Re-Examining Nefertiti's Likeness and Life

It is becoming increasingly clear that Nefertiti played a central role in this revolt. In the Aton cult, she played the part of the giver of life: erotic, fertile and scantily clad.

It is unclear when the young couple met. The girl was probably from a family in the provincial city of Akhmim that was closely related to the royal family. Nefertiti's aunt appears to have been nothing less than the "Great Royal Consort" of the ruling Pharaoh Amenhotep III, Akhenaton's father.

Her own father had a successful career, rising to the rank of general of the chariot force. The daughter was also characterized by a love of horses. Reliefs show her driving a two-wheeled horse and buggy, while others depict her standing upright in a magnificent carriage.

The realm along the Nile was in its prime at the time, its colonial territories extending from Sudan to the Euphrates. Akhenaton's father fancied himself a builder, who created "greatness without limits," as well as temples with "walls of gold, tiles of silver and flagpoles that stretched up to the stars."

Then his son ascended the throne. He was a dreamer. He had studied in Heliopolis, where the Benben stone, the strange, ancient sacred stone of the solar cult, stood. Akhenaton wrote poetry. An analysis of his skeleton showed that he was 1.6 meters (5'3") tall and had crooked teeth. It is unlikely that the young man immediately instigated an intellectual coup. In fact, it was more likely his mother, the royal widow Tiye, who was pulling the strings in the background. Images show her looking sullen and frowning -- a woman to be feared. Tiye may have selected her son's wife, choosing her own niece.

No one knows exactly when the girl from Akhmim arrived by ship on the Nile in the capital Thebes, where she was carried into the harem on a litter. A statue depicts the couple as teenagers. She is wearing a collar of precious stones. Her face, still pudgy, is that of a 14-year-old girl.

But Akhenaton was in love. "Mistress of joy," he called her, "lovely to contemplate; one rejoices to hear her voice." She became pregnant soon afterwards.

Outside, on the streets of Thebes, massive changes were underway. The young king had workers hurriedly build a giant temple for Aton. It was more than 600 meters long.

In another temple, images of Nefertiti hung resplendent on colorful murals, which depicted her alone, giving offerings of thanks as the "mistress of Aton."

It was unheard of, a violation of taboos. One of the principles of the kingdom of the pharaohs was that women could not become priests. They were excluded from salvation. An Unhappy Queen 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."

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