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The Murder Of Tutankhamen: A 3000-year-old Murder Mystery Paperback – 1 Apr 1999
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In short the answer has to be yes. Brier is an experienced and excellent Egyptologist and this examination is both thorough and professional throughout. Brier makes full use of all the evidence available to him in describing the life of the Amarna royals and the possibility that Tutankhamun was murdered. I lived in Egypt as a child, studied history at university and I have to say that, as far as one can be convinced with the evidence available, Brier has convinced me that murder was the fate of this young king.
Brier writes from an admirably unbiased view, and makes sure there is evidence for any conclusions he comes to, unlike others who have written about the Tutankhamun story. He goes thoroughly through the young kings life and discusses each of the possible suspects in depth. His conclusions about their guilt, or lack of, are very sound and convincing. The book particularly gives an interesting look into the workings of politics and power, much of which clearly has not changed since the time of Ancient Egypt! His look at motivations for killing a pharoah is fascinating, as is his judgements on the ramifications of this act.
This book is an excellent, well written and fascinating read - a must I would say for all those with an interest in this remarkable country. Was Tut murdered? And is so by whom? Bob Brier will help you decide!
At the time it was written, this book made a reasonably strong argument that the young Pharaoh appeared to have been murdered, and after considering the motivations and opportunities to commit the crime of his widow, his Vizier and successor Ay or Aye, and Ay's successor General Horemheb, the author came to the view that Ay was the most likely culprit.
However, while it would be overstating the case to say that this view has been disproved, additional tests which were made on Tutankhamen's mummy and those of his close relatives since this book was published cast considerable doubt on the evidence that his death was murder.
With apologies to the author for comparing his work with a book which is enormously inferior as a work of scholarship, if you have read James Patterson's bestseller The Murder of King Tut which was published a few years later, the two books looked at essentially the same evidence and independently arrived at similar conclusions on broadly comparable grounds. Indeed, the main reason I acquit Patterson of plagiarising the analysis in this book, is that if his bestseller had been based on this much more thorough, comprehensive and meticulously accurate account of one view of the evidence, he would probably have avoided most of his mistakes.
However, I used the words "one view of the evidence" for a reason: even before the recent medical examinations many Egyptologists would not have agreed with all of the opinions voiced in this book.
At a distance of three tbousand years relatively little evidence survives from the 18th dynasty epoch of Egyptian history, and for reasons we will come to, that particularly applies to the so called "Armana period" which includes the reign of King Tut. We are dependent on the opinions of experts to interpret what evidence does survive. And quite a few of Robert Brier's views expressed in this book are not shared by the majority of his fellow experts, particularly as they affect the man he accuses of the murder, the Visier Ay or Aye, against whom the author appears to have quite a strong animus.
For example, he repeatedly refers to Ay as a commoner - the back of the dust jacket of this book describing Ay as "a man without a drop of royal blood in his veins."
There are Egyptologists who believe that, but it isn't the only view. It is a fact that Ay was very closely connected to the royal family for more than a quarter of a century, and many experts believe that he was closely related to them. He may have been Tutankhamen's uncle or great uncle: it has been suggested that he may have been the brother of King Tut's grandmother Queen Tiye because he inherited most of the titles of her father Yuya. It has also been suggested that Ay may have been the father of Akhenaten's great royal wife Nefertiti and therefore the grandfather of Tutankhamen's half-sister and queen, Ankhesenamen, and it is possible that Ay was both those things.
Bob Briers also cites as evidence of manouvering by Ay after King Tut's death the records found in the Hittite capital of a letter written about this time from the widow of an Egyptian Pharaoh, asking the Hittite King to send one of his sons to marry her and become King of Egypt so that she will not be forced to "marry a servant." He appears to take for granted that the widow concerned was Tutanhkamen's widow Ankesenamun and argues that the word "servant" is a reference to Ay, indicating that she was being pressured to marry him but did not want to do so. This is the most common interpretation of the letter but there is also a strong possibility that it was written a decade earlier, shortly before King Tut's reign, by Meritaten, the widow of Smenkhkare, or by Ankhesenamun's mother Nefertiti if she survived Akhenaten: and the word used can be translated as "subject" as well as "servant."
There is some evidence that a woman ruled Egypt for a short period between the reigns of Akhenaten and Tutanhkamen, taking the name Neferneferuaten: this would probably have been Meritaten or Nefertiti, and either queen in this position might have found it easier to seek a husband from a neighbouring country rather than upset the internal power balance in Egypt by marrying one of her subjects who already had his own power base, enemies, or most likely both.
At one point in this book Brier describes his reactions on viewing a plaster cast which is believed to be one of the very few surviving images of Ay. Bob Brier's description of his own response to the appearance of this cast is worth quoting as it demonstrates the point that the author is not well disposed towards the man:
"As I looked at the decidedly sinister face of Aye ... I noticed that there was a streak of red paint on his upper lip. I couldn't help but think of blood. Perhaps it was what I knew about him that gave this man such an ominous appearance, but I think the casual passerby would not invite someone who looked like this to dinner."
Incidentally there is a reason there are so few images of Ay, and it's the same reason it is so difficult to be certain what really happened to Tutanhkamen, and even whether some of the rulers who appear to have occupied the throne of Egypt at this period, such as Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten, actually existed. This is because Pharaoh Horemheb made a systematic attempt when he succeeded Ay to erase from history all evidence that the reigns of his four or five predecessors had ever happened.
Records, pictures, and even huge mouments and buildings were destroyed or doctored on a scale like the Stalinist revisions or something out of "Nineteen Eighty-four." When reading any account of this period of Egyptian history it is important to remember that every scrap of actual evidence we have was missed, allowed to survive, or deliberately faked by a subsequent regime which made a massive attempt to rewrite history.
As mentioned above, since this book was written there has been a lot more DNA and medical evidence from mummies relevant to the arguments in this book. At present (March 2012) this evidence has persuaded the majority of Eyptologists that the young Pharaoh's death may well have been due to a combination of natural and accidental causes.
First, a CT scan taken in 2005 strongly suggests that he had badly broken his leg shortly before he died and that this injury had become infected.
Then in 2010, DNA analysis of King Tut's body in 2010 showed the presence of malaria in his system and suggested that he had repeated episodes of this disease.
Also the DNA matches between various mummies have identified that Tutanhkamen was the child of full siblings. There has been some debate about exactly which Pharaoh was his father but the 2010 DNA evidence confirms with extremely high probability that King Tut was the son of the mummified body from Tomb KV55, which has to be either Pharoah Akhenaten or just possibly his brother Smenkhkare, that the body from KV55 in turn was the son of the previous Pharaoh, Amenhotep III, that King Tut's mother was the queen whose mummy was recovered from Tomb KV35 and known as "The Younger Lady," and that both Tutankhamen's father and mother were the offspring of Amenhotep III by his principal wife Queen Tiye.
The Egyptian royal family believed that the practice of incest proved their divinity but they paid a heavy genetic price for this, and it is possible that genetic problems exacerbated by inbreeding contributed both to poor health in Tutankhamen's own case and to the inability of King Tut and his wife, who was also his half-sister, to produce children who could be carried to full term.
The current scientific consensus is that the combined impact of malaria and the leg injury on a body which had already suffered a number of illnesses were the causes of King Tut's death, and not assassination.
An accessible summary of the scientific evidence at the time of writing this review is given in the September 2010 issue of the National Geographic magazine, for which the Amazon page is given at the following link: National Geographic Magazine - September 2010 | RRP: £4.99 (Features: Special Report: Madagascar's Rosewood Crisis | King Tut's DNA | Unlocking Family Secrets | Crazy Insect Eggs | Inside the 9/11 Museum | A Fabled Aussie Island).
Although the opinions expressed in this book look significantly less likely to be correct than they did when it was written, it remains a well argued and reasonably accessible argument for one view of Pharaoh Tutankhamen's death as the evidence stood in 1998.
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