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Definition: Nefertiti from Philip's Encyclopedia

(active 14th century BC) Queen of Egypt as a wife of Akhenaten, frequently depicted as his co-regent. Her best surviving representation is a bust now in the Berlin Museum, Germany, which depicts her as exceptionally beautiful.


Summary Article: Nefertiti
from The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

Nefertiti was the Great Wife of the Egyptian king Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV)), whom she seems to have married soon after his accession. Her origins remain a matter of debate, but she was certainly not the child of a king; it has been suggested that she may have been the daughter of the army officer Ay, who later became king. Nefertiti and Akhenaten certainly had at least six daughters, Meryetaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Neferneferuaten-tasherit, Neferneferure, and Setepenre. It is unclear whether they had any sons, although it is possible that Akhenaten's probable son, Tutankhaten (later king as Tutankhamun), was also hers.

In year 4/5 of her husband's reign, when he changed his own personal name from Amenhotep to Akhenaten, Nefertiti expanded her name to Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, linking her explicitly with the new monotheistic cult of the sun-god Aten (see Aten/Aton) sponsored by Akhenaten. She appeared prominently alongside Akhenaten on many of his monuments, often wearing a distinctive flat-topped crown not otherwise found in an Egyptian queen's regalia, and in some cases with attributes more appropriate to a king.

Nefertiti's last dated appearance is in Akhenaten's Year 12, and some have speculated that she died or was even disgraced soon afterwards. However, it now seems almost certain that she was identical with the female king Ankhkheperure-merywaenre Neferneferuaten, who served as Akhenaten's co-ruler during his last years. It is possible that she continued to act as a co-ruler during at least the first three years of Tutankhaten, and as such was responsible for the first moves back towards polytheism after Akhenaten's death. Certainly the one dated text from Neferneeruaten's reign, dated to a Year 3, probably that of Tutankhaten, indicates that temples of Amun were by then flourishing again at Thebes.

Unfinished quartzite head of Nefertiti from the workshop of the sculptor Djhutmose at el-Amarna. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. © Photo Scala, Florence.

A number of items of Neferneferuaten's funerary equipment were subsequently used for the burial of Tutankhamun, indicating that she had not received the kingly burial that had been planned for her. Nothing is known of her actual burial place, although a tomb seems to have been begun for her at Amarna. It is uncertain whether Nefertiti's mummy may have survived: a number of mummies of the period were subject to DNA analysis in 2009 (Hawass etal. 2010), but more work needs to be done before any firm conclusions can be reached on the potential identification of any body as hers.

References and Suggested Readings
  • Aldred, C. (1968) Akhenaten, Pharaoh of Egypt. London.
  • Aldred, C. (1988) Akhenaten, King of Egypt. London.
  • Arnold, D. (1996) The royal women of Amarna: images of beauty from ancient Egypt. New York.
  • Dodson, A. (2009) Amarna sunset: Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb and the Egyptian counter-reformation. Cairo.
  • Freed, R. E.; Markowitz, Y. J.; D'Auria, S. H., eds. (1999) Pharaohs ofthe sun: Akhenaten; Nefertiti; Tutankhamen. London.
  • Gabolde, M. (1998) D'Akhenaton à Toutânkhamon. Lyons.
  • Hawass, Z. et al. (2010) "Ancestry and pathology in King Tutankhamun's family." Journal of the American Medical Association 303/7: 638-47.
  • Montserrat, D. (2000) Akhenaten: history, fantasy and ancient Egypt. London.
  • Redford, D. B. (1984) Akhenaten: the heretic king. Princeton.
  • Reeves, C. N. (2001) Akhenaten: Egypt's false prophet. London.
  • Tyldesley, J. (1998) : Egypt's sun queen. London.
  • Aidan Dodson
    Wiley ©2012

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