Teasing the Sun
By David Leafe
An erotic striptease to arouse the sun god was part of Queen Nefertiti's daily routine.
With the early morning sun glinting off her golden bracelets and great clouds of aromatic incense billowing all around her, Queen Nefertiti of Egypt began her elaborate dance of seduction.
Music was provided by a choir of blind men - chosen because they could see nothing of this most erotic of royal rituals - who clapped and sang as she moved towards the altar.
There she slipped off her diaphanous robe and offered up her body, shaved, oiled and perfumed, to the warm caresses of the object of her devotion - the sun god known as Aten.
Nefertiti's religious striptease was an important part of her daily routine. If the sun god was sexually aroused, it was believed that he would look favourably upon the people of Egypt.
It was a role for which Nefertiti, one of the most celebrated beauties of all time, was well-equipped. Even today she has the power to draw every eye.
A famous bust, found in Egypt in 1912 and now in a Berlin museum, shows her wearing a distinctive blue crown, with her long and slender neck sweeping up elegantly to her perfectly proportioned face as a mysterious smile plays about her reddened lips.
Even Adolf Hitler fell under Nefertiti's spell. When the Egyptian authorities demanded the return of the Berlin bust in the 1930s, Hitler intervened to insist it should stay in Germany.
A great temptress she may have been, but there was far more to Nefertiti than her beauty, as is revealed in a fascinating new book by Egyptologist Joann Fletcher.
Controversially, Fletcher also suggests that a long-hidden mummy in Egypt's Valley of the Kings may well be Nefertiti herself. And if true, it raises some intriguing questions, because the body had been horribly maimed and disfigured.
The mummy's feet had been removed, its right arm torn off, and the chest and face smashed in with a blunt weapon. There was a stab wound below the left breast. The left arm was fractured, as though she may have tried to defend herself against a sharp blade.
Forensic scientists who have examined the mummy could not say if the injuries had been caused before or after death. But clearly, someone hated the queen enough either to murder her or to launch a vicious assault on her corpse. What could the great beauty have done to arouse such animosity?
The answer, it seems, may lie in the spell she cast over her husband, Pharaoh Akhenaten. As possibly the real power behind his throne, Nefertiti guarded her position fiercely - and took revenge on the woman who was her love rival.
This dramatic story of jealousy and sexual intrigue began when Nefertiti married Akhenaten in the second year of his reign, around 1350BC.
Her exquisite looks belied a strong personality. One ancient Egyptian text describes Nefertiti as "fair of face" and a "lady of joy" but also notes that "everything she says is done".
It was perhaps at Nefertiti's behest that Akhenaten gave her a central role in a new religion which elevated the sun god Aten above all others.
This infuriated priests who led worship of another god called Amen. When they objected, Akhenaten closed down their temples, triggering huge civil unrest that would continue throughout his reign.
Fearing for his life and that of Nefertiti, Akhenaten used the gold ransacked from the temples they closed to build a magnificent new city called Amarna. Sited on a remote, windswept plain, it could be better protected by royal troops.
There Akhenaten and Nefertiti lived in sumptuous luxury.
As the Great Royal Wife, Nefertiti's main role in life was to provide her husband with a male heir, and she would have used every beauty secret known to women of her times.
After bathing in preparation for an evening with Akhenaten, she would have applied the ancient Egyptians' version of a deodorant - a paste made of incense and dough applied to "the places where the limbs join".
She would then have doused herself with strong, sweet perfume, before selecting the most becoming wig. Like many women of her time, Nefertiti kept her head closely shaved because it was cooler and avoided the problem of head lice.
Nefertiti favoured the Nubian wig, cut high at the back of the neck and falling forward in points which framed the face. Peering out coyly at the pharaoh from behind this curtain of false hair, she no doubt used her expressive eyes to great effect, enhancing them with black kohl.
Nefertiti's seductive techniques certainly worked, for in the first 12 years of Akhenaten's reign, she gave birth to six children.
Unfortunately, all were daughters. She was devastated to learn that another, lesser, royal wife, Kiya, had borne him a son - Tutankhamen.
Millennia later, Tutankhamen would become the most famous of Egyptian pharaohs thanks to the treasures discovered in his tomb.
As Akhenaten's reign had gone on, Nefertiti had grown ever more powerful. Indeed, there is even some suggestion that he appointed Nefertiti as his co-regent.
When Kiya appears to have died in childbirth, some time towards the end of Akhenaten's reign, the pharaoh seems to have been distraught. A drawing from the period shows him in mourning, unkempt and unshaven.
Kiya's death was followed by that of Akhenaten in about 1336BC. Now apparently ruling Egypt in her own right, Nefertiti tried to redress the problems caused early in her husband's reign.
She began allowing the Egyptian people to restore gods other than Aten to the temples, but, according to Fletcher, it was too little too late. It was not enough to protect her body from mutilation by her enemies.
There is no record of when Nefertiti died. The whereabouts of her body remained a mystery until Fletcher led an expedition into the Valley of the Kings in June 2002 and again in February 2003.
Fletcher picked up on the tiniest of clues to track down what she believes could well be the missing queen. She knew that a small fragment of what seems to have been a Nubian-style wig had been found in the tomb of Amenhotep II, Akhenaten's great-grandfather.
The tomb had first been opened in 1898 by a team of French archaeologists. They had discovered three unwrapped mummies in one of its side chambers.
Dismissing them as minor royal relatives, they left them in the tomb and it was later resealed by the Egyptian authorities.
One of the bodies was that of a young woman in her 20s or 30s - about the age at which Nefertiti would have died. It was beside this body that the fragment of wig was found. Fletcher became convinced that the body might be Nefertiti's and evidence she discovered when the tomb was unsealed further confirmed her theory.
The mummy's head bore the impressions of the tight brow band which royal women wore across their forehead and its right arm had once been bent up across its chest. This was the burial pose accorded to kings.
It was also clearly a woman whose body had been violently attacked at some point. Fletcher suspects this was on the orders of a new dynasty of puritanical pharaohs who followed Nefertiti and Akhenaten.
Today the body remains in Amenhotep II's tomb, possibly the final resting place of one of the most beautiful, powerful and mysterious women in history.