Was King Tut murdered? That question was posed by Bob Brier's 1998 book The Murder of Tutankhamen. Tutankhamen lived -- and died -- 3,000 years ago, and a later pharaoh tried to erase him from Egyptian history. Until the rediscovery of his tomb in 1922, little was known about Tutankhamen. Even today, it's difficult to piece together his tale, but Brier believed there was plenty of evidence to suggest that Tutankhamen was a victim of foul play.
We don't know for sure who Tutankhamen's parents were. He was probably the son of the pharaoh Akhenaten and his secondary wife, Kiya. Egyptian kings often had more than one wife at a time, and Akhenaten's most important wife, or "Great Wife," was the famous beauty Nefertiti. Apparently Akhenaten and Nefertiti had six daughters (one of whom may also have become Akhenaten's wife).
In a strange departure from tradition, artists of Akhenaten's day portrayed their pharaoh with female characteristics -- wide hips, large breasts. It's not clear if this was a reflection of reality or some sort of symbolism. Akhenaten and his daughters were also shown with very long heads, fingers and toes. Brier explains that they may have suffered from a genetic disorder called Marfan's Syndrome. (Compounding the mystery, even Nefertiti is sometimes shown with these deformities.)
But perhaps it isn't so strange that Akhenaten's portraits depart from tradition. The pharaoh himself certainly was no traditionalist. Early in his reign he renounced Egypt's gods and established a new religion based around the worship of just one god, represented as the Aten, or sun disk. He also abandoned the traditional cities and palaces of the pharaohs and moved his family to a remote spot in the desert, where he built a new city in an area now called Amarna. There, in splendid isolation, the pharaoh devoted himself to his family and his god, while his neglected nation began to fall apart.
The Boy King
Tutankhamen spent his early years in Amarna and probably knew little of the outside world. His mother seems to have died giving birth to him. When Tutankhamen was just 10 years old, Akhenaten also died. Young, inexperienced Tutankhamen was now the pharaoh of Egypt. He quickly abandoned Amarna, returned to Egypt's traditional capital, Thebes, and resumed the worship of the old gods. He also married his half-sister Ankhesenamen, who was about his age. Brier believes that all of these decisions were made for the boy king by Egypt's powerful vizier, Aye.
We have no way of knowing how Tutankhamen felt about the abandonment of his childhood home and religion, but his marriage seems to have been a very happy one. Paintings and objects in the Tutankhamen's tomb show the affection between the young husband and wife. Ankhesenamen offers her husband flowers; Tutankhamen pours perfume into his wife's hands. Also found in the tomb were the mummies of two fetuses, apparently children miscarried by Ankhesenamen. It seems Tutankhamen and his wife had no surviving children.
At the age of 18, Tutankhamen suddenly died. There are no historical records explaining the cause or circumstances of his death. According to Brier, X-rays show that the young pharaoh might have been killed by a blow to the head, although this is not certain. More suspicion is raised by what happened after Tutankhamen's death. His widow sent desperate messages to the king of the Hittites -- Egypt's enemies -- begging him to let her marry one of his sons. She stated that she was afraid. She also said that she "refused to marry a servant." Brier believes that the servant she referred to was Aye, who wanted to marry her in order to establish his own claim to the throne.
The Hittite king did send one of his sons to marry Ankhesenamen, but the young prince was murdered on the way at the order of Egypt's highest general, Horemheb. The evidence suggests that poor Ankhesenamen ended up marrying Aye. What happened to her next is not known. Aye became pharaoh of Egypt. After his death he was succeeded as pharaoh by Horemheb, who did his best to erase the memories of Tutankhamen and Aye from history. He was so successful that very little was known of Tutankhamen until the rediscovery of the boy king's almost-intact tomb in 1922.
In 2005, researchers announced that new CT scans of Tutankhamen's body revealed no evidence that the king had been struck on the head or otherwise violently murdered. It is possible that he died from an infection in a broken leg. It is also possible that he was poisoned or killed by some other method undetectable today.
This article was first published at Suite101.com.
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Tutankhamen: The Search for an Egyptian King by Joyce Tyldesley. Describes the life and times of the famed King Tut and the tall tales that have embellished his life story.
The Unknown Tutankhamun by Marianne Eaton-Krauss. This biography traces Tutankhamun's life from birth to burial, analyzing his parentage, childhood, reign, death and burial.
Tutankhamen: The Life and Death of the Boy-King by Christine El Mahdy. The author is an Egyptologist.
The Boy Behind the Mask: Meeting the Real Tutankhamun by Charlotte Booth. Includes photographs of the Egyptian pharaoh's personal items.
Tutankhamun: Egypt's Most Famous Pharaoh by Bill Price. A short guide, including recent research on King Tut's life and death.
King Tut's World
The Golden King: The World of Tutankhamun by Zahi Hawass. In this richly illustrated book, Egypt's leading archaeologist chronicles the Boy King and his royal dynasty.
Tutankhamen: Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian Monotheism With Hieroglyphic Texts of Hymns to Amen and Aten by E. A. Wallis Budge. About the religion of Tutankhamen's time.
Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs: Official Companion Book to the Exhibition Sponsored by National Geographic by Zahi Hawass. The 50 Tutankhamun artifacts featured in this book illustrate many uses of gold and other precious materials in ancient Egypt. Also images of the full-body forensic recreation of the boy king.
The Murder of Tutankhamen: A True Story by Bob Brier. Explores the questionable circumstances of King Tut's death -- a shocking story of ambition, betrayal, and murder.
Judgement of the Pharaoh: Crime and Punishment in Ancient Egypt by Joyce Tyldesley presents the other side of the story -- according to the author of this book, Tutankhamen wasn't murdered.
The Murder of King Tut: The Plot to Kill the Child King by James Patterson and Martin Dugard. The authors consider X-rays, Howard Carter's files, forensic clues, and stories told through the ages to arrive at their own account of Tutankhamen's life and death.
The Mysterious Death of Tutankhamun by Paul Doherty. In this nonfiction account, mystery writer Doherty theorizes that the boy king died of Marfan's syndrome.
Fiction About King Tut
Tutankhamun: The Book of Shadows by Nick Drake. As Egypt's young king is crowned, a killer waits in the shadows. Sinister gifts begin appearing in the palace, and detective Rahotep is summoned to investigate.
The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure by C. N. Reeves and Nicholas Reeves. An introduction to the pharaoh's life and explains how Howard Carter discovered the tomb.
The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut's Mummy by Jo Marchant. Traces the story of Tutankhamun's mummy from its first brutal autopsy in 1925 to the most recent arguments over its DNA.
Tutankhamun: The Life of the Boy King by Jaromir Malek. Brings to life the age of the pharaohs and Howard Carter's discovery of King Tut's tomb. Includes facsimiles of Carter's papers, including diaries and notebooks, as well as photographs, drawings, and diagrams from the expedition.
In the Valley of the Kings: Howard Carter and the Mystery of King Tutankhamun's Tomb by Daniel Meyerson. In 1922, Henry Carter opened King Tut's tomb. The discovery brought him fame but nearly destroyed him.
The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun by Howard Carter. Captures the painstaking, process of excavation and the wonders of the treasure-filled inner chamber. 104 on-the-spot photographs.
A Passion for Egypt by Julie Hankey is about Egyptologist Arthur Weigall, Tutankhamun and the "Curse of the Pharaohs."
A Journey Between Souls: The Story of a Soldier and a Pharaoh by Elaine Edgar. Biography of a man who guarded the tomb while it was being excavated.
Contents of Tomb
King Tutankhamun: The Treasures of the Tomb by Zahi Hawass, photographs by Sandro Vannini. Detailed photographs of the most magnificent artifacts found in King Tut's tomb. Includes 324 color illustrations.
King Tut: The Journey Through the Underworld by Taschen, photos by Sandro Vannini. Boy king Tutankhamun's voyage into paradise as told by ancient Egyptian treasures.
Tutankhamun's Footwear: Studies of Ancient Egyptian Footwear by Andre J Veldmeijer. Tutankhamun's tomb included a large collection of shoes and sandals, analyzed here in detail for the first time.
Akhenaten and the Religion of Light by Erik Hornung, translated by David Lorton.
Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet by Nicholas Reeves. Biography of the Egyptian pharaoh who founded his own religion. The author is a former curator of the British Museum's Department of Egyptian Antiquities.
Akhenaten: King of Egypt by Cyril Aldred. Archaeological studies form the basis of this work on the civilization dominated by Akhenaten.
The Life and Times of Akhnaton by Arthur Weigaill. Akhenaten was the father of Tutankhamen.
King of Egypt, King of Dreams by Gwendolyn MacEwen. Novel about Akhenaton.
Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth by Najib Mahfuz. A fictional look at Akhenaten's life by a Nobel prize-winning author.
Akhenaten and Tutankhamun: Revolution and Restoration by David P. Silverman, Josef W. Wegner, and Jennifer Houser Wegner. Three Egyptologists examine royal power and how Akhenaten maintained it, and how his successors, most notably Tutankhamun, dealt with the restoration of traditional ways.
Nefertiti: Unlocking the Mystery Surrounding Egypt's Most Famous and Beautiful Queen by Joyce A. Tyldesley. For over a decade, Nefertiti, wife of King Akhenaten, was celebrated throughout Egypt. Then she suddenly disappeared from history. No record of her death survives. This book discusses Nefertiti's life against the background of her husband's court.
The Royal Women of Amarna: Images of Beauty from Ancient Egypt by Dorothea Arnold. This is the catalogue of an October 1996 exhibition. It traces the evolution of the elegant image of Nefertiti during the reign of Akhenaten, as well as her children and other royal women.
Nefertiti: A Novel by Michelle Moran. Novel about Nefertiti, the beautiful wife of Egyptian pharaoh Amunhotep, and her younger sister Mutnodjmet, who must defy her powerful sister to achieve her independence.
Sphinx's Princess by Esther Friesner. Novel. Manipulative Queen Tiye sees beautiful Nefertiti as an ideal pawn. For young adult readers.
Sphinx's Queen by Esther Friesner. Overnight, Nefertiti's life has changed. She is no longer the intended bride of the crown prince. Instead, she is being chased by the prince and his soldiers for a crime she did not commit.
Nefertiti by Nick Drake. Fiction. Beautiful queen Nefertiti suddenly vanishes and detective Rahotep is giving 10 days to find her. If he fails, his family will die.
The Woman Who Would Be Pharaoh: A Novel of Ancient Egypt by William Klein. Novel about Ankhesenamun, widowed wife of the murdered Tutankhamun. Facing a forced marriage to her own grandfather, she sends a friend on an impossible mission to the court of the most feared ruler of the ancient world.
King Tut by Susan Harkins. Biography for children ages 4 to 8.
Tutankhamun by Demi. Illustrated look at the king's life, from ostrich and lion hunts to the challenges of ruling his kingdom. For children ages 4 to 8.
Tutankhamun: The Mysteries of the Boy King by Zahi Hawass. Explains what we know about the pharaoh's way of life, his family, his empire, his tomb, and the mystery of his early death. For children ages 9 to 12.
Who Was King Tut? by Roberta Edwards. Explains the life and times of this ancient Egyptian ruler, the story of the tomb's discovery, as well as myths and so-called mummy curses. With 100 illustrations. For children ages 9 to 12.
Tutankhamun by Robert Green. Biography for ages 9 to 12.
The Two Reigns of Tutankhamen by William Wise, photographs by Harry Burton. Tells the stories of King Tut's life and the discovery of his tomb. For children ages 9 to 12.
Tutankhamen's Gift by Robert Sabuda. Fiction for ages 4 to 8.
Tomb and Mummy
Tut's Mummy Lost -- And Found by Judy Donnelly, illustrated by James Watling. For children ages 4 to 8.
The Curse of King Tut's Mummy by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, illustrated by Jim Nelson. Howard Carter found the tomb of King Tut. But did the treasure come with a deadly curse? For children ages 4 to 8.
The Tomb of King Tutankhamen by Michael Woods and Mary Woods. For children ages 9 to 12.
King Tut's Tomb: Ancient Treasures Uncovered by Michael Burgan. For children ages 9 to 12.
Inside the Tomb of Tutankhamun by Jacqueline Morley, illustrated by John James. Explores the boy king's life and world, and explains what happened to his tomb. For children ages 9 to 12.
King Tut's Tomb by Don Nardo. For children ages 9 to 12.
You Wouldn't Want to Be Cursed by King Tut! by Jacqueline Morley, illustrated by David Antram. Valley of the Kings, Egypt, 1922: Archaeologist Howard Carter discovers the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamen. But there are rumors that the tomb is cursed! Is it true? For children ages 9 to 12.
Akhenaten: The Religious Revolution by Susanna Thomas. Children's book.
Nefertiti of Egypt by Mary Englar. Biography for children ages 9 to 12.
Nefertiti by Brenda Lange. Biography for children ages 9 to 12.
A Coloring Book of Queen Nefertiti from Bellerophon Books is for children ages 9-12.
These DVDs are formatted for North American audiences.
King Tut - The Face of Tutankhamun. Retraces the footsteps of Howard Carter in search of the facts behind the legend surrounding the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun.
Tut: The Boy King. Documentary hosted by Orson Welles.
King Tut's Final Secrets. Documentary. Could there be some truth to the legendary curse of King Tut's tomb? An international team of scientists is investigating the mystery using state of the art technology.
Investigating History: The Curse of King Tut. Ancient records and modern investigatory methods help unravel more mysteries of the legendary boy-king.
Howard Carter: Triumph & Treasure. Filled with footage and photos from his expeditions along with selections from his own writings, this is a fascinating portrait of the legendary archaeologist who discovered King Tut's tomb. From A&E's "Biography" series.