Nefertiti in Egypt’s Past and Present

Necklace with Egyptian coin of Nefertiti with lapis lazuli and carnelian beads

With all of my showcase pieces selling out last month, I’ve made a couple more. This one isn’t as over-the-top as I originally planned. I found the extra embellishments just took away from the overall piece, so I scrapped them.

The Coin

The coin is an Egyptian 5 piastres from 1975, celebrating the International Year of the Woman. It features Nefertiti, chief wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, from ancient Egyptian history. I actually bought this coin on accident. I was attempting to buy a 5 milliemes piece, which is the same design but small enough to fit into one of my settings. (A piastre is 1/100 of an Egyptian pound. A millieme is 1/10 of a piastre.)

Egypt put out a series of coins in the 1970s celebrating its history, including coins of Cleopatra, Tutankhamun, and Osiris. This is particularly notable because Egypt is a conservative Islamic country. Despite their dedication to Islam, modern Egyptians are also fiercely proud of their ancient history, even though it is pagan.

Nefertiti’s History

Ancient Bust of Nefertiti
Ancient bust of Nefertiti.
Photo By Philip Pikart – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Nefertiti’s history is both complicated and murky. She was chief wife to Akhenaten, who attempted to set aside the polytheistic gods of Egypt and worship a singular figure, the Aten. Shortly after Akhenaten’s death, the priests of Amun took advantage of the reign of the boy-king Tutankhamun to re-establish the traditional religion. That process included a systematic attempt to erase Akhenaten and Nefertiti from the historical record, smashing statues, tearing down temples, and refusing to name them in chronologies.

But, here and there, mentions of them have survived, although it’s in pieces. We have no record of Nefertiti’s death. She simply vanishes from the record. We don’t know where she’s buried. We do know she was extremely powerful during the reign of her husband, but she may have been even more than an influential wife.

There are two pharaohs in-between Akhenaten and Tutankhamun (commonly considered father and son): Smenkhare and Neferneferuaten. It’s speculated one of those names actually refers to Nefertiti, ruling in her own right. But the records are so sketchy we might never know for sure.

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