Great Royal Wife
Sculpture fragment
believed to be of Ankhesenamun,
Brooklyn Museum, United States
Tenurec. 1332–1323 BC
Bornc. 1348 BC[1] or c. 1342 BC[2]
Diedafter 1322 BC (aged 20-26)[2]
KV21 (uncertain)
SpouseTutankhamun (half-brother or cousin)
Ay (grandfather or great-uncle?)
Issue317a and 317b (uncertain)
Ankhesenpaaten Tasherit (uncertain)
Egyptian name
Dynasty18th of Egypt
ReligionAncient Egyptian religion

Ankhesenamun (ˁnḫ-s-n-imn, "Her Life Is of Amun"; c. 1348[1] or c. 1342 – after 1322 BC[2]) was a queen who lived during the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. Born Ankhesenpaaten (ˁnḫ.s-n-pꜣ-itn, "she lives for the Aten"),[3] she was the third of six known daughters of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten and his Great Royal Wife Nefertiti. She became the Great Royal Wife of Tutankhamun.[4] The change in her name reflects the changes in ancient Egyptian religion during her lifetime after her father's death. Her youth is well documented in the ancient reliefs and paintings of the reign of her parents.

Ankhesenamun was well documented as being the Great Royal Wife of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Initially, she may have been married to her father and it is possible that, upon the death of Tutankhamun, she was married briefly to Tutankhamun's successor, Ay, who is believed by some to be her maternal grandfather.[5]

DNA test results on mummies discovered in KV21 were released in February 2010, which has given rise to speculation that one of two late 18th Dynasty queens buried in that tomb could be Ankhesenamun. Because of their DNA, both mummies are thought to be members of that ruling house.[6]

Early life

Ankhesenpaaten in hieroglyphs

Living for Aten

Ankhesenpaaten was born in a time when Egypt was in the midst of an unprecedented religious revolution (c. 1348 BC). Her father had abandoned the principal worship of old deities of Egypt in favor of the Aten, hitherto a minor aspect of the sun-god, characterised as the sun's disc.

She is believed to have been born in Thebes, around year 4 of her father's reign, but probably grew up in the city of Akhetaten (present-day Amarna), established as the new capital of the kingdom by her father. The three eldest daughters – Meritaten, Meketaten, and Ankhesenpaaten – became the "senior princesses" and participated in many functions of the government and religion alongside their parents.

Later life

Partially restored alabaster jar with two handles, bearing the cartouches of Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun, 18th Dynasty, from Gurob, Fayum, Egypt, the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
Tutankhamun receives flowers from Ankhesenamun

She is believed to have been married first to her own father,[7] which was not unusual for Egyptian royal families. She is thought to have been the mother of the princess Ankhesenpaaten Tasherit (possibly by her father or by Smenkhkare), although the parentage is unclear.[4]

After her father's death and the short reigns of Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten, she became the wife of Tutankhamun. Following their marriage, the couple honored the deities of the restored religion by changing their names to Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun.[8] The couple appear to have had two stillborn daughters.[6] As Tutankhamun's only known wife was Ankhesenamun, it is highly likely the fetuses found in his tomb are her daughters. Some time in the 9th year of his reign, about the age of 18, Tutankhamun died suddenly, leaving Ankhesenamun alone and without an heir about the age 21.[8]

A blue glass ring of unknown provenance obtained in 1931 depicts the prenomen of Ay and the name of Ankhesenamun enclosed in cartouches.[9] This indicates that Ankhesenamun married Ay shortly before she disappeared from history, although no monuments show her as great royal wife to him.[10] On the walls of Ay's tomb it is Tey (Ay's senior wife), not Ankhesenamun, who appears as his great royal wife. She probably died during or shortly after his reign and no burial has been found for her yet.

Hittite letters

A document was found in the ancient Hittite capital of Hattusa dating back to the Amarna period. The document—part of the so-called Deeds of Suppiluliuma I—relates that Hittite ruler, Suppiluliuma I, while laying siege to Karkemish, received a letter from the Egyptian queen. 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.[11]

This document is considered extraordinary, as Egyptians traditionally considered foreigners to be inferior. Suppiluliuma I was amazed and exclaimed to his courtiers:

Nothing like this has happened to me in my entire life![12]

Suppiluliuma sent an envoy to investigate and eventually did send one of his sons, Zannanza, but the prince died en route, perhaps being murdered.[13]

The identity of the queen who wrote the letter is uncertain. In the Hittite annals, she is called Dakhamunzu, a transliteration of the Egyptian title, Tahemetnesu (The King's Wife).[14] Possible candidates for the author of the letter are Nefertiti, Meritaten,[5] and Ankhesenamun. Ankhesenamun once seemed likely since there were no royal candidates for the throne on the death of her husband, Tutankhamun, whereas Akhenaten had at least two legitimate successors.[citation needed] 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. Since Nefertiti was depicted as powerful as her husband in official monuments smiting Egypt's enemies, researcher Nicholas Reeves believes she might be the Dakhamunzu in the Amarna correspondence.[15] That would make the subject deceased Egyptian king appear to be Akhenaten rather than Tutankhamun. As noted, Akhenaten had potential heirs, including Tutankhamun, to whom Nefertiti could be married. Other researchers focus upon the phrase regarding marriage to 'one of my subjects' (translated by some as 'servants') as possibly a reference to the Grand Vizier Ay or a secondary member of the Egyptian royal family line, however, and that Ankhesenamun may have been being pressured by Ay to marry him and legitimize his claim to the throne of Egypt (which she eventually did).[16]

Mummy KV21A

Main article: KV21 § KV21A

DNA testing announced in February 2010 has generated speculation that Ankhesenamun is one of two 18th Dynasty queens recovered from KV21 in the Valley of the Kings.[17]

The two fetuses found buried with Tutankhamun have been proven to be his children, and the current theory is that Ankhesenamun, his only known wife, is their mother. However, not enough data was obtained to make more than a tentative identification. Nevertheless, the KV21a mummy has DNA consistent with the 18th Dynasty royal line.[17]


After excavating the tomb KV63, it is speculated that it was designed for Ankhesenamun due to its proximity to the tomb of Tutankhamun, KV62.[citation needed] Also found in the tomb were coffins (one with an imprint of a woman on it), women's clothing, jewelry, and natron. Fragments of pottery bearing the partial name Paaten were also in the tomb. The only royal person known to bear this name was Ankhesenamun, whose name was originally Ankhesenpaaten. However, no mummies were found in KV63.[citation needed]

Damnatio memoriae

Ankhesenamun is believed to have married king Ay, Tutankhamun's successor after her husband's unexpected death. However, Ay and his army chief, Horemheb became political rivals at court during Ay's reign. Ay attempted to sideline Horemheb from the royal succession by naming General Nakhtmin as the "King Son". As Nozomu Kawai writes: "This title is undoubtedly superior to Horemheb’s status. Therefore, King Ay intended to relegate Horemheb to a less important position and replace him with Nakhtmin to carry out his functions. We do not know exactly when Nakhtmin was promoted, but this must have created Horemheb’s strong hostility against King Ay."[18]

When Horemheb instead came to power as Ay's successor and became the final king of the 18th dynasty of Egypt, he carried out a damnatio memoriae campaign against his rival Ay by usurping Ay's mortuary temple, desecrating Ay's WV23 royal tomb and erased as many inscriptions and depictions of Ay as possible in revenge. Ay's royal sarcophagus in his tomb was smashed into numerous fragments.[19] However, Ankhesenamun also fell victim to Horemheb's anger at Ay's actions. As Nozomu Kawai writes:

"At the same time, Ankhesenamun became the target of a damnatio memoriae by Horemheb. The evidence indicates that she was persecuted severely. On the lunette of the restoration stela of Tutankhamun, which was usurped by Horemheb, her figures were completely erased and replaced by an inscription instead of changing her image to that of his [ie. Horemheb's] wife, Queen Mutnodjmet. An inlaid stela of Tutankhamun at Karnak shows a large, sharp, rectangular cavity containing some perforations behind the king who presents offering to Amun and Mut. The presence of the perforations indicates that there was a figure behind him. Since the figure of the queen is regularly behind the king, it is probable that the figure of Ankhesenamun was deliberately removed by Horemheb. These extreme acts of damnatio memoriae against Ankhesenamun were probably due to some historical events that rankled Horemheb."[20]

Horemheb, therefore, attempted to erase all memory of Ay, Ay's allies and Ankhesenamun when he became pharaoh.

Popular culture

Zita Johann playing Princess Ankh-es-en-amon in The Mummy, 1932

Ankhesenamun's name has entered popular culture as the secret love of the priest Imhotep in the 1932 film The Mummy. The 1999 remake, its sequel and its spin-off television series used the name Anck-su-namun, while other movies like The Mummy's Hand (1940)[21] and the 1959 remake named the character Ananka.[22]

Ankhesenamun is the protagonist of the 1988 French novel La Reine Soleil by Christian Jacq, as well as its 2007 animated adaptation.[23]

Ancestry and family

See also: Family tree of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt

Amenhotep IITiaa
Thutmose IVMutemwiyaYuyaTjuyu
Amenhotep IIITiyeAy
The Younger LadyAkhenatenNefertiti
TutankhamunSmenkhkareMeritatenMeketatenAnkhesenamunNeferneferuaten TasheritNeferneferureSetepenre
317a and 317b mummies


  1. ^ a b Arnold, Dorothea; Allen, James P.; Green, L. (1996). The Royal Women of Amarna: Images of Beauty from Ancient Egypt (Hardback ed.). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. xviii. ISBN 0-87099-816-1. Retrieved 19 June 2021.
  2. ^ a b c Galassi, F. M.; Ruhli, F. J.; Habicht, M. E. (2016). "Did Queen Ankhesenamun (c. 1342 - after 1322 BC) have a goitre?: Historico-clinical Reflections upon a paleo-pathographic study". Working Paper. doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.3356.5843. Retrieved 30 September 2021.
  3. ^ Ranke, Hermann (1935). Die Ägyptischen Personennamen, Bd. 1: Verzeichnis der Namen (PDF). Glückstadt: J.J. Augustin. p. 67. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  4. ^ a b Dodson, Aidan; Dyan Hilton (2004). The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. p. 148.
  5. ^ a b Grajetzki, Wolfram (2000). Ancient Egyptian Queens; a hieroglyphic dictionary. London: Golden House. p. 64.
  6. ^ a b Hawass, Zahi; et al. (2010). "Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun's Family". The Journal of the American Medical Association. 303 (7): 638–647. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.121. PMID 20159872.
  7. ^ Reeves, Nicholas (2001). Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet. Thames and Hudson. ISBN 9780500051061.
  8. ^ a b "Queen Ankhesenamun". Saint Louis University. Retrieved 2020-01-14.
  9. ^ Newberry, Percy E. (May 1932). "King Ay, the Successor of Tut'ankhamun". The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. 18 (1/2): 50–51. doi:10.2307/3854904. JSTOR 3854904.
  10. ^ Dodson, Aidan; Dyan Hilton (2004). The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. p. 153.
  11. ^ Güterbock, Hans Gustav (June 1956). "The Deeds of Suppiluliuma as Told by His Son, Mursili II (Continued)". Journal of Cuneiform Studies. 10 (3): 75–98. doi:10.2307/1359312. JSTOR 1359312. S2CID 163670780.
  12. ^ Güterbock, Hans Gustav (1956). "The Deeds of Suppiluliuma as Told by His Son, Mursili II". Journal of Cuneiform Studies. 10 (2): 41–68. doi:10.2307/1359041. JSTOR 1359041. S2CID 163922771.
  13. ^ Amelie Kuhrt (1997). The Ancient Middle East c. 3000 – 330 BC. Vol. 1. London: Routledge. p. 254.
  14. ^ Federn, Walter (January 1960). "Daḫamunzu (KBo V 6 iii 8)". Journal of Cuneiform Studies. 14 (1): 33. doi:10.2307/1359072. JSTOR 1359072. S2CID 163447190.
  15. ^ Nicholas Reeves,Tutankhamun's Mask Reconsidered BES 19 (2014), pp.523
  16. ^ Christine El Mahdy (2001), "Tutankhamun" (St Griffin's Press)
  17. ^ a b Hawass, Zahi; Gad, Yehia Z.; Somaia, Ismail; Khairat, Rabab; Fathalla, Dina; Hasan, Naglaa; Ahmed, Amal; Elleithy, Hisham; Ball, Markus; Gaballah, Fawzi; Wasef, Sally; Fateen, Mohamed; Amer, Hany; Gostner, Paul; Selim, Ashraf; Zink, Albert; Pusch, Carsten M. (February 17, 2010). "Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun's Family". Journal of the American Medical Association. 303 (7). Chicago, Illinois: American Medical Association: 638–647. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.121. ISSN 1538-3598. PMID 20159872. Retrieved May 24, 2020.
  18. ^ Nozomu Kawai, Ay vs Horemheb: The Political Situation in the Late 18th Dynasty Revisited, JEH 3 (2010), p.286-87
  19. ^ Bertha Porter, Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyph Texts, Vol 1, Part 2, Oxford Clarendon Press, (1960), Tomb 23, pp. 550–551
  20. ^ Nozomu Kawai, Ay vs Horemheb: The Political Situation in the Late 18th Dynasty Revisited, JEH 3 (2010), p.288-89
  21. ^ Mengel, Brad (2023-01-02). The Unofficial Guide to The Scorpion King and The Mummy Universe. BearManor Media.
  22. ^ Pfeiffer, Oliver (April 21, 2017). "Where does the legend of the mummy come from?". BBC. Retrieved July 22, 2021.
  23. ^ "Princess of the Sun (La Reine Soleil)". Cineuropa - the best of european cinema. Retrieved 2024-01-16.

Further reading