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(1379 - 1350 BC) Egypt

Smenkhare & Akhenaton
Defaced wall relief depicting Smenkhare and Akhenaton



Akhenaton (10th king, 18th dynasty) was formerly called Amenhotep IV
Smenkhkare was his lover and his co-ruler for 3 yrs.
They are the first documented homosexual couple in history.


Was Moses really an Egyptian whose beliefs were formulated by those of his pharaoh, Akhenaten, as postulated by Sigmund Freud?

Variously called the heretic pharaoh, a great visionary, the first monotheist and the first individual in history, Akhenaten wrote his name into the history books with his attempt to impose monotheism upon a people who were fiercely polytheistic. He closed temples across the country and had the word Amun hacked out wherever it appeared.

AkhenatonOn occasion, he even went so far as to have the word "gods" and depictions of Amun's sacred goose also removed. How much his efforts were appreciated is obvious in the way his statues, portraits and stelae were defaced after his rule had ended. This attempted destruction of anything associated with the "heretic pharaoh" coupled with the fact we are dealing with ancient history, means not all the facts are known, even today.

Continuing debate amongst archaeologists and historians on vital dates, who's who, and even if Akhenaten shared a co-regency with his father, and if so for how long, leaves the ordinary person with an interest in this period of ancient Egyptian history rather confused.

We do know that originally his name was Amenhophis (or Amenhotep) IV, and he was the second son of Amenhophis III and his chief wife, Tiye. Although depictions of Amenhophis III and his family usually do not include Amenhophis IV this had nothing to do with his peculiar appearance, as suggested by some. None of the royal princes were portrayed, only the princesses.

Amenhophis III revered the solar gods, in particular the manifestation of the Globe - it was a reverence his son would take to extremes. Amenhophis III's regard for the Aten was obvious. He named his barge and one of his regiments, Splendour of Aten. In Nubia, he founded a temple called Gem-Aten, and in his centre at Malkata he named his own palace "The house of Nebmaetre [the king's coronation name] is Aten's Splendour". While he had a special reverence for the Aten, Amnehophis III made no attempt to limit or prohibit the worship of other gods. His son would take a very different view of things. The premature death of his older brother, Dhutmose, paved the way for Amenhophis IV to become pharaoh, and a "heretic".

As already stated, there is ongoing debate as to whether or not Amenophis IV shared a co-regency with his father. But while the exact year he came to the throne is still in dispute, most historians and archaeologists do agree that he reigned for seventeen years. This information is gleaned from jar seals, the latest dates on these being Year 17 of Akhenaten's reign. He ruled during the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom and the time of his reign has come to be known as the Amarna period, after Tell-el-Amarna where, now, little is left of the city of his vision.

At the time he became pharaoh, Amenophis IV was already married and a father. His wife was the beautiful Nefertiti, about whom we know little. At first it was believed she was a foreign princess, but that theory is out of favour these days. For a start, her name was Egyptian. There is also the fact that the one relative we can be certain of, her sister Mutnedjmet, did not bear the title princess, therefore Nefertiti was not a princess either. Despite not being royal, it is likely she was of noble birth.

Nefertiti may have been stunning in her beauty, but her husband's appearance was peculiar, to say the least. First thought to have suffered from Froelich's Syndrome, the more favoured theory now is for Marfan's Syndrome, a disease of the connective tissue which is aggravated by in-breeding. While I don't have the space to discuss the disease in detail here, there is an excellent site which contains much more information on Marfan's. To get there, you only need click here.

Around the fifth or sixth year of his reign, Amenhophis IV began to ring in the changes - taking a new name, Akhenaten, and a new home. The location of his new city was half way between Thebes and Memphis, on the eastern banks of the Nile. After a furious period of building, the city covered six miles, its boundaries marked by a chain of stelae, and it was named Akhetaten (Horizon of Aten). This was where the pharaoh and his court would live. When they died, they would be buried in tombs built into the nearby cliffs.

The Amarna period gave us a style of art uncommon to anything before it. It was more relaxed, showed intimate family life in a way not seen previously and dispensed with the idealistic and ramrod stiff depictions of pharaoh and his family. It was Akhenaten's duty to his god to 'live in truth' and therefore he had himself portrayed, not as an image of a perfect pharaoh, but as the man he was. We also see him as the father he was.

Images have survived that show him and Nefertiti lounging on chairs with their daughters playing at their feet. We see the daughters sitting on their parents' laps, and being kissed by their father. While other eras gave us many depictions of everyday court life, these glimpses of family life were rare, if not non-existent, until the Amarna period.

Because of the persecution which followed Akhenaten's reign, we are fortunate that so much from the period did survive. Along with the glorious artwork and fabulous golden treasures, another prized piece has come to us - the Hymn to Aten, composed by Akhenaten, and which many people say bears a startling resemblence to Psalm 104, written centuries later.

Around about the fifteenth year of his reign, there were two mysterious and significant events in Akhenaten's life. Exit Nefertiti - enter the ephemeral Smenkhare.

If Nefertiti's origins are mysterious, Smenkhare's are equally so. Whether he was the son or brother of Akhenaten is still unknown. It is possible he was a half-brother, being the son of Amenhophis III by a lesser wife. Another theory put forward is that he was actually Nefertiti in disguise. This theory is supported by the many reliefs that depict Akhenaten and Nefertiti as a very loving couple and their sudden split seems surprising.

AkhenatonThat Smenkhare appears out of nowhere around the same time seems proof to some that this was, in fact, Nefertiti. One stumbling block to this theory is the fact that Smenkhare married one of Akhenaten's daughters, Meritaten. While it is not impossible that Nefertiti would have married one of her own daughters, it does seem highly unlikely. Let's stay in the land of theories for a moment and consider that the continuing closeness between Akhenaten and his queen is a matter for conjecture.

In the first ten years of his reign, the couple had produced six daughters, but there were no more children after Year 10. Of course, the lack of further children does not automatically equate to a lack of love but, unless there were medical reasons, it seems a peculiar lapse for a couple who had previously been so fruitful.

Another theory on the separation between pharaoh and queen suggests that Nefertiti was even more fanatical in her worship of the Aten than her husband, and by around the fifteenth year of his reign, Akhenaten's enthusiasm was waning. Those who support this theory point to the fact that, after becoming co-regent, Smenkhare was sent to Thebes in what was believed to be an attempt at reconciliation with the priests there.

We do know there was an inscription found in a temple erected in Smenkhare's name at Thebes, which provides evidence of a revival of the cult of Amun. This inscription dates from the third year of Smenkhare's reign, a time when Akhenaten was, quite probably, still alive. So, if Akhenaten was losing interest in his new religion while Nefertiti maintained her zealousness, it may have been enough to drive them apart - or so the theory goes.

Then there is the other theory, the complete opposite of the one stated above, wherein Nefertiti left Akhenaten because she did not share his love for his new god. On the other hand, it could simply be that Nefertiti died, taken by a plague sweeping the area at the time and which carried off others close or related to Akhenaten.

But let's proceed on the premise that Nefertiti was, in fact, still alive. We now come across another theory - that Nefertiti disappeared from the scene, not because she was Smenkhare, but definitely because of him. Given her great beauty, it seems impossible there existed a female who could take her king's attention from her. Therefore, when Akhenaten's eye began to wander, it came to rest on the attractive, and male, Smenkhare.

He made the young man his co-regent and bestowed upon him one of Nefertiti's former titles, Neferneferuaten (beloved of Re's One and Only). The story that Nefertiti so disliked this new co-regent she tried to persuade him to go to Thebes, where his murder had been arranged, is pure conjecture but worth mentioning in the scope of this particular theory.

Reliefs that appeared now showed Akhenaten and Smenkhare in "scandalous" intimacy - the pair sitting close together; arms around each other; the pharaoh caressing his co-regent; and even kissing him. The relief which depicts them caressing still survives, although defaced, and I'm certain the one of them kissing still exists although I've been unable to track it down.

Akhenaten and Smenkhare enjoyed a brief period of rule together before dying, probably within a year of each other. Some hold that Smenkhare died first, others that Akhenaten died first. If Smenkhare did survive Akhenaten and rule alone, it was for a very brief period. Akhenaten was not buried in the massive tomb which was being prepared for him. The only bodies found there were those of his daughter, Meketaten (who died young) and the remains of an unidentified and burnt man found outside the tomb.

Although we do not yet have the mummy, it is highly unlikely that "Akhenaten's body had been torn to pieces and thrown to the dogs" as proposed by Sir Alan Gardiner. His postulation can be discounted on the grounds that items discovered in Tutankhamun's tomb bore the names of both Akhenaten and Smenkhare. Had Akhenaten (and therefore Smenkhare, by association) been so reviled, there is no way Aye, responsible for Tutankhamun's burial, would have allowed such items to be used.

But not only did he allow it, he chose to use the most surprising of stolen burial equipment. The miniature coffins which contained Tutankhamun's vicsera originally belonged to Smenkhare, as did some of the gold bands which bound the mummy's shroud. It has even been suggested that when we gaze upon the famous gold mask, so familiar to us all, we are seeing, not Tutankhamun, but Smenkhare to whom it originally belonged.

Among the less intimate items found in the tomb was "...a piece of a white-painted, badly smashed wooden box, [which] bore the cartouches of Akhenaten and Smenkare, and presumably dated from the brief period of their co-regency during the last two years of Akhenaten's life." The tomb also contained funerary pieces made for Akhenaten, dating from before his adoption of the more extreme forms of his religion. So, while there is no doubt a terrible backlash did occur against Akhenaten, it did not begin with either Tutankhamum or Aye, who followed him as ruler.

AkhenatonIn light of this information, let's take another look at a theory mentioned briefly previously. If we accept that Nefertiti separated from her husband (for whatever reason) and moved herself and her household to the northern palace, it is certain, from the frequent mentions of him, that Tutankhamun lived there with her for a time. This would, I think, end the theory that Nefertiti left her husband, driven away from him by his religious fanaticism. Had she been driven to separation because of this religion, one would expect she had little love for it. Yet Tutankamun's tolerance towards the memory of Akhenaten and Smenkhare suggests he held no animosity towards either man or the religion promoted so zealousy by one of them.

If neither Tutankhamun or Aye began the backlash against Akhenaten, who did? Most likely, it was Horemhab, pharaoh after Aye, who pronounced Akhenaten a heretic and instigated the eradication of his memory. And he almost succeeded. Akhenaten's name was removed wherever it could be found, and his image (along with those of Smenkhare and Tutankhamun) were defaced or obliterated. Akhenaten's name was struck from the records and his city of Akhetaten was disembled and the stonework used in Horemhab's temples. For centuries, Akhenaten was forgotten.

But despite Horemhab's best efforts, not all images of the "heretic" king were lost to his vengeance. While earlier expeditions to the abandoned site of Akhetaten contented themselves with sketching the boundary stelae, the 1843 expedition led by Richard Lepsius made an immense survey of the site. Resultant publications familiarized those interested in the period with the distinctive features of this forgotten pharaoh. But his identity remained a mystery.

As late as 1850, the Table of Dynasties still contained no mention of Akhenaten, Smenkhare, Tutankhamun or Aye. It was not until 1865 that the name of Aak-en-Aten-Ra first appeared. The anonymous author of a small volume entitled "Les Antiquites Egyptiennes" had compared Manetho's lists with names found on monuments and suggested there were three new names that should be added to the lists - Aak-en-Aten-Ra (Akhenaten); Titi (Nefertiti) and Amuntuanch (Tutankhamun).

The next step along the road to reclamation came in 1887 when a peasant woman, digging in the mudbrick debris of Tell-el-Amarna, in search of compost, came across hundreds of clay tablets bearing mysterious markings. After showing a couple of them around the village, and receiving little response, the woman loaded her son and all the tablets they could carry onto two donkeys and headed for Luxor. Unfortunately, donkeys, a long trek on rough roads and clay tablets thousands of years old, are not a good combination.

The journey reduced four-fifths of the precious load to dust. Just how regrettable this was became apparent when the results of studies carried out on some of the surviving tablets revealed them to be diplomatic archives from the court of Akhenaten. In light of this discovery, excavations at Tell-el-Amarna began in 1891 under the direction of Flinders Petrie and over time, the abandoned, decimated city of Akhetaten gave up what secrets it held.

So now the world knew of this forgotten pharaoh, but where was his body? A discovery in 1907 excited the archaeological world. Described as more of a "hiding-place" than a tomb, KV55, aka Tomb 55 or the Amarna cache contained a confusion of items. Among them was a gold coffin containing a mummy. Although the coffin bore the titles of Akhenaten, the mummy itself was buried in the pose reserved for queens.

The gold mask on the coffin had been ripped off and the names on the canopic jars had been carefully removed. Items within the tomb bore the names of Tiye, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun, only adding to the problem of identifying the tomb's owner. Soon after the discovery, the mummy was identified as female and was thought to be the remains of Queen Tiye. Later it was proven the mummy was, in fact, that of a man who had apparently died between twenty and twenty-five years of age.

Further tests left Smenkhare as the only candidate to fit all the known facts. Even later tests showed the mummy was older (around thirty-five years of age) at the time of its death than first thought, so it was then claimed to be that of Akhenaten. At the present time (and to my knowledge) the mummy's true identity has not been established. Unfortunately, no drawings or photographs were made of the mummy, which had rotted due to water-damage, and all that is left to us now are a restored skull and some bones, making the process of proper identification all the more difficult.

To the ancient Egyptians, the "harshest punishment for delinquents was to change their names, and thus remove their identity... Criminals disappeared from this world and from the orb of the eternal world... since their names had been effaced and destroyed." Horemhab tried to remove the names and memories of his predecessors so they might "die a second death and vanish forever." He inflicted his vengeance upon the memories of Akhenaten, Smenkhare and Tutankhamun. Whether Nefertiti was included in these acts of vandalism or whether her reliefs were defaced by order of Akhenaten, as was once believed, is impossible to say. Thankfully, Horemhab was unsuccessful in his attempts to eradicate the pharaohs from the pages of history.

A funerary inscription in the tomb of Tutankhamun reads "To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again". Although we can speak their names, there is still so very much we do not know about the Amarna period and the main players in that drama. Their origins are vague, their manner of death just as vague. We have the mummy of Tutankhamun, but no real explanation as to what caused his death. His mummy has only added to the arguments. We may have the mummy of either Akhenaten or Smenkhare, but in such condition it is unlikely to provide an answer as to cause of death. Whoever was laid to rest in Tomb 55, be it Akhenaten or Smenkhare, it seems, for now at least, they remain as elusive to us in death as they were in life.


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