Even so, mythology swirls around Tut, his death, the “curse” on his tomb, and the mythical figures in his life. Here are some of the stranger, but completely true, facts about this legendary boy king.
The Basic FactsTutankhamun was born around 1341 BCE, the son of the powerful Pharaoh Ankhenaten. After that pharaoh died in 1334 BCE, two minor kings reigned until Tut took the throne in 1332. He ruled for around eight or nine years, with his chief accomplishment being restoring Egypt back to its polytheistic worship of the god Amun. Then he died in 1323 BCE at 19, and was buried in a quickly built but ornately decorated tomb that was forgotten about until its discovery in 1922 by British researcher Howard Carter.
Tut Had a Variety of NamesBefore ascending to the throne of Ancient Egypt, Tutankhamun was known as Tutankhaten, or “Living Image of Aten.” Aten was the living embodiment of the image of the disk of the sun, worshiped by his father Akhenaten; while Amun (also known as Amun-Ra) was the chief deity of Egyptian mythology. The name change implies a pretty significant promotion for Tut.
He was also known by a variety of other names, reflecting the divine roles foisted upon pharaohs. These include Kanakht Tutmesut, Neferhepusegerehtawy Werahamun Nebrdjer, Wetjeskhausehetepnetjeru Heqamaatsehetepnetjeru Wetjeskhauitefre Wetjeskhautjestawyim, and Nebkheperure. But he was almost certainly never called “Tut.”
His Father and Mother Were RelatedLike the European ruling families of the 19th century, incest was extremely common among the royalty of Egypt. They believed in keeping the purity of noble bloodlines, and it’s generally believed that Tut’s father and mother were siblings.
Researchers at the Institute for Mummies and Icemen in Italy tested Tut’s mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from the mother, and determined that his mom was the sister of the previous pharaoh Akhenaten, known to be Tutankhamun’s father. Yes, his mother was his father’s sister.
His Mother’s Identity is UnknownDespite these findings, scientists aren’t clear who Tut’s mother actually is. There is a real possibility that she’s the famous Nefertiti, also a wife of Akhenaten, and there’s no way to know for sure. In the technical language of Egyptian studies, she’s known simply as “The Younger Lady.”
He Had Numerous DisfigurementsBecause of the incest that protected the bloodline of the Egyptian royal family, Tut had a number of prominent physical disfigurements. Far from being the virile boy shown in his golden death mask, Tut probably had a severe overbite, curved spine, a massively disfigured foot, extremely slim hips, a skewed face, and epilepsy. He also may have had pronounced breasts. It’s likely that Tut lived in extreme pain most of his short life.
He Couldn’t Walk Without HelpBecause of Tut’s severe club foot, he needed help walking. Over 100 walking sticks and canes were discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb, along with stools used for shooting a bow and arrow. It wasn’t until the “virtual autopsy” that anyone knew why Tut would have been buried with all of these implements.
He Wasn’t the Only Child Ruler in HistoryWhile Tut became famous as a “boy king” in the pop culture frenzy that followed his discovery, he’s far from the only one in history. A later Egyptian phahroh, Ptolemy XIII, took the throne at around 11 or 12 years old and went to war with Julius Caesar’s Rome over the cult of personality that surrounded his sister Cleopatra. Child monarchs also ruled China, England, and Jerusalem.
His Reign Was More Important Than Initially ThoughtTut’s reign as Pharaoh was fairly short, around 8 or 9 years. It was historically uneventful, marked by a few minor military campaigns against Egyptian nemesis the Hittites – battles that Tut almost certainly had no role in. But Tut did play at least some role in reviving the worship of Amun, who had been cast aside by his father in favor of the monotheistic cult of Aten. Tut also moved the capitol of Egypt from Amarna (also called “Ahkenaten’s City”) back to Thebes, and restored many palaces and temples destroyed during previous conflicts.
He Had Two Powerful AdvisorsAs Tut was only nine when taking the throne from his father, he needed strong advisors to help him make decisions. He had two powerful deputies. One was Horemheb, commander-in-chief of the Egyptian army, and the other was Grand Vizier Ay, an aging cavalry soldier turned counsel who is thought to have been the real power behind the throne.
Ay directly succeeded Tut after his death, but reigned only four years as pharaoh before he died and was, in turn, succeeded by Horemheb – who subsequently erased Akhenaten, Tut, and Ay from the historical record.
He Married at Nine Years OldJust after ascending the throne, Tut was married to his half-sister, Ankhesenamun (“One who lives through Amun.”) Little is known about her, though she was probably a few years older than Tut, and she was, like Tut, a child of the previous pharaoh Akhenaten – and quite possibly was married to him. Her mother was likely the famous queen Nefertiti, who also might have been Tut’s mother. Essentially, Tut’s wife was certainly his half-sister, possibly his blood sister, and maybe even his step-mother. And you think your family is complicated.
They Had Two Children, Who Both Died at BirthThe tomb of Tut revealed two small coffins containing the mummified remains of two babies, daughters who probably were twins. DNA analysis confirmed that they were daughters of Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun. One of the children was found to have had a severe spinal defect, and neither appeared to have been born alive.
Tut Probably Died of a Broken LegTheories abound as to why Tutankhamun died young. Everything from murder (usually thought to be a blow to the head) to genetic abnormalities to sickle-cell disease are named as the culprit. But a 2010 study revealed that Tut probably died of a malarial infection acquired after he broke his leg. Genetically passed ailments probably had something to do with weakening the young king’s immune system, leaving him vulnerable to malaria.
But He Might Have Died in a Chariot AccidentTut’s broken bones led a number of experts to conclude that he’d been crushed in some kind of chariot accident. But a “virtual autopsy” carried out in 2014 posits this as extremely unlikely, because many of the bone breaks occurred after he died, probably inflicted during the embalming process or in the early stages of his excavation. Tut also likely wouldn’t have been able to get into a chariot due to his physical deformities.
Tut’s Successors Purged Him from HistoryAy continued the reforms that Tut began, bringing the country back to its worship of Amun and discarding the cult of Aten that Akhenaten favored. When he took the throne from Ay, Horemheb took things one step further and began purging references to Aten, Akhenaten, Tut, and Ay from history and architecture. Monuments and temples that referenced either Aten or the kings in his line were destroyed, and the capitol was moved again, from Thebes to Memphis. Tut himself was forgotten soon after, with his burial site built over.
Tut’s Tomb Was the Most Complete Ever FoundWhen Carter and his team found Tut’s tomb in 1922, he had almost entirely been forgotten by history, due both to Horemheb’s purge and Tut’s reign being fairly insignificant. Other Egyptian tombs had been found by foreign expeditions, but none as well preserved as Tut’s, and none with the sheer volume of artifacts it had. Even so, the tomb wasn’t untouched – it was not sealed on the outside, and evidence showed it had been robbed at least twice in ancient times. It took eight years to catalog the objects inside it and empty out the tomb.
The Curse of King Tut’s TombThe idea of those who disturb Egyptian tombs being cursed goes back to the 19th century, but went crazy after Tutankhamun’s tomb was found in 1922. While a number of members of tomb-finder Howard Carter’s team died within a few years of finding the tomb, that doesn’t mean there was any kind of curse attached to it. In fact, simple math proves the idea of a “curse” wrong: of the 58 people who were present when the tomb and sarcophagus were opened, 50 were still alive within a dozen years. Many of those who died were either older, or in professions that put them at risk.
Tut Became a Batman VillainThe completeness of the tomb and the inherent pull of the story of a boy who ascends to become the most powerful ruler of his time had an enormous allure in popular culture of the time. As early as 1922, imaginations ran wild with Tut fever, and artifacts from his tomb toured the world. Maybe the strangest of the pop culture depictions of Tut was as a buffoonish (and not at all boyish) villain on the ’60s Batman series.
This version of Tut was an Egyptologist who got knocked on the head and thought he was the ancient Egyptian king, with a mandate to take over Gotham City. Wackiness ensued.
Egypt Will Close Tut’s Tomb PermanentlyHoward Carter’s initial excavation damaged the tomb, and decades of exhibitions and tourist hordes began to erode the art and artifacts inside it. In 2014, Egypt opened a $700,000 replica of the tomb suitable for visitors, and plans to permanently close the original.
He Inspired a Billboard Hot 100 Novelty SongIn the late 1970s, as the “Treasures of Tutankhamun” exhibit captured the nation’s imagination, Steve Martin released his novelty song “King Tut” as a single and later on his album Wild and Crazy Guy. With a boost from a classic Saturday Night Live performance, the single sold over a million copies, eventually reaching #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Backing Martin in the song were members of the Nitty Gritty Band, credited as the Toot Uncommons.
There May Have Been a Secret Chamber in King Tut’s TombScientists recently discovered that King Tut’s tomb may have had multiple chambers. They scanned the tomb using infrared thermographic technology, which measures temperatures on a given surface. The scans revealed that certain areas on the northern wall of the tomb differ in temperature from the rest of the space. A plausible explanation might be that King Tut’s tomb may have doorways that lead to additional rooms.
Archaeologist Nicholas Reeves believes that one of these secret rooms may house Queen Nefertiti’s tomb. “It may have been hiding from us in plain site,” said Reeves in an interview with National Geographic.
Further scans and research in early 2016 revealed that these rooms actually contain organic materials. However, whether or not this means a mummy lies behind the walls remains unknown. ” I cannot be sure what these organic materials could be. It could be a mummy, a sarcophagus or anything. I cannot tell,” said Mamdouh el-Damaty, one of the researchers.
His Mask’s Beard Snapped off 3,300 Years LaterIn 2014, an Egyptian Museum employee inadvertently knocked the famous pharaohnic beard off King Tutankhamun’s mask. A group including the head of the museum then attempted to quickly fix the relic, gluing the beard back with epoxy and scratched the mask’s gold surface in the process. As of 2016, the eight academics and employees involved are facing trial for “gross negligence,” for which they may face fines.