Who was Nefertiti?
Neferneferuaten Nefertiti is one of the most famous women is history. She was an Egyptian queen and chief consort of Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh. Nefertiti along with her husband brought a number of revolutionary changes to the kingdom. The reforms implemented during her reign made Egypt one of the richest kingdoms in the world. Nefertiti also took an active role in bringing religious reforms in Egypt. She and her husband established the Aten Cult centered on the Sun god. The objective of setting up a new religion was to unite the country across religious lines. In the sculptures and paintings that were later discovered, Nefertiti was depicted as an equal to her husband. Despite her fame, mystery surrounds around the death of Nefertiti. While some historians opine that she was murdered, others believe that she died in a plague that swept Egypt after her death. Nefertiti could not maintain her control over the kingdom as she did not have a male heir. The Aten Cult was destroyed after her death by Tutankhamun. Nefertiti remains one of the most famous queens in the history of Egypt after Cleopatra.
Childhood & Early Life
The details of Nefertiti’s childhood are not known clearly to the historians. But many believe that she was born to ‘Ay’ who later became the pharaoh of Egypt. Ay married a woman called Tey. The background and other details of Tey are not known.
Some historians dispute this fact and opine that Tey was not the mother of Nefertiti but just her nurse (possibly a wet nurse). Some of Nefertiti’s scenes depicted in the tombs of nobles of Amarna mention a sister of Nefertiti called ‘Mutbernet’. No historical evidences of Mutbernet are yet found by historians other than the depictions in tombs.
Another theory that has found some support from a few Egyptologists is that Nefertiti was the Mitanni princess Tadukhipa and later changed her name after marriage. This theory is highly disputed and has limited historical support.
She married the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten at the age of fifteen and became the Great Royal Wife. The exact date of her marriage is not known. The couple led a happy married life and had six daughters, viz. Meritaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten,NeferneferuatenTasherit, Neferneferure, and Setepenre.
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Life After Marriage
Rather than staying at home, Nefertiti took an active role in running the kingdom. She advised her husband in matters relating to running the state. In fact, some historians opine that the couple ran the kingdom jointly.
The togetherness of Nefertiti and her husband is clearly visible in a number of artifacts from the time. In a number of paintings and sculptures, they were seen to be riding chariots together and kissing in the public. The couple seemed to have a deep romantic connection generally not found among other pharaohs of the time.
Nefertiti and her husband brought a number of reforms in the Egyptian economy which made their reign the wealthiest period in the history of ancient Egypt. A number of buildings and artifacts were built using the riches of the country.
Contribution to Religion
Along with her husband, Nefertiti played an active role in reforming the religion of Egypt. During the times when she was the Queen of the kingdom, Egypt had a number of gods and religions that lead to division among the citizens.
Nefertiti and her husband established a new Aten Cult to replace the existing religions. According the Aten Cult, there was only one single god, viz. Aten (the Sun god). Aten Cult was monotheistic and did not support the existence of any other god than Aten.
Nefertiti and her husband were believed to have acted as the priests in the temple of Aten during their reign. While trying to establish the new religion, Nefertiti and her husband took care to retain their supremacy over the people. They served as the priests in the temple of Aten, and common people were expected to reach the god through them.
During the fourth year of their reign, Nefertiti and her husband changed their names to Akhenaten and Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti. The names were related to the sun god worshipped by them. The name change was one of the greatest depictions of the growing importance of the Aten Cult.
Nefertiti and her husband built a new city ‘Akhetaton’ in honor of the Aten god. Their palace was shifted to the new city. The city is now known by the name el-Amarna and had a number of open air temples.
Personal Life & Legacy
Nefertiti was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time. Many paintings and statues survive to this day which depict her beauty. Her legacy is rivaled only by another beautiful Egyptian queen, viz. Cleopatra.
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Nefertiti was also considered as one of the most powerful queens who ruled Egypt. Her husband always attempted to depict her as an equal. She was shown to be wearing the crown of the pharaoh or bravely fighting the enemies in many of the stone sculptures of the time.
After the death of her husband, Nefertiti took an active part in governing the kingdom. As she did not have a son, she even tried to consolidate her power by marrying one of the sons of the Hittie emperor, Suppiluliuma I.
But she could not remarry again as one of the sons of the Hittie emperor sent to Egypt was murdered on his way.
Twelve years after the death of her husband, Nefertiti suddenly disappears from all the ancient records of Egypt. She was believed to have died in a major plague that swept across the Egyptian kingdom.
Some historians believe that she was murdered. However, no evidence to support this claim has been found till now by archeologists.
The mummies of Nefertiti, her children, and her parents have not been found and identified yet. One of the two female mummies found by the archeologist Victor Loret in the year 1898 was rumored to be that of Nefertiti. Till now there is no agreement among the archeologists whether the mummy was indeed of Nefertiti.
The third daughter of Nerfertiti was married to Tutankhamun who later became the king of Egypt.
After the death of Nefertiti, Tutankhamun restored Egypt to its older religions. All the traces of Aten Cult were wiped out from the kingdom.
The bust of Nefertiti sculpted by the famous sculptor ‘Thutmose’ gives a detailed description of the features of Nefertiti. The bust is now placed in the Berlin Museum and considered one of the most photographed and reproduced images of ancient Egypt.