Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten was a woman who reigned as pharaoh toward the end of the Amarna era during the Eighteenth Dynasty. The royal succession of this period is very unclear. Manetho's Epitome, an ancient historical source written in Egypt during the third century B.C., mentions a certain Akenkeres who was a "King's daughter" and ruled Egypt for twelve years and one month. This information is confirmed by the rare epithet, "Effective for her husband", which was used to refer to her in Egyptian records.

The epithet establishes that a female king, who was the daughter of a king (presumably Akhenaten), assumed power as pharaoh toward the end of the Amarna era. Akenkeres or Achencheres is probably the Greek form of her prenomen, Ankhetkheperure, as Rolf Krauss and Marc Gabolde have previously argued.

Manetho places her immediately before a certain Rathothis who ruled Egypt for nine years. This later king must be equated with Tutankhamun, who is attested by several Year 10 hieratic wine jar dockets from his tomb and, hence, enjoyed a minimum reign of nine full years. With the removal of a spurious decade from the original twelve year figure, Neferneferuaten would have ruled Egypt for two years and one month which conforms well with a long Year 3 graffito attested for her in the Theban Tomb of Pere (TT139).

The first section of this graffito reads as:

Neferneferuaten is thus attested in her third regnal year by Pawah, who served as a minor priest of the god Amun, whose religious establishment had been persecuted during the reign of Akhenaten, her father. This implies that she had already reached an accommodation with the Amun priesthood in her short reign even prior to the start of Tutankhamun's kingship.

Conjecture About Identity and Gender

The precise identity of this female Pharaoh whose praenomen is Ankhkheprure remains a mystery. The set of royal names associated with Neferneferuaten is Ankhetkheperure Neferneferuaten...with the feminine 't', a queen who rose to the throne of Egypt. She was likely either Meritaten, Smenkhkare's co-regent or great royal wife or Neferneferuaten Tasherit, perhaps, the fourth daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, as James P. Allen suggests in 'The Amarna Succession' rather than Nefertiti ruling as Smenkhkare as some assert. A funerary shabti of Nefertiti was found at Amarna in the 1980s and showed that Nefertiti died and was buried as only a Queen or 'King's Wife' rather than as a pharaoh in her own right.

If Neferneferuaten was Meritaten, the latter may have succeeded her short-lived co-regent Smenkhkare on the throne for two years. Various Egyptologists today agree that this ruler was a woman who was different from the male king Ankheperure Smenkhkare due to the feminine royal epithet's attached to her name. The epithet 'desired of Waenre' (i.e.: Akhenaten) in Neferneferuaten's nomen is occasionally replaced with the feminine term "Effective for her husband."

This proves that Neferneferuaten was a woman - and not the male king Smenkhkare whose mummy is believed to have been found in KV55. Her throne name Ankhkheperure occasionally is written in the feminine form Ankhetkheperure, with the feminine form in "-t". This may suggest that Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten was Meritate - the spouse and immediate predecessor of her husband Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare although this remains to be proven.

Another candidate for this female ruler is princess Neferneferuaten Tasherit (i.e. Neferneferuaten Junior), Akhenaten and Nefertiti's fourth daughter who shared the same birth name as this king. The British Egyptologist Aidan Dodson - in the Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt - writes that "the latest evidence seems to point to a male king Smenkhkare, [being] succeeded by a woman named Neferneferuaten" who was probably Meritaten. In a footnote to his comments, Dodson writes that the new conclusive evidence concerning the female gender of Neferneferuaten "makes impossible" his previous published eighteenth dynasty genealogical reconstruction which "viewed Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten as being one and the same."

A fragmentary stela from Amarna, now known as the Coregency Stela, adds more evidence as well as more confusion on the situation. The stela originally portrayed three figures, identified as Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Meritaten. However, at some time after the stela was made, Nefertiti's name had been chiseled out and replaced with the royal name Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten, and Meritaten's name had been replaced with that of Akhenaten and Nefertiti's third daughter, Ankhesenpaaten.

Why Nefertiti's clearly feminine figure would be renamed with a throne name is still debated to this day, as is the reason for Meritaten's replacement by Ankhesenpaaten. Some suggest the fact that a man named Smenkhkare appears in the public record about the same time that Nefertiti disappeared, but was still portrayed as having performed the rites reserved for the heir to the throne at Akhenaten's funeral, indicates that Smenkhkare and Nefertiti were the same person.

However, the body of the KV55 Amarna king has been consistently proven to be that of a young male who was between eighteen to twenty-two years old when he died; this ruler here can only be the Smenkhkare who is attested as king in the tomb of Meryre II alongside his Queen Meritaten.

Another source asserts that since we know that both Akhenaten and later Smenkhkare were pharaohs when Meritaten held the title of "Great Royal Wife"--the theory that Smenkhkare was Nefertiti is untenable since Smenkhkare was a male ruler. If Nefertiti did become the pharaoh, she would have needed someone to serve as the great royal wife in temple and official ceremonies alongside the pharaoh.

Significantly, Amarna Letter 11 calls Meritaten the 'mistress' of the royal house; such a designation could only have been accorded to Meritaten if her mother, Nefertiti, had died and she had been selected to be Akhenaten's next chief wife instead. Furthermore since Manetho's Epitome specifically records that a 'king's daughter', Akenkeres, had succeeded her father in the late eighteenth dynasty, this was evidently a reference to Neferneferuaten's feminine prenomen Ankh(et)kheperure and must be an allusion to the fact that Akhenaten was succeeded by one of his daughters rather than by his wife Nefertiti who may have predeceased him.

A Problematic Succession

While the identity of Akenkheres as a female king is now generally accepted in the Egyptological community, the Amarna succession remains problematic. Some Egyptologists, including Aidan Dodson (in the above cited example), view her as Meritaten, Smenkhkare's spouse. In this interpretation, Meritaten would have succeeded to the throne as Neferneferuaten - using part of her mother Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti's titles - after the short-lived reign of her husband Smenkhkare. This would account for her position before Rathothis (i.e. Tutankhamun) in Manetho's Epitome.

In contrast, other scholars maintain that the ruler Neferneferuaten is strongly linked with Akhenaten - in which case, she would have been Akhenaten's wife and co-regent before ruling Egypt for two years - part of which is subsumed in the co-regency with the former - before dying or marrying Smenkhkare. In this situation (which Allen supports), Neferneferuaten would merely have intervened between the rule of Akhenaten and Smenkhkare. The implications here is that Smenkhkare was the direct predecessor of Tutankhamun instead.

A third regnal year is attested at Amarna on vessels for certain goods which cannot belong to Akhenaten who only established his new capital city of Akhetaten in his fifth regnal year as the earliest dated boundary stela of this city reveals.

It is uncertain if the Ankhkheprure mentioned here was Smenkhkare or Neferneferuaten; Hornung selects the former option based on the traditional view that Smenkhkare directly succeeded Akhenaten. (something which is disputed by other scholars) However, the Year 3 dates for this pharaoh establish that one of these two kings enjoyed a full two year reign at Akhetaten.