King Tutankhamun: Life, Death, & Family

Published on November 15, 2022 | Last updated on December 01, 2022 by PBS
Closeup image of the mask of King Tutankhamun in the Egyptian Museum.
The mask of King Tutankhamun in the Egyptian Museum. | Credit: Soura Films

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of King Tut. Even though this Egyptian pharaoh was around more than 3,000 years ago, he’s still recognized and studied around the world. Let’s take a closer look at King Tut, his family, death, and his tomb.

Explore more with Egyptologists Dr. Yasmin El Shazly and Mahmoud Rashad and watch Tutankhamun: Allies & Enemies Wednesday, November 23, 2022 at 8/7c.

Who Was King Tut?

King Tutankhamun, also known as King Tut, was a pharaoh who ruled Egypt from 1332 to 1323 B.C. He ascended to the throne of Egypt as a child, when he was eight or nine years old, and was guided by several key figures including Ay, the Grand Vizier and potentially Tut’s maternal grandfather, and Horemheb, the commander-in-chief of the military.

Despite the boy king’s importance in our history today, his reign was short and relatively unimportant in the history of ancient Egypt. He became an important figure only in death with the discovery of his tomb and mummy in 1922 both of which were incredibly preserved, and provided valuable insights into the history of ancient Egypt.

Tut’s most important achievement in life was restoring the cult of Amun-Ra and returning Egypt to polytheism, which overturned the religious reforms of his father, Akhenaten.

Closeup image of a statue of King Tutankhamun located in Luxor, Egypt.
Statue of Tutankhamun, Karnak Temple, Luxor | Credit: Soura Films

King Tut’s Family

Pharaoh Akhenaten, King Tut’s Father

Akhenaten, King Tut’s father reigned over Egypt for about 17 years until King Tut took over after his death. King Akhenaten was a controversial figure in his time for moving the capital to Amarna and revolutionizing the ancient Egyptian religion by eliminating all the gods of the Egyptian pantheon and elevating Aten, previously a minor god, to the role of the only and supreme god.

The decision to change the state religion was extremely controversial and not well received by the public, and was quickly reversed after King Tut ascended to the throne.

Watch Tutankhamun: Allies & Enemies

Learn more about King Tutankhamun with Dr. Yasmin El Shazly and Mahmoud Rashad.

King Tut’s Mother

The identity of King Tut’s mother is still up for debate, but there are three primary suspects: Kiya, Queen Nefertiti, and a figure known as the “younger lady.” Kiya and Nefertiti were both known wives of Akhenaten during his lifetime, so it is plausible that either of them could have been King Tut’s mother. 

Additionally, an unidentified mummy of a woman was discovered inside tomb KV35 alongside the mummy of Queen Tiye, King Tut’s grandmother. DNA evidence suggests that this unidentified mummy may have been the mother of King Tut, although this topic is still hotly debated amongst Egyptologists.

King Tut’s Grandparents

King Tut’s paternal grandparents were King Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye. Amenhotep III reigned during the first half of the 14th century, and he may have been one of the most successful pharaohs in ancient Egyptian history, reigning during a period of peace and prosperity at the height of Egyptian civilization.

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How Did King Tut Die?

King Tut died at age 18 or 19 around 1324 B.C, but there are many theories surrounding how he died. There is a small bone fragment on the inside of his skull that intially led some historians to believe that King Tut was murdered by a blow to the back of his head. But, this damage could have also been caused during the mummification process or while his mummy was being excavated, and most experts agree that he was not murdered.

One of the most compelling points of evidence surrounding King Tut’s death is the presence of a fracture at his kneecap, which doesn’t have any signs of healing, indicating it happened shortly before his death. Chariots were discovered in King Tut’s tomb, and this type of injury could have been sustained from a high velocity fall from a chariot, although this theory has not been confirmed.

Another theory around King Tut’s death involves the presence of a form of malaria discovered in his mummy. The malaria could have been the cause, or contributed to his death. It is likely that his death was a combination of these factors.

Who Succeeded King Tut?

We know of two key figures that advised King Tut during his lifetime: Ay, the Grand Vizier and likely the father of Queen Nefertiti, and Horemheb, the commander-in-chief of the Egyptian army. After King Tut’s death, Horemheb was away waging war against the Hittites, so Ay ascended to the throne. Ay ruled as pharaoh for three years until his death, and upon his death, Horemheb became pharaoh and would rule for nearly 30 years.

Who Discovered King Tut’s Tomb?

King Tut’s tomb was discovered in the Valley of the Kings by British archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter and his workmen on November 4, 1922. Carter began an extensive search for the tomb after World War I, when many ancient Egyptian tombs had already been found and King Tut’s was still missing.

Dr. Yasmin El Shazly and Mahmoud Rashad in KV62 - The Tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings.
Dr. Yasmin El Shazly and Mahmoud Rashad in KV62 - The Tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings. | Credit: Soura Films

About Howard Carter

Howard Carter was born in England on May 9, 1874. From a young age, he expressed a deep interest in Egyptian culture and history. In 1922, when Carter discovered King Tut’s tomb, he had already been immersed in Egyptian antiquities for three decades. He spent a decade excavating the tomb and organizing its contents, which he sent to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

What Was Found Inside King Tut’s Tomb

Compared to other royal tombs, King Tut’s tomb was quite small. Despite this, however, it was loaded with all types of treasure. It included King Tut’s mummy, gold jewelry, chariots, statues, weapons, and clothing. This was everything that he would need for his afterlife.