Tiye, the beautiful Chief Queen of Amenhotep III and mother of Akhenaten, was the matriarch of the Amarna family. Her marriage to the pharaoh Amenhotep III is heralded early in Amenhotep III's reign on what is now referred to as "the marriage scarab," part of series of inscribed scarabs commissioned by Amenhotep III in order to commemorate important events in his reign.
The romantically inclined historians of the 1800s and turn of the century believed that Tiye was a commoner who caught the attention of the young pharaoh. This belief arose in part because the commemorative scarabs mentioned the names of her parents, but gave no titles (Aldred, 1987). In actuality, she was of noble or perhaps even royal stock.
Her father, Yuya, had been commander of the chariotry under Tuthmose IV (Aldred, 1987). This particular occupation was actually new to the 18th dynasty, since at the beginning of that dynasty a standing army had been created in Egypt for the first time.
Tiye's mother, Thuya, was Superintendent of the Harem of Min of Akhmim and of Amun of Thebes during the reign of Thutmose IV, and was probably a descendant of Ahmose Nefertari, the first queen of the 18th dynasty. In the 18th dynasty, the royal bloodline passed through the female royalty, and it took marriage to a descendent of Ahmose Nefertari to legitimize a pharaoh's kingship. Therefore, Tiye would have been the Heiress Princess, next in line for the queenship (Aldred, 1987).
Tiye was probably not full Egyptian. While her mother bore distinctly Egyptian features, her father did not. He had an unusual build for an Egyptian, so some have speculated that he may have been Asiatic. Cyril Aldred says that this is not unlikely, since Asiatics "had the reputation of being skilled in the government of horses..." (1987). Others believe that Tiye's features and dark skin as represented in artwork from the time indicate sub-Saharan African origins. This matter is hotly debated. It is a dispute not likely to be settled in the near future.
Life During the Reign of Amenhotep III:
Tiye was probably married to Amenhotep III at a very early age, although just how old she was at the time is uncertain. She was given a good deal of clout during her husbands reign, during which the cult of the now deified Ahmose Nefertari (whom Tiye came to represent in the cult) expanded (Aldred, 1987). The name Tiye is itself a pet-name for Nefertari, according to Aldred.
By Amenhotep III, Tiye had at least six children. She had two sons (Tuthmose V and Amenhotep IV, the second of whom went on to become pharaoh), and four daughters (Sitamun, Isis, Henut-taneb, and Beketaten).
Amenhotep III lavished a good deal of attention on his wife. In his monument-building craze, he devoted a number of shrines to Tiye, built a palace for her, and even went so far as to build a gigantic artificial lake for her (Redford, 1984). We know from her son's correspondance with Tushratta, the king of Mitanni, that Tiye wielded a good deal of political influence, as is often the case for women in matrilineal societies (in which the line of descent goes through the women rather than the men). Tushratta advised the new Pharaoh Amenhotep IV:
Teye, your mother, knows all the words that I spoke with your father. No one else knows them. You
must ask Teye, your mother, about them so she can tell you. . . . And may my brother listen to nothing
from anyone else. (Amarna Tablet 28, Trans. by Alder, in Moran, 1992).
From this we can gather that Tiye was not only Amenhotep III's trusted adviser and confidant, but that she also played an active part in politics abroad.
Life During the Reign of Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten:
Tiye continued to be a major political influence during the reign of her second son, Amenhotep IV, again made clear by the letters exchanged with king Tushratta of Mitanni. Tushratta sent letters to Tiye herself to ask her help in influencing her son (AT 26, Trans. by Alder, in Moran, 1992). Tiye wrote back, telling him to "Promote your interests with Napkhururiya [Amenhotep IV], watch him, and do not cease from sending pleasant delegations" (Redford, 1984).
When Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten and moved the capital city to Akhetaten, Tiye went with him, although she may not have taken up residence there right away (Redford, 1984; Aldred, 1987). A few small shrines were found at Akhetaten with stelae depicting Tiye and Amenhotep III, suggesting to some that the older royal couple did come to live at Akhetaten. It is known that Tiye paid a visit to Akhetaten around year 12 of Akhenaten's reign (Aldred, 1987), perhaps in order to view the festivities at the great durbar that took place in that year. Akhenaten commissioned a large, gilt shrine for his mother at around that time. Tiye vanished from the scene around the time of the death of Akhenaten's second daughter, Meketaten, perhaps having fallen victim to the plague that was circulating in Egypt at that time (Redford, 1984).
Aldred, Cyril (1988). Akhenaten: King of Egypt. New York: Thames and Hudson Inc.
Moran, William L. (1992). The Amarna Letters. Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press
Redford, Donald B. (1984). Akhenaten: The Heretic King. New Jersey: Princeton University Press