Egypt: Ay, Successor to Tutankhamun

Ay, Successor to Tutankhamun

Cartouche of Ay

The 18th dynasty is one of the most interesting periods in Egypt's history, having such notable kings as Akhenaten, the heretic king, and such well known kings as Tutankhamun. Ay, who was probably an old man (at least 70) when he inherited the thrown from Tutankhamun, apparently inherited the thrown by marrying Tutankhamun's widow, Ankhesenamun. There seems to have been considerable intrigue to this marriage. This she likely did against her wishes, as Ay was probably her grandfather. Further, is would seem that she was not even regarded as a dominant wife, as paintings in his tomb usually showed Ay accompanied by Tiy, an older wife. In fact, we learn from Hittite archives that Ankhesenamun wrote to Suppiliumas, the Hittite king, requesting one of this sons for her to marry and make pharaoh. After some investigation by Suppiliumas, this request was granted, but his son, Zannanza was killed en-rout while traveling through Syria.

Ay, Successor to Tutankhamun

But evidence of Ankhesenamun's marriage to Ay was noted by Professor Percy Newberry, who recorded a ring he found in Cairo in the 1920s with he cartouches of Ay and Ankhesenamun inscribed side by side, a typical way of indicating marriage. This wedding must have happened rapidly, for Ay officiated at Tutankhamun's funeral as a king wearing the Blue Crown, thus enhancing his claim to the thrown. His reign was brief, believed to only have been four years. It is likely that Ankhensenamun died very shortly afterwards, for there is no mention of her beyond the Cairo ring. In fact, her image has been hacked out on several monuments, and it has been suggested that her dealings with the Hittites may have disgraced her, resulting in her death.

Ay (it-netjer) means "Father of God. His Throne name was Kheperkheperu-re, meaning "Everlasting are the Manifestations of Re". He is first documented as a Master of Horses at the court of Akhenaten, though he was probably originally from Akhmin, where was responsible for the rock chapel to the local god, Min. His career is fairly well documented during the reign of Akhenaten, when he rose to the position of Vizier and royal chancellor. He probably never held any priestly office prior to becoming king, however, but was instead a military man like most of the men of power during this period. He may have been related to Yuya, the father of Queen Tiye, making him the brother-in-law of Amenophis III.

Ay, Successor to Tutankhamun

We believe Ay reigned in Egypt between 1325 and 1321 BC, and was burred in Tomb KV 23 in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes), though his mummy has never been positively identified. It has been suggested that the mummy from the 1881 cache originally identified as Amenhotep III might rather be that of Ay, but this is probably doubtful. This tomb was probably originally meant for Tutankhamun. Ay's sarcophagus was very similar to Tutankhamun's with winged goddesses at each corner. Also present, as in Tutankhamun's tomb, were decorative designs featuring the representation of the twelve monkeys, symbolizing the night hours on one of the burial chamber walls. Totally unique to any royal tomb are beautiful bird hunting scenes. The tomb was discovered by Belzoni in 1816.

It was probably Horenheb who succeeded Ay and who wrecked havoc in Ay's tomb in the Valley of the Kings. When Belzoni found the tomb, the sarcophagus was in fragments and his figure was hacked out and his name excised in the wall paintings and text. Likewise, little of Ay's building projects can be identified probably because Horenheb probably usurped these as well. In Ay's mortuary temple near Medinet Habu, he had his name inscribed on two quartzite colossi of Tutankhamun, but these too were modified by Horenheb when he took over Ay's temple complex. Ay had nominally carried on the heretic religious practices of Akhenaten, and it would be Horemheb who would put an end to this.

Ay, Successor to Tutankhamun

It should also be noted that early on, Ay began construction of one of the largest tombs at El-Amarna, containing the longer of the two surviving versions of the Hymn to the Aten. The last decoration in Ay's el-Amarna tomb was probably created in the ninth year of Akenaten's reign. However, this tomb was later abandoned in favor of the tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

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