Tutankhamen (reigned 1361-1352 B.C.), the twelfth King of the Eighteenth Egyptian Dynasty, became the most famous of the Pharaohs when his treasure-filled tomb was discovered in the 20th century.

The parentage of Tutankhamen is unknown. When he became king, he was only a child, for although he reigned 8 full years, examination of his body showed that he was little more than 18 years old at the time of his death.

Tutankhamen acceded to the throne shortly after the death of Ikhnaton. He may have owed his accession to his marriage to Ankhnesamun, the third daughter of Ikhnaton and Nefertiti. Tutankhamen had originally been named Tutankhaten, but both he and Ankhnesamun (originally Ankhnespaten) deleted from their names all reference to the sun disk Aten as soon as they abandoned Amarna, the city built by Ikhnaton for the sole worship of Aten. Tutankhamen apparently left the city very early in his reign, for, with the exception of a few scarabs, no trace of him has been found at Amarna.

The addition to Tutankhamen's name of the epithet "Ruler of Southern On" indicates that he regarded Thebes as his principal city. There can be little doubt that he made every effort to placate the supporters of the god Amun, and a stele erected near the Third Pylon of the temple of Karnak depicts Tutankhamen offering to Amun and Mut. The accompanying text refers to the state of decay into which the temples and shrines of the gods had fallen during the period of the Atenist heresy. Tutankhamen had a large peristyle hall at Luxor decorated with reliefs illustrating the festival of Amen-Re.

Despite the existence of conventional representations of the Pharaoh slaying his foes, it is doubtful that Tutankhamen engaged in any serious military operations. There is some indication that the actual power behind the throne was an elderly official named Ay, who is depicted on a fragment of gold leaf with Tutankhamen. On another fragment Ay bears the title of vizier. He had already posed as a coregent before the death of Tutankhamen; and as regent Ay is represented undertaking his obsequies on the walls of the young pharaoh's burial chamber.

Tutankhamen is probably the best-known of the pharaohs owing to the fortunate discovery of his treasure-filled tomb virtually intact. His burial place in the Valley of the Kings had escaped the fate of the tombs of his predecessors. The entrance was hidden from plunderers by debris heaped over it during the cutting of the later tomb of Ramses VI.


Further Reading on Tutankhamen

Penelope Fox, Tutankhamen's Treasure (1951), contains a biographical study of the Pharaoh and a description of his time. Genevieve R. Tabouis, The Private Life of Tutankhamen: Love, Religion, and Politics at the Court of an Egyptian King (trans. 1929), is a historical re-creation of the man and his times. An account of Tutankhamen's tomb and its contents is given by its discoverer and excavator, Howard Carter, and coauthor A. C. Mace, The Tomb of Tut-ankh-amen (3 vols., 1923-1933); it is available in an abridged edition entitled Tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amen, edited by Shirley Glubok (1968). The historical background is discussed in Cyril Aldred, Akhenaten: Pharaoh of Egypt (1968).