Tutankhamun, King of Egypt: His Life and Afterlife

by Aidan Dodson.
AUC, 2022
ISBN 978-1-6490-3161-7
Hardback, £29.95.

Aidan Dodson continues his pharaonic series with a volume on Tutankhamun “offered unapologetically” as an addition to the numerous books released or reprinted in time for the centenary. The book follows the format of his previous volumes (introduction to the period, birth, reign, death and aftermath, mortuary temple and tomb, limbo, and resurrection), although of course Tutankhamun has a far more interesting ‘resurrection’ than other pharaohs.

Dodson immediately runs into a tangle of possibilities for the parentage of the young king. With so many conflicting theories, the author is up-front about his standpoint, but offers what he hopes is a balanced interpretation of the evidence (including the contentious 2010 DNA investigations). Dodson believes the most likely scenario sees Tutankhamun as the son of Akhenaten and Nefertiti – who were themselves first cousins. He also attempts to unravel the confusion surrounding the period between the death of Akhenaten and accession of Tutankhaten/Tutankhamun, the identity of Smenkhkara and the possible role played by Nefertiti (a debate also covered in his previous volume on Nefertiti’s ‘life and afterlife’ (see AE 124).

Following chapters detail the achievements of Tutankhamun’s ten-year reign and those of his leading courtiers – in particular Ay and Horemheb – including the move from Amarna, decommissioning of Aten structures, and the restoration of Amun. The expansion of Hittite power at this time was the main focus of Tutankhamun’s foreign policy, with possible campaigns in Syria (and also Nubia) suggested by scenes on surviving block fragments found at Luxor. While such military campaigns were most likely led by General Horemheb, Dodson believes there is “no obvious reason” why Tutankhamun could not have taken part himself.

Tutankhamun’s health and death are only briefly discussed. The author does not dispute the recent foot deformity theory, but believes the most likely cause of death was a fall – possibly from a moving chariot. There is a more detailed discussion of the ‘queen’s letter’ to the Hittite king (requesting a prince as a husband), which is taken at face value, while the accession of Ay rather than Horemheb is briefly covered, with suggestion of tensions between the two men throughout Tutankhamun’s reign.

After discussing the possible location of Tutankhamun’s lost mortuary temple, Dodson turns his attention to the burial. While Tutankhamun’s sudden death explains the hurried burial arrangements and choice of tomb, the situation was complicated by the need to re-establish the abandoned tomb workers’ village at Deir el Medina, as well as to find tombs for the royal mummies transferred from Amarna. There is a detailed exploration of the tomb and its contents (within the context of contemporary funerary practices), and the two episodes of looting shortly after the burial.

Under the heading ‘Limbo’ are the reigns of Ay and Horemheb, and the erasure of the Amarna royals – with Tutankhamun himself a victim once Horemheb came to power. The final chapter, ‘Resurrection’, deals with the events leading up to and including the discovery of the tomb, the media frenzy, and the “examinations and desecrations” of the mummy. The DNA study is criticised for offering only the team’s ‘preferred’ interpretations (which differ from the reconstruction Dodson presents here), while the murder and curse theories are quickly dismissed. He is also sceptical about Nicholas Reeves’ theory that the tomb has hidden rooms, which, thanks to blanket media coverage, he fears is likely to become another of the everlasting “zombie facts” tied to Tutankhamun and his tomb.

The book is lavishly illustrated (with many photographs taken by AE ’s former Editor, the late Bob Partridge), the author selecting some of the lesser-known items from the tomb relating to the king’s career in preference to the usual golden highlights.

Review by Sarah Griffiths.

Aidan Dodson’s article about the resurrection of Tutankhamun appears can be read here.