• Imagining History

Nefertiti: Who Was She? – A Guide for Kids

Updated: Apr 22


Nefertiti - Courtesy of Philip Pikart

Name:

Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti – which is a bit of a mouthful, so we’re not surprised most people refer to her as just Nefertiti. The name Nefertiti translates as “A Beautiful Woman Has Come”.


Known For:

Being Queen of Egypt in the mid-1300’s BC, alongside her King, Pharaoh Akhenaten. Her sculpture, the Nefertiti Bust, is one of the most well recognised sculptures discovered from Ancient Egypt.


Born:

In the 14th Century BC.

Nobody is certain on the exact year that Nefertiti was born because so little is known about her from before her marriage to Akhenaten. Nothing is known about her parents and some historians believe she may have been a princess from Syria.


Nefertiti's Bust - Courtesy of Giovanni

The Famous Bust:

The famous Nefertiti Bust sculpture is currently housed at the Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany. It was discovered by German Egyptologist Ludwig Borchardt and his team during an excavation of Amarna in 1912. Borchardt made a famous note about the sculpture’s beauty in his excavation diary, saying “description is useless, must be seen”.


Marriage to Akhenaten:

Nefertiti probably married Akhenaten when she was around 15 years old, before Akhenaten became Pharaoh.


Artwork featuring the pair show that they were virtually inseparable and probably had a genuine romantic connection, which was unusual for royal marriages at the time. Evidence suggests that Nefertiti wasn’t just a wife to the Pharaoh, but the pair actually ruled Egypt together on equal terms. Their rule lasted from approximately 1353 to 1336 BC.


They had 6 daughters together and possibly also a son. One of their daughters, Ankhesenamun, married another of Akhenaten’s sons who would later become a very well-known Pharaoh in his own right – Tutankhamun.


Amarna Art showing Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipping the Aten with their children - Courtesy Jose Luiz

The Cult of the Aten:

Nefertiti and Pharaoh Akhenaten made big changes to Ancient Egyptian religion. The religion, which originally included around 2000 gods, was stripped down to just one god, the disc of the sun, called the Aten.

Amarna Art showing Nefertiti & Akhenaten worshipping the Aten - Courtesy Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

To show their commitment to the new religion, the pair even changed their names. This is when Nefertiti added “Neferneferuaten” before her name, which translates as “beautiful are the beauties of the Aten”. They had a new city built, containing many open-air temples for their new religion. They called the city Akhetaten, meaning "Horizon of the Aten", though it is now known as Amarna.


Amarna Art:

The famous bust isn’t the only ancient artwork that features Nefertiti. She regularly turns up in what is now known as Amarna Art. But Amarna Art was a lot less complimentary to those who were featured in it, with human bodies being pictured in very strange ways. In Amarna art, Nefertiti, her husband and their children were often shown with long, thin necks, sagging bellies, oversized thighs, skinny legs and even elongated skulls!


These alien-like pictures of humans are very unusual for Ancient Egyptian artwork and are almost entirely unique to Amarna in the 14th Century BC.

Amarna Art showing Nefertiti's daughter - Courtesy Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin

Death:

Similar to her birth, the "when" and "how" of Nefertiti's death remains a mystery and there are many popular theories as to what might have happened. The mystery arose when it was discovered that Nefertiti’s body was not in the royal tomb at Amarna.


Some historians think that Nefertiti and Akhenaten may have separated and she may have retired from royal duties and lived out her life elsewhere. Others believe that Nefertiti’s body may have been buried at the Amarna royal tomb but later moved to the Valley of the Kings. This could mean that Nefertiti’s body may be amongst the many unidentified royal mummies found at the Valley of the Kings. The final theory is that Nefertiti may have outlived her husband and ruled as a female king by the name of Smenkhkare, before she handed the throne to her step-son and son-in-law, Tutankhamun.