SMENKHKARE, AN OBSCURE PHARAOH OF THE 18TH DYMASTY
by Jimmy Dunn -
We list Smenkhkare as the eleventh pharaoh of Egypt's famous 18th Dynasty, ruling from 1336 until about
1334 BC. In point of fact, he may never have ruled on his own, though in the later years of Akhenaten
reign, he was probably a co-regent. His birth name was Smenkh-ka-re (or Djeser-kheperu, meaning
"Vigorous is the Soul of Re, Holy of Manifestations"). His name can also be found as Smenkhkara. His
Throne name was Ankh-khepery-re, meaning "Living are the Manifestations of Re".
Smenkhkare is a study in the difficulties of Egyptology, and why the list of kings of Egypt vary from
scholar to scholar. While there are many times we are able to determine the factual history of Egypt
in some great detail, at other times, even in otherwise well documented eras, darkness suddenly
surrounds events due to an absolute lack of good evidence. Sometimes this evidence has simply not been
discovered, but at other times, the evidence would exist, had it not been hacked away by the ancient
Egyptians themselves. Such is the case with Smenkhkare.
We know very little of Smenkhkare's life, or even where he was buried, though he is entwined with the
mysteries of tomb KV 55 on the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes). If the mummy found in that tomb was
indeed Smenkhkare, then he probably died at around the age of 20 to 25. However, because of the heresy
of the Amarna kings, the cartouches and much other evidence within KV 55 were mostly destroyed. One of
the factors that has led scholars to believe that the mummy is in fact Smenkhkare is a process of
elimination. At first the mummy was thought to be that of Queen Tiye, but subsequent examination of
the remains indicate that instead, it is the mummy of a young man. It was also speculated that the
mummy could have been non other then Akhenaten, who we think was Smenkhkare's father, but Akhenaten
ruled Egypt for 17 years and it seems difficult to believe he could therefore have died at such an
early age. Hence, the plausibility that the mummy is that of Smenkhkare. Further analysis has also
revealed that the mummy's blood type and that of Tutankhamun are the same, and that the skull
dimensions are very similar, leading scholars to believe that not only is this Smenkhkare, but that he
was indeed Tutankhamun's older brother.
He was probably either a younger brother or older son of Akhenaten, but if a son, he would not have
probably been also a son of Nefertiti. We believe she had only daughters. He would have therefore
probably been the son of some minor wife, perhaps even Kiya, who we also believe to be the mother of
Tutankhaman. Most Egyptologists believe that if he ruled at all after the death of Akhenaten, it would
probably only have been for a few months, but there is also a strong possibility that he did not
survive Akhenaten's reign.. He was succeeded by the famous Tutankhamun. He was married to Merytaten who
was probably his eldest sister, the senior heiress of the royal blood line, but she seems to have died
early, leaving her sister, Ankhesenpaten in this position. It was Ankhesenpaten who married a somewhat
younger Tutankhamun. Smenkhkare and Merytaten are pictured in the tomb of Meryre ii at Amarna, and were
once shown on a relief at Memphis.
Yet there has, over time, been a great deal of controversy on all these facts. It would seem that
Smenkhkare became co-regent shortly after the death of Ankhenaten's principle wife, Nefertiti.
Speculation at times have run rampant, including one theory that Nefertiti herself had actually
disguised herself as a male in the custom of Hatahepsut, becoming co-regent.
Lending some credence to this is the "Co-regency Stela, a fragment of which was found in Amarna.
Originally, the stele depicted three figures, identified as Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and princess
Merytaten. In later years, however, the name of Nefertiti had been excised and replaced with the name
of King Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten, and the name of the princess had been replaced with that of
Akhenaten and Nefertiti's third daughter, Ankhesenpaaten. It is curious that Nefertiti's figure,
clearly that of a female, would be relabled with the name of a king. Second, the erasure of Merytaten's
name and the usurpation by Ankhesenpaaten suggests that Merytaten died before the end of Akhenaten's
There is even controversy surrounding Smenkhkare's wife, Merytaten. It has been suggested that rather
then dying early, she outlived her husband and served as a nominal co-regent under the name of
Ankhetkheperure, a feminization of her late husband's throne name.
However, the dominant theory today seems to place Smenkhkare as an older son of Ankhenaten, though
there is almost an equal likelihood that he was Ankhenten's brother, and that he was likely made co-
regent at about the age of 16. For his coronation, a huge brick hall was added to the Great Palace at
Amarna, with no fewer than 544 square columns in its main room.
He most probably had differences with Ankhenaten's religious philosophies early on. The funerary
equipment that he had made for a possible unfinished tomb at Amarna had almost no sign of the sun cult
of Akhenaten. Yet he seems to have wavered, perhaps out of respect to his father or brother.
Inscriptions on elements of his funerary equipment also show that he altered his name to
Neferneferuaten, the -aten indicating an acquiescence to Akhenaten's religious beliefs.
However, this is another area of confusion about Smenkhkare among scholar. We are also told by
authoritative sources that Neferneferuaten was perhaps one of Nefertiti names, and thus the continued
controversy surrounding the possibility that Smenkhkare was non other than Nefertiti herself. However,
the name of Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten are actually never used together, suggesting that they were
two different people.
Later still, we read of the existence of a "priest and scribe of divine offerings of Amun in the "House
of Ankh-khepery-re" at Thebes", suggesting that he intended to not be buried at Amarna, but rather in
the Valley of the Kings at Thebes. This information comes from a stele dating from Smenkhkare's third
year of rule, and partly states that:
Regnal year 3, third month of Inundation, day 10. The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two
Lands Ankhkheperure Beloved of Aten, the Son of Re Neferneferuaten Beloved of Waenre. Giving worship to
Amun, kissing the ground to Wenennefer by the lay priest, scribe of the divine offerings of Amun in the
Mansion of Ankhkheperure in Thebes, Pawah, born to Yotefseneb. He says:
"My wish is to see you, O lord of persea trees! May your throat take the north wind, that you may give
satiety without eating and drunkenness without drinking. My wish is to look at you, that my heart might
rejoice, O Amun, protector of the poor man: you are the father of the one who has no mother and the
husband of the widow. Pleasant is the utterance of your name: it islike the taste of life . . . [etc.]
"Come back to us, O lord of continuity. You were here before anything had come into being, and you will
be here when they are gone. As you caused me to see the darkness that is yours to give, make light for
me so that I can see you . . .
"O Amun, O great lord who can be found by seeking him, may you drive off fear! Set rejoicing in
people's heart(s). Joyful is the one who sees you, O Amun: he is in festival every day!"
For the Ka of the lay priest and scribe of the temple of Amun in the Mansion of Ankhkheperure, Pawah,
born to Yotefseneb: "For your Ka! Spend a nice day amongst your townsmen." His brother, the outline
draftsman Batchay of the Mansion of Ankhkheperure. (Murnane, 1995).
It is likely that Smenkhkare tired of the religious heresy of Akhenaten's reign, and late in his life,
possibly moved to Memphis, the old secular capital of Egypt. Perhaps over time his role in Egypt's
history will become clearer to us, but for now, his existence is one of the great mysteries of Egypt's
Smenkhkare (sometimes erroneously spelled Smenkhare or Smenkare and meaning Vigorous is the Soul of Ra) was an
ephemeral Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh of the late Eighteenth Dynasty, of whom very little is known for certain.
Believed by a growing number of experts to be the mummy from KV55, he is believed to be a younger son of
Amenhotep III and queen Tiye, and therefore a younger brother of Akhenaten. Traditionally he is seen as
Akhenaten's co-regent and immediate successor and predecessor of Tutankhamun and is assumed to be a close, male
relative of those two kings (either by blood or marriage).
More recent scholarly work has cast serious doubts on this traditional view and most aspects of this individual's
life and position. His relation to the Amarna royal family, the nature and importance of his reign, and even
"his" gender are up for debate. Related to this is the ongoing question whether Akhenaten's co-regent and
successor are in fact the same person.
The scenes in the tombs of Meryre II and Huya (located in the Amarna Northern tombs necropolis) depicting the
"reception of foreign tribute" are the last clear view we have of the Amarna period. The events depicted are,
in the tomb of Meryre II, dated to the second month of Akhenaten's regnal year 12 (in the tomb of Huya they are
interestingly enough dated to year 12 of the Aten) and show the last securely dated appearance of the royal
family as a whole (that is: Akhenaten and his chief-queen Nefertiti, together with their six daughters). These
scenes are also the first dated occurrence of the latter name-forms of the Aten. After this date the events at
Amarna and their chronology become far less clear. It is only with the accession of Tutankhamun, and the
restoration early in this king's reign, that matters become clearer again.
A scene from the tomb of Meryre II, depicts pharaoh Smenkhkare and his Great Royal Wife, Meritaten handing out
tribute from the window of appearances. the inscription was recorded upon discovery, but has since been lost.
It is precisely in this shadowy late Amarna period that Akhenaten's co-regent and probable immediate successor
comes to the fore. Akhenaten is generally assumed to have died in the late autumn of his 17th regnal year (after
the bottling of wine in that year). Nefertiti disappears from view somewhat earlier (around regnal year 14); the
reasons for this are at present still unclear and under debate (see below). Around the same time a new co-regent
is first attested...