Egyptian Death Rituals The death of Pharaoh On a balmy November day in 1922 one of the greatest archeological finds ever would be made. It all started with the discovery of a single rough cut stone step, the first in a staircase that would lead to the most celebrated tomb of modern times. Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen would capture popular attention like no other discover before or after it. With each item brought from the tomb the public wanted to know more and more about the boy-king of Egypt. Probably the most intriguing and perplexing question surrounding the tomb is the mystery surrounding the death of the young Pharaoh. It has been over three thousand and three hundred years since the interment of Tutankhamen. Even with the discovery of the relatively intact tomb, or knowledge of teh king is sketchy, based upon a fragment here and a fragment there.
Howard Carter remarked after the discovery of the tob that, We are getting to know to the last detail what he had, but of what he was and what he did we are still sadly to seek(Carter 11). Even so, the evidence left to us down through three centuries paints a picture of intrigue and strife leading to a murder committed by a trusted courtier. To understand the circumstances surrounding this murder, we must start our investigation with the reign of Amenophis III, the ninth king of the Eighteenth Dynasty and most probably the father of Tutankhamen (see note 1). The one seed event of our tragic tale is Amenophis III’s encouragement of the worship of the Aten, or the sun disk. As a sign of his reverence for the Aten, he built a temple to the Aten and named his own private pleasure barge Splendour of Aten (Desroches-Noblecourt 114-115).
Egyptian pharaohs had ther idiosyncrasies like all people, and were tolerated in the religious structure of Egypt as long as the structure itself remained. The culture of Egypt centered upon its polytheistic religion. Everything in the empire had its patron god, and all were ruled over by Amen-Re. Every moment of their lives and on into their graves, the Egyptian lived knowing that their godes were responsible for everything in the world around them. Amenophis III would pass on his reverence of the Aten to his son Amenophis IV, and in so doing would mark the beginning of the end of the Eighteenth dynasty. When he ascended the throne, Amenophis IV was already firmly planted in the worship of the Aten. Within two years he had banned the worship of all other gods, plunging the country into panic and disarray when the people were denied the worship of their tr aditional gods. At the heart of Egyptian culture was its religion.
The polytheistic religion of the Egyptians permeated every aspect of life and death along the fertile Nile river. No other Pharaoh had ever dared upset the gods with such actions. When Akhenaten, as Amenophis IV was now calling himself, made the worship of the Aten the only official religion, he set forth a cultural shock wave that would profoundly affect his realm. To simplify a theology inaccessible to the masses; to reconcile people and god by showing the latter as the orb shining impartially upon all; to proclaim what the priests had known ever since the time of the gods: that men were born equal and that only their wickedness differentiated them; to unite mankind by bringing it close to all other life, and reminding it of the intimate relationship between all mineral, vegetable, animal and human elements; and to suppress the practice of magic which could only paralyze moral progress– such were th eleading ideas of Amenophis IV’s great design (Desroches-Noblecourt 126-127). Akhenaten’s reforms were met with strong oppositions by the priesthoods.
With Akhenaten’s banning of their gods, they had lost much of their power. The new priests of the Aten took the tributes form the other temples and chased all the clergy who would not embrace the Aten into hiding. Akhenaten sent workers throughout the empire, removing the names of the other gods from monuments and temples. He moved the center of his empire from the traditional capital at Nut-Amen (present day Thebes) to a new capital several leagues down the Nile. Akhenaten had, for the time being at least, cut off all other gods from their worship.
His empire, however, had fallen into disarray. While Akhenaten was focusing on his religious vision, the lands of Egypt’s empire began to assert their independence. The Asian vassals of Egypt were in rebellion (Budge, Tutankhamen 11). The priesthood of Amen-Re were actively inciting dissent towards Akhenaten. In his capital, Akhenated lived peacefully according to the spirit of the Aten. His pacifist ideals ran up against the traditionalism of the scribe Paatenemheb, who had risen to the rank of general in Pharaoh’s army (Desroches-Noblecourt 207) Upon the death of Akhenaten, there was a period of brief turmoil. The Aten factions and the traditionalist factions jumped to secure the throne.
The person who succeded in gaining the throne was the boy Tutankhaten, a close relative of Akhenaten. By virtue of his marriage to the Princess Ankhesenpaaten, most probably arranged by the Queen Nefertiti and her father Ay, Tutankhamen sat on the throne of Egypt (see note 2). When a king of Egypt ascended the throne, he would have five names. The two most important were the prenomen and the nomen. The nomen was the king’s own personal name.
At the beginning of his reign, his nomen was Tutankhaten, Living Image of the Aten. After the second year of his reign, he changed his nomen to Tutankhamen, Living Image of Amen. The Prenomen, or throne name, is that name used to refer to the king as Pharaoh. Tutankhamen’s prenomen was Nebkheperure, The lordly manifestation of Re. (see note 3) For the first three years of his reign, the worship of the Aten was continued. The priests of the other gods were permitted to resume worship and Tutankhaten was crowned by the priests of Amen-Re in the vast Temple of Amen-Re at Karnak.
In the second year of his re …