Kheperkheperura-Ay was the 14th Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, who had a short reign of 3 or 4 years (1346-1343 BC), succeeding the young Tutankhamon, who died prematurely. With him closed what was called "the Amarna period", during which Akhenaton, "the heretic", and his immediate successors tried to change the thousand-year-old religious system of the country. In fact these had never disappeared, and after these pharaohs they returned to there honourable state.
The period after Akhenaten remained in a state of confusion; it is known that a certain Smenkare and a woman existed in between. It was necessary to wait for the accession to the throne of the legitimate heir, Tutankhamun, for things to be clearer.
In spite of the absence of his biological connection with the reigning family and the fact that he organised the return to orthodoxy, Ay was bound too much to the Amarna period. He was included in the damnatio memoriae ("condemnation of memory") which erased the official history between the reigns of Amenhotep III and Horemheb, who succeeded him.
But who was Ay ?
One thing is certain, he was not the legitimate heir to the throne and, to a certain degree, his reign could constitute a dynasty all of its own, just like that of his successor Horemheb.
His origin remains obscure as does his possible domestic link to the Dynasty of the Thutmosides (direct and/or through his wife Tiy) who were in power up to here.
If his reign was brief, the military and political career of Ay was, on the other hand, very long, since it started under Amenophis III, covering the reigns of Akhenaton, Smenkare and Tutankhamon, characters during which his influence continued to grow.
Already under Akhenaten, his importance is manifested by his , one of the first to be dug there, and the only one which includes the most complete version of .
Here are found his main titles "
Supervisor of all the horses of his majesty", "
Standard carrier at the right of the king", "
royal scribe" and the one which he loved the most: "
Divine father" (
jt nTr). He carried this title from Akhenaton to Tutankhamun; its exact significance remains controversial, most authors follow Otto Schaden, who proposed to translate it as "guardian". But the translation "father-in-law" has also been proposed. However, be that as it may, when Ay became a "god" himself, even he would not have needed this title anymore, but it seems that at this point in time it had become inseparable from the name of Ay, to the point that, against all tradition, he included it in the cartouche of the royal protocol.
It can also be seen that under the Amarna sovereigns, and especially under Tutankhamun, Ay actually held a quite exceptional status : Vizier, General of the Chariotry, Guardian and Regent of the Young King.
The important power acquired by Ay was however shared with General Horemheb, without knowing precisely the respective share each had, but it seems certain that they both played a major role in the abandonment of the Amarna heresy and in the return to the orthodoxy of Amon which would assure decades of peace and prosperity in Egypt. We are unaware of any negotiations or confrontations, if there were any, between the two men for the succession of the young king, but Ay took it as his, and it seems natural enough that he followed Tutankhamun.
In this business, the role of the general Nakhtmin remains vague. Nakhtmin was general, and successor of Huy as viceroy of Kush. It would seem that he raised an army in the south to attempt to eliminate Horemheb and his army of the north, and in that he failed. Horemheb would subsequently have had his monuments mutilated. This could explain why, at the time of the succession of Tutankhamun, Horemheb would prefer to support the old courtisan Ay rather than to risk seeing this young rival approach of too close to the throne. Whatever befell the memory of Nakhtmin doesn't permit knowing what his real political role was.
He is certainly the one who can be credited with the ostentatious funeral furniture put at the disposal of the young dead Tutankhamun in his tomb KV62. And it is he who - uniquely of all royal tombs - was represented in this tomb as officiant sem-priest to the mummy of the young king, carrying out the "Opening of the Mouth" ceremony (a role normally reserved for the deceased's son, who here is therefore a lot older than his "father").
In spite of his proof of devotion to the traditional dynastic god Amon, as shown in his architectural work as well as the usurpation of the stela written of the restoration (erected by Tutankhamun) the posterity will include him in the group of Amarna sovereigns to which he was too obviously linked. His monuments would be usurped and his memory erased, as far as possible, by also omitting him from the royal lists such as at Abydos, for example, or by desecrating his tomb shortly after his funeral.
It was Horemheb who was the origin of this persecution, and one can readily imagine that the relationship between the two courtiers had been stretched, or even hateful. In the end politically, when Horemheb become king, it was in his interest and that of Egypt to have the memory of this cumbersome predecessor disappear and to be disgraced before passing the Pharaonic inheritance to a new lineage of military origin like himself : the Ramessides.
Those of the time wouldn't be ungrateful and for the official historiography from this moment, the legitimate successor of the last recognised Thutmoside, , would be Horemheb.
"The one whose appearances are sparkling" or
"The powerful bull, the one whose future is sparkling".
Two Mistresses name:
"The one whose strength is powerful",
"The one who repulses Asia" or
"The one whose strength is powerful, the one that repulses the Asian".
Golden Horus name:
"The sovereign of Ma'at, the one who makes occur the Two Lands".
King of Upper and Lower Egypt name:
"The futures of Re has occurred" or
"The futures of Re has occurred, the one who makes the Ma'at".
Son of Re name:
"The Divine Father, Ay" or
"The Divine Father Ay, the god and sovereign of Thebes".
About the actual reign of Ay there is almost nothing to say because there is practically no information. Ascending to the throne at an advanced age (at least 60 or 65 years), his death was surely natural.
Only the monuments he had erected exist, these being relatively numerous in spite of this fast disappearance, but most are reduced to the faint traces. As is the case of his "temple of millions of years" which was levelled to the ground by Horemheb and who built his own temple over it. Personal vindication, more political than religious, which Horemheb held against his predecessor also manifested itself here.
The history of the tomb KV23 (or WV23 for West Valley) is always vague regarding its original allocation. The absence of foundation deposits does not make it possible to know, with certainty, for whom it was originally dug : Amenophis IV, Smenkhare or Tutankhamun? The hypothesis most commonly accepted is that it was destined for Tutankhamun but that, being far from being finished at the time of the sudden death of the young king, he was placed in a non royal tomb in the main branch of the valley of the kings. One possibility is that one of the incomplete tombs, such as KV24 or WV 25 (see , , and ), close by, was initially planned for him.
However, that as it may, the final situation is that Tutankhamun was buried in tomb KV62 and Ay in the KV23. This one was the last tomb used in the Western Valley.
The tomb was re-discovered in 1816 by Belzoni. Lepsius made the first epigraphic survey of it in 1824 which was followed with a second by Piankhoff in 1958. The first excavation was achieved by Howard Carter in 1908, which was completed by Otto Schaden in 1972.
The tomb is situated in the West Valley (see , , ) therefore close to that of Amenhotep III, and it is not by chance that Ay wanted to be close to his famous orthodox predecessor.
The tomb is clearly of Amarna era origins. Its proportions fall within those utilized between the time of Amenhotep III and Ramesses I, and its plan is closer to that of the royal tomb at Amarna than any other. The decoration is also clearly from the Amarna era.
Many similarities indicate that it may have been produced by the same artisans who decorated the tomb of Tutankhamun : the themes are superimposable, there is no classic kheker frieze, and the style of the representations is identical. Despite the lack of foundation deposits, then, the tomb may be assumed to have been decorated around the same time as KV-62.
The tomb presents a straight axial plan, without the bends in use during the pre Amarna phase of the 18th Dynasty. It is thus compliant with the cannon of Amarnia royal tombs (but not in all respects).
It is incomplete, and of the 7 rooms and corridors which it includes, only the burial chamber has been decorated, and again this decoration is minimalist - not to say sparse.
In the corridors and rooms preceding the burial chamber, there is neither decoration nor text (see ), as previously found for those of Tutankhamun and even Akhenaton, this could have been from choice. Indeed, even while supposing an unforeseen death of the sovereign, the walls already built and smoothed could have received a coating of plaster and painted decoration, between the moment of the death and that of the funeral ceremony: but no such thing happened.
It is starting from the following tomb, that of Horemheb, that decoration will again begin to be more abundant, and will even extend outside the burial chamber.
More astonishing, but which could be explained by an imperative of time, is the pitiful iconography of the burial chamber, although the artistic craftsmanship is of quality. Large characters occupy whole zones of the walls, which reduces as such the number of scenes; the texts are minimalist, coming from the Book of the Amduat (or Book of that which is in the underworld) and of the Book of Leaving by Day (better known under the inappropriate name of the Book of the Dead).
Indeed, in this unventilated chamber, situated deep underground, the sealers and pigments would take a considerable time to dry, much delaying the continuation of the work.
The reason of this short delay granted to the painters is not however obvious, not here for Ay, nor again even less for Amenhotep III, where the type of representations would have been superimposable.
All this happens as if the artists did not have the right to achieve the decor in the funeral chamber after the sovereign's death. Could it have been that they were afraid that the terrifying magical power of the representations might be freed prematurely? It is necessary to recognise that the answer to this question has currently no answer.
There are good reasons to think that Ay was finally buried in this tomb.
In fact, fragments of the dismembered sarcophagus and its lid (intact) were found in situ, also various objects translating the reality of the burial : gilt disks made of copper, fragments of a wooden statue, pieces of faience (including uraei), ceramics and fragments of chests and altars. On the other hand, not a trace of canopic vases nor even of ushabtis. These could have been deliberately removed or withdrawn voluntarily at the time of the desecration of the tomb.
Testimony to the latter, is the very meticulous work of hammering-out or excision of nearly all images and names of Ay and his wife Tiy (see page 2). In the same way, dispersed on the floor of the valley, close to the tomb, were found fragments of the king's funeral equipment, another sign of the abhorrence to which he was fated. More difficult to explain is the presence of fragments of hammered gold leaf bearing the names of Ay and Tutankhamun in the well shaft of tomb KV58.
The first sections of the tomb (sections A to E of the plan) are potentially the same as those of tomb Amenhotep III, KV22. Although it was not completed, KV23 is not therefore "a small thing" as Gardiner thought it to be.
All of these sections include no decoration, as mentioned previously.
The entrance to the tomb (see ) is via a staircase 6.12m long (plan, A) situated one metre under the main level of the wadi. A doorway, 2.65m in height, (stepped to receive an actual door) leads to the first corridor (B of the plan) of the same height. This measures 11.37m long. Two small lateral niches in the walls were used for beams during the decent of the heavy sarcophagus (see ).
At the end this corridor is located a second door which leads to a second long staircase of 7.95m (see plan C and ). Two trapezoidal recesses are carved horizontally right and left, forming two shelf structures. The ceiling is irregular, with a height of 5.44m. Another doorway leads to the second corridor (D of the plan) measuring 13.94m with a height of 2.64m.
The following doorway leads to what would have been the Well Chamber (plan, E) which measures 4.14 x 4.01 x 2.98m in height. Although 0.5m lower than the floor at the end of the preceding corridor and, more importantly, 0.8m higher than the floor of the next chamber.
In this small unfinished room, which would have had the well shaft, the digging had never even been started, not to any depth. However, it seems probable that an element which had become so symbolically important in the previous tombs (except those of Amarna) and which would be resumed thereafter, had not been considered. Perhaps the lack of time explains its absence. The door leading toward the following room is 30cm smaller than the previous one and offset towards the right. The reduction could be explained as making it easier for blocking, and the offset as merely a technical problem to accommodate the rock strata.
The room which finally acted as burial chamber for the king, has now been reached (see ).