The short and unremarkable life of the Boy King led to unrivalled fame in death.
Quite often referred to as the Boy King because of his early death or the Golden King because of the riches discovered in his tomb, Tutankhamun is perhaps one of the most famous Pharaohs of Egypt. Although his actual reign was unexceptional, his renown today would more than make up for his near obscurity in the centuries following his death. A Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Tutankhamun had the misfortune of ruling during a period of great upheaval, but this was perhaps a blessing in disguise, for it was his short and uneventful reign that contributed to the legend he has become.
Life of the Boy King
More commonly known as King Tut, Tutankhamun was the son of the revolutionary Pharaoh Akhenaten, who tried to introduce monotheism to his people by only worshipping Aten, the god of the sun. The changes he attempted to implement were not well-received and his successors would spend years attempting to undo everything he had accomplished, going so far as to eradicating all evidence of his existence.
Tutankhamun was nine years old when he became Pharaoh and immediately began to reinstate polytheism, first by changing his name from Tutankhaten, meaning “Living Image of Aten”, to the name by which he is currently known, meaning “Living Image of Amun”, a more traditional Egyptian god. As he was so young when he became Pharaoh, Tutankhamun was believed to have been strongly advised and counselled by his vizier, Ay, who later became his successor. His wife, Ankhesenamen, was also the biological daughter of Akhenaten, incest being common in the royal family to ensure the purity of the royal bloodline.
Despite his efforts to reestablish polytheism, Tutankhamun was unable to accomplish his goal; he died at the age of 18 or 19 and was too young to finish what he had started.
Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun
Due to the fact that the Boy King died so young and unexpectedly, his royal tomb was unfinished. As such, the tomb in which he was actually buried was likely meant for someone else, perhaps Ay. In addition, his relationship with Akhenaten led him to be erased from history just as his father had been; when he was succeeded by Ay and later by Horemheb, Tutankhamun’s name was removed from historical documentation and his monuments were restructured to resemble the two subsequent Pharaohs. Eventually, the location of his tomb was forgotten and the entrance built over, resulting in a tomb that was almost completely intact when it was eventually discovered.
In 1914, in his desire to discover the tomb of Tutankhamun, an English aristocrat named Lord Carnarvon began financing the excavations in Egypt of archaeologist Howard Carter. Although the excavation team took a break during World War I, work quickly resumed in 1917, with little success. Finally, in 1922, Lord Carnarvon impatiently informed Carter that he intended to stop financing the expedition at the end of that season. Luckily for the Egyptologist, that was the year when he finally discovered the Pharaoh’s final resting place.
The Royal Tomb
The entire tomb of Tutankhamun consisted of four chambers: an antechamber, an annex, a treasury room and the burial chamber. There was evidence that the tomb had been robbed, but since there were also signs that it had been quickly restored, it was believed that the robbery occurred shortly after the Pharaoh’s burial. Among the many treasures that were discovered in the tomb were furnishings believed to belong to the Pharaoh himself, a model of a boat that Egyptians expected to become life-sized and functional in the afterlife, a board game popular in that era called Senet, numerous unguent jars, and shabtis. Shabtis are funerary figurines representing servants of the Pharaoh; when it came time in the afterlife for the Pharaoh to perform manual labour, the shabtis would act as his or her substitute. One of the boxes found intact in the tomb held two foetus coffins, perhaps belonging to the daughters of Tutankhamun.
In the burial chamber, four large gilded wooden boxes were placed one inside another to resemble chambers of the royal tombs. Inside the smallest box was the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun with three coffins inside, once again with one inside another. The mummy of the Pharaoh was found within the smallest, with all the finery fit for royalty, including gold finger and toe coverings, as well as a pair of golden sandals pressed to look like they were made of wooden reeds. Gold was commonly found in royal tombs because it was believed to be the skin of the gods.
The excavation team would need ten years to catalogue the treasures discovered in the entire tomb. Ironically, even though the chambers had remained untouched for centuries and were beautifully preserved when discovered, it wasn’t the elements or thieves who would prove to be the greatest sources of destruction. Although, grave robbers never made it into the burial chamber to defile the mummy, Carter’s team detached the mummy’s arms and legs, and cut the torso in half in order to recover the jewels and amulets from the body. The head of the mummy was also severed in order to remove Tutankhamun’s royal golden mask.