Mystery on the Nile: Re-Examining Nefertiti's Likeness and Life

By Matthias Schulz

Part 3: An Unhappy Queen

Photo Gallery: The Enigma of Nefertiti Photos
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But that changed, and women also began to exert growing influence on the affairs of state. In fact, politics at the court of Amarna had almost feminist features. Around the fifth year of his rule, the spineless Akhenaton elevated his wife to the position of co-regent. The old establishment in Thebes was furious.

This was probably one of the reasons the pharaoh came up with the plan to leave the capital. Downstream, along a remote Nile inlet, his engineers marked off a 16-by-13-kilometer site, where a new and magnificent city was to be built.

Nefertiti apparently didn't like the idea. Thebes offered parties with dancing dwarves, musical orchestras and trained monkeys. Angered by her complaints, her husband said: "And the queen shall not say to me: Look, there is a more beautiful place for Akhetaton in a different spot."

Against her will, the couple moved to the new city. In a carriage made of electrum, the couple made their way to the desert valley. The new palace was directly adjacent to the main road, which was 30 meters wide.

The queen attended religious services in the morning, when the sun rose above the cliffs of Amarna. There were hundreds of altars in the large temple to Aton. Large numbers of animals were sacrificed there at dawn.

"Your beams are on the inside of the sea," the great Aton chant, written by the pharaoh himself, begins. "You are lifetime itself. We live through you. The eyes are directed at your beauty, until you set."

The ceremonies contained not a word about the destructive aspect of the sun, about its searing heat, which triggers droughts and famines.

Instead, cuddling was the order of the day. Reliefs show the royal couple kissing and caressing each other. Sometimes they are nibbling on skewers. Then they are sitting at home with the children. Intimacy became part of the political program. Or did the prophets of light simply lose all shame?

In the year 12, a great banquet was held at Amarna. Tribute bearers from Cyprus and Crete, and from Syria and Mycenae, came to Amarna to pay homage to the beautiful queen. Nevertheless, the great queen was not happy. She had given birth to six children -- all girls.

A Mysterious Female Pharaoh

This was probably why Akhenaten often strayed in his older years. He was desperate to father a noble-blooded male heir to the throne. There are indications that he initially impregnated his mother and then married three of his daughters. But it was only his own sister who gave him a male heir. The name of the infant was Tutankhamen.

The heretic died soon afterwards, leaving behind a state that was coming apart at the seams. Foreign armies had invaded the country in the north. The old elites -- the priests and the generals -- were in the mood to stage a coup.

Ironically, it was in this situation that Nefertiti apparently ventured to go it alone. It is clear that after Akhenaton's death, a mysterious, female pharaoh took control of the land of the pyramids for 14 months. A case can be made that it was Nefertiti.

She apparently hazarded another political coup that could hardly have been more audacious. To keep her enemies at home in check, she enlisted the help of the king of the Hittites, Suppiluliuma, who lived about 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) away in Hattusa, in what is now modern Turkey.

The clay tablet state archive discovered in Hattusa contained a letter from a certain "Dahamunzu." The word is derived from "Ta hemet nesw" (Egyptian for "the wife of the king"). Could Nefertiti have written the letter?

"My husband has died, and I have no son," the woman wrote to the king of the Hittites, "but it is said that your sons are numerous." Then she boldly states her request: She wants to marry one of the princes.

A New Story Takes Shape

What an offer it was. The Hittites immediately sent their chancellor to the Nile. After months of inquiries, he returned home with another message from the pharaoh, in which she proposed a pact of sorts. After the wedding, her letter reads, "the two great countries will be only one country."

It was high treason.

"The idea that a woman in ancient Egypt would conduct such correspondence is so crazy as to be almost unbelievable," says Egyptologist Bayer.

Finally, the chosen "Prince Zannanza" set out for Egypt. He crossed the mountains of Anatolia and rode down along the coast. But he had hardly reached "Kemet," the "Black Land," as the Egyptians called their country, when he was murdered by assassins.

It was the end. All messages fell silent after that. There are indications that Nefertiti was violently deposed in the turmoil of the counter-revolution. Her mummy disappeared.

A fascinating historical scenario is rising from the waters of the Nile. It appears that the legendary queen has finished serving her time as the world's first cover girl and a well-behaved darling. A new story is taking shape, one in which the beauty was more likely a beast.

Anyone who wants to look her directly in the eye should pay a visit to the Neues Museum in Berlin soon. There, the ostracized queen sits under glass, surrounded by specimens from the lost city of the sun that have never been shown before.

Whether the precious bust will stay at the museum, eternal and unshakeable, remains to be seen. If it were returned to Cairo, Germany would lose a world-class treasure of antiquity. The statue's insurance value alone is $390 million.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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