the Amarna archives:
... When I wrote to you about marrying your daughter you wrote to me saying `From time immemorial no daughter of the king of Egypt has been given in marriage to anyone.' Why do you say this? You are the king and you may do as you please. If you were to give a daughter, who would say anything about it?
Amenhotep stood firm. As ruler of the dominant world power he had no reason to change his mind. Kadashman-Enlil, constantly threatened by the volatile political situation outside the stability of the Egyptian empire, could not afford to be offended. He needed a powerful big brother. He therefore took steps to assure himself that his Egyptian sister was still alive and well. `You are now asking for my daughter's hand in marriage, but my sister whom my father gave to you is already there with you, although no one has seen her or knows whether she is alive or dead', and then sent his daughter to join her aunt.
The diplomatic marriages were celebrated as a means of linking two mighty rulers rather than two mighty states. The bond was always a highly personal one between the bridegroom and his father-in-law, and should either party die a new union would be necessary. Thus, although Amenhotep was already married to a Babylonian princess, the daughter of King Kurigalzu, the accession of Kurigalzu's son Kadashman-Enlil had to be marked by marriage with one of the new king's daughters.
Negotiations with Mitanni followed a similar pattern. Tuthmosis IV had married the daughter of Artatama I but this link was severed by the death of the two kings. Therefore, in the tenth year of his reign Amenhotep III married Gilukhepa, the daughter of Shuttarna, king of Mitanni, and a scarab was issued to commemorate the arrival of the bride and her retinue:
Year 10 ... The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Lord of Ritual, Nebmaatre chosen of Re, Son of Re, Amenhotep ruler of Thebes, and the king's principal wife Tiy, may she live ... The wonders that were brought to his majesty were the daughter of Shuttarna, King of Mitanni, Gilukhepa, and the chief women of her entourage, totalling three hundred and seventeen women.
We have to wonder how happy the 317 women of Gilukhepa's entourage would have been to accompany their mistress into effective exile in a distant land.
Several years later Shuttarna died and, after a struggle during which his elder son was assassinated, his younger son, Tushratta, brother of Gilukhepa, took the throne. The now elderly Amenhotep III immediately opened negotiations for the hand of Tadukhepa, daughter of Tushratta. The two kings exchanged magnificent gifts, Amenhotep supplying a bride-price `beyond measure, covering all the earth and reaching to the heavens' and Tushratta providing an extensive dowry which included a chariot, four swift horses, and a variety of expensive household and personal items including linen garments, shoes, a golden bread shovel and even an inlaid lapis-lazuli fly-whisk. Eventually, all negotiations complete, Tadukhepa and her retinue followed her aunt to Egypt.
Once the foreign princesses arrived in Egypt, they and their retinues were absorbed into the harem and to all intents and purposes disappeared. Although their families never forgot their Egyptian womenfolk -- Tushratta was punctilious in remembering his sister and his daughter in his correspondence, on one occasion sending Gilukhepa a greeting gift of golden trinkets including toggle pins, earrings, a finger ring and a phial of perfumed oil -- they played a peripheral role in the everyday life of the royal family. The queen consort led a very different, and far more public, life. Although Tiy had her own quarters in the harem, she also had a place at court. She owned property in her own right, and derived a good income from her estates which were administered by her stewards and worked by her servants. Most importantly, Tiy, as queen, was at the centre of royal family life. It was the queen, the king and their young children, together with the king's mother, who formed the true royal family.
Tiy bore her husband at least six children: two sons, Tuthmosis and Amenhotep, named after their grandfather and father respectively, and four daughters, Sitamen (Daughter of Amen), Henut-Taneb (Mistress of All Lands), Isis (the name of a goddess which literally means `throne') and Nebetah (Lady of the Palace). Princess Sitamen, almost certainly the eldest daughter, was her father's favourite and as such was accorded an unusually prominent position within the royal family until, at around Year 31, Sitamen received the ultimate promotion becoming a royal wife alongside her mother. Sitamen's affairs were controlled by the great Amenhotep son of Hapu who held the post of `High-Steward of the Princess Sitamen'. She had her own palace, her own estates, and her own furniture, some of which was included among the grave goods within her maternal grandparents' tomb. A scene on the back of an ornate chair recovered from this tomb shows Sitamen, `the Eldest Daughter of the King, whom he loves', sitting to receive an offering of a golden necklace proffered by a servant. Sitamen is dressed in a long skirt and an elaborate collar. On her head she wears a short wig and an intricate crown of lotus blossom but the double uraeus (or cobra) at her brow has been replaced by a pair of gazelle heads whose significance is not now apparent but which may be intended to designate a subordinate or minor queen. In her hands she holds the sistrum and menit beads which associate her with the cult of Hathor. Eventually Sitamen received the high accolade of `Great King's Wife', although we can see from contemporary illustrations that she never took precedence over her mother.
Isis and Henut-Taneb may also have become royal wives. Their names were written in royal cartouches but they were never important enough to be named in their grandparents' tomb. Nebetah, however, does not appear to have become a queen, and it seems that she may have been the family afterthought, too young to follow in her sisters' footsteps.
Amenhotep III enjoyed a lengthy reign, celebrating three sed festivals, or jubilees, during his regnal years 30, 34 and 37. The heb-sed, a tradition which stretched back to the dawn of Egyptian history, was originally a public ceremony of rebirth intended to reaffirm the king's powers after each successive thirty years on the throne. However, kings who had achieved their first three decades felt free to bend the rules in subsequent years. As life expectancy at birth throughout the New Kingdom was less than twenty years, thirty years on the throne was by anyone's reckoning a remarkable achievement, and the celebration of an official jubilee gave the king and his people the excuse for a magnificent and lengthy party. Amenhotep, who was evidently something of an antiquarian, claimed to have discovered, hidden in the palace archives, an ancient order of service for the celebration of the heb-sed, and to have revised his own ceremony accordingly.
Although the heb-sed was traditionally celebrated at Memphis, Amenhotep chose to duplicate his festivities at a site now known as Malkata, literally in modern Arabic `the place where things are picked up', on the west bank opposite Thebes, where he already had a royal residence. Here, in good time for his first extravaganza, he built a gaily painted mud-brick festival hall and a T-shaped ceremonial lake for use in the water procession. A vast array of tempting food was prepared, some of which was `donated' by local officials, numerous jars of wine were made ready, and a host of dignitaries, both mortals and gods, was invited to witness the celebrations and enjoy the feast. Among the court officials present was Tiy's steward Kheruef, who recorded the highlights on his tomb wall:
The glorious appearance of the King at the great double doors in his palace, `The House of Rejoicing'; ushering in the officials, the king's friends, the chamberlain, the men of the gateway, the king's acquaintances ... Rewards were given out in the form of `Gold of Praise' and golden ducks and fish, and they received ribbons of green linen, each person being made to stand in order of rank.
After the jubilee the festival palace was demolished in order to expand the sacred lake in time for the second celebration. The excavation of this lake, still visible in modern times and now known as the Birket Habu, was one of the largest civil-engineering projects ever undertaken in dynastic Egypt. It measured two kilometres by one kilometre, and tens of thousands of labourers must have been involved in the excavation of many tons of earth. For a long time it was thought that the Birket Habu was the pleasure lake ordered by Amenhotep for his beloved queen and recorded on yet another scarab:
His majesty commanded the making of a lake for the great Queen Tiy in her home lands of Djarukha, its length being 3700 cubits and its breadth being 600 [or 700] cubits. His majesty made a festival of the opening of the lake in the third month of the inundation season, day six, when his majesty sailed in the royal barge `The Sun Disc Dazzles':