The Theban Tomb of Kheruef

A SCENE on the south side of the entrance corridor to the tomb of Kheruef, a high official of the period, in Western Thebes shows Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) offering libation to his father, Amenhotep III, who stands, facing him, before Queen Tiye. Part of the accompanying inscription found fallen nearby has the cartouches of both kings facing each other. Although this was sufficient for H. W. Fairman, the British Egyptologist, to regard it as yet further evidence in support of a coregency, Redford is not convinced and regards Amenhotep III as already dead at the time.

In every case where the two kings are shown together, opponents of the coregency try to persuade us that either the elder king is dead or that what we are looking at is his statue. The argument at Amarna is that, although Amenhotep III was depicted as being alive and at Amarna, this was purely because he could not be represented as Osiris, the ancient god of the dead, who was banned from the city of the Aten: now here, in the tomb of a Theban official, who is himself seen addressing a long hymn to Osiris, when we find Amenhotep III depicted as a living king – and no traces of the phrase ‘true of voice’ that usually follows the cartouche of a deceased king – Redford argues that the libation scene belongs to ‘the category of idealised portrayals. It is not a specific incident that is here being recorded. Nor can one argue that just because Amenhotep III is shown receiving an offering and about to eat – activities again reserved for the living – he must have been alive when the relief was carved. …’1

What Redford is, in fact, saying is that there is no evidence in this scene to indicate that Amenhotep III was dead. However, as Redford is not prepared to agree that he was alive, he presents this new explanation – although the old king is not represented here as dead, the representation took place, in a formalized, stylized, abstract manner that has nothing to do with time, after he had died. This is incorrect.

Almost all the royal scenes in Kheruef’s tomb are related to Amenhotep III’s sed festival celebrations. This was a rejuvenation ritual and celebration that kings normally held for the first time after ruling for thirty years, then in shorter intervals after that. Amenhotep III celebrated three such jubilees in Years 30, 34 and 37, but Akhenaten is known to have celebrated two jubilees while still at Thebes during his first five years. The Aten, his God, also celebrated, as kings did, many jubilees. Here Amenhotep IV is presenting his father with libation on the same occasion. (See also Appendix B (ii).)

The Meidum Graffito

A graffito from the pyramid temple of Meidum, in Middle Egypt and dating from the time of Amenhotep III, persuaded Carter of the coregency between Akhenaten and his father: ‘The graffito reads: “Year 30, under the majesty of the King Neb-maat-Re, son of Amun, resting in truth, Amenhotep (III), prince of Thebes, lord of might, prince of joy, who loves him that hates injustice of heart, placing the male offspring upon the seat of his father, and establishing his inheritance in the land.” The “heir” referred to in this graffito can be no less than Amenhotep IV, who afterwards assumed the name Akhenaten. There was probably some reason for establishing this young prince upon the throne.’2

As usual, Redford does not agree with this view. He argues that the ‘male offspring’ referred to is not the king’s son: ‘The addition after the praenomen (coronation name) of ‘son of Amun’ is especially significant. In formal inscriptions it is Amun who is spoken of as establishing the king on his (i.e. Amun’s) throne … The inscription refers entirely to the king (Amenhotep III); it is he who is called the “male”, and it is his own inheritance that is spoken of as being established. “His father” is none other than Amun, the epithet “son of Amun” in the first line being possibly a semantic antecedent.’3 The point the author is making is that, as Amenhotep III was celebrating his first jubilee in Year 30, this inscription indicated the re-establishment of the king on his ancestral throne and the reconfirmation of his inheritance. Yet if we look back at the text we find first that the date given relates to the king himself, Amenhotep III, the son of Amun, and this is followed by three phrases:

1   Who loves (he, the king, loves) him that hates injustice of heart;

2   Placing (he, the king, who is placing) the male offspring (the heir) upon the seat of his father;

3   And establishing (he, the king, who is establishing) his (the heir’s) inheritance in the land.

Nobody can say that, just because the king is called the ‘son of Amun’ or the ‘son of Re’ or of any other god, the statement that follows refers to the god rather than the king, and it is clear here that it is the king who is the subject of all the subsequent verbs. Then again, jubilee celebrations did not indicate inheritance, but rather rejuvenation of power.

To justify the use of the very strange epithet ‘who hates falsehood’ it is equally clear that the king must have been referring to some kind of opposition to a decision of his. The injustice he implies seems to be ‘not placing the heir upon his father’s seat’, but, by placing his son there, the king was doing the just thing and securing the inheritance for him. Here Amenhotep III appears also to be defending an action that had taken place prior to Year 30. The only reasonable explanation would be that Amenhotep III felt that his son and heir, Amenhotep IV, whose mother, Tiye, had not been the heiress, might be challenged over inheriting the throne after the old king died. He therefore decided, while still alive, to appoint him as coregent to guarantee his inheritance. If a coregency of twelve years is accepted, this must have started in Year 28, with the priests of Amun being the almost certain source of protest. This protest could be the same as that mentioned on one of the border stelae at Amarna where Akhenaten referred to some critical comments he had heard about himself before he moved out of Thebes.

The king was regarded as the physical son of Amun. As Tiye was not the heiress when she and Amenhotep III were married, she could not be regarded as the consort of Amun and her son, Amenhotep IV, could not be considered the physical son of Amun. In the Eighteenth Dynasty that meant he would not be accepted as the legal heir and king. This same situation faced an earlier Pharaoh, Tuthmosis III, whose mother was not the heiress when she married. On that occasion an adoption ritual took place at Karnak where the image of Amun, carried by the priests, chose Tuthmosis III as Amun’s son. Once Amenhotep IV had been rejected by the priests, he in turn rejected Amun, chose Aten as his father, first forced Amun out of his supreme position, then destroyed all the other gods, eventually establishing Aten as the only legitimate God of whom Akhenaten was the son. The real sense of Amenhotep III’s statement in the Meidum graffito cannot be understood other than against this background.

The Tushratta Letters

After Akhenaten became the sole ruler of Egypt, Tushratta, King of Mitanni, wrote to him expressing the hope that they would enjoy the same friendship that had existed between him and Akhenaten’s father, Amenhotep III. On its arrival the letter (No. EA27) was dated by an Egyptian hieratic docket which reads: ‘[Year?]2, first month of Winter, [day … ], when one (the king) was in the southern city (Thebes) …; copy of the Naharin (Mitanni) letter which the messenger Pirizzi and the messenger [Puipri] brought.’

The German philologist Adolf Erman was the first to translate this docket. As the edge of the tablet was broken and he found tiny traces of ink ahead of the ‘2’, Erman decided that it was possible to restore the date to ‘[Yearl]2’ If this restoration was accepted, the letter, thought to have been the first sent to Akhenaten by the Mitannian king after his father’s death, could be regarded as confirmation of a coregency of twelve years. However, another German philologist, J. A. Knudzton, contradicted Erman’s restoration and preferred the reading ‘[Year]2’. Scholars have been divided since the start of the century over which restoration is correct, although Redford has admitted: ‘Actually, on the evidence of the traces alone, both readings can be maintained.’4 It has been argued by opponents of a coregency that, from the presence of Akhenaten at Thebes, to which the letter was addressed, it must have arrived during his first five years, when he was resident there before moving to Amarna, while supporters of a coregency make the point that he was already living in Amarna and had simply travelled to Thebes to attend his father’s funeral. Redford has summarized the situation in the following terms:

‘The letter to which this docket is appended, EA27, was written shortly after Amenhotep III’s death … Consequently the letter is rightly understood to be the first written by Tushratta to Akhenaten after the latter’s entry upon sole rule. The allusion [in it] to “the great feast for mourning” shows that the funeral rites for Amenhotep III were either still in progress or had just been concluded. Now there are but two possible restorations of the date, Year 2 or Year 12. No other … If Year 2 is restored, only a very short coregency amounting to but a few months at the most is possible. If Year 12 is restored, a coregency of not less than eleven years is as good as proved.’5 We therefore have to seek elsewhere for evidence that might point to the correct dating of the letter.

Redford has made the point: ‘Between the death of Amenhotep III and the writing of [letter] EA27 there occurred a short but well-attested exchange of letters between Tushratta and Tiye.’6 This is not strictly accurate. In all, four letters from Tushratta form part of the coregency debate, but only one was addressed to Tiye: Akhenaten was the recipient of the other three. The letters are numbered from EA26 to EA29, but their contents indicate that they did not arrive in the order their numbering might suggest.

Redford, Gardiner and other scholars believe that letter No. EA26, addressed to the queen, was the first to arrive. The text begins: ‘To Tiye, the Queen of Egypt …’ and goes on to make it clear that, before the sending of this letter, a Mitannian messenger named Giliya must have happened to be in Egypt at the time of Amenhotep III’s death and Tiye had taken advantage of the fact to send back with him news of her bereavement as well as asking Tushratta to be as friendly with her son as he had been with her husband. Tushratta then goes on to complain: ‘The present, which your husband commanded to be brought, you have not sent me; and gold statues … Now, however, Napkhuriya (Akhenaten), your [son] … has made (them) of wood.’7

The fact that Akhenaten had made wooden statues instead of the promised gold ones and sent them to Mitanni, where they had arrived before Tushratta’s letter to Tiye was written, suggests that some time had elapsed between the death of Amenhotep III and the despatch of the letter of protest to the queen.

The first letter to Akhenaten (No. EA27) also dwells upon the gold issue. After mentioning the arrival from Egypt of a king’s messenger named Khamashshi, seeking Tushratta’s friendship, the Mittanian king complains: ‘Your father … wrote … in his letter, at the time when Mani (the Egyptian messenger) brought the price for a wife (Tushratta’s daughter, Tadukhipa)’ that he had promised Tushratta two gold images, much other gold, lapis lazuli and ‘implements without number’. Tushratta’s messengers had actually seen the promised gifts ‘with their own eyes’. Yet, he protests, on a return visit Mani has brought wooden images, not gold ones. The letter makes the point that, if Akhenaten has any doubts aboud the truth concerning the promised gold, he should ‘ask his mother’,8 suggesting that it is Tiye rather than the young king who is au fait with the arrangements made by her late husband.

The remaining two letters from Tushratta to Akhenaten are Nos. EA28 and EA29. Redford believes that they are numbered in the order in which they arrived, but, because of the nature of their tone and contents, I believe the reverse to be the case.

Letter No. EA29, which I regard as the second from Tushratta to Akhenaten, delves even more deeply into the history of the friendly relationships between the two royal families in order to persuade the new king to continue them and to send the promised gold. He is also invited again to seek confirmation from his mother that Tushratta is speaking the truth: ‘… the images [of gold] … for which I made request you have not given me … my messengers for four years … The images which I requested from your father, give; and now [when I have sent] my messengers for the second time [if he] does not prepare and give [them], he will grieve my heart … Your mother Tiye knows all about these things, and (therefore) ask your mother Tiye … [Now my brother said:] “Giliya ought to return to him. Because I should otherwise grieve my brother’s heart, I will send Giliya back.” [However, I said]: “Inasmuch as I have sent back quickly my brother’s messengers, so let my brother always my messengers [send back quickly]”… gives me word and sends Mani to me, then I will … Giliya, with friendly intentions, to my brother.’9

From this letter it is clear that the messenger Mani is in Egypt because Tushratta is asking for him to be despatched with the gold. In letter No. EA28, however, we learn that Mani is not only in Mitanni, but being held hostage against the return of two of Tushratta’s messengers. After the usual initial friendly formalities, Tushratta comes straight to the point: ‘Pirizzi and Puipri, my messengers, I sent them to my brother at the beginning of his reign, and ordered them to express sorrow very strongly. And then I sent them again. And this message, on the former occasion, I gave to my brother: Mani, the messenger of my brother, I will retain until my brother sends my messenger, and until he arrives… Now, however, my brother has in general not allowed them to go has retained them very much indeed.’10 The earlier letter containing ‘this message’ is missing. We therefore have no means of knowing what might have been the reason for Mani’s third journey to Mitanni, but it was probably part of the ordinary exchange of messages between monarchs.

Much new information is revealed in letter No. EA28. Tushratta is no longer asking for gold or gold statues: he just wants the return of his two messengers, Pirizzi and Puipri. We also learn that they made two trips to Egypt – the first to ‘express sorrow’ at the death of Amenhotep III, the second when they brought the first letter we have to Akhenaten from Tushratta in Year 2 or Year 12 – and they have been detained ‘very much indeed’ by the time letter EA28 was written. The unfriendly tone of this letter, the presence of Mani in Mitanni and the fact that Tushratta seems to have lost all hope of obtaining gold, which he no longer mentions, makes it more probable that this, rather than letter EA29, was the last to Akhenaten from the Mitannian king.

From these communications we can establish the following chronology of events:

At the time Amenhotep III died, he had been arranging his presents for Tushratta, including two golden statues. Giliya, the Mitannian messenger, was in Egypt, probably waiting to take the gifts back to his master. These plans fell through on the death of Amenhotep III. Instead, Giliya left for home to inform Tushratta of his friend’s death and carrying a message from Queen Tiye, expressing the hope that the Mitannian friendship would continue in the reign of her son, the new king. Either at the same time as Giliya’s journey home or shortly afterwards, Akhenaten sent Khamashshi with a letter to Tushratta also asking for the Mitannian king’s friendship.

After this initial exchange of messages, Tushratta sent two messengers, Pirizzi and Puipri, to attend the funeral rites of Amenhotep III. While they were still in Egypt, or not long after they had returned home, Akhenaten despatched his messenger, Mani, with two wooden statues instead of the gold ones Tushratta had been promised by Amenhotep III. A disappointed Tushratta sent Pirizzi and Puipri back to Egypt with two letters, one to Akhenaten (No. EA27), dated by the Egyptian docket as arriving in Year 2 or Year 12, first month of Winter, and complaining about the wooden statues: the second (No. EA26) to Queen Tiye, asking her to inform her son of the friendly relationship between the Mitannian king and his father and asking her to try to persuade him to send the gold. Akhenaten for his part decided to keep the two Mitannian messengers in Egypt.

Tushratta sent another messenger with a letter (No. EA29) asking again for the gold, complaining about the detention of his two messengers and requesting the Egyptian king to send Mani to him. Akhenaten must have agreed to this request and sent Mani with a letter to Tushratta as we find him in Mitanni in what I believe to be the third letter to Akhenaten (No. EA28), in which Tushratta states that Mani is being held hostage against the release of Pirizzi and Puipri.

Therefore, contrary to what Redford would have us believe, the funerary rites of Amenhotep III were neither still in progress, nor had just ended, when Letter No. EA27, the first to Akhenaten, arrived; they had ended much earlier. Pirizzi and Puipri had attended the funeral rites, returned home and were on their second visit when they brought this letter. As Akhenaten’s celebration of his sole reign took place in the second month of Winter of his Year 12, their return would have taken place some days before this occasion if the reading for No. EA27 was Year 12.

Nor was Tushratta’s letter to Queen Tiye sent before that first letter from the Mitannian king to Akhenaten: Akhenaten had already sent two messengers – Khamashshi and Mani, with the wooden statues – to Tushratta before the first surviving letter to him, No. EA27, was brought, together with Tiye’s letter. It is also clear that, as Mani was not in Mitanni when letter No. EA29 was written, yet we find him detained there as a hostage in letter No. EA28, these two letters must have been written in the reverse order to which they are numbered. Nor does the mention in letter No. EA29 of a four-year delay mean, as Redford understood, that the Mitannian ambassadors were detained in Egypt for that period: it is a reference to the fact that the Mitannian king had been trying for four years, without success, to obtain the gold that Amenhotep III had promised.

A more relevant point to the coregency argument, however, is the fact that we know from the evidence of the remains of the Malkata palace complex of Amenhotep III at Western Thebes that Akhenaten resided there before Year 30 of his father. Now, at the end of his father’s reign at the start of his Year 39, how is it that the Crown Prince appears to be entirely unaware of the details of his father’s relationship with Tushratta? Ask your mother, Tushratta keeps saying: Tiye knows all the details. Why would Akhenaten have no knowledge of the gold statues which, we know from Tushratta’s letters, the Mitannian king’s messengers had seen with their own eyes? The only explanation is that Akhenaten was totally in the dark about these events because he was not at Thebes when they took place. We know that from Year 4 of his reign Akhenaten, to avoid confrontation with the hostile Amun priesthood at Thebes, started to build his new city at Amarna and resided there in part until Year 8, when he made it his permanent home. If, as all the other evidence indicates, the coregency started in Year 28 of his father, then from Amenhotep III’s Year 32 – shortly after the correspondence with Tushratta began – Akhenaten, having started to build his new capital, distanced himself increasingly, then finally, from the governing of Egypt and from its foreign affairs.

Thus all the implications support the reading of Year 12 rather than Year 2 for the arrival of letter No. EA27 of Tushratta to Akhenaten, who was staying at the time at Thebes before he moved, probably followed by the two Mitannian messengers, to Amarna to celebrate the assumption of his sole rule in Egypt. As the second-last letter we have from Tushratta to Akhenaten speaks of a four-year period during which he had been trying unsuccessfully to obtain the promised gold, this would agree with the chronology if the coregency is established as having lasted until Year 12 of Akhenaten’s reign and was then followed by a period of five years during which he ruled alone.

The Tomb of Aper-el

After this chapter had been written, it was announced that the tomb of Aper-el, vizier to Akhenaten, had been discovered, almost intact, at Sakkara by the French archaeologist Alain-Pierre Zivie. The discovery, sixty feet beneath the sand, is the climax to ten years’ work and of great significance. The tomb makes it clear that Aper-el, a figure previously unknown in Egyptian history, had been a high priest of the Aten before he became Akhenaten’s vizier. Zivie was also able to retrieve from the tomb three skeletons and many pieces of funerary furniture. The latter include a box given to Aper-el by Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye. Amenhotep III’s cartouche and his praenomen, Neb-Maat-Re, were found in two other cases in the tomb.

This is the most significent archaeological evidence yet unearthed to point to a coregency between Amenhotep III and his son, Akhenaten. The main points are: (1) Akhenaten would not have had a vizier unless he was ruling, (2) his father would not have three mentions in the tomb by his praenomen, Neb-Maat-Re, unless he was still alive after his son, initially known as Amenhotep IV, had changed his name to Akhenaten in honour of the monotheistic God he had introduced in Egypt.

As I said earlier, a more detailed discussion of many of these points is to be found in Appendix B, together with a rather complex argument involving another tomb – that of Ramose, mayor of Thebes and vizier of Upper Egypt. For the moment this somewhat protracted analysis of the pros and cons of a coregency can best be ended with the words of the American Egyptologist, William C. Hayes: ‘As it now appears that Akhenaten was elevated to the throne as coregent in or about Year 28 of Amenhotep III and transferred his residence to Tell el-Amarna in or about Year 33, this means that the bulk of dated inscriptions from the palace at Thebes are contemporary with those found at Amarna. We can, indeed, establish a close correspondence in date, year by year, between the two groups of inscriptions, based on the equations: Year 28 of Amenhotep III = Year 1 of Amenhotep IV, Year 33 of Amenhotep III = Year 6 of Akhenaten, Year 38 of Amenhotep III = Year 11 of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), etc.’11 Amenhotep III died in his Year 39, his son’s Year 12.

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