on 30 October 2000
Tyldesley has scored another triumph in her series of biographies of famous Ancient Egyptians. Nefertiti is not a subject many people would tackle with such confidence and ability - Tyldesley obviously keeps abreast of the latest scholarship on the Amarna Period and its convolutions, but she has such an approachable style she conveys even difficult information in a way any reader can understand.
There are so many weird and wacky books on the Amarna Period it was a real pleasure to read one written by an author who takes such a well-balanced approach. You feel that you are reading the considered view of a writer who isn't pushing you to believe their latest oddball theory but has the confidence to show you all the evidence for you to make up your own mind.
If this makes it sound like a dry textbook it isn't! I reckon this is a cracking book for both university students and the interested amateur like me!) alike.
Joyce Tyldesley's book, 'Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen' is a fascinating study of a very important but mostly misunderstood figure in Egyptian history. Perhaps it was due to the confusion of names (another queen, Nefertari, is popularly known due to the use of her name in Biblical epic films), and largely historically due to Nerfertiti's marriage to Akhenaton, a pharoah who was almost erased from history.
Akhenaton was a heretic in Egyptian terms -- he renounced the worship of old gods in favour of a more monotheistic framework based upon a sun-worship (Aton) which prompted him to change his name (he had been Amenhotep IV). He built a new capital city at Amarna, where he and Nefertiti lived and raised their children. Nefertiti was perhaps the most influential person on Akhenaton, at that time one of the most powerful rulers on earth.
Very little is known of Nefertiti -- her death is not recorded, and her tomb has not been found. Her beauty is renowned from the masks found at Amarna by archaeologists early in this century, having been lost for millenia. It is unusual that such a prominent person's death would not be recorded in the culture of Egypt, symbolised to this day by the monuments to the great who have died in pyramids and tombs.
The mystery deepens, however, with the discovery of stelae at Amarna that shows Nefertiti in glorious array while her husband the Pharoah occupies a lesser position.
'The Berlin stela provides us with the image of a perfect and semi-divine family inhabiting an ideal world far beyond the experiences of most Egyptians. The exact roles played by the principal members of this family are unclear. Akhenaten seems quite happy perched on his lowly, undecorated stool while his wife occupies the more regal seat, yet to him fall the the honour of holding the more important princess while Nefertiti looks after the babies.'
Nefertiti may have been the regnant queen by this point -- unusual but far from unheard of in Egyptian history. Female pharoahs such as Sobeknofru and Hatchepsut had proved this, but it is much more likely that a female would act as regent rather than regnant. She might have served as co-regnant with Akhenaten until his death, and then as a regent for Tutankhamen.
Of course, alternate theories also abound. Some inscriptions have been discovered in which a another name, Meritaten, was inscribed over erased names and titles of another woman -- was this Nefertiti? Did she overstep her position? Did she commit some indiscretion or crime? Meritaten, the daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaton, might have assumed public duties as queen. This was put forward by Egyptologists including Norman de Garis Davies and John Pendlebury.
Tyldesley presents various theories of Nefertiti's life and death side by side with evidence supporting each. Alas, the support is difficult no matter which interpretation is preferred -- Amarna was abandoned shortly after the death of Akhenaten, and the old religious ways reinstituted. Akhenaten's name was deliberately suppressed due to the threat to the 'established religion' that monotheistic ways represented (perhaps a source of animosity between another group, the Canaanite/Israelites, and the Egyptians stems from the fear of this monotheistic tendency latent in Egypt).
It is a sad tale, that Akhenaten and Nefertiti's family was all but destroyed, their capital reduced to a quarry for future pharoahs and builders to use; they and their family, including Tutankhamen and Ay, the following pharoahs of the family, were all deleted from official lists of kings -- in traditional Egyptian theology, for the spirit to live forever, the person's name, body, or image must survive -- and thus the officials of Egypt tried their best to destroy the spirit of these people. But archaeology has managed to resurrect their images and at least part of their story, and the mystery of their lives will continue for a long time to come.
on 6 September 2000
I realise it's difficult to write a biography of someone for whom there's virtually no documentary evidence, but that's no reason for Joyce Tyldesley to have written such a mediocre book on Nefertiti - especially in 1999.
Understandably there's very little on Nefertiti here - it's really a beginner's guide to the Armana period in Egyptian history.
People interested in Nefertiti will find all the information in this book re-interpreted, re-examined, brought up to date, put into context and brilliantly argued plus a lot, lot more in Christine El Mahdy's Tutankhamen - a book that makes reading Joyce Tyldesley's redundant.
There's nothing new here - and there's none of the fascinating archeological argument and counter-argument that makes El Mahdy's book so enjoyable.
Having said that, if you know absolutely nothing about Nefertiti, this is (I guess) as good a place to start as any.
But I guarantee you'll enjoy Christine El Mahdy's book more - even though it's called Tutankhamen, it's a far, far better study of Nefertiti's life and times.
on 4 March 2004
Joyce Tyldeseley is a very well known author in the archaeological circles. When you're reading this, you can be sure that you're reading current, real, scholarly archaeological thoughts on the subject, and not some of the more fantastical hypotheses which are abounding at the moment.
The unfortunate thing is that most of the other glitzy books out there are larger because of irrelevant padding, or wild hypotheses. This is because there's not a lot known about Nefertiti. What information exists is presented very well, and very logically in this book.
Because so little is known, the actual story, end-to-end, would fit into only one, or at most, two chapters, so this book gives (as has been pointed out already) a good beginner's guide to the "Amarna Period", a segment of Egypt's history where a rogue pharaoh tried to overturn the existing dogma, art and culture, within which nefertiti was a major player.
I've read a great many books on this subject, and this is the best for the beginner. However, if you're looking for much more information, seek out the larger Akhenaten-based hardbacks.
I only give it four stars, because I know of many more illustrations which would have worked well in the book, and there are some important artifacts, as well as some other researchers' opinions which are either glossed over, or omitted.
on 7 May 2006
One of the most famous faces in the world, and perhaps one of the most well-known pieces of sculpture, is the exquisite bust of the Egyptian queen, Nefertiti, which is currently housed in the Berlin museum. She's also widely regarded as Egypt's most beautiful queen (I wonder what Cleopatra would have to say about that?). But what do we really know about her? Not a lot, as Joyce Tyldesley's book, Nefertiti, shows us. In fact, so little is known that a book that is rather short to begin with takes a lot of side trips talking about her husband and the unusual monotheistic religion that he formed. Thankfully, Tyledesley never claims to have all of the answers. Unfortunately, that didn't stop the publishers from advertising that she did. Yes, bad cover copy once again leads the reader astray, and while the book is interesting enough despite that, I still have to knock it down some for that. Many of the questions that the back cover asks ("Did she ever rule Egypt as king? When did she die?") don't actually have answers within the book. Tyledesley gives her best estimate, and refutes some of the common theories, but she admits that there's no way to tell.
Tyldesley has certainly given us an interesting book, however. She begins by giving an overview of Nefertiti's father-in-law, Amenhotep III, and his rule. She goes into great detail about Amenhotep's mother, Tiy, and examines some of the questions about them. It takes almost fifty pages before Nefertiti comes on the scene, and Tyldesley introduces her with the question of her parentage. No record has ever been found of her birth and only one relative has come to the fore. Some believe she was a foreigner come to Egypt, perhaps a Nubian princess? Tyldesley effortlessly deflects most of these theories, even as she does admit that they could be true. I was very glad to see that Tyldesley rarely assumes anything, giving the reader all sides of the story, even as she provides evidence that supports what she believes is the case.
The book then moves on to examine the reign of her husband, Akhenaten, and the religion that he founded (and which, subsequently, was pretty much wiped from history by subsequent pharaohs). Nefertiti does figure in this at times, as it has been proposed that she was a goddess figure much like Akhenaten was the god. Some images that date from this period show Nefertiti acting similar to what high priests would do in the previous religion, smiting enemies or leading religious ceremonies. For the most part, however, the chapter is about Akhenaten's rule, and subsequent chapters give us more detail, even as they examine Nefertiti's role in the whole thing. In fact, one of the chapters (called "Queen, King, or Goddess?") brings up the question of whether or not Nefertiti ever ruled in her husband's place, perhaps after he died. Once again, Tyldesley deals with that by giving us as much information as is known, stating that it's most likely that she never served as king and detailing why the other hypotheses aren't very credible.
I found these chapters especially interesting because, while I had heard of Akhenaten and his replacing of all the Egyptian gods with his own divinity, I didn't really know much about it. Tyldesley does a wonderful job giving the reader as much information about this period as she can, detailing all the references that Egyptologists have discovered about this period. She sets the scene wonderfully too, so clearly that I almost felt like I was walking the streets of ancient Amarna (what archeologists now call the city Akhenaten founded, though I don't think she ever explains why this is).
When Tyldesley begins discussing the "sunset" of Akhenaten's reign, that's when the book really begins to take a side trip. Nefertiti disappears from the narrative, and we must assume that she died at this point (Tyldesley does bring up some people's theory that she fell out of favour and was wiped from the record, but she quickly discounts it after explaining what evidence these theorists use for it). She then discusses the fall of Akhenaten, the birth of Tutankhamen, and the gradual erasure of the Amarna era as subsequent monarchs move back to the original capital and bring the old gods back. Another of Akhenaten's wives is believed to be Tut's mother, so we have a great many pages where the supposed thrust of the book is completely off screen. While this was interesting, I do believe that the book may have been tighter if it had remained centered on Nefertiti. Perhaps Tyldesley just takes too long to summarize what happened to Akhenaten after she disappears?
The book ends on a wonderful note, however, as Tyldesley gives a rundown of how Nefertiti came back to prominence with the discovery of the sculpture and further archeological research that brings Nefertiti back to the forefront. For the longest time, archeologists thought that Queen Tiy was the main inspiration for Akhenaten's religious reforms (as Tyldesley notes, a book on the Queen's of Egypt written in 1908 only gave Nefertiti six pages), but subsequent findings have restored Nefertiti to her rightful place. I love reading about archeology, so this was probably my favourite chapter in the book, and it's a fitting conclusion to it.
As Tyldesley says in her introduction, "We simply do not have the information to write the definitive 'warts and all' biography which we have come to expect of more modern subjects." However, she has definitely given us the closest thing possible to it. She demonstrates the mystique Nefertiti had (and still has), presents us with her theories, and even gives credence to other, more conflicting ones (sometimes before demolishing them). This is a great book, marred only by a tendency to drift away from the subject occasionally. Those with an interest in Egyptology should lap this up.
on 4 January 2016
RESEARCH HAS MOVED HER STORY ON SINCE THIS WAS PUBLISHED
The discovery of an inscription confirming Nefertiti was alive at the end of the reign of Akhenaton invalidates the chapter on Nefertit's supposed fall or early death
But it sets useful background and expands on the meagre evidence left
on 4 December 2007
An Oxford-educated Joyce Tyldesley, with the use of the historical and archaeological evidence from various places in Egypt, has written an interesting and well-detailed biography book entitled "Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen." The book drives the readers to experience and to understand the history and the mysteries that surrounded the Egyptian queen named Nefertiti, including her husband, Akhenaten, and his historical family background, the background of the royal Amarna court, and the theories of historical scholars who have studied her. There are eight chapters in the book with the addition of the "Introduction," which highlights Nefertiti as the most influential woman in Egyptian history and reveals briefly the history of the 18th Dynasty and the New Kingdom period.
This book explores the relationship between Queen Nefertiti and her husband, Pharaoh Akhenaten, which was seen as very positive and loving in the eyes of ancient Egyptians and the historical scholars. From looking at this relationship, one might see that Nefertiti had influences over her husband to which she had played an active role in Akhenaten's public affairs instead of being passive observer during his reign.
As politics was an essential part of the ancient Egyptian government, Nefertiti's political role portrayed an important piece of her strong influence in the royal government. An impression from the book is that Nefertiti acted as a second-in-command to her husband and played a role of a pharaoh occasionally. For example, there were scenes in the ancient Egyptian arts of Nefertiti slaying her enemies, which was supposed to be a duty of a pharaoh and not the function of a queen (p. 141-2). Since Nefertiti clearly had authority in Egypt, Akhenaten obviously did not seem to oppose her actions.
Throughout Tyldesley's "Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen," one can acknowledge that Queen Nefertiti was considered to have had powerful influences over the ancient Egyptian government during the New Kingdom period by looking at Nefertiti's relationship with her husband, her religious role, and her political role. The author holds the reader's interest with clear writing and vivid understanding when it comes to historical biography, archeology, and theories. The book is well-organized with the visual aspects of maps, figures, and pictures. The author has presented a historical analysis that was not very technical or stale, and it should be very beneficial for readers' knowledge of Nefertiti and her surroundings during the mid-18th Dynasty.
Tyldesley's book is recommended only to general readers who have begun to understand the Armana period because the author has written more information and focuses on Nefertiti's surroundings rather than on Nefertiti herself. However, "Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen" is a very readable and interesting book.
Nefertiti is undoubtedly a dominant image from Egyptian history for most modern people. Along with the death mask of Tutankhamen, she gazes imperiously at us through the ages, in her famous blue-crowned bust.
However, little is known definitively about the life of Nefertiti, and even less is known about her death. She was married to Amenhotep IV, later known as Akhenaten. He is famous for rejecting the polydeities of the Egyptian pantheon in favour of a single sun deity, Amen. This led to a re-defining of Egyptian culture during his reign, as well as a relocation of the capital from Thebes to Amara. However, after his death, the cult of Amen was unable to sustain itself, and Egypt quickly returned to its old ways. This led later Pharaohs to deliberately remove the name of Akhenaten and his wife from moneuments, making it harder for the modern archaeologist to determine the truth of what happened.
As there is so very little known about Nefertiti, the author draws on her experience, as well as a wide range of sources, to provide us with detailed descriptions of the age. We learn about the Egypt that Nefertiti was born into, the changes that were wrought by her husband, her increasing significance as a member of the royal family, her decline into obscurity as she aged. When her husband dies, we learn how quickly his monodeitic dogma is abandoned and the immediate events afterwards.
This book uses Nefertiti as a valuable tool to provide information on a turbulent and short-lived era in Egyptian history, that has yielded two iconic images, namely, the bust of Nefertiti, and later, the death mask of Tutankhamen. A very worth while read for the amateur Egyptologist.
on 17 March 2008
This book is a must for everyone interested in the history around Amarna. Beside Cyril Aldreds book about Akhenaten this is one of my top 10 books.
I do a lot of research around this subject and Joyce Tyldesley has done her research well.
I recomend this book to both the unexperienced in Amarna and for the Amarna fans as well.
Well written, all facts you need is in this book.
A must buy!
on 14 February 2015
This book is both enjoyable and informative.The author takes pains to consider the evidence ,scant as it is,in a balanced manner,presenting it to the reader for likely conclusions to be drawn.Best I have read on this subject.