Smenkhkare Djeserkheperu Ankhkheperure

Reconstruction of the head of the KV-55 mummy by Megaera Lorenz

(Reconstruction of the head of the mummy from King's Valley Tomb No. 55, thought to be that of Smenkhkare. Drawing by Megaera Lorenz.)

by Megaera Lorenz

    Perhaps the most mysterious figure to come out of the Amarna period was a character known to us now as Smenkhkare, or sometimes Neferneferuaten. Smenkhkare apparently reigned for about three years, and spent some uncertain length of time as Akhenaten's coregent. The evidence concerning Smenkhkare is sparse and patchy, and theories about Smenkhkare are built on very unstable foundations. Some people have even questioned whether he existed at all -- at least, as a single individual. In the following essay I will try to present what little is known about this enigmatic figure and try to piece it together to form a somewhat coherent picture.

Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten:

    It was during the late part of Akhenaten's reign that references to a second king began to appear. A box from the tomb of Tutankhamun, apparently dating to Akhenaten's reign, bears the following titulary: "King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands, Ankhkheperure Beloved of Neferkheperure [=Akhenaten]; Son of Re, Lord of Crowns, Neferneferuaten Beloved of Waenre." Alongside this name are written the names and titles of Akhenaten, and the text "King's Chief Wife Meritaten, may she live forever." (Murnane, 1995).
    It is apparent from this inscription that Akhenaten and Ankhkheperure were ruling together, and that Ankhkheperure was married to Akhenaten's eldest daughter, Meritaten. But the most curious thing about this inscription is that one of Ankhkheperure's names is Neferneferuaten, also one of the names of Akhenaten's Chief Wife, Nefertiti. Because of this, some people have come to the conclusion that Akhenaten's coregent was none other than Nefertiti herself, ruling under a different name in the guise of a man. This seems extraordinarily unlikely -- would Nefertiti impersonate a man and take on her own daughter as a spouse? And yet, the throne name of King Ankhkheperure is occasionally written in the feminine -- i. e., Ankhetkheperure, with the feminine "t". William Murnane speculates that this indicates that King Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten was indeed Nefertiti, and a separate individual from King Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare (see below).
    A fragmentary stela from Amarna, now known as the "Coregency Stela," contains another puzzling bit of evidence. Originally, the stela depicted three figures, identified as Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and princess Meritaten. In later years, however, the name of Nefertiti had been excised and replaced with the name of King Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten, and the name of the princess had been replaced with that of Akhenaten and Nefertiti's third daughter, Ankhesenpaaten. First, it is curious that Nefertiti's figure -- clearly that of a female -- would be relabled with the name of the king. Second, the erasure of Meritaten's name and the usurpation by Ankhesenpaaten suggests that Meritaten died before the end of Akhenaten's reign, and that King Ankhkheperure then married Ankhesenpaaten.
    Little is known about the actual reign of King Ankhkheperure. Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten reigned for at least three years, although it is not known how much of this time was spent in coregency with Akhenaten. A fascinating stela dating from the third year of his (her?) reign bears the following inscription:

        Regnal year 3, third month of Inundation, day 10. The King of Upper
    and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands Ankhkheperure Beloved of
    Aten, the Son of Re Neferneferuaten Beloved of Waenre.
    Giving worship to Amun, kissing the ground to Wenennefer by
    the lay priest, scribe of the divine offerings of Amun in the Mansion of
    Ankhkheperure in Thebes, Pawah, born to Yotefseneb. He says:
        "My wish is to see you, O lord of persea trees! May your throat
    take the north wind, that you may give satiety without eating and
    drunkenness without drinking. My wish is to look at you, that my
    heart might rejoice, O Amun, protector of the poor man: you are the
    father of the one who has no mother and the husband of the widow.
    Pleasant is the utterance of your name: it is like the taste of life . . . [etc.]
        "Come back to us, O lord of continuity. You were here before
    anything had come into being, and you will be here when they are
    gone. As you caused me to see the darkness that is yours to give, make
    light for me so that I can see you . . .
        "O Amun, O great lord who can be found by seeking him, may
    you drive off fear! Set rejoicing in people's heart(s). Joyful is the one
    who sees you, O Amun: he is in festival every day!"
        For the Ka of the lay priest and scribe of the temple of Amun in
    the Mansion of Ankhkheperure, Pawah, born to Yotefseneb: "For your
    Ka! Spend a nice day amongst your townsmen." His brother, the
    outline draftsman Batchay of the Mansion of Ankhkheperure. (Murnane, 1995).

    Superficially, this stela is part of a popular genre from the late part of the 18th dynasty in which a sick person asks a god to cure a disease, in this case some sort of eye disease. But more significantly, it suggests that some time during the reign of Ankhkheperure there was an effort to return to the pre-Amarna era religion. Pawah is referred to as "the lay priest and scribe of the temple of Amun in the Mansion of Ankhkheperure." It would seem, therefore, that the Amun cult was officially sanctioned under the rule of King Ankhkheperure.
    However, Akhenaten's monotheism survived until approximately the third year of Tutankhamun's reign, and Akhetaten/Amarna remained the center of Egypt's administration until that time. Did Tutankhamun temporarily reverse an attempt to return to the old religion that took place during the reign of his predecessor? Is there any significance in the fact that this apparent return to the Amun cult took place in the same year of the reign of Ankhkheperure? Is it possible that Tutankhamun and Ankhkheperure were both names for the same person? Until further evidence surfaces, these possibilities will have to remain in the realm of wild speculation.

Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare:

    We also find references to King Ankhkheperure under another, better known name: Smenkhkare. In the tomb of Meryre II is a roughly painted scene depicting a king and queen. The king's titulary is as follows: "King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Ankhkheperure, Son of Re, Smenkhkare, Holy-of-Manifestations [=Djeserkheperu], given life forever continually." The queen is Meritaten, Akhenaten's eldest daughter. A calcite jar from Thebes lists the names of both Akhenaten and Smenkhkare Djeserkheperu. (Murnane, 1995). The name Smenkhkare is apparently never associated with the name Neferneferuaten. Does this mean that they were two different individuals, both of whom married Meritaten? William Murnane speculates that the two were indeed different:

This ruler's throne-name, Ankhkheperure, resembles his predecessor's so closely that they were once believed to be identical. Missing, however, is the variety of epithets which mark his predecessor's praenomen . . . Moreover, the same regularity is also seen with the distinctive personal name("Smenkhkare "Holy-of-Manifestations") attached to this figure.

    So what are we to make of Smenkhkare? Was he even a real person? Who was he, and how was he related to Akhenaten? Some of the answers to these questions may lie in some human remains discovered in 1907 by Theodore Davis in the Theban Valley tomb KV-55.

The KV-55 Mummy:
Photograph of the skull of the mummy from KV-55.(Photograph from G. E. Smith's The Royal Mummies, 1912)

    In 1907, an amateur Egyptologist named Theodore Davis led an expedition in the Valley of the Kings which uncovered a small tomb, now classified as King's Valley Tomb No. 55 (KV-55).
    The tomb had been badly damaged by water and robbers, and contained a confusing jumble of funerary equipment, including part of a small golden shrine belonging to queen Tiye, some magic bricks bearing the name of Akhenaten, a set of fine alabaster canopic jars which have been identified with numerous members of the Amarna family, and a beautiful multi-colored rishi (feathered)-type coffin with a badly damaged gold face. The names had been hacked out of the coffin. Inside the coffin was a poorly preserved mummy, encased in gold foil, which fell apart when it was unwrapped. (Aldred, 1988; Davis et al., 1910)
    The gold shrine, the apparently female heads on the canopic jars, and the fact that the coffin seemed to depict a female figure, convinced Davis and his team that they had found the body of Queen Tiye, the mother of Akhenaten.
    Davis and his team sent the bones to G. Elliot Smith, the Professor of Anatomy at Cairo School of Medicine. According to Smith, the gold mummy-bands that had encircled the mummy bore the name of Akhenaten (1912). However, according to Cyril Aldred, Arthur Weigall, one of the excavators of the tomb, reported that all the names that had once been on the bands had been hacked out (1988). The bands were stolen by Smith's laboratory assistants shortly after they were sent to him, so it is difficult to judge which account is correct.
    Elliot Smith's analysis revealed that the bones belonged to a man rather than a woman. He concluded that the man was no older than 25 when he died, based on the level of closure at the epiphyses of the long-bones and the level of dental wear (Smith, 1912). Subsequent analyses, the most recent of which was conducted by R. G. Harrison of Liverpool in 1966, have confirmed Smith's conclusion -- the skeleton is that of a man who died in his early twenties.
    For this reason, many have dismissed the idea that the KV-55 mummy could possibly be that of Akhenaten. Akhenaten reigned for 17 years and had already fathered at least one child by the first year of his reign, so it seems impossible that he could have died before the age of 28, at the very least. According to Dr. George Milner, Professor of Osteology at Penn State, the appearance of the pubic symphysis of the KV-55 remains confirms that the skeleton was that of a man of about 21, certainly no older than 22 (personal communication, 2000). Therefore, Smenkhkare seems to be the only other logical candidate.
    Blood-type analyses and comparisons of the skull dimensions of the KV-55 mummy with those of Tutankhamun have revealed that the two men were either father and son or brothers. But how are they related to Akhenaten?
    Both mummies have the broad, flat, elongated skull that is characteristic of the Amarna family, and the KV-55 mummy has the downward-slanting jaw and prominent chin seen in portraits of Akhenaten. If they were brothers, were they both sons of Akhenaten? If so, who was the mother? Since neither Smenkhkare nor Tutankhamun was featured in artwork and texts from Akhenaten's reign the way Akhenaten's and Nefertiti's daughters were, it seems unlikely that they were children of Akhenaten by Nefertiti herself. However, Tutankhamun is unambiguously referred to as a "King's Son" in one inscription. Some have theorized that they were Akhenaten's children by a minor wife, such as Kiya. At this point, we still do not have enough information to come up with a clear verdict.


Aldred, Cyril. Akhenaten: King of Egypt. Thames and Hudson. London 1988.
Davis, T. M. et al. The Tomb of Queen Tiyi. London 1910.
Harrison, R. G. 'An Anatomical Examination of the Pharaonic Remains Purported to be Akhenaten,' JEA 52
    (1966). pp 95.
Milner, George. Personal communication. 2000.
Murnane, W. J. Texts from the Amarna Period in Egypt. Society of Biblical Literature. GA 1995.
Smith, G. E. The Royal Mummies. Duckworth. Cairo 1912.

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.

All contents copyright © 1998 Brenna Lorenz, Megaera Lorenz, Malachi Pulte. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction of any part of site without express permission is strictly prohibited.

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