Nefertiti

Photo courtesy of bbc.com

Nefertiti

(1370 B.C. — 1336 (maybe) B.C.)

Stage Name: Nefertutti Frutti

After several weeks of featuring modern American heroes and sheroes, we decided to take a big (BIG, big) step back in time and feature a woman of astonishing beauty and mystery. Nefertiti, who walked this earth several thousand years before we did, has since become a global icon of beauty and power — which is, funnily enough, how we’re considered in modern-day society as well. 

Unlike us, however, Nefertiti was an ancient Egyptian queen during an era of massive transformation. A beautiful and powerful woman, Nefertiti is remembered for being not her husband’s inferior, but his equal. The couple and their children were depicted as loving and distinct individuals, neither of which was a common trend in artwork featuring royal families. While Troy has Helen, whose beauty launched a thousand ships, Egypt has Nefertiti, whose affinity for the sun god transformed the region’s art and culture and propelled the kingdom into a new era. 

Her energy is so infectious, she even has a Mardi Gras Krewe in her honor. The Krewe of Nefertiti, an all female squad, parades the streets of New Orleans during carnival season. In celebration of fierce female energy, Nefertiti requests you press play on this playlist: 

Nefertiti was born a long, long time ago when the years went backward instead of forward. Not a lot of information is known about Nefertiti’s upbringing (were diaries* a thing? What about birth certificates**??), but she was possibly born in Akhmim and was also possibly the daughter or niece of Ay, who was a high-ranking official. Or she was born in Syria. Or another foreign country. Who knows. No one knows, because she didn’t keep a diary. Ugh! However, what we do know is that “Nefertiti” means “a beautiful woman has come,” so allegedly she was a pretty girl (rock). We do also know that she had a younger sister named Mutnodjmet. And, that she married. That’s about it, though, when it comes to her personal life. So clearly her mysteriousness lives on to this 21st century from the centuries B.C.(which means “Before Camille and Emmy made Historic Shuffle!” Jk. It means “Before Christ”). 

Photo courtesy of mymodernmet.com

So, she married a future pharaoh named Amenhotep IV. Eventually Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten after making power moves in his fifth year as Pharaoh. She was apparently 15 when she married Akhenaten. At 15, we had braces and backpacks. Nefertiti, on the other hand, was en route to be a Queen. We all have our own paths, right? Akhenaten and Nefertiti were unique in that they were typically depicted together. It’s like Hootie’s song “Hold My Hand” is based on their relationship. Their reign was, so it seems, one in unison with each other especially because Akhenaten made it a point to have Nefertiti by his side. 

This couple came to power in Thebes and ruled from (again, allegedly) 1353 – 1336. In addition to their royal duties, they were also parents. Nefertiti gave birth to six daughters and possibly a son, though record isn’t 100% certain of their supposed son. In typical fashion, Akhenaten had another wife who was lesser than Nefertiti but with whom he still had children. They bore two sons together, one of whom was Tutankhamun. One of the daughters he had with Nefertiti, Ankhesenamun, married her half brother Tutankhamun. And yes, Tutankhamun is the popularly known “King Tut.” Talk about a true royal family. They didn’t even really marry outside of each other. 

Nefertiti and Akhenaten transformed Egyptian society with new rules. Before their reign, Egyptians worshiped thousands upon thousands of gods and goddesses. Their polytheistic belief system was neither all-powerful nor all-knowing however each deity had a purpose to maintain harmony in their society. Some gods and goddesses represented states of Egypt while others may have represented certain elements, plants or animals. Though not omniscient, these deities were more powerful than human beings. They could live indefinitely, affect people in visible and invisible ways and also could be here, there and everywhere at once. The Pharaoh stood between humanity and the gods. Because so much of the world around them was unknown, having these deities to worship kept a sense of order, understanding and peace for the Egyptians.

So with that in mind, it was pretty unheard of for Akhenaten to change their centuries-long religious practice. But that he did with Nefertiti in full support. They turned that polythesitic world into one of monotheism. Temple doors were shuttered and the new, one true deity of Nefertiti and Akhenaten’s Egypt was Aten, or the sun. This deity is depicted as the ball of fire with long rays shining down. The sun was everywhere; therefore, so was their power. By declaring one god to worship, they discounted all other deities and cults that followed them. This restored full power to the throne. With this new way of life, Amenhotep IV became Akhenaten and Nefertiti became Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, meaning “Beautiful are the beauties of Aten, a beautiful woman has come.” She was beautiful and in charge, and the whole world had to know it. What a flex.

With this religious revolution came a new royal residence for the pair. They left their home of Thebes and set up shop in a new city along the Nile River (for a new Egypt *chef’s kiss*) and named it Akhetaten, or “Horizon of Aten,’ to show their commitment to this one and only deity. Oftentimes Nefertiti wore the crown and destroyed enemies in battle. Akhenaten wanted her at the forefront with him, but despite this dedication to his partner in power, she suddenly disappeared from record.

The rumor mill says a few things could have happened. She was named co-regent and therefore began to dress herself as a man. Or she was sent into exile (not the ‘Survivor’ island, though) when their god of Aten was replaced with worship of Amen-Ra. She also may have died. We don’t know. Nobody knows. A lot of those theories have even been discredited, especially that she ruled in her husband’s place. He already had a male heir, cue King Tut stepping to the throne. However despite these ideas, she was eventually found one chilly, December day in 1913. 

A German crew of khaki wearing archaeologists led by Ludwig Borchardt uncovered her portrait bust while on a dig in Egypt at the Amarna workshop of the sculptor Thutmose. This was a huge discovery, and one that the Germans kept. They divided up their findings with the Egypian government before heading home to give the bust to the funder of their archaeological trip. It lived in his private home for eleven years before it was put on display in a German museum after World War I. Years later, you can still visit her in Germany today. It has, oddly, become an image of national identity for Germany even though they’re………not…….Egyptian……so their display and ownership of this infamous B.C. bust (depicted way above with 21st century airpods) is a controversial subject for Germany, Egypt and the ethics of the museum world. 

There is also rumor that maybe Nefertiti’s tomb was found. This lady, we’re telling you, is one worthy of obsession. We need to know!! The mystery is killin’ us. Anywho, there are outlines of blocked doors covered in religious script along the back of King Tut’s tomb (which was discovered in 1922). To this day, a team of Egyptologists is working to safely figure out if this is where Nefertiti lay. Nothing is known yet. So while we wait for the beautiful Nefertiti to make her way back to us, we remember her as one of Egypt’s most powerful and influential leading ladies.

*Marcus Aurelius had a diary! And that was back in Rome in the 2nd century A.D. Evidence also shows that people in ancient Middle Eastern and East Asian cultures kept diaries to record their inner thoughts and desires. Juicy! However, prior to the 18th century, diary-writing was nearly an exclusively male activity that was used more as a means to keep track of business transactions than to express secret wishes.

**Birth certificates were maybe a thing. Even before Jesus was born, it’s clear officials kept track of people’s births. Documentation from the Old Testament, as well as in areas such as China, Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome, indicate that records that counted and categorized populations were kept, likely for taxation and military purposes. 

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