Smenkhkare (sometimes erroneously spelled Smenkhare or Smenkare and meaning Vigorous is the Soul of Ra) was an ephemeral Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh (1335-1333 BCE) of the late Eighteenth Dynasty, of whom very little is known for certain. Believed by a growing number of experts to be the mummy found in KV55, he is thought to be a younger son of Amenhotep III and queen Tiye, and therefore a younger brother of Akhenaten. Traditionally he is seen as Akhenaten's co-regent and immediate successor, and predecessor of Tutankhamun. He is assumed to be a close, male relative of those two kings (either by blood or marriage).

More recent scholarly work has cast serious doubts on this traditional view and most aspects of this individual's life and position. His relation to the Amarna royal family, the nature and importance of his reign, and even "his" gender are up for debate. Related to this is the ongoing question as to whether Akhenaten's co-regent and successor were the same person.

Historical Context

The scenes in the tombs of Meryre II and Huya (located in the Amarna Northern tombs necropolis) depicting the "reception of foreign tribute" are the last clear view of the Amarna period. The events depicted in the tomb of Meryre II are dated to the second month of Akhenaten's regnal year 12. (In the tomb of Huya they are dated to year 12 of the Aten.)

They show the last appearance of the royal family as a whole (that is: Akhenaten and his chief-queen Nefertiti, together with their six daughters), which scholars have dated to their satisfaction. These scenes are the first dated occurrence of the latter name-forms of the Aten. After this date, the events at Amarna and their chronology become far less clear. It is only with the accession of Tutankhamun, and the restoration early in this king's reign, that events appear to become clear again.

A scene from the tomb of Meryre II, depicts pharaoh Smenkhkare and his Great Royal Wife Meritaten handing out tribute from the "window of appearances". The inscription was recorded upon discovery, but has since been lost.

It is in this late Amarna period that Akhenaten's co-regent and probable immediate successor comes to the fore. Akhenaten is generally assumed to have died in the late autumn of his 17th regnal year (after the bottling of wine in that year). Nefertiti disappears from view somewhat earlier (around regnal year 14); the reasons for this are unclear and under scholarly debate (see below). Around the same time a new co-regent is first attested.

Historical Context

Many of the questions surrounding Akhenaten's co-regent and successor revolve around the names attested for this individual (or individuals). Two closely similar, yet distinct sets of names, appear in the records available for the late Amarna period. These are:

Both these sets are written in two cartouches. The epithets in the former name-set are "desired of Neferkheprure/Waenre" (i.e. Akhenaten). The first set of names also sometimes appears in feminine form as "Ankhetkheprure Neferneferuaten" and sometimes the epithet for the nomen is then replaced by "beneficial to her husband". The former set of names appears to be earlier, and the association of these names with Akhenaten seems more substantial than is the case for the latter set. Both names are associated with Meritaten as great royal wife.

Both sets of names are only poorly attested. To date, no objects other than a wine jar label and six royal seals bearing the names of Ankhkheprure Smenkhkare Djeserkheperu are known. Only one named-depiction of Smenkhkare along with Meritaten (in the tomb of Meryre II) is known. Some objects with the names of Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten were reused in the burial of Tutankhamun (see below), and the female variant of these names appears on faience-ring bezels.

Because of the presence of the feminine Ankhetkheperure Neferneferuaten, scholars have generally dropped the old view that there was only one, male individual involved. The theory used to suggest he first acted as Akhenaten's co-regent under the name Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten and, after the death of Akhenaten, succeeded him under the name Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare.

Several theories have been proposed to accommodate a woman:

It must be noted there is disagreement as to which names belong to each individual.


Those who see only evidence for one female co-regent and successor of Akhenaten identify this individual with Nefertiti. They draw attention to the fact that Akhenaten's co-regent's name Neferneferuaten is also an epithet bestowed on Nefertiti earlier in the Amarna period.

They also point out that Nefertiti disappears from view around the same time that Akhenaten's co-regent first appears. And lastly they see further evidence for Nefertiti's elevation to kingly status in the Coregency Stela and several other, unfinished stelae.

The latter include the Pase stela (depicting two figures wearing crowns who are nevertheless identified as a king and queen by the three uninscribed cartouches); the Berlin 25574 stela (depicting Akhenaten and Nefertiti but with an extra, fourth, cartouche added to indicate two kings rather than a king and queen); and in Meryre II's tomb, a scene in which the figures of Akhenaten and Nefertiti are nearly superimposed over each other (which is interpreted as indicating the oneness of their co-rule).

In short, a clear sequence of changing names and functions is suggested: from queen Nefertiti, who later becomes queen Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, over co-regent Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten to successor Ankhkheprure Smenkhkare Djeserkheperu.

On the other hand, those who identify both a female and male co-regent/successor assume Nefertiti predeceased her husband, based on two fragmentary shabti figures inscribed for her as queen. (These might be votive offerings, similar to figurines of Tiye found in the tomb of Amenhotep III. Ushabti figures were normally placed in a tomb prior to its owner's death).

As a consequence, scholars identify the female Ankhetkheperure as either Meritaten, who is then assumed to have succeeded her deceased husband Smenkhkare, or as Akhenaten and Nefertiti's fourth daughter Neferneferuaten Tasherit, who is seen as Akhenaten's co-regent before the sole rule of Smenkhkare. They identify the male Smenkhkare as an older close relative of Tutankhamun, with both classified as either sons or sons-in-law of Akhenaten.

As was already noted above, the variously attested names are distributed differently between these two individuals: some researchers distinguish between a female Ankhetkheperure Neferneferuaten and a male Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare/Neferneferuaten, while others distinguish between a female Ankhetkheperure/Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten and a male Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare.

One theory holds that Smenkhkare was Akhenaten's male lover as well as co-regent, due to images found where a male (believed to be Smenkhkare) was depicted beside Akhenaten in a manner very similar to how Nefertiti was shown in earlier records. Some believe that the figure is meant to be Nefertiti, or one of Akhenaten's daughters, who took the place of her mother in the religious and political hierarchy due to the necessity of both roles in Atenism (after the theoretical death of Nefertiti). The figure is not dressed in a manner typical of the way the females in Akhenaten's family were depicted. Its clothing is more similar to Akhenaten's garments.


The sole regnal date (year 1) attested for Smenkhkare comes from a jar label for wine from "the house of Smenkhkare"; this date might however refer either to the reign of Smenkhkare or that of Tutankhamun. The highest known date for Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten, regnal year 3, is attested in a graffiti in the Theban tomb of Pairi (TT139). It is unclear whether this refers to a sole rule or a co-regency.

Manetho's kinglists includes three 18th-dynasty rulers named Akenkeres (which might be identified as a Greek rendering of Ankhkheprure), one of which is identified as a king's daughter who ruled for twelve years and a month. Both the repetition of names and the attested length of reign might be due to corruptions. Finally, it is also possible that the sole rule of Smenkhkare coincided with the beginning of Tutankhamun's reign.

Virtually nothing is known about the politics of Akhenaten's co-regent/successor. The TT139 graffiti mentioned above refers to an active Amun-priesthood, practising in the temple of Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten (possibly this individual's mortuary temple). This could indicate a first step towards an agreement between the Atenist and traditional religions, which would be further consolidated during the reign of Tutankhamun.


The Hittite annals known as The Deeds of Suppiluliuma informs us how an Egyptian queen named Dakhamunzu, the widow of her recently deceased husband Niphururiya and without sons, asks the Hittite king Suppiluliama to send her one of his own sons to be her husband and king of Egypt and how, after further negotiations, a Hittite prince (Zannanza) is sent to Egypt, only to be murdered en route there.

The synchronization of Hittite and Egyptian chronologies is unclear, but it is certain that the recounted episode must have happened in the late 18th Dynasty of Egypt (i.e. the late Amarna period and its immediate aftermath).The correct identification of the individuals involved in this episode could therefore possibly cast light on some of the questions surrounding Akhenaten's co-regent and successor.

It is now generally assumed that Dakhamunzu is a Hittite rendering of the Egyptian title ta hemet nesu - the king's wife - rather than the name of a queen. Unfortunately the name of this queen's husband, Niphururiya, might equally be a rendering of the prenomen of either Akhenaten (Neferkheprure) or Tutankhamun (Nebkheprure).

Traditionally identification with the latter is preferred and consequentially Dakhamunzu is identified with his widow Ankhesenamun (later married to her servant Ay). Studies of the chronology of the event suggest however that Akhenaten would be a more likely candidate for Nibhururiya in which case the account in the Hittite annals can be seen as either evidence for Nefertiti's continuing importance during the late-Amarna period (in the guise of Smenkhkare) or for Meritaten's role as Akhenaten's co-regent.

In the former case it is assumed that Tutankhamun supplanted Nefertiti on the throne after the murder of Zannanza, in the latter case it is believed that Meritaten was afterwards forced to marry her servant Smenkhkare although the possible identification of Zannanza as Smenkhkare is also suggested.


Evidence relating to the burial(s) of Akhenaten's co-regent(s) and possible successor(s) might be found in two different tombs, both located in the Valley of the Kings.

As pointed out above, the reason some scholars distinguish between a male and female co-regent/successor of Akhenaten rests on the identification of the KV55 mummy as that of Smenkhkare. This identification was based on anatomical evidence indicating that the KV55 body was that of a male, and shared the same rare blood type as Tutankhamun, and came to the conclusion that this mummy and Tutankhamun are closely related, either as father and son or as brothers.

The KV55 mummy was originally given an estimated age of death from about twenty to twenty five years, which was seen as being far too young to be Akhenaten himself. However, this identification was problematic as the archaeological evidence and inscriptions found in this tomb suggested that the body in KV55 was that of Akhenaten.

Because of this the correctness of the original age estimates were repeatedly called into question, and prior to the genetic tests done in early 2010, several professional opinions were made suggesting a much later age for the skeletal remains, pointing to an age of about 35 years based on dentition or even later (based on anthropological standards and more-recent X-rays of the long bones).

It must be remembered that it is very difficult to date a mummy's age, and there are many differing opinions on the legitimacy of dating techniques. We may never be able to prove the age of this mummy at death, but it is probable that the ancient Egyptians who buried (and later desecrated) the body in KV55 believed it to be Akhenaten's.

Genetic tests published in February 2010 have confirmed that the body found buried in tomb KV55 was the father of Tutankhamun, spouse of the Younger Lady of KV35, and the son of Amenhotep III and queen Tiye. The age of the mummy is mostly given as that of 18-21 years of age at death, based on numerous studies in the past. The recent genetic study has claimed the body as that of Akhenaten.

They mostly claim the age of death as around 35, based on 'spinal degeneration', which was not mentioned by any of the previous anthropological studies done on the mummy. Further anatomical studies of the KV55 skeletal remains were also undertaken at this time, with the team concluding that they were much older than previously assumed.

The reports sums up the issue by saying that "the proof that Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye are the parents of KV55, combined with this anthropological and archaeological evidence, indicates that the mummy in KV55 is almost certainly Akhenaten". Though this statement will be subject to discussion for a while, as some still think the age estimates are against Akhenaten, and support the identification as Smenkhkare instead.

Other than a fragmentary box bearing the names of Akhenaten, Meritaten and Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten which was found by Howard Carter outside Tutkanhamen's tomb, several funerary items originally made for Neferneferuaten were found in this king's tomb. The most notable of these usurpations are the mummy bands and the canopic coffins. It has also been noted that the features of the canopic stoppers and the second coffin do not resemble those of Tutankhamen and it has been suggested that these too had originally been intended for Akhenaten's co-regent.

These objects indicate that this individual's original burial must have been substantial and impressive. More importantly however, it must be noted that all these items are purely traditional in nature. Further evidence for this might be seen in the TT139 graffiti mentioned above.