The Bust of Nefertiti has made her one of the most enigmatic and intriguing figures in the history of ancient Egypt. Why was Nefertiti important and who was her husband?
Nefertiti was married to the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten, with whom she had six daughters. Nefertiti’s exact origins are unknown, but the Nefertiti Bust depicts the queen and is one of the iconic artifacts of the ancient world.
For more on Nefertiti and who she was married to, read on.
Due to a lack of definitive evidence from the period, there are questions surrounding Nefertiti’s origins and her birth. It is possible that her father was Ay, who served as an adviser to Tutankhamun. Following Tutankhamun’s death, Ay became pharaoh.
Other historians believe that she might have been a princess of the Mitanni kingdom in modern-day Syria.
Whatever her origin, at some point in her youth, Nefertiti married Amenhotep, the son of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Amenhotep was not his father’s original heir, as he had an older brother called Thutmose.
When Thutmose died at an early age, Amenhotep became the heir to the throne. Nefertiti was Amenhotep’s Great Royal Wife, a title bestowed upon his preferred consort.
In approximately 1350 BCE, Amenhotep III died and was succeeded by Amenhotep IV. Within a few years of becoming pharaoh, Nefertiti’s husband changed his name to Akhenaten, distinguishing himself from his forebears.
Nefertiti was also given a new full name, “Neferneferuaten”, meaning “Beautiful are the beauties of Aten, a Beautiful Woman has come”.
Queen of Egypt
Akhenaten’s reign saw a period of upheaval in Egyptian culture, particularly in terms of its religion. He oversaw a shift away from the traditional Egyptian monotheism to focus his worship on one god, Aton, while also incorporating aspects of various other gods.
This shift in religion coincided with a change in the style of Egyptian art. Early Egyptian art was heavily idealized but there are later images of both Akhenaten and Nefertiti that depict them more realistically.
In addition, it was rare to see earlier pharaohs depicted alongside their queens. Nefertiti was an exception to this and can be seen alongside Akhenaten on the walls of numerous temples and tombs, part of the reason that she is such an enduring figure from the ancient world.
Nefertiti mothered six daughters with Akhenaten but produced no sons. Akhenaten took other wives and wed his own sister, who gave birth to a son, Tutankhamun. Tutankhamun would go on to marry one of Nefertiti’s daughters, Ankhesenpaaten, who was his half-sister.
Akhenaten reigned for seventeen years but Nefertiti was only mentioned in historical documents for about the first twelve years of his reign. It is possible that she had died during her husband’s reign but historians have also offered other theories as to her fate.
Akhenaten had a co-regent in the latter half of his reign, who also went by the name of Neferneferuaten, possibly referring to Nefertiti. It is also possible that Akhenaten’s successor as pharaoh, Smenkhkare, might have been Nefertiti using another name but there is no definitive proof.
In December 1913, a German archaeological team, led by Ludwig Borchardt, was investigating an ancient Egyptian royal workshop that had belonged to Thutmose, a sculptor. They discovered a painted sculpture wearing an unusual headpiece that had only previously been seen on ancient depictions of Nefertiti.
The German team had agreed that their discoveries should be split evenly with Egypt’s government, and they took the bust as part of their share. The bust remained unknown by the general public and spent the following decade in the home of Jacques Simon, who had funded the expedition.
The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 by a British team changed this. Tutankhamun’s funerary mask became one of the iconic images of the ancient world and the German archaeologists were keen to display their own findings to the public.
In 1923, the Nefertiti Bust was displayed in Berlin, Germany. It remained in German possession through the tumultuous 20th Century, having been protected in a salt mine during World War II.
It was one of the prized possessions of East Germany during the Cold War and remains in the hands of a reunified Germany. It has since been displayed in Berlin, where it was first shown to the public, in the Neues Museum.
The Bust of Queen Nefertiti has only enhanced the sense of curiosity and mystery that has long surrounded Akhenaten’s wife.