Nefertiti, whose name means "the beautiful one has come," was the queen of Egypt and wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten during the 14th century B.C. She and her husband established the cult of Aten, the sun god, and promoted Egyptian artwork that was radically different from its predecessors. A bust of Nefertiti is one of the most iconic symbols of Egypt.
Little is known about the origins of Nefertiti, but her legacy of beauty and power continue to intrigue scholars today. Her name is Egyptian and means "the beautiful one has come." Some evidence suggests that she hailed from the town Akhmim and is the daughter or niece of a high official named Ay. Other theories have suggested that she was born in a foreign country.
The exact date when Nefertiti married Amenhotep III's son, the future pharaoh Amenhotep IV, is unknown. It is believed she was 15 when they wed, which may have been before Akhenaten assumed the throne. They apparently ruled together from 1353 to 1336 B.C. and had six daughters, with speculation that they may have also had a son. Artwork from the day depicts the couple and their daughters in an unusually naturalistic and individualistic style, more so than from earlier eras. The king and his head queen seem to be inseparable in reliefs, often shown riding in chariots together and even kissing in public. It has been stated that the couple may have had a genuine romantic connection, a dynamic not generally seen in ancient pharaoh depictions.
Worship of Sun God
Nefertiti and the pharaoh took an active role in establishing the Aten cult, a religious mythology which defined Aten, the sun, as the most important god and only one worthy of worship in Egypt's polytheistic canon. Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten (also seen as "Akenhaten" in some references) to honor the deity. It is believed that the king and queen were priests and that only through them ordinary citizens obtained access to Aten. Nefertiti changed her name to Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, meaning "beautiful are the beauties of Aten, a beautiful woman has come," as a show of her absolutism for the new religion. The royal family resided in a constructed city meant to honor their god, also called Akhenaten in what is now known as el-Amarna. There were several open-air temples in the city, and at the center stood the palace.
Nefertiti was perhaps one of the most powerful women to have ever ruled. Her husband went to great lengths to display her as an equal counterpart. In several reliefs she is shown wearing the crown of a pharaoh or smiting her enemies in battle. Despite her great power, Nefertiti disappears from all depictions after 12 years. The reason for her disappearance is unknown. Some scholars believe she died, while others speculate she was elevated to the status of co-regent, equal in power to the pharaoh, and began to dress herself as a man. Some say she became known as Pharaoh Smenkhkare, ruling Egypt after her husband’s death. Others suggest she was exiled when the worship of the deity Amen-Ra came back into vogue. Her mummy has not been found.