From Academic Kids

Smenkhkare (sometimes spelled Smenkhare and Smenkare, and means "Strong is the Soul of Ra") was a Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, successor of the heretic Akhenaten, and predecessor of Tutankhamen. He reigned only briefly: both Smenkhkare and Akhenaten died in year 17 of Akhenaten's reign (1334/1333 BC), and Tutankhamen's reign began within a year of Akhenaten's death. Smenkhkare may have become Akhenaten's co-regent 2 or 3 years before this, however.


Smenkhkare may well refer to not one, but two people:

  • Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten, who is probably the queen we know as Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten of the Eighteenth Dynasty, and who may have ruled as co-regent with her husband;
  • Anhkkheprure Smenkhkare, who may be identical with Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten or may be a separate, male king.

To date, no objects have been found bearing the name Ankhkheprure Smenkhkare, whereas some clearly feminine objects with the name Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten were reused in the burial of Tutankhamen. This suggests that Smenkhkare refers to a single person (different from Nefertiti). Some suggest the fact that Smenkhkare appeared in the record about the same time that Nefertiti disappeared, and yet is still portrayed as having performed the rites reserved for the heir to the throne at Akhenaten's funeral indicates that Smenkhkare and Nefertiti were the same person. However, it has also been suggested that Smenkhkare adopted Nefertiti's names, albeit with the masculine form of writing. Either way, since we know that Smenkhkare was married to Meritaten ---- eldest daughter of Akhenaten ---- the theory that Smenkhkare was actually Nefertiti seems unlikely. Why and how would Nefertiti impersonate a man and take on her own daughter as a spouse? And yet, the throne name of Ankhkheperure is occasionally written in the feminine form Ankhetkheperure, with the feminine "t". This indicates that Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten was indeed Nefertiti, and a separate individual from Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare.

A fragmentary stela from Amarna, now known as the Coregency Stela, adds more evidence as well as more confusion. It is known that the stela originally portrayed three figures, identified as Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Meritaten. However, at some point after the stela was made, the name of Nefertiti had been gouged out and replaced with the name Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten, and Meritaten's name had been replaced with that of Akhenaten and Nefertiti's third daughter, Ankhesenpaaten. Why Nefertiti's clearly feminine figure would be renamed with a throne name in the masculine spelling is still debated to this day, as is the reason for Meritaten's usurpation by Ankhesenpaaten.


Smenkhkare's parentage is unknown - the leading theories are that he is a son of Akhenaten or of Amenhotep III. Unlike the majority of other Pharaohs, the only claim he made was to have been "beloved" of Akhenaten, but he never states that the latter was his father. Moreover, whenever any of Akhenaten's daughters were referenced, they were referred to as "the king's daughter, of his loins, (daughter's name)." That there was no reference to another son would seem unlikely in such a patriarchal society. Furthermore, as evidenced by Cyril Aldred (a prominent Egyptologist), Smenkhkare would have to have been born at least three years before Akhenaten's reign began, making it very unlikely (given Akhenaten's assumed age of 12 at accession) that he was Akhenaten's son. Given that Akhenaten produced six daughters but no known sons, this makes it plausible for both Smenkhkare and his successor, Tutankhamen, to be sons of Amenhotep III, and therefore also brothers to Akhenaten.

In the tomb of Meryre II is a roughly painted scene depicting a king and queen. It names the "King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Ankhkheperure, Son of Re, Smenkhkare, Holy-of-Manifestations, given life forever continually" as the husband of "the Chief Wife, his beloved, the Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Lady of the Two Lands, Meritaten", and it was through her royal blood that he may have claimed legitimacy to the throne, as was the practice in the period. Meritaten seems to have died very shortly after her father, as did her daughter, Meritaten-ta-sherit. It is at this point that most scholars believe that Smenkhkare married Ankhesenpaaten, evidenced by the Coregency Stela. And shortly after that, perhaps less than 12 months later, Smenkhkare died.


In 1907, Arthur Weigall and Theodore Davis discovered a tomb known as "Tomb 55" in the Valley of the Kings. The tomb itself is a mystery, as the door bears the name Tutankhamen, the shrine and sarcophagus indicate that they were designed for Akhenaten's wife Kiya, and a very poorly preserved body that is considered, with about 80% certainty, to be male around 20 years of age. There are some indications that the body shares common traits with Tutankhamen, suggesting a close relative, but the poor degree of preservation makes this difficult to ascertain. Some consider this to be the mummy of Smenkhkare.

Although little is known about him, Smenkhkare's face may actually be the most well-known of all the Pharaohs: the image often used to illustrate books and exhibitions on Tutankhamen may well be of Smenkhkare. It comes from the middle coffin of Tutankhamen's tomb (Pharaohs were buried in a series of 3 coffins, like Russian dolls), and it clearly differs in appearance from the images on the inner and outer coffins. With a number of other artefacts in Tutankhamun's tomb bearing Smenkhkare's name, and with a reconstruction from the mummy in KV55 bearing a strong similarity, it may well be the face of Smenkhkare. Being more attractive than the alternatives (notably in being more mature, less boyish), the image has however been widely adopted for illustrations of Tutankhamun.

Further Reading

  • Cyril Aldred, Akhenaten, King of Egypt.Thames & Hudson, 1988.
  • Nicholas Reeves and Richard H. Wilkinson,The Complete Valley of the Kings. Thames & Hudson, 1996.
  • Peter A. Clayton, Chronicles of the Pharaohs. Thames & Hudson, 1994.
  • Graham Phillips, Act of God: Moses, Tutankhamun and the Myth of Atlantis, (Pan, 1998)

Preceded by:
Pharaoh of Egypt
Eighteenth Dynasty
Succeeded by:

fr:Smenkhkarę pl:Semenchkare sk:Smenchkare fi:Smenkara


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