Childhood & Early Life
Ankhesenamun was born Ankhesenpaaten to royal Egyptian parents, Akhenaten and Nefertiti. She is believed to be one of the six daughters of the famous couple. The first three daughters, Meritaten, Meketaten and Ankhesenpaaten were likely to have enjoyed a much greater stature within the family as they are the ones who appear more frequently in the paintings. She was half-sister of Tutankhamun, who happened to be her brother from a different mother.
She was born in around 1348 BC in the city of Thebes. Soon after that, her father left the city and founded a new city called Akhetaten, in honor of his God, Aten. Ankhesenamun grew up in this new city and being from the royal family, she had a very rich and royal upbringing.
Continue Reading Below
She was extremely close to her siblings and it is said that her father Akhenaten got married to her for sometime after his wife died. Before her, he had married his first daughter, Meritaten. It is also assumed by some history scholars that Meritaten might have had children with her father quite possibly as well. She was also said to have been a wife of Smenkhkare, who succeeded Akhenaten. Smenkhkare was appointed the co-regent by her father, which was a very common practice in the ancient Egyptian society.
Akhinaten and Meritaten died around the same time, and according to the rules, Ankhesenamun had to marry Smenkhkare. Her other sisters haven’t been mentioned properly in the history and their existence has also been questioned from time-to-time. Smenkhkare was much older than her and didn’t treat her well. The lifespan of the pharaohs used to be quite shorter back in the days and after about three years of Reign, Smenkhkare too died and the throne fell in the hands of Tut.
As per Egyptian rules, Ankhesenamun now had to marry his half-brother so she married Tutankhamun in about 1334 BC at the age of 13 and the young pharaoh Tut was a few months shy of 10. The couple moved to Amarna, a city which their father had established, and stayed there for four years. Eventually, they moved to the capital city of Thebes. The city worshiped the god named Amun and that was when both of them added 'Amun' to their names, to pay their respect to the god.
The couple had a very happy marriage, as described in the wall paintings, but despite their happy lives together, they could not have children together. In the royal family, the chances of a normal delivery were very low as science claims that children born of incest are usually unhealthy. Tut and Ankhesenamun were both half-siblings, and several historians also claim that they could very well be siblings, born of the same mother. They had two daughters who died in infancy; their bodies were found in the tomb of Tut, and further DNA testing revealed that they were suffering from birth deformities, a result of interbreeding between the same bloodlines.
As it was norm in those times, Tut seemed to have married many women in his short life, but Ankhesenamun was the only one who is widely documented. After reigning for 10 years or so, Tut died at the age of 18. The cause of his death is still debated ever since his mummy had been found in 1922. The later tests suggested that his left leg was fractured at the time of his burial and some reports also suggest that he died due to assassination.
However, Tut being just a teenager could have not have possibly made the strong political decisions which he happened to make during his reign, both in the early and later parts of it. Some say that his adviser, Ay, who also happened to be Ankhesenamun’s maternal grandfather, was the man behind that. Tut came out as a very strong ruler, but after his death, according to some historians, Ay succeeded the throne. Ankhesenamun was left alone without a husband once again after Tut’s demise, and by the age of 21, she was already married to three pharaohs and all of them were dead.
She entered a mourning period of 70 days, which was a custom in Egypt. Somehow, there have been very strong indications from Tut’s tomb that all the work of his burial was performed in a hurry, which was doubtful, as it was not normal. Usually, the pharaohs were given god like stature after their death, so Tut's hasty burial also signals towards a possible assassination by poison or any other way.
What makes the entire episode more interesting is a letter found in exploration. The letter is believed to have been written by an Egyptian queen to the king of Hittite, named Suppiluliumas. Although the letter didn’t have any direct mention of Tutankhamun or Ankhesenamun, but it could have been done deliberately by Ankhesenamun to keep her identity a secret.
In the letter, which happens to be dated around the same time, a plea was made for one of Hittite king’s son. The queen requested that she is scared as she didn’t have any heir and her husband is dead. The fact that she mentioned that she was scared, indicates that Ay might have been the person of whom she was scared.
Upon receiving the request, the king sent a spy to find out whether the request was true and not just a plot to kill him off, as Egyptians were their enemies. The spy came back with a report that the letter was accurate and the royal throne of Egypt was actually in turmoil. The king then sent his youngest son Zanannza to marry Ankhesenamun, and just as he entered Egypt with his group, he was murdered.
The doubts about the possible assassination were further raised when it turned out that the wall paintings weren’t as sleekly done as usual and the possessions found with Tut were not his own. Everything seemed to signal that Ay was behind the assassination as he was pretty much under control of the royal court and Tut and wanted to see himself on the throne as quickly as possible.
He sat on the throne and married Ankhesenamun to become the new pharaoh ruler of Egypt. He was above 61 when he married her and a blue ring has been found during the excavations which has both Ay’s and Ankhesenamun’s name together engraved on it. Whether or not they had any children, is unclear.
Later Life & Legacy
Shortly after Ay started his reign, Ankhesenamun practically disappeared from history. Several attempts have been made to locate her grave but to no avail.
There have been several references of Ankhesenamun in movies, books and TV programs. In the novel ‘Tutankhamun and the daughter of Ra’, she is extensively mentioned, and so is in the Belgian series titled ‘Het Huis Anubis’, where she has been portrayed as a vengeful wife of Tutankhamun. Judith Tarr wrote a novel ‘Pillar of Fire’, which is also related to the life of Ankhesenamun.