Around year 14 of Akhenaten's reign, Nefertiti "disappears" and a co-regent named Ankhkheperure Nefernefruaten is first recorded. Ankhkheperure Nefernefruaten is sometimes spelled in the feminine form (Ankh-et-kheperure Nefernefruaten), so it is often proposed that this co-regent was a woman (either Nefertiti or Merytaten). However, to complicate matters further,the successor (and possible co-regent of Akhenaten) was the Pharaoh Ankhkheperure Djeserkheperu Smenkhkare ("Holy of Manifestations, Strength is the Soul of Re") appears. He apparently only reigned for about three years, and there is some evidence that he turned his back on the Aten and Akhetaten (the capital established by Akhenaten) and resumed worship of the old gods in Thebes. Experts cannot agree whether Ankhkheperure Nefernefruaten and Ankhkheperure Djeserkheperu Smenkhkare are the same person, or two distinct individuals.

Smenkhare and Merytaten

A box discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun, dating to Akhenaten's reign, bears the two names "King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands, Ankhkheperure Beloved of Neferkheperure (Akhenaten); Son of Re, Lord of Crowns, Neferneferuaten Beloved of Waenre" and "King´s Chief Wife Merytaten, may she live forever". As Ankhkheperure is the male form of the name, and Merytaten is named as Chief Wife, it is reasonable to assume that the king is Smenkhare.

We know that Smenkhare was married to Merytaten, the daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. She may have been previously married to her father, and it is likely that she became the wife of Smenkhare to strengthen his position as co-regent and future pharaoh. Smenkhare was probably also married to Ankhesenamun (Ankhesenpaaten) the third daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, but it was the elder sister, Merytaten, who was his chief wife.

According to most commentators, Smenkhkare was declared co-regent and given Merytaten, the pharoah´s eldest daughter, as wife. A fragment from Amarna known as the "Co-regency Stela" originally depicted Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and their daughter Merytaten. However, the name of Nefertiti has been excised and replaced with the name of the Pharaoh Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten, and Merytaten´s name has been replaced with that of her younger sister, Ankhesenpaaten. This is odd as it means that young king's name is associated with Nefertiti´s clearly female body. This is often taken as proof that Smenkhare and Nefertiti are one and the same, or that Smenkhare took her place as Akhenaten´s lover, but it is just as likely that it represented the promotion of Smenkhare to co-regent. However, this doesn't explain the replacement of Merytaten´s name, leading some to suggest that Merytaten was the co-regent named Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten. Yet, if this was the case, why was she not given the female form of the name?

Many commentators have suggested that Smenkhare was the son of Akhenaten and Kiya, one of his lesser wives, and the brother of Tutankhamun. However, Tutankhamen and Smenkhkare could also be half brothers, one born to Kiya and the other born to Nefertiti or another of Akhenaten´s lesser wives. Some argue that Smenkhkare was too old to be Akhenaten's son, and as Kiya was married to Amenhotep III before she married his son Akhenaten, it is also possible that Smenkhare was the son of Kiya and Amenhotep III.

It is also possible that Smenkhare was not a member of the Egyptian Royal Family, but a member of another Royal line. Smenkhare had two coronation names, not one coronation name and a birth name as would usually be the case. Unfortunately, his birth name is not confirmed, but it has been suggested that he was Zannanza, the son of the Hittite King Suppiluliuma. There are a few problems with this suggestion. In particular, the fact that the Hittites recorded that he was assassinated when he went to Egypt in response to the letter from the widow, and many suggest it was Tutankhamun's widow (Ankhesenamun/Ankhesenpaaten) who wrote to the Hittites.

There are some highly speculative theories which suggest that Smenkhare was actually Nefertiti in drag. There are no depictions of Nefertiti and Smenkhare together and Smenkhare shared the name "Nefernefruaten" with both Nefertiti and her fourth daughter (Princess Nefernefruaten ta-Sherit). However, the clearly male Smenkhare appears with his wife Merytaten (daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaten), in Meryre II's tomb at Amarna, and a male mummy found in tomb KV55 was thought by many to be Smenkhare until recent genetic testing suggested that the deceased was in his fifties when he died. It is also notable that the name Ankhkheperure Djeserkheperu Smenkhkare is male in gender and the female variant has not been found on any monuments or inscriptions.

Tutankhamun´s coffin which may have originally been made for the burial of Smenkhare

Finally, some have suggested that he was the male lover of Akhenaten. Ankhkheperure Nefernefruaten is given the epithet "The Beloved of Waenre" (Akhenaten), but given the warmth displayed by Akhenaten towards his family this is not exactly proof of a sexual relationship. As the body in KV 55 is now generally aggreed to be Akhenaten rather than Smenkhare earlier suggestions that the unconventional burial was proof that Smenkhare was the lover of the pharaoh can be laid to rest.

The burial in KV 55 has raised some interesting questions. While the body seems to have been buried along with grave goods named for Amenhotep III, Tutankhamun, Akhenaten, and Queen Tiye, it appears that many of the goods buried with his successor (Tutankhamun) were in fact taken from the burial of Smenkhare and hastily renamed. In fact one of the most famous images of Tutankhamun, from his middle coffin, is now generally considered to show the face of Smenkhare with Tutanklhamun´s name crudely inscribed over that of the original owner. So, if the body in KV 55 is Akhenaten rather than Smenkhare, where is the tomb of Smenkhare?

copyright J Hill 2010
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