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21 Facts You May Not Have Known About Queen Nefertiti

Updated December 18, 2020 2.4m views22 items
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Nefertiti is one of the most fascinating Egyptian rulers in history. She was a queen, but also a priestess - and might have even been a pharaoh. She and her husband, Amenhotep IV (AKA Akhenaten), tossed out the old gods and set up the sun as god in the form of Aten. This didn’t go over well with everyone, but it did give the couple absolute power over their subjects.  

In her 14 years of rule, Queen Nefertiti was held in high regard by her husband, her royal subjects, and Thutmose, the sculptor who famously captured her face. Nefertiti was depicted as wearing the crown of a pharaoh, and may have ruled as one after her husband’s death while King Tut was preparing to rule.  

When she vanishes from scrolls, inscriptions, and other depictions, historians have varying views on what happened to Queen Nefertiti. Did she change her name and become the mysterious Smenkhare, a co-regent ruling singularly or alongside King Tut? Or did she simply die? History was erased in part due to the angry successors to Akhenaten’s reign. And artifacts may have been looted or moved. 

Archeologists have been searching for Nefertiti’s tomb for decades, and may have discovered her mummy. After more than three thousand years, Queen Nefertiti still holds historians and history buffs spellbound. Who was Nefertiti? Wife, mother, queen, beauty icon, punisher, pharaoh? There's plenty to learn about this fascinating Egyptian female leader.

  • Photo: Brooklyn Museum / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Queen Nefertiti Had Her Own Temple

    The royal family of Amenhotep IV lived in structures built in Karnak. One of the grandest was the Gempaaten, a palace complex. A temple devoted to Nefertiti, the Hut-Benben, was even built inside the palace.  

    In the third year of their reign, Nefertiti and Amenhotep IV are depicted as having thrown an elaborate festival in the temple. An inscription shows the ruling couple, along with their daughters and royal court, viewing the entertainment and crowds from their special viewing spot at the palace.

  • Her Husband Inherited A Wealthy And Open Egypt - Then Nearly Drove It To Ruin

    Amenhotep IV inherited a very wealthy Egypt from his father, the previous ruler. But the installation of the sun as the center of government and politics ruffled a lot of feathers. Once he became Akhenaten and established the new sun god, things slowly changed in Egypt.

    Eventually, the ruler lost all tolerance for other beliefs and began a campaign to destroy other religions. As a result, turmoil and debt began to plague the empire. Akhenaten retreated from his subjects and public life, but passed before things could truly spin out of control for the kingdom.

  • The Nefertiti Bust Is Still A Point Of Contention Between Egypt And Germany

    German archeologists excavated the Thutmose bust of Nefertiti in 1912 and took it to Germany under a license from the Egyptian government. The country was dominated by the Ottoman Empire at the time, who were under British rule in the area. The French, meanwhile, headed up Egypt’s antiquities department. As such, there are varying accounts of how exactly the Germans were granted the legal right to obtain the bust from Egypt.

    Nefertiti’s bust ended up in Berlin in 1913, displayed at the Neues Museum. When the Nazis came to power, they took possession of it and many other valuable works of art from around the world, putting them in hiding. As for the bust, Hitler said, “I will never relinquish the head of the Queen.” 

    The bust was later discovered in a salt mine by American forces during the occupation, who moved it to a museum in West Berlin. The bust returned to the Neues Museum in 2009, which had been recently rebuilt after being bombed during World War II. Egypt, meanwhile, considers Germany’s possession of Nefertiti’s statue looting, as its removal was under questionable legal conditions.

  • Nefertiti And Akhenaten Constructed Their Own City

    The ruling couple had the city of Tell el-Amarna built to worship Aten. They also demanded the faithful move to the new city if they wanted to stay in the good graces of Queen Nefertiti and the pharaoh.

    Over time, the old gods were slowly removed from society, temples were closed, and priests had to conform to the new rule of law.