Recommended Grade Level: 4-9
But you may know me better as King Tut. I was king of ancient Egypt for a decade and became famous when archaeologist Howard Carter found my tomb in 1922. But what was my life like? What decisions did I need to make as a young leader? What did I do in my free time? Join me to discover the life of a king.
Let’s start at the very beginning: my birth. Even as a child, I quickly understood my important role in ancient Egyptian society. My father named me after the Egyptian god Aten. My name always reminded me that when I became a king, people would consider me the gods’ chosen messenger. Growing up, I played games with small crooks and flails, symbols representing kingship and the land. You see, in ancient Egypt, there was a strict hierarchy, or “pyramid”, that every person was born into. At the very top is the pharaoh (also known as the king) who has the most power in the society. Next is a vizier or the king’s advisor. They are followed by the court, regional governors, generals, and government supervisors. In the next tiers are the peasants or farmers, and finally, the enslaved.
When I was growing up, I enjoyed activities like singing, music, dancing, wrestling, and hunting. In particular, I enjoyed playing with my step-sister, Ankhesenpaaten, on our grand and beautiful palace grounds. I lived with my father, step-mother, and many step-siblings. But it was not all fun and games — there was also studying to be done. Some subjects I studied were music, astronomy, and geometry. When we were both young, Ankhesenpaaten and I got married. Nowadays, marriage between step-siblings may seem strange, but in ancient Egypt, families could be very extensive and, since we were always very close, the union made sense. Sadly, I never got to spend much time with my parents since my mother died when I was a young child and my father died when I was around nine years old. Though it was sad that my father had died in 1349 BCE, I knew it also meant that it was time to accept my new role as the king of Egypt. When I came to the throne, Egypt was facing many problems. For example, it was common for Egyptians to die at the age of only 22. Many suffered from diseases as well as malnourishment. The biggest challenge I faced was addressing the unhappiness caused by my father’s decision to stray from the old divine order and instead worship the sun god Aten. To confront these problems, I received guidance from my vizier Ay, and chief commander Horemheb. Because I was still too young to govern Egypt by myself, they helped me to devise solutions for these issues.
As a king, I had to constantly remind myself to balance the qualities of truth, honor, justice, and order in every decision I made. This balance is called “ma’at,” and its preservation is one of the primary duties of the pharaoh. For me, keeping ma’at meant returning to the old divine order to please the gods and the people. My father disrupted the divine harmony of ma’at when straying from the old gods, and it was my responsibility to make this right again. I did this by rebuilding old temples and moving the religious center of worship back to Thebes, where it was formerly. I also changed my name from Tutankhaten — which meant “the living image of Aten” — to Tutankhamun. This change reflected a reversion to worship the god Amun.
While these decisions loomed large over me, I also had daily responsibilities and some free time. As a king, I enjoyed many more luxuries than the rest of the Egyptian population. In contrast to farmers and other Egyptian peasants who lived in smaller dwellings with only one or two rooms, pharaohs stayed in an expansive palace with rooms decorated in bright colors. For instance, the size of my grandfather Amenhotep III’s palace was almost 30,000 square meters. Today, that would be equivalent to almost five and a half football fields! The palace included apartments, a throne room, kitchens, libraries, temples, halls, and gardens.
But what was my daily routine like? Let me take you through a diary entry of a day in my life.
I wake up and am attended to by servants. They get me ready for the day by rubbing on special pastes and oils to clean my body. Then, they cover me with sparkling golden jewelry befitting the king of Egypt. Today, I decided to wear a wig, which my servants place on my bald head. Heads were commonly shaved in ancient Egypt to prevent lice and to cool off in the heat. The wealthier classes, me included, occasionally wore wigs to special events and religious festivals. My servants then apply kohl eyeliner on my face, which is worn by both men and women. I am now all clean and dressed and ready to head to the special meeting room to meet with my military generals. The generals bow before me when they enter the room. Today, I am meeting with my vizier and advisors to discuss our military strategy. My father had been unsuccessful in his military exploits, so it is vital to recover from previous mishaps so Egypt can emerge stronger. In this room, I also meet with foreign dignitaries to discuss other matters like trade. After the meeting is done, I go to the temple and sanctuary to worship.
I take the chariot and go through town. On the way, I also inspect the construction of new temples. After having a mid-day meal, I have a chance to rest in the palace. Sometimes I pass the time by hunting animals such as elephants and lions, going horseback riding, doing military training, or overseeing religious festivals. But today, I did one of my favorite activities: taking a long walk through the pools and gardens with my wife, Queen Ankhesenamun (who has also changed her name to reflect the god Amun). When I meet her, she hands me a sprig of fragrant lotus flowers, which always remind me of her and the palace. The time passes quickly while we talk, and after a while, I need to say goodbye and leave for the last event of the evening: another religious ceremony at the temple.
After the ceremony is finished, I return to the palace and head off to bed. It’s important to rest up and have energy to repeat this schedule the next day! Sadly, my time as a king only lasted ten years. While nobody definitively knows the cause, many think I died at the age of 19. While today this may seem very young, in ancient Egypt, death at this age was very common because of diseases and other dietary factors. Researchers guess the reason for my death could range any- where from a tooth or leg infection, to even a murder! Nevertheless, after I died, I had no surviving heirs who could become the king or queen. Queen Ankhesenamun and I had two children but, sadly, they were stillborn.
This meant that Ay, my vizier, became the ruler of Egypt after my death. My body was mummified as this was the custom for the upper classes in Egypt. This process was important because it ensured my body’s spirit could find its soul after I died. I was placed in a tomb along with an abundance of jewelry, furniture, food, and other artifacts that would help me in my passage through the afterlife.
Researchers have speculated about potentially suspicious or strange practices in interring me in my tomb. For instance, despite holding over 5000 artifacts, my tomb is sparse compared to those of other pharaohs. This leads many to believe that perhaps my death was sudden and my tomb was created quickly or under unusual circumstances. No matter the true cause of my death, the small size of my tomb and its difficult location deterred grave robbers, who had been stealing from the tombs of other pharaohs for hundreds of years. Mine was the only tomb from ancient Egypt that was not completely looted, and so when Howard Carter discovered it in 1922 with most items intact, it was a cultural breakthrough. The discovery elevated the study of Egypt (called Egyptology), and raised public awareness of archeological conservation, research on the time period and my life, as well as scientific archaeological methods.
While there may always be a lot of mystery around my life and death, hopefully, you, junior researchers, can help decode and better understand how I lived, and better understand ancient Egypt as a civilization.