Occasionally throughout the history of ancient Egypt it became politically expedient to recognize two persons simultaneously as pharaoh. Usually this arrangement conformed to the Egyptian ideal of the “staff of old age,” whereby an elder functionary was assisted by a younger man whom he trained to succeed him in office. In a coregency, the father elevated his heir apparent to full kingship, to ensure a smooth transition and to transfer to the junior partner those duties (such as military leadership) that the senior partner found too taxing. Such partnerships regularly operated in a wide variety of circumstances, and they occurred not only between fathers and sons but also among siblings or other members of the royal family (notably during the Ptolemaic dynasty). In some cases, the “junior” partner was actually the elder of the pair (as with Queen Hatshepsut and the young Thutmose III).

Coregencies play a significant role in the scholarly literature of Egyptology, because their very existence is often in question. Suggestive evidence is often unclear, and even after strenuous debates on methodology, facts may be interpreted in more than one way. Coregencies are thus most securely identified in Ptolemaic and Roman times, when they are attested not only in narrative histories but also by double dates on contemporary business documents—typically in the form “regnal year X of King A, which is (nty iw) regnal year Y of King B.” The relative sparsity of such records in earlier periods makes it more difficult to determine whether coregencies took place. In the eighteenth dynasty, for example, Hatshepsut's coregency with Thutmose III is beyond question because the latter's progress from regent to coregent was indicated with tolerable clarity in a number of contemporary sources; moreover, the two kings' partnership is attested by numerous representations that show both rulers acting together, as well as by jointly dated records—“single-dated” documents which imply that Hatshepsut should have reigned alongside her nephew from the death of their predecessor. Thutmose II (e.g., “regnal year 12…under the Person of the Good God Maatkare [Hatshepsut], given life, [and of]…Menkheperre [Thutmose III]”; see Obsomer 1995, pp. 57–59). In this case, though, the facts are exceptionally clear and the circumstances unusual. In other situations, the evidence is so much more indirect or ambiguous that an element of doubt remains even where the probablity of a coregency seems high. These more debatable instances, in chronological order, are discussed below.

Old Kingdom.

Several coregencies in the fourth dynasty (Khafre and Menkaure), fifth dynasty (Neferirkare Kakai and Newoserre Any), and sixth dynasty (Merenre Antyemsaf and Pepy II, Pepy II and Antyemsaf II) have been suggested because those kings’ names were suggestively juxtaposed on cylinder seals and/or sealings (Kaplony 1977, pp. 286–293). Even when the reigns are indisputably contiguous, though, it may be more likely that these references are to periods and/or functions within the careers of officials who owned these artifacts. Further evidence for a coregency of Pepy I and Merenre Antyemsaf rests on the assumption that two royal statues, found together at Hierakonpolis in Upper Egypt, belonged to these kings and were designed to be displayed together: even if this were so (and if the smaller statue could be identified securely as Merenre Antyemsaf's), however, the reasons behind this pairing remain obscure.

Middle Kingdom.

Ending the First Intermediate Period, Montuhotep I of the eleventh dynasty united the Two Lands in 2040 BCE.

Montuhotep III and Amenemhet I.

Neither the presence of each king's name (in two distinct styles) on different sides of a stone vessel, nor the existence of a titulary for Amenemhet I earlier than the one he used through most of his reign, is regarded as convincing proof that they were coregents.

Amenemhet I and Senwosret I.

Doubts about this coregency, long regarded as certain, have mounted in recent years. What has been regarded as a double date, equating the senior ruler's thirtieth regnal year with his son's tenth (on Cairo Museum stela CG 20514), consists of two separate and uncoordinated labels, each located in an upper corner of the tablet, which can be read literally as “thirty years” and “ten years” (i.e., as periods of time rather than dates, although similarly abbreviated writings of “regnal year” are found later). Also, an assumed dateline of Amenemhet I that seemingly includes the names of both kings (on Louvre stela C 1) has been reattributed to Senwosret I alone (Obsomer 1993), although neither the new reading nor the inferences drawn from it seem absolutely certain. Evidence from the royal cemetery at Lisht, indicating that Senwosret I did not begin work on his own pyramid before completing that of his father during the first decade of his reign suggests a coregency but can be explained without one. Also ambiguous is a passage in the Instructions of Amenemhet I (W. Helck, Kleine Ägyptische Texte edition [Wiesbaden, 1986], VIII.a–c) that speaks of an attack on the old king as having occurred “before I had sat down with you, before the court had heard that I was bequeathing to you”: it is unclear whether this attack ended in the king's murder (cf. W. D. Waddell, Manetho [Cambridge, 1940], pp. 67–71 [fragments 35–37], though attributed there to Amenemhet II), or whether it was a failed coup that preceded the coregency. The issue is further clouded by a recent proposal to redate the work itself to the eighteenth dynasty (Grimal 1995), though here too the case falls short of disproving the conventional twelfth dynasty date. Such inconclusiveness overall makes it unwise to exclude this coregency at present.

Senwosret I and Amenemhet II.

Dates that appear in each of the upper corners of a stela (Leiden V 4: regnal Year 44 of Senwosret I and his son's regnal Year 2) are interpreted as “dating” the monument to the same year of a coregency. They might also refer to separate dates important to the stela's owner, although their nature is not made clear by the text.

Amenemhet II and Senwosret II.

Here there is a genuine double date, with Amenemhet II's regnal Year 35 “corresponding to” (ḥft) regnal Year 3 of his son. Although it can be argued that the coordination is between two identical activities, occurring at separate times, it still seems more likely on grammatical grounds that the equivalence is between the datelines themselves—that is, in a coregency.

Senwosret II and Senwosret III and/or Senwosret III and Amenemhet III.

An entry in one of the Illahun papyri records the nineteenth year of an unnamed king of the twelfth dynasty followed by the first year of another. Following the Turin Canon of Kings (which can be interpreted as giving nineteen years to Senwosret II), this item was attributed to Senwosret II and Senwosret III, allowing them only the shortest coregency or none at all. Later scholarship, noting that contemporary records indicated only eight years for Senwosret II and nineteen for Senwosret III, set aside the Turin data (as erroneous or out of order) and reattributed the Illahun dates to Senwosret III and Amenemhet III. Although this “short” reign for Senwosret III (instead of the thirty-plus years suggested by the Turin Canon) excluded all but the slightest overlap between him and his successor, contemporary materals made a suggestive case for a coregency with Amenemhet III; along with a variety of objects inscribed with the names of both kings, there is a text from the Faiyum, ostensibly a speech by the senior monarch that recognizes his son as king. In a time frame compatible with only a short coregency (or none), this is ambiguous evidence. Joint namings might be commemorative, and the speech could be the younger ruler's propaganda on his own behalf—a doubt not lessened by this composition's later reuse by Hatshepsut in her fictitious claim to have been crowned by her father, Thutmose I. Between 1992 and 1994, however, there appeared fresh evidence that revives a “long” reign of thirty-nine years for Senwosret III (Wegner 1996), which strengthen the case for a long coregency with Amenemhet III (starting in his father's twentieth regnal year.

Late twelfth dynasty.

There are no dated monuments that even suggest a coregency in this period. Although the temple at Medinet Madi in the Faiyum is decorated in the names of both Amenemhet III and Amenemhet IV, this might mean only that the son finished what his father had begun; and a commemorative impulse might also lie behind other monuments that coordinate their names. The same probably applies to the association of Sobekneferu's name with Amenemhet III on a few monuments.

Eighteenth Dynasty.

Ending the Second Intermediate Period, the New Kingdom dynasties were founded by Ahmose (r. 1569–1545 BCE).

Ahmose and Amenhotpe I.

King Ahmose's wife, Ahmose-Nofretari, held the title “king's mother” before her husband's death; however, it need not follow that their son Amenhotpe I was already reigning as coregent, since the queen's new rank might have been awarded formally, to establish her position in the hierarchy late in her husband's reign, if it did not refer to another prince elevated to titular “kingship” before he died and Amenhotpe I became heir apparent.

Hatshepsut and Thutmose III.

This undisputed coregency is discussed in the introductory section of the article.

Thutmose III and Amenhotpe II.

A coregency seems likely because the dates of the elder king's death and the younger king's accession feast are separated by four months in the civil calendar. Supporting evidence includes the juxtaposition of both king's names and images throughout the temple of Amada in Nubia, as well as the relative frequency with which they are shown together on private monuments. Based on information from a mid-eighteenth dynasty account papyrus, the coregency lasted no more than two years and ten months.

Amenhotpe II and Thutmose IV.

The case for a coregency is weak, given the inconclusiveness of attempts to identify both kings as senior and junior rulers on a statue from Karnak and to relate each one's claims to have celebrated a sed-festival (thirty-year jubilee).

Amenhotpe III and Amenhotpe IV (Akhenaten).

Speculation as to how the elder king might have foreshadowed or even promoted his son's religious revolution has helped make this the most hotly debated case of all. Proposed models have ranged from a long coregency (ten years according to Kitchen 1962; twelve for Aldred 1988) to short (e.g., two years at most, in Murnane 1977) to none at all (e.g., Redford 1967). There are no double dates: graffiti from Dahshur, discovered and attributed to the time of Amenhotpe III/IV, belong instead to Thutmose III. Proofs for a coregency have thus been sought indirectly—in “evidence” that the senior monarch dwelt at Tell el-Amarna, his son's preferred residence, between the latter's fifth and twelfth regnal years, or that officials and activities associated with one ruler overlapped significantly into the other's reign. Not one of these arguments has been able to withstand close scrutiny: some parts of the puzzle cannot be reconciled with a coregency without special pleading, while others (though compatible with a coregency) fall short of proof and can be explained without one. This ambiguity in much of the evidence has kept the issue alive. The most recent of the serious arguments in favor of a long coregency (Johnson 1990), while it calls attention to intriguing parallels between both the artistic styles and religious programs current during Amenhotpe III's final decade and his son's first twelve years on the throne, also falls victim to the temptation, endemic among scholars who have wrestled with this problem, to coax more specificity out of the evidence than is there (cf. Romano 1990). In sum, I believe that the Scottish verdict of “not proven” still stands in this case.

Akhenaten and Smenkhkare (and/or Nefernefruaten).

As in the previous case, all too much of the evidence can be described as suggestive but ambiguous. Even so, a block from Tell el-Amarna (found out of context) shows the lower halves of two pharaohs, one standing behind the other, before Akhenaten's god—reasonable grounds for assuming a coregency, but between which two kings? This is bound to remain doubtful as long as uncertainties persist regarding the number, identity, and sequence of Akhenaten's immediate successors, a debate which will go on for some time to come (see most recently, Gabolde 1999).

Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Dynasties.

Coregencies are likely neither between Tutankhamun and Ay nor between Horemheb and Ramesses I; claims for these rest on an association of their names that can just as easily have been commemorative. The case for a joint reign of Ramesses I with his son Sety I, while somewhat stronger, partakes of the same uncertainties.

Sety I and Ramesses II.

It is Ramesses II who claims that his father made him coregent “that I [may see] his beauty while I am [still] alive.” Since plausible data pointing to their joint rule can be detected in the younger king's earlier monuments, this coregency has been reckoned as certain. Recent investigation, however, raises enough questions about the interpretation of the evidence to put the matter once more in doubt.

Later New Kingdom, Third Intermediate Period, and Late Period.

Many of the alleged coregencies rest on evidence that can be construed as commemorative or inconclusive (Sethnakhte and Ramesses III: kings of the twenty-first, twenty-second, and twenty-fifth dynasties). Periods of joint rule are not rare during the Third Intermediate Period, but most should be viewed as reflecting mutual recognition among kings who reigned over different parts of Egypt. True coregencies between rulers of the same line (Osorkon III and Takelot III in the twenty-third dynasty, or Nektanebo I and Tachos in the thirtieth) can be demonstrated on the basis of dated records.

Ptolemaic and Roman Periods.

The numerous coregencies among rulers of the Ptolemaic dynasty, as well as the fewer instances among Roman emperors, are attested primarily in narrative histories. They are also confirmed in Egyptian records (dated documents and, to some extent, decoration on the monuments).

Bibliography

  • Aldred, Cyril. Akhenaten, King of Egypt. New York, 1988. Contains the author's final statement of his case for a coregency of twelve years between Amenhotpe III and Akhenaten.
  • Beckerath, Jürgen von. “Mitregentschaft.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 4: 155–161. Wiesbaden, 1982. An extended encyclopedia entry that includes some references not found in Murnane's 1977 book-length study of coregencies, listed below.
  • Brand, Peter. “Studies in the Monuments of Sety I.” Ph.D. diss., University of Toronto, 1997. Advances strong grounds for doubting a coregency of Sety I with Ramesses II.
  • Campbell, Edward Fay. A Chronology of the Amarna Letters, with Special Reference to the Coregency of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten. Baltimore, 1964. A solid study with conclusions (leaning toward a negative assessment) that fall short of being completely convincing.
  • Delia, Robert. “A New Look at Some Old Dates: A Re-Examination of the Twelfth Dynasty Double Dated Inscriptions.” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 1 (1979), 15–28. Argues that these entries do not indicate the correspondence of regnal years in the reigns of coregents.
  • Delia, Robert. “Doubts about Double Dates and Coregencies.” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 1 (1982), 55–69. Reply to Murnane's 1981 rebuttal, listed below.
  • Gabolde, Marc. D'Akhenaten à Toutankhamon. Lyons, 1999. Especially valuable for its insights on the later Amarna period.
  • Grimal, Nicolas. “Corégence et association au trône: l'Enseignement d'Amenemhat Ier,” Bulletin de l'Institut français d' archéologie Orientale 95 (1995), 273–280. Questions the relevance of this composition for the debate on the coregency of Amenemhet I and Senwosret I, suggesting that the work dates to the eighteenth dynasty instead of the Middle Kingdom.
  • Johnson, W. Raymond. “Images of Amenhotep III in Thebes: Styles and Intentions.” In The Art of Amenhotep III: Art Historical Analysis, edited by Lawrence Berman, pp. 26–46. Cleveland, 1990. Argues for a long coregency of Amenhotpe III and Akhenaten based on artistic and religious motifs.
  • Kaplony, P. Rollsiegel des Alten Reichs, vol. 1. Monumenta Aegyptiaca, 2. Brussels, 1977. Publishes documents that might (or might not) reflect coregencies during the Old Kingdom.
  • Kitchen, Kenneth A. Suppiluliuma and the Amarna Pharaohs: A Study in Relative Chronology. Liverpool, 1962. Makes a case for a coregency of Amenhotpe III with Akhenaten lasting about a decade.
  • Murnane, William J. Ancient Egyptian Coregencies. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 40. Chicago, 1977. A critical study of the evidence for coregencies and how they worked, due to be reissued in a revised new edition.
  • Murnane, William J. “In Defense of the Middle Kingdom Double Dates.” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar (New York) 3 (1981), 73–82. Rebuttal to Delia's 1979 article, listed above.
  • Murnane, William J. “The Kingship of the Nineteenth Dynasty: A Study in the Resiliency of an Institution.” In Ancient Egyptian Kingship, edited by David O'Connor and David Silverman, pp. 185–215. Probleme der Ägyptologie, 9. Leiden and New York, 1995. Touches on issues relevant to the situation of Ramesses II early in his reign.
  • Obsomer, Claude. “La date de Nésou-Montue.” Révue d' Égyptologie 44 (1993), 103–140. Republishes this document advancing cogent arguments against interpreting it as proof of a coregency between Amenemhet I and Senwosret I.
  • Obsomer, Claude. Sésostris Ier: Étude chronologique du règne. Connaissance de l'Egypte Ancienne, 5. Brussels, 1995. A study of the period that includes strong objections to this king's alleged coregency with his father.
  • Posener, Georges. Littérature et politique dans l'Égypte de la XIIe dynastie. Paris, 1956. A well-reasoned analysis of Middle Kingdom literary works, asigning a political subtext to most of them; while details of this case have come under attack recently, this book is still a classic and remains the starting point for any serious consideration of “propaganda” in the twelfth dynasty.
  • Redford, Donald B. History and Chronology of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt: Seven Studies. Toronto, 1967. Chapters 3 to 6 are devoted, respectively, to coregencies of the early eighteenth dynasty: Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, Amenhotpe III and Akhenaten, and Akhenaten and Smenkhkare.
  • Romano, James F. “A Second Look at ‘Images of Amenhotep III at Thebes: Styles and Intentions’ by W. Raymond Johnson.” In The Art of Amenhotep III: Art Historical Analysis, edited by Lawrence M. Berman, pp. 47–54. Cleveland, 1990. Rebuttal of Johnson's 1990 article above.
  • Schaeffer, Alicia. “Zur Entstehung des Mitregentschaft als Legitimationsprinzip von Herrschaft.” Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Alterumskunde 113 (1986), 44–55. Argues for the origins of the institution of coregency in the First Intermediate Period.
  • Seele, Keith C. The Coregency of Ramses II with Seti I and the Date of the Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 19. Chicago, 1940. Based mostly on styles of decoration in contemporary buildings, makes the case for a coregency in which the junior partner did not use an independent system of his own regnal years.
  • Simpson, William Kelly. “The Single-Dated Monuments of Sesostris I: An Aspect of the Institution of Coregency in the Twelfth Dynasty.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 15 (1956), 214–219. Uses the datelines as the springboard for a stimulating discussion of the interactions of senior and junior partners in the Middle Kingdom coregencies, as they were conventionally understood when this article was written.
  • Wegner, Josef W. “The Nature and Chronology of the Senwosret III-Amenemhat III Regnal Succession: Some Considerations Based on New Evidence from the Mortuary Temple of Senwosret III at Abydos.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 55 (1996), 249–279.

William J. Murnane