One of the most famous royal women of the Eighteenth Dynasty She was the consort of AKHENATEN (r. 1353–1335 B.C.E.) and a leading figure at ’AMARNA. Her name meant “the Beautiful Woman Has Come,” and she is one of the most beloved and famous of all ancient Egyptians. Nefertiti’s sculpted bust in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin is one of the best known of all Egyptian treasures. Little information is available concerning her origins, although there has been a great deal of speculation about her family ties. She may have been the daughter of AYA (2), the successor of TUT’ANKHAMUN. Her sister was possibly MUTNODJMET (1), who married HOREMHAB, the last pharaoh of the dynasty.
In the fourth year of Akhenaten’s reign, she appeared with him at the site of Akhetaten (el-’AMARNA), the city dedicated to the god ATEN. In the sixth year of Akhenaten’s reign, Nefertiti’s name was changed again to reflect the cult of Aten. Nefertiti lived with Akhenaten in ’Amarna, where he conducted religious ceremonies to Aten. They raised six daughters, but no sons. One of the daughters, Maketaten, died giving birth to a child, probably sired by her father, and the couple’s grief was depicted in wall paintings. Nefertiti disappeared from the court after that. There is some evidence that she remained in ’Amarna, living in a villa called HAT-ATEN, but another daughter replaced her as the pharaoh’s principal wife. SMENKHARÉ, who became Akhenaten’s successor in 1335 B.C.E., reportedly assumed Nefertiti’s religious name, leading to the speculation that Nefertiti actually played this role at the ’Amarna court. She was called Neferneferu-Aten, “the Exquisite Beauty of the Sun Disk.”
A granite head and other unfinished portraits of Nefertiti have survived. In the Aten temple at KARNAK, Nefertiti is shown smiting Egypt’s enemies. Her funerary regalia, along with the remains and effects of other ’Amarna royal family members, were removed from ’Amarna burial sites during the reign of Tut’ankhamun, but her remains have not been identified. She outlived Akhenaten but probably did not have political power because she represented a period that was being reviled across Egypt. When Smenkharé died, Nefertiti may have served as a counselor for the young Tut’ankhamun during his brief reign. She remains a symbol of Egypt’s beauty and mystery.
A deity introduced into Egypt during the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.E.), Aten was also known as “Aten of the Day,” the SOLAR DISK that shone upon the river, possibly a form of Ré-Harakhte. AKHENATEN (r. 1353–1335 B.C.E.), upon ascending the throne in THEBES, proclaimed a great religious reformation and decreed worship of Aten as the only true religion of the land. Aten was not an invention of Akhenaten, having been known in the reigns of his predecessors TUTHMOSIS IV and AMENHOTEP III.
He established a new capital in honor of the god, a site called Akhetaten, “the Horizon of Aten,” now known as el-’AMARNA, north of Thebes. Vast temple complexes arose on the shore of the Nile, but there were no statues of the god. This deity was represented by a great red disk, from which long rays, complete with hands, extended to the faithful. Akhenaten and his queen, NEFERTITI, accompanied by their daughters, conducted cultic ceremonies of the god. Until the last years of his reign, Akhenaten was the only priest of the cult.
Ceremonies to Aten consisted mainly of the offering of cakes and fruit and the recitation of lovely hymns composed in his honor. Aten was lauded as the creator of man and the nurturing spirit of the world. He was a solar god, possibly a form of RÉ. A distinct strain of brotherhood and equality of all races and peoples was expressed in the hymns. Aten’s worship was a modified form of monotheism, and as long as Akhenaten was alive the deity was the official god of Egypt. Akhenaten associated himself to Aten, however, sharing feasts as a being united to Aten. Stern measures were taken against the temple of AMUN in particular and against the veneration of most other deities as well. Even the cartouche of Akhenaten’s father, Amenhotep III, was damaged because the name of the god Amun was part of it. When Akhenaten died in 1335 B.C.E., ’Amarna fell victim to the many enemies of the new deity and Aten was banished forever.