Ankhsenamun’s story is remarkable even though much of her life remains a mystery. The third of six daughters born to King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti, what, perhaps, gave her prominence in history was her marriage to the most famous Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, who was also her half-brother.
In the case of Ankhsenamun, also known as Ankhesenpaaten in youth, her marriage to Tutankhamun might not have been her first inter-family marriage or her last. Historians believe that she was married to her father, Akhenaten, and may have borne him one daughter, Ankhesenpaaten Tasherit before she was 13 years old.
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Varying sources also say that Akhenaten may have tried to father children with Ankhesenamun’s two older sisters – Meritaten and Meketaten – the second of whom is believed to have died during childbirth.
Ankhesenamun survived both her father and half-brother Tutankhamun (also known as Tutankhaten) who she was betrothed to, however, her attempt to marry a foreigner and make him pharaoh may have caused her downfall, as she disappeared from history right after that failed move.
Growing up as a child-bride of her father and then the betrothed of her half-brother Tutankhamun, Egyptologist Zahi Hawass notes that: “the two children must have grown up together and perhaps playing together in the palace gardens. The royal children would have had lessons from teachers and scribes, who would have given them instruction in wisdom and knowledge about the new religion of the Aten (50).”
Ankhesenamun’s father, Akhenaten had then established a quasi-monotheistic religion in ancient Egypt. Akhenaten, described by ancient Egypt’s archivists as “the criminal” or “the enemy”, imposed one god on the Egyptians and this hurt the people’s feelings. The people who have known a way of life that saw them praying to different gods for different reasons were, under Akhenaten, supposed to worship just Aten, the king’s sun-god.
Akhenaten also moved the seat of power from the traditional palace at Thebes to a newly constructed complex at a city he founded – Akhetaten, later known as Amarna. It is believed that it was at this complex that he married Ankhesenamun and they both produced their daughter though other sources say Ankhesenpaaten Tasherit was not Ankhesenamun’s child but the child of Akhenaten and his lesser wife Kiya, Tutankhamun’s mother.
After the death of Akhenaten in 1336 BCE, his son Tutankhamun assumed the throne, with Ankhesenamun as his wife. The young couple (Tutankhamun was 8 or 9 while Ankhsenamun was 13) were married in a royal wedding and one of their first steps in returning balance to Egypt was to change their names to Tutankhamun and Ankhsenamun.
Soon, they restored the traditional religious practices of Egypt to the joy of many and moved the Egyptian government back to the traditional seat at Thebes and Memphis.
Tutankhamun’s official adviser was Ay who was believed to be the grandfather of Ankhesenamun, and with his counsel as well as that of Horemheb, commander-in-chief of the army, Tutankhamun rebuilt temples and renovated the old palace.
For the next 10 years, he ruled Egypt with Ankhsenamun by his side. The couple’s undying love for each other is portrayed in the art that fills the golden king’s tomb and it’s believed that they conceived two children who were born prematurely and died.
Tutankhamun passed away in 1327 BCE when he was 18 and Ay, according to accounts, assumed the traditional role of successor in burying the dead king.
“For his role to be recognized, the king’s widow would have to be ceremonially betrothed to him for the funeral service, and it seems this is what happened. Ay and Ankhsenamun gave Tutankhamun the proper Egyptian burial rites but do not seem to have been actually married. It was assumed, however, that Ay, as successor, would take Ankhsenamun for his royal bride to legitimize his rule,” writes Ancient History Encyclopedia.
Then 23, Ankhsenamun did not want to marry Ay, who was old and possibly her grandfather, so she wrote to the Hittite king Suppiluliuma I to give her one of his sons to marry. But when Suppiluliuma sent his son Zananza to Egypt to marry Ankhsenamun, the prince was killed before reaching the border, thwarting Ankhsenamun’s unprecedented attempt to marry a foreign prince and make him pharaoh.
Ankhsenamun vanishes from history after the killing of Zananza, which was possibly perpetrated by Horemheb and Ay.