Tutankhamun – a brief summary

The first time I visited London was as a 9-year-old in 1973 when my mother took my older sister and me to see the Tutankhamun exhibition. My mother, born in 1920, and the daughter of a navy captain, spent much of her childhood in Egypt. She later remembered the excitement when Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb, and she was determined to witness this landmark occasion. I remember we queued for what seemed like hours and I do remember seeing the famous golden mask (pictured) and being awed by its dazzling brilliance. But, as a young boy, first time out of Devon, the four hour train journey back home in the dark was even more exciting.

Here, Anthony Holmes provides a brief summary of the short life of the Egyptian boy king.

Tutankhamun is believed to be the son of Akhenaten and his secondary wife Kiya. At 9 years of age Tutankhamun succeeded his father to the throne. He was originally named Tut-ankh-Aten, (the living image of Aten) but changed to Tutankhamun as he tried to steer Egypt back to the worship of the state god Amun-Ra.

Tutankhamun’s tomb

Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered by archaeologist Howard Carter in November 1922, over 3,000 years after the boy king had been entombed there. The tomb was virtually intact, having only suffered minor interference in ancient times. The tomb contained priceless treasures and artefacts, as well as the king’s mummy lying in his solid gold coffin within a sarcophagus and shrines. It was a world-famous archaeological discovery and the magic of the boy king’s tomb and mummy remains to this day.

The iconic treasures found in the tomb, now on display in the Cairo Museum, include the gilded shrines that surrounded his sarcophagus, the inner solid gold coffin and the beautiful gold mask that covered the pharaoh’s face for 3,000 years. In addition there are thrones, chairs, statues, chariots, jewellery and other delights.

Tutankhamun was married to his half-sister Ankhesenamun, a daughter of Nefertiti, but the fruits of their marriage were limited to two still-born female foetuses which were buried with the pharaoh.

The Death of Tutankhamun

Tutankhamun died at the age of nineteen and recent tests indicate that he may have died as the result of a combination of factors. He suffered from a bone weakness, club foot and (minor) cleft palate, but it was a major complicated fracture of his left leg above the knee as well as cerebral malaria that were the main contributors to his demise. The trauma to his leg may have been the result of an accident or an injury sustained in combat or even an assassination attempt, there is no certainty at this stage. It is possible that the ultimate cause of death may have been either septicaemia or malarial fever.

Tutankhamun’s reign saw an attempt to undo the damage done by Akhenaten to the Egyptian state and its economy. The young king was on the way to his goal of reinstating the ancient religions when he died. Tutankhamun left no heir to the throne and his great uncle Ay, a man of 68 years of age, held the throne until he died four years later.

Anthony Holmes

See also articles on AkhenatenRameses the GreatMummification, Howard Carter and the Great Pyramids at Giza.

Read more in Ancient Egypt: History In An Hour published by Harper Press and available in various digital formats.