The Story Of King Tut’s Wife, Ankhesenamun — Who Was Also His Half-Sister

Published May 30, 2018
Updated March 27, 2019
Published May 30, 2018
Updated March 27, 2019

Although she was the queen of Egypt, little is known about the life of Ankhesenamun following the death of King Tut.

Ankhesenamun And King Tut

Wikimedia Commons Ankhesenamun, shown on the right, giving flowers to her husband and half-brother, King Tut.

Ankhesenamun was born Princess Ankhesenpaaten in 1350 B.C., the third of six daughters born to King Akhenaton and Queen Nefertiti. Little is known of Ankhesenamun, although her half-brother is very famous.

King Tutankhamun, or King Tut, is the most famous Egyptian pharaoh on the planet because of his intact, treasure-laden tomb found in 1922. Hardly anyone knows King Tut’s wife, Ankhesenamun.

Yes, you read that right.

Ankhesenamun was both Tut’s half-sister and wife. Her tragic, incestuous story comes from a time in Egyptian history that saw religious upheaval and attempts to keep royal bloodlines intact. As a third daughter of the pharaoh, she also served as a possible bride for Akhenaton after her mother died.

The Egyptian pharaohs were obsessed with carrying on pure bloodlines, and incest was the only sure way to do that in their minds. Pharaohs saw themselves as descendants of gods, so they deemed incest as acceptable among royals. Akhenaton wanted to maintain power over the priests of Egypt by keeping his family in power and safe from outsiders.

Akhenaton worshiped Aton and made Aton the only god for Egyptians to worship, thereby turning Egypt into a monotheistic society. Not so fast, said the priests. Eradicating the worship of Amun, a traditional head of the Egyptian pantheon, was a threat to the power of the Egyptian religious caste. By having as many children as possible, Akhenaton could keep his monotheistic religion intact.

Akhenaton Family

Wikimedia Commons A depiction of Akhenaton and his family.

His plan failed.

Akhenaton tried to conceive children with Ankhesenamun’s older sisters, but those pregnancies supposedly ended in miscarriages. Briefly, Ankhesenamun may have been married to her father before Akhenaton died.

After Akhenaton’s death, his third-oldest daughter changed her name to Ankhesenamun because the priests tried to eradicate her father’s name from history. The priests in Egypt held a lot of sway and wealth in Egyptian society.

They didn’t want Akhenaton changing things up by creating a new monotheistic religion. The pharaoh’s death meant more power for the priests. As such, the children of Akhenaton changed their names to something with “Amun” in it to maintain favor with the religious caste. The royal family likely would have been killed had they not pledged loyalty to the priests.

Tut became pharaoh as a teenager after his father died following a series of regents. Like his father, an incestuous marriage ensued. Ankhesenamun, also a teenager, wed her half-brother to try to keep their family’s hold on power. It was bad enough that the priests tried to erase Akhenaton from the annals of history, but it was also scary that both the king and queen were very young and in charge of running the entire country. Tut and his bride initially relied on regents to try to govern the powerful ancient nation.

King Tut's Wife Ankhesenamun

Wikimedia CommonsAnkhesenamun on the right, King Tut on the left, this time in shiny gold and full color.

Tut’s time as king wasn’t the happiest. He had a club foot and needed a cane to walk, likely because of the incestuous relationship of his parents. Tut and his wife tried to have children, but archaeologists theorize that both children died by miscarriage because there were two very tiny mummified remains found in Tut’s tomb.

Both mummies were female. One was in the womb for five months, and the other was in the womb for eight to nine months. The older one suffered Sprengel’s deformity along with spina bifida and scoliosis. Medical scientists believe all three conditions may come from genetic problems caused by incest.

King Tut's Tomb

Wikimedia Commons Howard Carter opening King Tut’s sarcophagus, circa 1922.

Tut died young in his early 20s, leaving Ankhesenamun to fend for herself. She may have married Ay, the closest adviser to her and Tut (and her grandfather), but records on that are sketchy. What historians do know is that she wrote a letter to Suppiluliumas I, the king of the Hittites, in a desperate plea for help. She needed someone to be king of Egypt, and it didn’t matter that Ankhesenamun wanted someone from Egypt’s chief military rival to step in to save her kingdom.

Suppiluliumas I agreed to send Zannanza, a Hittite prince, after checking the queen’s story. Egyptian forces, perhaps loyal to Ay, killed Zannanza at the border of Egypt. Perhaps he wanted to protect his interests ahead of a possible marriage to his granddaughter.

The queen died sometime between 1325 and 1321 B.C. under mysterious circumstances. Historians refer to Ankhesenamun as Egypt’s Lost Princess as no one knows precisely what happened to her. Her tomb has yet to be found, but that may soon change. Archaeologists began excavating near the tomb of Ay in January 2018. Located in the Valley of Monkeys, near Luxor’s Valley of the Kings, experts think they may have found the tomb of Ankhesenamun.

Perhaps her tomb can shed more light on the tragic and short life of one of the most unknown figures in Egyptian history. Hardly anyone knows about Ankhesenamun, the woman who married her half-brother, the most famous pharaoh of Ancient Egypt.

After learning about Ankhesenamun, ancient Egypt’s Lost Princess, check out these shocking cases of famous incest throughout history. Then, read about Charles II of Spain who was so ugly he scared off two wives.

William DeLong
William DeLong is a freelance wordsmith. He thanks you for reading his content.