A Biography by Megaera Lorenz

Drawing of Ay by Megaera Lorenz

Drawing by Megaera Lorenz

    Ay was a prominent figure in the Amarna period, taking the title of Master of the Horse under Akhenaten, and, eventually, taking the throne under mysterious and rather shady circumstances. Ay's involvement in the political intrigue surrounding the Amarna period and its aftermath has been a subject of much speculation on the part of all who are interested in this period in Egyptian history.


    While the names of Ay's parents are never explicitly stated, many scholars agree that Ay was probably a brother of Queen Tiye. Cyril Aldred and Donald Redford point out that it is likely that the job of Master of the Horse, formerly held by Yuya, father of Tiye, would have been passed on to Yuya's son (Aldred, 1987; Redford, 1984). Also, the fact that "God's Father" is among Ay's titles--suggesting him as the likely father of Akhenaten's chief wife and the royal heiress, Nefertiti--indicates that he was probably of royal blood.

Life During the Reign of Akhenaten:

    Ay appeared rather suddenly on the scene after the relocation of the capital city from Thebes to Akhetaten. He held the disticntive position of "the favored one of the Good God, fan-bearer on the king's right hand, true king's scribe and god's father, trusted throughout the entire land, commander of chariotry" (Redford, 1984). His wife, Tey, had earlier been Nefertiti's wet-nurse.
    Ay was, by all appearances, a model citizen of Akhetaten. His tomb, one of the most elaborate of the private tombs at Amarna, is filled with inscriptions proclaiming Ay's devotion to Akhenaten and the new religion. Ay tells us of his devotion and his resultant elevation to power under Akhenaten:

    I am one who is true to the king, one whom he fostered, who is straightforward to the Lord of the
    Two Lands, and effective for his lord. As his favorite, who sees his beauty when he appears in his
    palace, I follow the Ka of his Person, while I am in front of the officials and the king's companions, the
    first of all the followers of his Person. He has placed Maat in my innermost being. My abomination is
    falsehood, for I know that Waenre, my lord, rejoices in Maat, he who is knowledgeable like Aten and
    truly perceptive. He doubled for me my rewards in silver and gold while I was the first of the officials
    in front of the subjects, for my nature and my character were good, and he made my position there.
    My lord instructed me just so that I might practice his teaching. I live by adoring his Ka and I am
    fulfilled by following him--(the one who is) my breath, by whom I live, my northwind, my millions of
    Niles flowing daily, Neferkheperure Waenre: may you grant me a lengthy lifetime in your favor (Murnane, 1995).

Life During the Reign of Tutankhamun and Rise to the Throne:

    After the death of Akhenaten, Ay continued to serve under Akhenaten's son-in-law, Tutankhamun. He was no doubt quite influential during the young king's reign, and adopted the title of "eldest king's-son" (Redford, 1984). It seems likely that Ay had much to do with the eventual return to the former religion and capital during Tutankhamun's reign.
    A good deal of evidence points to Ay playing a role in the untimely death of Tutankhamun. King Suppiluliumas of Hatti, a longtime enemy of Akhenaten and his family, received a frantic letter from a queen. The queen, probably Tutankhamun's young widow and daughter of Akhenaten, Ankhesenamun, made an unusual request:

    My husband has died. A son I have not. But to thee, they say, the sons are many. If thou wouldst
    give me one son of thine, he would become my husband. Never shall I pick out a servant of mine and
    make him my husband! I am afraid! (Brier, 1998)

    The Hittite king was suspicious, but the queen insisted that she meant what she said, and he eventually agreed to send one of his sons, the unfortunate Zannanza. According to letters exchanged between the furious Suppiluliumas and Ay (the new pharaoh), Zannanza was killed on the way into Egypt. Ay, no doubt the "servant" referred to by Ankhesenamun, apparently married Ankhesenamun, thus ensuring his claim to the throne (Brier, 1998). It seems that Ay had set himself up to become pharaoh after the death of Tutankhamun, who died shortly after reaching an age when he might have begun to take more of his pharaonic power into his own hands.

The Reign of Ay:

    Once Ay had secured the kingship, the unfortunate Ankhesenamun quickly vanished, taking with her the last vestiges of the Amarna era. Ay reigned for only a little over four years, and apparently had no children to succeed him. He left the throne to one General Horemheb, who had served under Tutankhamun. Ay devoted much of his reign to the persecution of Akhenaten. Thus, Ay brought a close to the tumultuous and fascinating Eighteenth Dynasty. (Redford, 1984)

Aldred, Cyril (1988). Akhenaten: King of Egypt. New York: Thames and Hudson Inc.
Brier, Bob (1998). The Murder of Tutankhamen. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons
Murnane, William J. (1995). Texts from the Amarna Period in Egypt. Georgia: Society of Biblical Literature
Redford, Donald B. (1984). Akhenaten: The Heretic King. New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Return to The Amarna Royal Family.
Return to Akhenaten of Amarna.
Proceed to The Mystery of Akhenaten: Genetics or Aesthetics?
Proceed to The Art of the Amarna Period.
Proceed to Webpage-en-Aten.
Proceed to An Analysis of Akhenaten's Familial Relationships.

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Published 4/10/00.
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