Tiye was queen, wife of Amenhotep III, of the 18th Dynasty, and one of the most charismatic women in ancient Egyptian history. Other spellings of her name: Tiy, Tiya, Tiyi, Teje, Ty…
Queen Tiye: Origins
Unlike all her predecessors, the ” Great Royal Wives “, Tiye was not of royal lineage and never hid her noble origin, coming from the southern city of Akhmim.
Her father, Yuya , was a priest and superintendent of oxen or commander of the chariotry, while his mother, Tjuyu, held the title of “Royal Ornament”, attributed to noble ladies at court, as well as “Singer of the temple of Amun”.
That the child-pharaoh Amenhotep III married Tiye instead of any of his numerous sisters, has no clear explanation, but could be due to:
- When Amenhotep III assumed the throne he was still a child, and there was a Council of Regency dominated by the mother of the king, Mutemwiya.
This woman, despite having given birth to the successor, had not been the “Great Royal Wife” of Thutmose IV, and had to endure the rudeness of the other queens, who saw her as a secondary wife. Mutemwiya took revenge on them by denying the royal princesses marriage to the “new Horus “.
- Yuya was a very important man in Egypt at the time, and it is likely that he was even the brother of the Queen Mother Mutemwiya.
Therefore, Tiye and Amenhotep III would have been cousins, and their marriage only ended up consecrating that ambitious lord.
- To all this is added the conjecture that Lady Tjuyu, a pure-bred Egyptian, could be a descendant, by a secondary branch, of Ahmose-Nefertari, as some of her titles seem to indicate, so that Tiye’s candidacy was entirely legitimate.
Marrying Tiye to the pharaoh was a clever maneuver that benefited Yuya and Tjuyu in unusual ways. Their power grew in line with that of the young kings, and they were even buried in the Valley of the Kings, an honor reserved for very few nobles.
His tomb was, along with that of Tutankhamun, found almost intact, with beautiful golden sarcophagi and the mummies in perfect condition.
The situation also benefited Tiye’s siblings. Anen, who continued to rise in the clergy of Amun, is known with certainty, and it is also possible that the new queen was a sister to the later Pharaoh Ay.
This well-versed man, a true political fox, would assume the role of Yuya alongside the king, and would wisely advise three kings before being himself, with his deft maneuvers, crowned.
Queen Tiye: The first years of reign
Tiye married Amenhotep III at the age of eleven or twelve in the second year of his reign, being approximately two years younger than her holy husband.
The very young couple seemed to complement each other from the first moment and they never parted again. The influence that Tiye had on the pharaoh, never seen before in the “Two Lands”, is undeniable.
So much so that, on the occasion of their marriage, Amenhotep III sent scarabs to all the neighboring monarchs in which he announced the existence of his first Great Royal Wife, as well as that of the all-powerful Yuya and Tjuyu.
From that moment, and to everyone’s surprise, Queen Tiye did not stop appearing in all the monuments built by her husband, and in conditions almost on the same level as him.
The political weight of the young queen was enormous, and she had no qualms about handling Amenhotep III, who had the immense luck of enjoying a long and prosperous reign.
It is said that Tiye was the true ruler in the shadows, aided by her mother-in-law Mutemwiya and by the indolence of her husband.
The arrival of Aten
One of the most problematic events of the reign of Amenhotep III is the role that the god Aten played in his 39 years of rule. Many have believed that this deity was introduced into the court by Tiye herself, but this is false, as there were already mentions of him under kings such as Hatshepsut or Thutmose IV.
What is certain is that under Amenhotep III and Tiye, Aten achieved a popularity among the royal family previously unthinkable.
The causes of this were above all the danger posed by the priests of Amun, so ambitious and powerful that they even made the throne shake.
This danger had been seen long before, but it was under Amenhotep III that the problem became so important that there came to be a competition between Amun, the favorite of the people, and Aten, the one chosen by the royal couple to counter the influence of the priests.
However, in her role as queen and mother, Tiye did not hesitate to instill the cult of Aten in her son, Prince Amenhotep, thus condemning the country without knowing it, to the so-called “Amarna Schism” that would arrive only a few decades later, sinking the dynasty and ending the Egyptian colonies in the Syrian-Palestinian area.
Queen Tiye: The last years
At the end of the reign of Amenhotep III, historical gaps begin to emerge that advance the confusion that would come later.
By then the main supporter of the priests of Amun and the most faithful to the king, the old Amenhotep, son of Hapu, had already died, and the king was already married to several of his daughters. Tiye’s role had not diminished, but that of the crown prince continued to grow, and his political intentions sowed doubt.
We know for a fact that Amenhotep III died before Tiye, because although his tomb was prepared to house the remains of his queen, she never got there because her husband died before.
While Akhenaten moved to the new capital, Akhetaten, Tiye continued to live in Malkata with her daughter Baketaton and perhaps a few more.
Some thought about the possibility of a rupture between mother and son, due to the fanaticism that the latter eventually acquired, but there are representations in which Tiye comes to visit Akhenaten, Nefertiti and her granddaughters in the new capital, and is received with great signs of respect and affection.
It is possible that Tiye ended up distancing herself somewhat from the cult of Aten that she had instilled in Akhenaten with too much fervor, since she continued to live in Thebes, near the clergy of Amun.
Perhaps the queen wanted to compensate something for the battered balance of cults, which had passed from one extreme to the other.
This would be her role until her death, around the 12th year of her son’s reign. She was already an old woman for the time: she would be in her early fifties.
Tomb of queen Tiye
The Great Wife Tiye, advisor and confidante of Amenhotep III and educator of Akhenaten, died in Thebes, in her palace of Malkata.
She was buried in Akhetaten ( tomb TA28 ), as her son had decided, but with the fall of his government, her remains would return to Thebes, to the Valley of the Kings.
The remains of grave goods with her name in the famous tomb ( KV55 ) indicate the place destined for her eternal rest, accompanied by her son.
Her mummy was later moved to a cache of royal mummies to safeguard her body from grave robbers. At present it is known that her mummy is that of the unnamed “old lady” found in KV35 , the tomb of Amenhotep II, along with the bodies of a boy and a young woman.
In 1976, analysis of hair samples from the “The Elder Lady” and the tuft of the small sarcophagi showed that they matched completely, confirming that the mummy was that of Queen Tiye. In 2010, DNA analysis formally corroborated the identification. The mummy, although damaged by grave robbers, still has long brown hair..
Head of queen Tiye in Berlin
- Period: 18th Dynasty
- Dimensions: 9.5 cm. tall (without the feather headdress)
- Material: Wood, gold, silver, glass paste, linen …
- Place of conservation: Neues Museum, Berlin
- Origin: Medinet el-Gurob, Fayum
What makes this work really magnificent and special is the way it shows the queen’s face, achieving a truly magnificent expressiveness and naturalism.
It must be taken into account that the piece was made of yew wood, which has a soft orange color, but that the passage of millennia has managed to darken.