Our story begins in the ancient land of Egypt, one of the earliest civilizations in world history. Egypt was located in the deserts of Africa and its cities flourished around the longest river in the world, The Nile, which stretched 4,000 miles long. The Nile was used to give life to the farmlands and drinking water for the people who lived there. Egypt started as small bands of tribes who eventually farmed together and then were ruled by powerful leaders, who helped organize the workers and farm the Nile Delta. When the Nile flooded every year it made the farmland rich in soil where the people planted vegetables and wheat. They also fished and ate birds that lived in and around the beautiful Nile. The people also domesticated sheep, pigs, goats, and other animals. Domesticated means they created fenced-off areas and used them for milk and meat and other materials that helped keep the Egyptians alive.
The Nile River was also used as transportation to move supplies and people up and down the river. Clay from the river was used to build homes, and the river was also used to transport stones to construct the huge temples, pyramids, and other buildings that made up Egypt’s growing empire. Cities such as Memphis and Thebes became huge metropolises and were home to millions of people. Egypt traded its many goods with nearby empires and was ruled by a pharaoh, which was their name for a king. The pharaoh was also a religious priest and the Egyptians worshipped him as a “god,” who joined the other gods after their death.
Tutankhamun was born in 1343 B.C. but no one is sure of the exact day. Most think that his father was the powerful Pharaoh Amenhotep and his mother was one of his wives, Nefertiti. Tutankhamun, or we’ll call him Tut for short, grew up in the city of Amarna. His father had moved the family from Thebes to Amarna, so this is where he spent his childhood. There, he learned the new religion of his father, who had changed Egypt’s religion from believing in many gods to making the sun God, Amun-Ra, the one and only god. All of the new temples were made in honor of Amun-Ra and all were commanded to worship the sun god alone.
Tut spent most of his time in a palace designed for the pharaoh and his family in Amarna. The palace was made of solid brick and white plaster and decorated with colorful paints. Within the palace walls, servants took care of Tut and his family, bathing him and his siblings, and serving them meat, vegetables, and other luxury foods such as figs, dates, and pomegranates. His hair was cut in the traditional style which meant it was shaved with a braid on the side. Guards surrounded the palace and servants were always waiting and at ready to do whatever Tut and the royal family asked of them.
Tut likely learned to read and write when he was young like other educated members of the upper class and royal family. He used a reed to write on papyrus, which was their version of a paper made of reeds from the Nile River. The writing was done not using an alphabet but hieroglyphs which were pictures instead of letters, and there were around 1,000 thousand of them to learn. Learning all of them would have a lot of memorization!
For entertainment, Tut and his family took boat rides on the Nile, went swimming, or chariot rides into the desert. They hunted wild animals and likely played a popular Egyptian board game called Senet. He and others likely learned musical instruments which were later found in his tomb.
Tut’s father, Amenhotep died when Tutenkhamen was only 10, so he became king of Egypt at a very young age. At this age, he wore the signature crown of a pharaoh, a decorative beard, and held a crook and a flail which represented his power as ruler of Egypt. Even though Tut was the ruler by name, he was too young to take full control, so his father’s Chief Minister, called a vizier, and his top general helped run the empire. We don’t know all of the details, but because Amenhotep had made many radical changes to Egypt’s religion by worshipping only one god, some historians believe that the other rulers of Egypt, such as his Chief Minister, weren’t happy with those changes and wanted to go back to the old way of worshipping many gods.
Some suspect there was a plot to end King Tut’s rule early, so they could change the religion back to the old ways. We’ll never know for sure what happened but it is very suspicious that Tut died in his teenage years. Were the Chief Minister and the General behind his early death? Truly, it’s become one of the great mysteries of world history.
After Tut’s death, his body was prepared for burial, which was mummification for the pharoahs of Egypt. If you want to learn more about mummification, it’s interesting but also probably not the best for bedtime! After mummification, he was placed in a coffin and a group of family members and servants followed the procession, like a parade, to The Nile River. The parade of servants carried food, furniture, toys, and all of the other items that would be buried in Tut’s tomb to the river as well. At The Nile, Tut, the family, servants, and all of the items were moved onto a boat and floated down the river to the grand pyramids. There, he would lay to rest with the long line of pharaohs like his father who came before him. Interestingly, most of the biggest pyramids had been built 1,000 years before King Tut. This shows just how old the empire was. Egypt was powerful for a very long time. King Tut’s tomb was sealed to keep out robbers. Many of the pyramids even had traps built into them to keep out grave robbers. Yes, when you see traps in adventure movies, they actually existed in the pyramids of Egypt.
So what did the Egyptians believe about life after death for the pharaohs such as King Tut? They believed after death, King Tut would go on a journey through the underworld, the land of the dead. During Tut’s lifetime, he was taught many spells from The Book of the Dead which would help him find his way to a better place in the afterlife. Egyptians believed the afterlife was much like this life but even better if they completed the journey safely and used all of the correct spells. There they would continue to eat, drink, play, and hunt. But, if they wanted nice things in the afterlife the catch was they had to bring them along… Which usually meant the simple people didn’t have as much nice stuff as King Tut and the other pharaohs. They believed that by placing objects in their tomb such as furniture, bowls, cups, gold, jewelry, bows and arrows, chariots, and other tools, those objects would continue with them in the afterlife. That’s why when they found King Tut’s tomb it was loaded with all kinds of great stuff. His favorite toys, clothes, hunting tools, and other things he would want to take with him and make the afterlife very fun and comfortable. Food was even found in the tomb for him to snack on in the next life. Very interesting, right?
As you can imagine, finding this tomb with so many ancient treasures in it would be quite the find for a modern-day archeologist! We hope you enjoyed learning about Egypt and King Tut. In next week’s episode, we’re going to learn all about the archeologist Howard Carter and his quest to find King Tut’s Tomb!