Tutankhamen, King of Egypt

from Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia

Tutankhamen was a pharaoh (r. 1361–1352 B.C.) of the 18th dynasty. He is one of the most famous Egyptian kings because his tomb was the richest of the few royal burial chambers that survived comparatively intact. Tutankhamen was the son-in-law of the pharaoh Akhenaten. He was only nine years old when he succeeded his brother Smenkhkare (r. 1364–1361 B.C.). For much of his reign, Egypt was actually governed by his senior officials. The vizier Ay skillfully replaced Akhenaten's monotheistic cult of Aten (Aton) with the traditional polytheistic religion. The cults of the state god Amen (Amon) and other gods were revived. Tell el-Amarna, the monotheistic center, was abandoned. The capital was returned to Thebes. The king himself changed his name from Tutankhaten ("living image of Aten") to Tutankhamen ("living image of Amen"). His general, Horemheb, fought Hittite attacks on the Egyptian empire in northern Syria. Tutankhamen died at the age of 18 and was succeeded by Ay (r. 1352–1348). The latter married Tutankhamen's widow and appropriated the king's tomb for himself.

The tomb in which Tutankhamen was ultimately buried is located in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes. Although the other tombs there were later plundered, his escaped notice. It was hidden by rock chips dumped from cutting the tomb of a later king. In 1922 the English archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb. It was filled with extraordinary treasure, including a solid gold coffin, a gold mask, jewelry, and other artifacts. Teams of forensic artists built facial reconstructions of Tutankhamen in 2005 using the first-ever CAT scans of an Egyptian mummy. It had long been suspected that the pharaoh had been murdered. These scans, however, suggested that he had likely died of complications from a broken leg. In 2007 the mummy of Tutankhamen was unwrapped. In addition, the remains were moved from their original sarcophagus to a new coffin in a climate-controlled glass case in his underground tomb. The move was intended to protect the remains from the humidity and heat created by tourists who enter the tomb each year.

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