THE DEATH AND BURIAL OF SMENKHKARE' DJESERKHEPRURE'

By Marshall F. Johnson



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Introduction: Early in what is likely to have been his fourth year of rule, SMENKHKARE' died, quite possibly yet another victim of the pestilence which had already claimed the lives of so many of his close relations. As all pharaohs had done before him, SMENKHKARE' had begun upon his accession to prepare for his death. However, despite being co-regent of Akhenaten for some three years, there is no indication that SMENKHKARE' prepared his funerary furnishings and equipment in the style of the Atenist cult. His ability to decline to follow the Atenist teachings provides a major clue to the events of the years between AKHENATEN's Year 15 and the final abandonment of Akhet-Aten about Year 4 of TUT'ANKHAMUN.

During Year 15 of the Pharaoh AKHENATEN, a sixteen-year-old youth was crowned as co-regent over all of Egypt, and almost everything about this individual has been mired in controversy and conjecture since the first scholarly article attempted to draw together the few known strands of his life [1]. Even the names he adopted at various points during his final five years have caused considerable confusion, not the least of which being a rather rare feminine variant! He was able to decide for himself because he was the only legitimate heir to the throne, and he must have enjoyed considerable backing.

His repeated use of the epithets "beloved of Akhenaten" may well have been a case of protesting too much so as to minimise the obvious divergence of interest between the two brothers, both religiously and politically. SMENKHKARE' had been raised at the Malqata Palace, and cannot have been heavily influenced by Atenist thought. In fact, he was only nine years old when his brother moved to Akhet-Aten with his court and, although he may well have visited the new capital, he is unlikely to have resided there for any length of time before his accession. With the death of Amunhotep III about Year 12, the political equation in Egypt became seriously unbalanced. Akhenaten's legitimacy to the throne was solely based on his father's (and mother's) determination that he be the next pharaoh, and was not based on his being either the son of the current pharaoh by the God's Wife of Amun or the husband of the Royal Heiress.

There are two major interlinked factors which can be seen to have been crucial to the decision to make SMENKHKARE' the heir-apparent of Akhenaten: SMENKHKARE's superior claim to the throne, and the extremely high death-toll in Egypt due to the plague. By Year 15, the thirty-year-old Akhenaten had sired at least eight daughters and no known sons, and the likelihood of his siring a male was probably considered by all (including himself) to be remote. The claim by some scholars that Tut'ankhuaten -- certainly the only male known to have been born in the final seventeen years of the dynasty -- was Akhenaten's son by a minor wife can be discarded with hardly a second thought, as it is impossible to conceive of a pharaoh passing up his son in favour of his younger brother.

AKHETATEN was abandoned about this time, [2] but at any rate early in the reign because only one letter addressed to TUT'ANKHATEN has been found at Amarna [3]. Note Kitchen's remarks [4] about the fallacy of considering that the Pharaoh's court would permanently move and make another city the capital of Egypt [5]. Pharaoh (and his court with him) moved about the country for numerous reasons including festivals, the weather (hot months in the cooler Memphis, winter at Thebes?), or the personal preferences of Pharaoh. Further, "the notion of a return from Amarna to Thebes and so on is a modern myth; it was from Amarna to Memphis (whence Tutankamun's restoration-edict was proclaimed" [6].

The death of MERITATEN had followed soon after SMENKHKARE's accession to sole-rule, and she was probably buried at THEBES where he may have been preparing his tomb [7].

SMENKHKARE' then married 'ANKHESENPAATEN as the last (?) remaining heiress [8], but he soon died after [9]. The death of SMENKHKARE' happened possibly quite early in Year 4 (hence no dockets for this year can be attributed to him -- much as AKHENATEN can be said to have died after the wine harvest of Year 17 but before the harvest of Year 18). He may have been assassinated at THEBES, and "death occurred in the 20th year" [10], he was 5'7" tall and had good teeth [11]. After apparently being accorded the full 70-day embalming procedure [12], SMENKHKARE' was buried in full Pharaonic trappings complete with traditional texts from the "Chapter of the Heart"13 -- gold ornamentation which was later removed from his burial and used for the funeral of TUT'ANKHAMUN [14]. Probably at the same time as most of his gold was removed, he was re-buried rather hastily in the Valley of the Kings tomb KV55 with part of the funeral equipment of QUEEN TIYE and in the coffin originally prepared for his wife MERITATEN [15] (or, alternately, originally made for him as a prince by AKHENATEN and later altered upon his death to reflect his royal status as his coffin had not been completed, though some of his funerary objects were [16]) as were the alabaster canopic jars.

His solid gold canopic coffinettes (which are 39 cm. in height [17]) appeared, re-inscribed, in the tomb of TUT'ANKHAMUN as did one of the gold shrines (the second outermost) [18], and "a small box-lid with the picture of ... Nefernefrure, in a crouching position, [was] part of SMENKHKARE's burial treasure" [19]. Englebach, referencing Carter [20], states that "there is some doubt ... whether the mask was not originally made for Smenkhkare". The arms of the mummy of SMENKHKARE' were arranged in the attitude of a royal female: left arm bent on the breast and the right arm alongside the body, and this has led Aldred [21] wonder if the embalmers had difficulty telling if they were dealing with a male or female! His scenario, [22] that QUEEN TIYE was buried here and then later removed (leaving her shrine behind when the removal was still incomplete) appears reasonable, but leaves one wondering why she had not been interred in the room apparently purpose-built for her in the tomb of AMUNHOTEP III [23].

Englebach [24] supposes that AKHENATEN gave her the shrine (which he says was made at AKHETATEN) when she visited there in Year 12, she took it back with her to Thebes, it was stored with her other funereal furniture, not used at her burial (presumably at her wish?), and finally put to rest (with "other trivial objects of Tyi's [which] may have been overlooked at Tyi's burial and found with the shrine") in Tomb 55 when SMENKHKARE' was interred. If so, and part of Englebach's thesis has to do with the rush to claim the gold of SMENKHKARE', why wasn't the shrine simply broken up for its gilt? It would appear that if 1) SMENKHKARE' died at Thebes, and 2) his funerary furniture (such as had been made in his short reign of three and a bit years) was at Thebes, then he was certainly not given a proper burial by his eight-year-old successor TUT'ANKHATEN [25] -- and this would have happened due to the decisions of his advisors (read AYE and/or NEFERTITI). In any event, the funerary items of SMENKHKARE' which later appeared in the tomb of TUT'ANKAMUN were likely never used for the former's funeral (particularly the canopic coffinettes), and must be considered to have been officially plundered by the new administration.

There has been speculation [26] that SMENKHKARE' built a mortuary temple at Thebes, but there is no evidence of this. However, Martin's observation [27] that there were actually two burial suites cut on the same pattern in the Royal Tomb at AKHET-ATEN opens the possibility that the second one was cut for Smenkhkare [28].

Did AYE come back to power at this point after some period of eclipse following Year 9? Or was he at Thebes during much of this period, and didn't continue with the work on his tomb (did he suspect that further work on the tomb would be wasted effort)? What was the court's position during the months of SMENKHKARE's sole rule? If the position of SMENKHKARE' had been secure due to the co-regency and his birthright, then TUT'ANKHATEN's position presumably would have been reasonably secure also -- there being no other male heirs of the Tuthmosid house. Or were there other claimants?

CONSIDERATION: The Amarna honey jar docket (No. 279) which is marked both Year 1 and Year 17 [29]. Is it possible that SMENKHKARE' began his sole-reign with Year 1 to signify a clean break with the previous administration? The change of his titulary certainly sends that signal. Also note the docket which reads "Year 1, wine from the estate of Smenkhkare, deceased" [30] --it being a fairly safe presumption that this refers to T-1.

As part of the preparations for the funeral of TUT'ANKHAMUN (if not done earlier?), AYE caused the evacuation of all the burials in the Royal Tomb at AMARNA and their consolidation into various tombs in the necropolis at THEBES. The decrease in space available for these re-ordered burials allowed some of their funerary furniture to be altered for use by TUT'ANKHAMUN: "the bulk of his funerary furniture was requisitioned from that supplied for SMENKHKARE', who had probably been buried at Thebes, as the reference to his funerary temple there implies" [31] of particular note is the box inscribed with the names of AKHENATEN, SMENKHKARE' ('ANKHKHEPRURE') and MERITATEN [32] Probably also requisitioned were the gold statuettes standing on leopards [33], and possibly the second golden shrine [34]. However, one could wonder why if SMENKHKARE' was buried at Thebes would his tomb be opened and his furnishings/remains moved to different locations? But if he had been buried at Amarna, the breakup of the royal tomb(s) there would have given a better opportunity. It would also explain why his pantheistic furnishings, presumably located in Thebes where they were made, were not used in the Atenist capital. However, he could have been moved to Thebes for burial (surely not all XVIII Dynasty kings conveniently died at Thebes) with little trouble, and the fact that he wasn't has to be considered significant. In any event, the solid gold canopic caskets of SMENKHKARE' were of the same style as TUT'ANKHAMUN's middle sarcophagus, which also bears considerable resemblance to the coffin from KV-55 [35].

The tomb itself is very small and not at all of comparable size or embellishment of other pharaonic tombs of the 18th Dynasty, and certainly out of proportion to tombs constructed by Pharaohs who had even less time on the throne [36]. "Despite the return to the traditional cults after the Amarna schism, there was no return to the traditional room order in the royal tombs" [37]. Also found in the tomb was a wooden coffin about 30" long "gilded with bands of formulae pertaining to guardian divinities and genii of the dead" and nestled one inside the other were three more coffins, the second of gesso-gilt wood. Inside this second coffin was a solid gold statuette of AMUNHOTEP III (which some have identified tentatively in recent years as AKHENATEN38 ) and a wooden third coffin. Inside of that was a wooden coffin bearing the titles and name of QUEEN TIYE, and a lock of her hair [39] -- for which reason it had "received the prerogative of a royal burial." The Generalissimo NAKHTMIN [40] donated five shabtis for the funeral [41]. For the hurried aspects of the burial of TUT'ANKHAMUN [42]. AYE, pictured as Pharaoh in the painting in the tomb, performed the obligatory "Opening of the Mouth" ceremony for TUT'ANKHAMUN, an act which may have in itself served to legitimise his succession [43]. A wine jar label dated Year 31 was also found in the tomb [44].

FOOTNOTES: