The story of a queen Nefertiti can be regarded as one of the most interesting, as well as controversial themes in history. The queen was one of the most prominent female pharaohs in ancient Egypt. Although there are some insignificant facts about her background, historians believe that the queen has not been of royal blood. Her father Ay occupied a high position during the reign of Akhenaten (Arnold 10). Being only fifteen years old, the future queen got married to Akhenaton who only reached the age of sixteen. After the death of his father, young Akhenaton together with his wife began to govern the state (Arnold 10). The queen was an independent and powerful woman. Although she gave birth to six daughters, the queen did not succeed to present a son for her husband who could inherit the fame of his father. Additionally, since 1912, when the bust of the queen was found, her face became one of most noticeable images in the world. In this respect, it is of crucial importance to investigate the background of the queen, achievements and contributions she made, her cultural and religious efforts, as well as the history of Nefertiti’s bust. Therefore, the queen Nefertiti is a prominent figure of ancient Egypt whose beauty and strong character has brought her a worldwide recognition.
Before discussing the origin of the queen, one should acknowledge Egyptian governmental system. According to Brenda Lange, historians “separate Ancient Egypt into three separate kingdoms, with three intermediate periods between each kingdom” (13). During these three periods, 30 dynasties governed the country. The three kingdoms are divided into Old, Middle, and New in accordance. The latter kingdom includes the Amarna Period during which a queen Nefertiti with her husband has ruled the state (Lange 13). Although it was rare for women to have power in ancient Egypt, Nefertiti became an exception from the rule. The queen first had a great impact on the king, and upon his death, she governed the country as pharaoh, making Egypt prosper.
The information about the childhood of Nefertiti remains unknown (Booth 115). However, it is known that the queen was born in 1390 B. C. E. in Thebes (Arnold 9). During the first five years of her marriage, Nefertiti occupied an important position in the political life of Egypt. The queen accompanied her husband to ceremonial acts that none of the wives were allowed to do. Together with her husband, she worshiped the Egyptian sun god (Lange 14). Moreover, Nefertiti greatly contributed to the worship of sun god. Indeed, she convinced the citizens that Aten was the superior god. At the same time, Nefertiti made many improvements in political and religious systems in Egypt. In fact, the queen greatly influenced the establishment of the first monotheistic religion in the world. Historians state that the queen has disappeared fifteen years after her appointment as a ruler of Memphis (Sporre 46). Some of them believe that Nefertiti has vanished because of the conflict in the royal family. In this respect, the queen is considered to have moved to Amarna’s North Palace. According to Lange, “some Egyptologists – scientists who study Ancient Egypt – believe that she died about three years before Akhenaten did, because there is no mention of her in records after that time” (p. 16). Thereby, the life of the queen is covered with secrets and unproven facts.
Although much evidence about a queen Nefertiti remains unknown for historians, the one thing they have proven to the world is her beauty. Thus, the queen had an important role in showing and teaching Egyptian women how to take care of their bodies, skin, and hair (Sporre 41). Nowadays, many people view the queen as an icon of female beauty. Historians consider the queen the most beautiful woman-pharaoh during her reign and after her death. Moreover, the Egyptologists state that there has never been any other queen in the ancient Egypt more beautiful than Nefertiti. The name of the queen literary means, “The Beautiful One Is here” (Arnold 9). It should be noted that she changed her name Nefernefruaten that means “Perfect One of the Aten’s Perfection” for Nefertiti (Arnold 9). In both cases, a queen’s name points on her beauty and accomplishment. Additionally, the image of the queen and the king as a happy and beautiful couple had an important role of uniting families in Egypt. Thus, many people consider her as a symbol of beauty.
Moreover, Nefertiti was a powerful force in her husband’s rein. In the early years of her governing, the queen is depicted with a crown of feathers, cow horns, and sun disk on her head, reminding the goddess Hathor (Arnold 9). Nefertiti greatly contributed to the changes that ancient Egypt underwent. The queen became recognizable due to her achievements in the representation of cult scenes. Thus, Nefertiti participated in the rituals equally with her husband. Such prominence of the queen underlines that she was a strong and powerful woman who conducted religious revolution behind her husband (Arnold 10). Furthermore, the queen paid great attention to scientific researches and studies. In fact, she encouraged Egyptian scholars and historians to write literary pieces and documents in order to preserve the history the royal couple made for the future generations (Grajetzki 67). At the same time, the king placed the name of his primary wife next to his name in the royal cartouche that showed his confidence and trust in the queen (Sporre 43). Therefore, historians claimed that Nefertiti’s role during the reign of the king was more than supportive force since she actually made certain changes in the community, including religious one.
In the ancient Egypt, polytheism was a well-known religious practice. Thus, people prayed to more than one god. To be precise, there were a great number of gods and goddesses to worship. Religious beliefs and prayers to the gods and goddesses governed every part of each Egyptians’ life. However, after the coronation of Akhenaten, the pharaoh together with his primary wife commanded the citizens to pray to one god, Aten (Lange 18). It should be noted that, ordinary Egyptians had no direct contact with their gods. In fact, the citizens interacted with the gods through the priests who explained their needs. The pharaoh changed the established order. The king excluded priests from praying to the sun god. As a result, the priests were deprived of their power and control over people that greatly disappointed them (Lange 18). Thus, Akhenaten and Nefertiti made a great religious effort in order to convert the existing polytheist system.
Moreover, Nefertiti and her husband did not just revolutionize the religious system and established the monotheistic cult of Aten, they also changed the way artists and sculptors depicted the world. Thus, they demanded artists to depict surroundings and environment realistically. While previously the world was portrayed in an impressionistic manner, the royal family ordered to do completely the opposite. Furthermore, pharaohs and their wives were always pictured in paintings or sculptures as godlike. Together with her husband, Nefertiti changed such tradition. On most portraits, sculptures, and other pieces of art, the queen and the king are depicted as an affectionate human couple. The two were usually holding hands or entertaining their children (Lange 18). In this respect, pieces of art found by scientists from the time when the eighteenth dynasty was ruling can be easily recognized because all of them have distinctive features of a human.
At the same time, not all people accepted the changes peacefully. Although there were some citizens who remained loyal to the king and queen and went along with the reforms, some of them refused to deny their previous beliefs and traditions despite of the pharaoh’s word. According to Lange, “despite Akhenaten’s decree to worship only Aten, religious symbols, drawings, and writings have been found in other parts of Egypt – dating to the Amarna Period – that had nothing to do with Aten” (19). Thus, the reforms of cultural and religious norms and systems were not always popular among the population. Although the royal couple built palaces and a temple to the sun god in Amarna, after the king’s death priests and citizens arose against the cult and the entire monotheistic system (Lange 19). Eventually, the citizens went back to their traditions, specifically to worshiping many gods and goddesses. As a result, most of palaces and temples created by the couple were ruined and remained undiscovered until 1912.
Although the queen is one of the icons of the world history, her name is covered with mystery. Little is known about her life before she became a queen, as well as her life during the marriage. Nevertheless, the bust of the queen found in 1912 shed a light on her image (Sporre 44). German archaeological team discovered the bust in the workshop of the official court sculptor, Thutmose. The leader of the expedition, Ludwig Borchardt, heatedly attempted to keep the bust in Germany while the government of Egypt demanded its return (Spoore 45). It should be noted that there are no inscriptions on the bust, but it is undoubtedly identified as Nefertiti because of the crown (Booth 112). Although the left eye of the queen is missing from the bust, she is considered one of the most delicate and beautiful women of ancient times. The artifact is a prominent example of the way the ancient Egyptians have viewed realistic facial proportions. According to Lange, the bust “contains fine detail, including tiny lines around the eyes, mouth, and neck” (21). The queen had a long neck and full lips that allowed some historians to suggest a different ethnicity (Lange 21). Currently, the artifact is in Berlin’s Neues Museum where it has been placed before World War II (Spoore 45).
Similarly to many facts from Nefertiti’s life, her death is difficult to ascertain. Historians put forward different theories about the queen’s death and disappearance. According to Arnold, “the evidence of fragmentary shawabti-figure, a statuette placed with the dead, which bore her name suggests that she was buried in the Royal Tomb at Amarna late in Akhenaten’s rein or shortly after his death” (10). However, some historians hypothesized that the queen lost her power and her eldest daughter replaced her as a governor. According to another theory, while the queen did not produce a male heir, the pharaoh dismissed her and married another woman who gave him a son. In addition, some scholars believe that the queen was banished from the kingdom for some reason. Being in expulsion, she moved to the Northern Palace, where the woman-pharaoh raised Tutankhamun and spent the rest of her years (Spoore 45). Therefore, there are various theories about the death of the queen, but none of them can explain exactly what happened.
Much evidence and facts are unknown about the beautiful queen Nefertiti, including her origin, childhood, marriage with the pharaoh, and her death. Nevertheless, the knowledge about her beauty and power allows people to comprehend the real power she has had. There are different theories about her death and disappearance attempting to explain her relatively brief reign, but most of them remain unproven. Yet, thanks to the findings at Amarna and discoveries of historians, the audience could construct a detailed picture of what changes and contributions the queen made, how she looked, and what position she occupied near her husband.