Born: c. 1390
Died: c. 1360 B.C.E.
Egypt Egyptian queen
Nefertiti was an Egyptian queen and wife of King Akhenaten who remains a mystery to scholars today. A bust (sculpture of a person's head and shoulders) of her discovered in 1913 is one of the most widely recognized symbols of ancient Egypt.
Nefertiti was born around 1390 B.C.E. Some believe she was of Egyptian blood, while others believe she was a foreign princess. Her name, which means "the beautiful one is come," is of Egyptian origin, and evidence indicates that she had an Egyptian wet-nurse or governess of noble rank, which has led to the belief that she was born within the circle of the Egyptian royal court. She may have been a niece or daughter of Ay, who was a keeper of records under King Amenhotep III.
When Nefertiti was fifteen years old, she married Amenhotep IV, who was a year older and became king upon his father's death. They had six daughters and, according to some, one son. During the first five years of Amenhotep's reign, Nefertiti enjoyed a high profile. Evidence of her political importance is seen in the large number of carved scenes in which she is shown accompanying him during ceremonial acts. She is shown taking part in the daily worship and making offerings
In the fifth year of his reign, Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaten. He went against the beliefs of previous kings by announcing that the sun god Aten was the greatest of all Egyptian gods and the only one who should be worshipped, rather than Amen-Ra, who had long been considered supreme. Nefertiti shared his belief. Largely because of opposition over this issue, Akhenaten built a new capital called Akhetaten and moved the royal family there.
After the fourteenth year of Akhenaten's rule, there are no more pictures of Nefertiti; she simply disappears from view. Some believe she was the power behind the throne and thus responsible for the changes during the rule of Akhenaten until being dismissed from her position and banished to the North Palace at Amarna. This would mean there was a conflict within the royal family, with Nefertiti favoring the continued worship of Aten while Akhenaten and his son-in-law Tutankhamen (c. 1370–c. 1352 B.C.E. ) supported a return to the worship of Amen-Ra. Most scholars, however, now suppose that Nefertiti's disappearance may simply be due to the fact that she died, and one of the king's other wives took her place at his side. A more dramatic, if less accepted, theory holds that she assumed a new, masculine identity toward the end of Akhenaten's rule—that Nefertiti and the young Smenkhkare, who ruled briefly either with or after Akhenaten and is believed by some to have been his son, were in fact the same person.
Freed, Rita E., Yvonne J. Markowitz, and Sue H. D'Auria, eds. Pharaohs of the Sun. Boston: Little, Brown, 1999.
Tyldesley, Joyce A. Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen. New York: Viking, 1998.