|Date of birth||Thebes, Luxor Governorate, Egypt|
|Date of death||1338 Amarna, Minya Governorate, Egypt|
|Authority||ISNI id VIAF id Library of congress id NNDB id|
Neferneferuaten Nefertiti () (c. 1370 – c. 1330 BC) was an Egyptian queen and the Great Royal Wife (chief consort) of Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a religious revolution, in which they worshiped one god only, Aten, or the sun disc. With her husband, she reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history. Some scholars believe that Nefertiti ruled briefly as Neferneferuaten after her husband's death and before the accession of Tutankhamun, although this identification is a matter of ongoing debate.
Nefertiti had many titles including Hereditary Princess (iryt-p`t); Great of Praises (wrt-hzwt); Lady of Grace (nbt-im3t), Sweet of Love (bnrt-mrwt); Lady of The Two Lands (nbt-t3wy); Main King's Wife, his beloved (hmt-niswt-‘3t meryt.f); Great King's Wife, his beloved (hmt-niswt-wrt meryt.f), Lady of all Women (hnwt-hmwt-nbwt); and Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt (hnwt-Shm’w-mhw).
She was made famous by her bust, now in Berlin's Neues Museum, shown to the right. The bust is one of the most copied works of ancient Egypt. It was attributed to the sculptor Thutmose, and it was found in his workshop. The bust is notable for exemplifying the understanding Ancient Egyptians had regarding realistic facial proportions.
Nefertiti, Egyptian Nfr.t-jy.tj, original pronunciation approximately Nafteta, for ("the beauty has come"). Nefertiti's parentage is not known with certainty, but one often cited theory is that she was the daughter of Ay, later to be pharaoh. However, this hypothesis is likely wrong since Ay and his wife Tey are never called the father and mother of Nefertiti and Tey's only connection with her was that she was the 'nurse of the great queen' Nefertiti. Nefertiti's Scenes in the tombs of the nobles in Amarna mention the queen's sister who is named Mutbenret (previously read as Mutnodjemet).
Another theory that gained some support identified Nefertiti with the Mitanni princess Tadukhipa. However, Tadukhipa was already married to Akhenaten's father and there is no evidence for any reason why this woman would need to alter her name in a proposed marriage to Akhenaten or any evidence of a foreign non-Egyptian background for Nefertiti.
The exact dates when Nefertiti married Akhenaten and became the king's great royal wife of Egypt are uncertain. Their six known daughters (and estimated years of birth) were:
- Meritaten: No later than year 1, possibly later became Pharaoh Neferneferuaten.
- Meketaten: Year 4.
- Ankhesenpaaten, also known as Ankhesenamen, later queen of Tutankhamun
- Neferneferuaten Tasherit: Year 8, possibly later became Pharaoh Neferneferuaten.
- Neferneferure: Year 9.
- Setepenre: Year 11.
Nefertiti first appears in scenes in Thebes. In the damaged tomb (TT188) of the royal butler Parennefer, the new king Amenhotep IV is accompanied by a royal woman, and this lady is thought to be an early depiction of Nefertiti. The king and queen are shown worshiping the Aten. In the tomb of the vizier Ramose, Nefertiti is shown standing behind Amenhotep IV in the Window of Appearance during the reward ceremony for the vizier.
During the early years in Thebes, Akhenaten (still known as Amenhotep IV) had several temples erected at Karnak. One of the structures, the Mansion of the Benben (hwt-ben-ben), was dedicated to Nefertiti. She is depicted with her daughter Meritaten and in some scenes the princess Meketaten participates as well. In scenes found on the talatat, Nefertiti appears almost twice as often as her husband. She is shown appearing behind her husband the Pharaoh in offering scenes in the role of the queen supporting her husband, but she is also depicted in scenes that would have normally been the prerogative of the king. She is shown smiting the enemy, and captive enemies decorate her throne.
In the fourth year of his reign, Amenhotep IV decided to move the capital to Akhetaten (modern Amarna). In his fifth year, Amenhotep IV officially changed his name to Akhenaten, and Nefertiti was henceforth known as Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti. The name change was a sign of the ever-increasing importance of the cult of the Aten. It changed Egypt's religion from a polytheistic religion to a religion which may have been better described as a monolatry (the depiction of a single god as an object for worship) or henotheism (one god, who is not the only god).
The boundary stelae of years 4 and 5 mark the boundaries of the new city and suggest that the move to the new city of Akhetaten occurred around that time. The new city contained several large open-air temples dedicated to the Aten. Nefertiti and her family would have resided in the Great Royal Palace in the centre of the city and possibly at the Northern Palace as well. Nefertiti and the rest of the royal family feature prominently in the scenes at the palaces and in the tombs of the nobles. Nefertiti's steward during this time was an official named Meryre II. He would have been in charge of running her household.
Inscriptions in the tombs of Huya and Meryre II dated to Year 12, 2nd month of Peret, Day 8 show a large foreign tribute. The people of Kharu (the north) and Kush (the south) are shown bringing gifts of gold and precious items to Akhenaten and Nefertiti. In the tomb of Meryre II, Nefertiti's steward, the royal couple is shown seated in a kiosk with their six daughters in attendance. This is one of the last times princess Meketaten is shown alive.
Two representations of Nefertiti that were excavated by Flinders Petrie appear to show Nefertiti in the middle to later part of Akhenaten's reign 'after the exaggerated style of the early years had relaxed somewhat'. One is a small piece on limestone and is a preliminary sketch of Nefertiti wearing her distinctive tall crown with carving began around the mouth, chin, ear and tab of the crown. Another is a small inlay head (Petrie Museum Number UC103) modeled from reddish-brown quartzite that was clearly intended to fit into a larger composition.
Meketaten may have died in year 13 or 14. Nefertiti, Akhenaten, and three princesses are shown mourning her. Nefertiti disappears from the scene soon after that.
Pre-2012 Egyptological theories thought that Nefertiti vanished from the historical record around Year 12 of Akhenaten's reign, with no word of her thereafter. Explanations included a sudden death, by a plague that was sweeping through the city, or some other natural death. This theory was based on the discovery of several shabti fragments inscribed for Nefertiti (now located in the Louvre and Brooklyn Museums).
A previous theory, that she fell into disgrace, was discredited when deliberate erasures of monuments belonging to a queen of Akhenaten were shown to refer to Kiya instead.
During Akhenaten's reign (and perhaps after), Nefertiti enjoyed unprecedented power. By the twelfth year of his reign, there is evidence she may have been elevated to the status of co-regent: equal in status to the pharaoh — as may be depicted on the Coregency Stela.
It is possible Nefertiti is the ruler named Neferneferuaten. Some theories believe that Nefertiti was still alive and held influence on the younger royals. If this is the case, that influence and presumably Nefertiti's own life would have ended by year 3 of Tutankhaten's reign (1331 BC). In that year, Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun. This is evidence of his return to the official worship of Amun, and abandonment of Amarna to return the capital to Thebes.
Discovered in 2012, a Regnal Year 16, month 3 of Akhet, day 15 inscription, dated explicitly to Akhenaten's reign, mentions the presence of the "Great Royal Wife, His Beloved, Mistress of the Two Lands, Neferneferuaten Nefertiti". The barely legible five line text "mentions a building project in Amarna" (Egypt's political capital under Akhenaten). The inscription was found in a limestone quarry at Dayr Abū Ḥinnis, just north of Dayr al-Barshā, north of Amarna. The inscription has now been published in a 2014 journal article by Athena Van der Perre who states that the five-line building inscription was found in a limestone quarry at Dayr Abū Ḥinnis. Van der Perre notes that Dayr Abū Ḥinnis is located "on the eastern side of the Nile, about ten kilometers north of Amarna" and records that the building work inscription refers equally to both the ruling king Akhenaten and his great wife Nefertiti under the authority of the king's scribe Penthu. Penthu was presumably the owner of Amarna Tomb 5—where one of his titles given was "first servant of the Aten in the Mansion of Aten in Akhetaten"; due to the rarity of his name and his position as chief priest within the Aten priesthood, it cannot be coincidental—as van der Perre writes—that the same Penthu would have been placed in charge of quarrying stone for the Aten temple. However, as Van der Perre stresses:
- "...The importance of the inscription from Dayr Abū Ḥinnis lies in the first part of the text. This inscription offers incontrovertible evidence that both Akhenaten and Nefertiti were still alive in the 16th year of his (ie. Akhenaten's) reign and, more importantly, that they were still holding the same positions as at the start of their reign. This makes it necessary to rethink the final years of the Amarna Period."
This means that Nefertiti was alive in the second to last year of Akhenaten's reign, (this pharaoh's final year was his Year 17) and demonstrates that Akhenaten still ruled alone, with his wife by his side. Therefore, the rule of the female Amarna pharaoh known as Neferneferuaten must be placed between the death of Akhenaten and the accession of Tutankhamun. This female pharaoh used the epithet 'Effective for her husband' in one of her cartouches, which means she was either Nefertiti or her daughter Meritaten (who was married to king Smenkhkare).
There are many theories regarding her death and burial but, to date, the mummy of this famous queen, her parents, or her children has not been found or formally identified. In 1898, archeologist Victor Loret found two female mummies inside the tomb of Amenhotep II in KV35 in the Valley of the Kings. These two mummies, named 'The Elder Lady' and 'The Younger Lady', were likely candidates of her remains.
The KMT suggested in 2001 that the Elder Lady may be Nefertiti's body. It was argued that the evidence suggests that the mummy is around her mid-thirties or early forties, Nefertiti's guessed age of death. More evidence to support this identification was that the mummy's teeth look like that of a 29- to 38-year-old, Nefertiti's most likely age of death. Also, unfinished busts of Nefertiti appear to resemble the mummy's face, though other suggestions included Ankhesenamun.
Due to recent age tests on the mummy's teeth, it eventually became apparent that the 'Elder Lady' is in fact Queen Tiye, mother of Akhenaten and that the DNA of the mummy is a close, if not direct, match to the lock of hair found in Tutankhamun's tomb. The lock of hair was found in a coffinette bearing an inscription naming Queen Tiye. Results have discovered that she was the daughter of Yuya and Thuya, who were the parents of Queen Tiye, thus ruling her out as Nefertiti.
In 2015, English archaeologist Nicholas Reeves announced that he had discovered evidence in high resolution scans of Tutankhamun's tomb "indications of two previously unknown doorways, one set within a larger partition wall and both seemingly untouched since antiquity...'To the north (there) appears to be signaled a continuation of tomb KV62, and within these uncharted depths an earlier royal interment – that of Nefertiti herself."
On June 9, 2003, archaeologist Joann Fletcher, a specialist in ancient hair from the University of York in England, announced that Nefertiti's mummy may have been the Younger Lady. Fletcher suggested that Nefertiti was the Pharaoh Smenkhkare. Some Egyptologists hold to this view though the majority believe Smenkhkare to have been a separate person. Fletcher led an expedition funded by the Discovery Channel to examine what they believed to have been Nefertiti's mummy. However, it is well known that an independent researcher, Marianne Luban, was the first person to suggest that the KV35 Young Lady could be Nefertiti in an online article, "Do We Have the Mummy of Nefertiti?" published in 1999.
The team claimed that the mummy they examined was damaged in a way suggesting the body had been deliberately desecrated in antiquity. Mummification techniques, such as the use of embalming fluid and the presence of an intact brain, suggested an eighteenth-dynasty royal mummy. Other elements which the team used to support their theory were the age of the body, the presence of embedded nefer beads, and a wig of a rare style worn by Nefertiti. They further claimed that the mummy's arm was originally bent in the position reserved for pharaohs, but was later snapped off and replaced with another arm in a normal position.
Most Egyptologists, among them Kent Weeks and Peter Lacovara, generally dismiss Fletcher's claims as unsubstantiated. They say that ancient mummies are almost impossible to identify as a particular person without DNA. As bodies of Nefertiti's parents or children have never been identified, her conclusive identification is impossible. Any circumstantial evidence, such as hairstyle and arm position, is not reliable enough to pinpoint a single, specific historical person. The cause of damage to the mummy can only be speculated upon, and the alleged revenge is an unsubstantiated theory. Bent arms, contrary to Fletcher's claims, were not reserved to pharaohs; this was also used for other members of the royal family. The wig found near the mummy is of unknown origin, and cannot be conclusively linked to that specific body. Finally, the 18th dynasty was one of the largest and most prosperous dynasties of ancient Egypt. A female royal mummy could be any of a hundred royal wives or daughters from the 18th dynasty's more than 200 years on the throne.
In addition to that, there was controversy about both the age and sex of the mummy. On June 12, 2003, Egyptian archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities, also dismissed the claim, citing insufficient evidence. On August 30, 2003, Reuters further quoted Hawass: "I'm sure that this mummy is not a female", and "Dr Fletcher has broken the rules and therefore, at least until we have reviewed the situation with her university, she must be banned from working in Egypt." On different occasions, Hawass has claimed that the mummy is female and male.
In a more recent research effort led by Hawass, the mummy was put through CT scan analysis. Researchers concluded that she may be Tutankhamun's biological mother, an unnamed daughter of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, not Nefertiti. Fragments of shattered bone were found in the sinus, and blood clots were found. The theory that the damage was inflicted post-mummification was rejected, and a murder scenario was deemed more likely. The broken-off bent forearm found near the mummy, which had been proposed to have belonged to it, was conclusively shown not to actually belong to the Younger Lady. Scholars think that, after Tutankhamun returned Egypt to the traditional religion, he moved his closest relatives - father, grandmother, and biological mother - to the Valley of the Kings to be buried with him (according to the list of figurines and drawings in his tomb).
The Hittite letters
A document was found in the ancient Hittite capital of Hattusa which dates to the Amarna period; the so-called "Deeds" of Suppiluliuma I. The Hittite ruler receives a letter from the Egyptian queen, while being in siege on Karkemish. The letter reads:
"My husband has died and I have no son. They say about you that you have many sons. You might give me one of your sons to become my husband. I would not wish to take one of my subjects as a husband... I am afraid."
This document is considered extraordinary, as Egyptians traditionally considered foreigners to be inferior. Suppiluliuma I was surprised and exclaimed to his courtiers:
"Nothing like this has happened to me in my entire life!"
Understandably, he was wary, and had an envoy investigate the situation, but by so doing, he missed his chance to bring Egypt into his empire. He eventually did send one of his sons, Zannanza, but the prince died, perhaps murdered, en route.
The identity of the queen who wrote the letter is uncertain. She is called Dakhamunzu in the Hittite annals, a possible translation of the Egyptian title Tahemetnesu (The King's Wife). The possible candidates are Nefertiti, Meritaten, and Ankhesenamun. Ankhesenamun once seemed likely since there were no candidates for the throne on the death of her husband, Tutankhamun, whereas Akhenaten had at least two legitimate successors. but this was based on a 27-year reign for the last 18th dynasty pharaoh Horemheb who is now accepted to have had a shorter reign of only 14 years. This makes the deceased Egyptian king appear to be Akhenaten instead rather than Tutankhamun. Furthermore, the phrase regarding marriage to 'one of my subjects' (translated by some as 'servants') is possibly either a reference to the Grand Vizier Ay or a secondary member of the Egyptian royal family line. Since Nefertiti was depicted as powerful as her husband in official monuments smiting Egypt's enemies, she might be the Dakhamunzu in the Amarna correspondence as Nicholas Reeves believes.
Along with Cleopatra, she is one of the best known "Queens" of Ancient Egypt in the Western imagination.
In the arts
- In The Egyptian (1954), Nefertiti is played by Anitra Stevens
- In Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile (1961), Nefertiti is played by Jeanne Crain
- In Nefertiti, figlia del sole (1994), Nefertiti is played by Michela Rocco di Torrepadula
- In musical mini-film Remember the Time (1992), Nefertiti is played by Iman
- In the Halo video game series, Nefertiti is cited as inspiration for the character Cortana.
(Alphabetical by author's last name)
- A God Against the Gods (1976) and Return to Thebes (1977) by Allen Drury chronicle the story of Akhenaten and Nefertiti
- In Akhenaten, Dweller in Truth (1985) by Naguib Mahfouz, Nefertiti is one of the characters who reflects on Akhenaten and the Amarna period
- Nefertiti: A Novel (2008), by Michelle Moran
- The fourth section of James Rollins' sixth Sigma Force novel, The Doomsday Key (2009), is titled The Dark Madonna, and throughout the book the characters piece together Egyptian, pagan, and Christian myths, theology, and facts to find the Doomsday Key and Saint Malachy's original and complete book of Doomsday Prophecies. They ultimately find the key in a canopic jar, held by a preserved body in a glass casket bearing the inscription: "Here lies Meritaten, daughter of King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti. She who crossed the seas and brought the sun god Ra to these cold lands".
- The Egyptian (1945) is an historical novel by Mika Waltari
- Nefertiti (1967) is a studio album by American jazz musician Miles Davis
- Nefertiti (2014), a classical ballet by American composer John Craton
- "Nefertiti, Sun Goddess" (1998), with lyrics by Leo-Neferuaten Boyle and music by Sovra Wilson-Dickson, appears on the demo album compact disc, The Aten Shines Again (2002) by Leo-Neferuaten Boyle. A subsequent YouTube video was created for the track in November 2012.
- African Queens (Ritchie Family, 1978 Disco Album) Nefertiti is mentioned as part of a concept album regarding three famous African queens: Nefertiti, Cleopatra and the Queen of Sheba. Each Queen gets her own story verse in the course 18 minute medley.
- In Prophet Joseph (2008), Nefertiti is played by Leila Boloukat
- In Doctor Who, "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" (2012), Nefertiti is played by Riann Steele
- In The Loretta Young Show, "Queen Nefertiti" (6 Jan. 1957, alternate title "Letter to Loretta"), Nefertiti is played by Loretta Young
- In "City of the Dead" in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Nefertiti is played by Gabriella Larkin.