Tutankhamen, the famous “boy king” of ancient Egypt who ascended the throne as a child, died when he was around 19 years old, sometime between 1327 B.C. C. and 1323 a. C. But Tutankhamen’s death was unexpected and he left no heirs to the throne. So who ruled in the power vacuum that followed?
After king tut died, a pharaoh named Ay (also spelled Aya) ascended the throne and ruled for about four years until he died.
Ay had been a high royal official for many years and may have been the father of Nefertiti, the wife of Tut’s father, Akhenaten. Evidence for this is found in his title “Father of God”, which may imply that Aye was Akhenaten’s father-in-law, Aidan Dodson (opens in a new tab)professor of Egyptology at the University of Bristol in the UK, wrote in his book “Amarna Sunset: Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb and the Egyptian Counter-Reformation (opens in a new tab)(American University in Cairo Press, 2009).
But Ay was not welcomed by the old ruling family. Ancient letters suggest that Tutankhamun’s widow, Ankhesenamun, was desperate to prevent Ay from becoming pharaoh and asked the Hittites, a kingdom based in Anatolia (present-day Turkey), to send a prince who could marry her and rule Egypt. Dodson wrote. Surviving copies of the correspondence were found more than a century ago, and the first translation was published in French in 1931, wrote Hans Gustav Güterbock, who was a German-American Hittite scholar, in a 1956 article published in the Journal of Cuneiform Studies (opens in a new tab).
The Hittite king, Suppiluliuma I, found it hard to believe that the Egyptians would allow a Hittite to be pharaoh, but he eventually sent one of his sons, Zannanza (also spelled Zananzash), to Egypt. He died en route to or after entering Egypt, Dodson wrote, noting that Zannanza’s death may have been due to natural causes, as historical records suggest there was an epidemic in the area through which he would have traveled. . However, it is also possible that Zannanza was assassinated, Dodson wrote in his book, noting that there may have been a faction in the Egyptian court that opposed a Hittite becoming king and arranged for his death.
Related: Why did the pharaohs of ancient Egypt stop building pyramids?
To avoid being ostracized, Ankhesenamun may have tried to get a Hittite husband after Tutankhamun’s death, Dodson said. “I think it was a means of maintaining her personal power – a foreign husband would be dependent on her,” Dodson told LiveScienceKick.com in an email.
Ay may have been related to Ankhesenamun, possibly his grandfather. Still, if Ay ascended the throne, Ankhesenamun would likely understand that he and her son Nakhtmin would relieve her of any power, Dodson said. So her plan to marry a Hittite was “probably pure personal ambition,” she said.
That said, not everyone agrees that Ankhesenamun actually wrote those letters, he said. joyce tyldesley (opens in a new tab), professor of Egyptology at the University of Manchester in the UK “We have to be very careful not to take the Hittite letter at face value,” Tyldesley told Live Science in an email. “Is this really genuinely attractive to a husband? It seems highly unlikely.”
Ankhesenamun “was born royal and could have ruled in his own right,” Tyldesley said, noting that it is unlikely that the Egyptians would have accepted a Hittite prince as pharaoh. “Then the letter is perhaps part of a plot, hatched at the Hittite or Egyptian court?”
In any case, with Zannanza dead, Ankhesenamun’s plan (hatched by her or someone else) failed, and Ay took over. Ay’s reign was brief, not more than a few years; he built a mortuary temple at Thebes (present-day Luxor) and had a tomb prepared for him in the Valley of the Kings.
The end of Ay’s reign was also controversial. His unrelated successor, Horemheb (also spelled Haremhab), desecrated Ay’s tomb, erasing the names and images of Ay and his wife Tey (also spelled Tiy), Richard Wilkinson (opens in a new tab)professor of Egyptology at the University of Arizona, wrote in a chapter of the book “The Oxford Handbook of the Valley of the Kings (opens in a new tab)(Oxford University Press, 2014).
“There appears to have been a power struggle between Ay’s son Nakhtmin and Horemheb, and having won, Horemheb needed to show that Ay had been ‘a bad thing,'” Dodson said.
In addition to desecrating Ay’s grave, Horemheb issued a decree denouncing him. The decree described “the period prior to his accession as one of disorder and corruption,” Dodson said.