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King Tutankhamun


King Tut Ankh Amun Golden Mask. By Steve Evans (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tut who?

Tutankhamun, also known as King Tut, ruled Egypt as the 12th king of the 18th dynasty for 9 years (1332 - 1323 BCE). Born around 1341 BCE, King Tut is famous for his rise to the throne at a young age of just 9 years old and also his early death at 19 years old. This young boy king had inherited the throne from his revolutionary father, Akhenaten, who was the ruler that converted Egypt’s polytheistic religion to a monotheistic one - worshipping only one god, the sun disc, Aten. 

Originally, Tutankhamun was given the name “Tutankhaten” by his father, which meant "the living image of Aten" as an indication of his father's religious revolution. However during a point of time in his reign, his name was changed to Tutankhamun to signal the return of the Amun religion. King Tut ended his father's monotheistic religious rule, because he believed that the reason for Egypt’s chaotic state was the result of the wrath of other gods who were not worshipped by the people during his father's reign. Other than this restoration of religion, Tutankhamun is also very famous for his mysterious early death and intact tomb. In fact, much of the knowledge on King Tut’s life and reign in Ancient Egypt comes from the discovery of his tomb, as it was sealed and intact when it was found. As a result, historians were able to learn more about the dynasty which he ruled, the mummification practices that existed and the immense wealth of Egypt during this time.


  King Tête de Toutânkhoman enfant (musée du Caire/Egypte). By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra [ CC BY 2.0 ], via  Flickr

King Tête de Toutânkhoman enfant (musée du Caire/Egypte). By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

A Boy Pharaoh

The childhood of King Tutankhamun started as a calm one; he was the heir to the throne and adored by his parents, Akhenaten and Kiya. It is thought that Tutankhamun must have had a good childhood, and he probably did not have any interest in politics and had an ignorant view about his father’s teachings and politics. 

However his stable childhood came to a startling end when his father died in 1338 or 1336 BCE, and Tutankhamun (remember it was still Tutankhaten at that time) ascended the throne at the mere age of nine. His rule was largely overseen by his vizier, Ay, and Ay's assistant Horemheb - Egypt's top military commander at that time. Both of them helped King Tut during his rule and they too believed that Egypt’s bad state was due to Akhenaten’s monotheistic rule which disregarded other gods.

The fact that Tutankhamun ascended the throne when he was only a child indicates his inability to rule Egypt all by himself. Yet this emphasises the way Ancient Egyptians viewed royalty, and how important it was to them that sovereignty should only remain in the bloodline. There was an indisputable respect that, despite his immaturity, age did not matter and there was no question that King Tutankhamun should rule as Pharaoh.

Royal Sibling Marriage

  Tutankhamun and his wife (B.C.E 1330). Scan by Pataki Márta (Own Book) [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via  Wikimedia Commons

Tutankhamun and his wife (B.C.E 1330). Scan by Pataki Márta (Own Book) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, in the same year King Tut took over his father’s reign (1332 BCE), he married his half-sister Ankhesenamun, the third daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. While this may seem unethical in today’s society, sibling marriages were actually very common back in Ancient Egypt.

Historians believe that Tutankhamun’s marriage with his half-sister could be for the purpose of keeping the royal blood within family. In early periods, it was common for gods marriage between brothers and sisters and even fathers and daughters, although this was mostly limited to the royalty of Egypt. Egyptian kings may have seen it as a royal privilege to do so. In addition, some theories also believed that brother-sister marriages may have strengthened the king’s claim to rule as well. This, hence, explains the trend of marrying cousins, or uncles and nieces rising among the Egyptian royalty.

A Short but Glorious Reign

Tutankhamun’s reign was pretty short compared to his father’s reign of 17 years, and he was unable to accomplish many great things in his short reign of eight to nine years. Despite this (although most of the decisions were made by the elders and administration due to King Tut's inexperience), his diplomacy seemed to be successful as he strived to restore the welfare and conditions of Egypt. King Tut went about this firstly by trying to re-establish good relations with Egypt's neighbours who were neglected during Akhenaten's reign. By attempting to restore the old religion, he had faith that the gods would once again favour Egypt and its people, and he did so by commanding the repair of holy sites. 

Sadly, when he grew up and was ready to make his own decisions, King Tut tragically died at the age of 19. His misfortune was further intensified by the fact that he was the last ruler of his dynasty for he had no heir to his throne. The two daughters of Tut and Ankhesenamun were both stillborn - likely attributed to the incestuous practices of Egyptian royalty at that time. What is captivating about this is that traditionally in Ancient Egypt, keeping royalty in the bloodline was of utmost importance as in the case of King Tutankhamun’s coming to reign at a young age after the death of his father. However the dismal fact that he did not have any children of his own made this impossible. Therefore as a result Ay came to rule the throne.

In comparison, this is completely different from the traditional way pharaohs came to power - by being heirs to the throne. Usually sons inherit the power from their fathers who were previous pharaohs. But the kingdom left behind by King Tut needed a ruler, and therefore they had to find the most suitable one - hence Ay’s ascension to the throne. Furthermore, Ay then married Tutankhamun’s wife to legitimise his claim to authority, although some sources say this wasn't true. Instead, because Ay oversaw King Tut's journey to the afterlife and was in charge of his burial, Ay affirmed himself as pharaoh. While Egyptian pharaohs often married foreign women, it was unheard of for an Egyptian woman such as Ankhesenamun who came from a royal bloodline to marry a foreigner. Despite this, Ay ruled Egypt for three years and too died without an heir, allowing Horemheb to subsequently take over the throne.

Magnificent Remains

Although King Tut may not have accomplished much during his 19 years of life, his death and burial are the main highlight for historians. Thanks to his tomb, Tutankhamun has not been forgotten in the modern world. In fact, King Tut was considered a minor figure in Ancient Egypt's history, but he is undeniably one of the most famous pharaohs. No one actually knew of King Tut's existence until Howard Carter, a British archaeologist, discovered his nearly intact tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in 1992. This magnificent discovery alone made King Tut as the world’s most renowned pharaoh. His fame mainly generates from the magnificent artefacts found in his lavish tomb. His sarcophagus made Tut become the face or symbol that represents Egypt.

  Tuthankamen's famous burial mask, on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen ( Own work by uploader ) [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via  Wikimedia Commons

Tuthankamen's famous burial mask, on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen (Own work by uploader) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Because King Tut’s tomb was one of the rare Egyptian tombs that was almost intact, it became the primary source for historians to study about Egyptian burial traditions and cultures. This is the primary significance of King Tut’s existence to history. The artifacts inside his tomb included some stone sarcophagus, mummified remains, gold coffin and thousands of other artefacts. From these extractions, historians and archaeologists were able to learn more about the 18th Egyptian Dynasty, including their mummification practices and vast wealth during this period.

Standing out from the rest of the artefacts in his tomb would most definitely be the stone sarcophagus of King Tut. It is undeniably a revolutionary finding, not only because of his royal mummy still present inside (preserved for more than 3000 years), but also because of other intriguing artefacts found around his mummified body. Precious remains like bracelets, rings and collars found in the tomb have played an important role of being the main resources for historians to get a clearer picture of the cultures and traditions of Ancient Egypt civilization.

Thank You, Tut!

Therefore despite inheriting the throne at such a young age, Tutankhamun led a significant change on Egypt during his short reign by turning over his late father’s old regime and restoring order. In comparison to other Egyptian pharaohs, King Tut’s story might not be as extravagant, but the discovery of his tomb is definitely worth a great deal of attention. His tomb, upon discovery, was the first that was almost completely intact. It had managed to elude robbers for thousands of years, allowing it to be a priceless piece of evidence for historians. King Tut's tomb disclosed his extravagant way of life that is way beyond our imagination, as well as granting us invaluable insights into his reign and how he lived. King Tutankhamun - the boy pharaoh who ruled, married and died tragically early - is definitely one to remember.