eleventh king of the eighteenth dynasty and the last of that dynasty whose consaguineous ties to the royal family are beyond doubt. Born at Amarna, he was first called Tutankhaten (“living image of [the sun god] Aten”), a name documenting an intimate association with Akhenaten (r. 1372–1355 BCE), who in all probability was his father. Information is lacking about Tutankhamun's mother, but since no document from his reign names her, she may be presumed to have died before his accession.
The suspicion that Tutankhamun could have been a usurper was dispelled in 1922 by the discovery of his tomb; the examination and analysis of his mummy revealed that he was a teenager when he died (and thus a child at his accession, since he reigned about a decade). Small-scale objects from his tomb, made for a child-king, confirm his tender age at accession.
The representations and texts on the gold throne found in the tomb prove that Tutankhamun's queen was Akhenaten's and Nefertiti's third daughter Ankhesenpaaten. The names of the royal couple in the inscriptions on the throne were altered in antiquity to read “Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun,” in conformity with the policy that restored Amun to the preeminence that he had enjoyed among the gods before Akhenaten's “revolution.”
Tutankhamun has often been considered a relatively unimportant ruler and his reign has been dismissed, yet the monuments tell another story. During the decade in which he occupied the throne, extensive restoration was undertaken to repair damage inflicted on Amun's cult in the iconoclastic phase of Akhenaten's reign. Simultaneously, the first official attacks on Akhenaten's memory occurred. Such policy decisions, as reflected in the alteration of the king's name from Tutankhaten to Tutankhamun, were taken early in his reign, perhaps as early as the brief period between the death and burial of his predecessor, Smenkhkare. Tutankhamun's extreme youth precludes attributing the initiative for those moves to the king himself; undoubtedly, both the “God's Father” Ay (r. 1346–1343 BCE) and General Horemheb (r. 1343–1315 BCE), who succeeded Tutankhamun, played major roles in the politics of the period, but whether as allies or rivals is not known.
During Tutankhamun's first regnal year, the court and administration were moved from Akhetaten (Amarna) to Memphis. Tutankhamun was in residence there when a decree was issued in his name to refurbish and re-endow the temples neglected during Akhenaten's reign. The cult of the deified living ruler, as it was practiced before the Amarna period, was also revived for Tutankhamun. Pictorial references to military activity in the Near East and Nubia are preserved in reliefs at Karnak temple and in the tomb of Horemheb at Memphis, but the historicity of those events is problematic.
The cause of Tutankhamun's death is not known, despite repeated but unsubstantiated claims that he was assassinated. Ay, who survived him by only a few years, honored his memory, but under Horemheb, Tutankhamun's monuments were regularly usurped. His tomb, number 62 in the Valley of the Kings, however, remained inviolate. Howard Carter's discovery of it in 1922 was one of the most spectacular archaeological finds of the twentieth century. Seventy-five years later, the majority of the objects from the tomb still await study and publication.
See also the entry on Howard Carter.
- Eaton-Krauss, Marianne. “Neue Forschungen zum Schatz des Tutanchamun.” Antike Welt 22.2 (1991), 97–105. Includes preliminary results of research on the thrones from the tomb.
- Eaton-Krauss, Marianne. The Sarcophagus in the Tomb of Tutankhamun. Oxford, 1993. Publication on the sarcophagus, arguing that it was among the items of funerary equipment usurped from Tutankhamun's predecessor, Smenkhkare.
- Eaton-Krauss, Marianne, and William J. Murnane. “Tutankhamun, Ay, and the Avenue of Sphinxes between Pylon X and the Mut Precinct at Karnak,” Bulletin de la Sociéte d'égyptologie de Genéve 15 (1991), 31–38. Reviews the evidence for Ay's attitude toward Tutankhamun and for the persecution of Akhenaten's memory during Tutankhamun's reign.
- Reeves, Nicholas. The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure. London, 1990. Retells the story of the tomb's discovery and surveys the equipment included with the burial; includes summary comments on the person of Tutankhamun (best consulted in conjunction with the review by M. Eaton-Krauss, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 80 , 253–256).