Who was Queen Tiye?

In Papyrus, I describe Tiye as a Nubian commoner who married Amenhotep III, and I describe Tutankhamun as the last of their four known sons.  Both of these portrayals are somewhat controversial.  I’ll take up the Tutankhamun issue in another post.  Here, I briefly discuss Tiye.

The controversy over Tiye pertains mainly to where she came from — Nubia, Syria, somewhere else — and whether she was of royal blood.  Postings on the Internet, as most people know, are not always reliable, but a Google search on “Tiye parents” will give an idea of the various conflicting views.

I can’t claim to be an Egyptologist, but I’ve taken classes in ancient Egyptian history at UCLA and have read dozens of books and articles about the late 18th Dynasty.  The bulk of scholarly opinion seems to be that Tiye was the daughter of two Nubian commoners, Yuya and Thuya, both of whom were Amun priests.

Does it matter?  For purposes of this story, yes.  First, because I like to get my basic “facts” right, to the extent I can.  Second, because I attribute to Tiye a philosophy that I think more likely to have come from a commoner than from a member of royalty.  And third, because the heroine in Papyrus is a black African woman, and the story develops along a spiritual bond she feels with the black African queen.  This last reason my sound like “I made Tiye black because I need her to be black.”  But the truth is, I made her black because the preponderance of evidence says she was black — it so happens that is allowed me to come up with the spiritual bond as a thoroughgoing thread.

Fact and Fiction

Having said that I like to get my facts right, I should also say that I have taken some liberties.  For instance, I portray Tiye as the architect of the religion of Aten, something generally attributed to one of her sons, Akhenaten.  I actually think there is good cause for ascribing the philosophy to Tiye, and my reasoning is voiced by Rika, the heroine of Papyrus.  I consider this a reasonable “stretch” of the facts.

On the other hand, the idea that Tiye chose to be buried in her homeland, rather than in Egypt, is total fabrication.  Yes, I know that the mummy referred to as the “Elder Lady” is supposed to be Tiye, but as Rika says, the Elder Lady was not so old (and chemical analyses showing kinship with Yuya and Thuya could be explained if the Elder Lady were one of Tiye’s daughters, again as mentioned by Rika).  So it’s conceivable, perhaps barely conceivable, that Tiye’s mummy has not been found — because it isn’t in Egypt.

Even more in the realm of total fabrication is the idea that Tiye believed in physical rebirth through burial in a bath of restorative oils.  This, I think, just makes for a good story.

Other Depictions of Tiye

Tiye, same statue as above - Agyptisches Museum, Berlin (photographer unknown)

Tiye - Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC (photographer unknown)

Tiye - Egyptian Museum, Cairo (photographer unknown)