The God’s Father, Ay

The Pharaoh Ay had a long career in 18th Dynasty Egyptian politics and he has left an enigmatic story for history to follow. Ay began his career as a chariot commander during the reign of Amenhotep III. He would become, after several decades, one of the most powerful men in all of the ancient Near East.

ben as ay

Ben Kingsley as Ay in Spike’s series “Tut”

                                                         God’s Father

By reviewing all of the varied artifacts concerning Ay it is possible to conclude that his title Father of the God or God’s Father was the one he deemed most important. This short title, it ntr, vocalized as it-netjer, appears on all of Ay’s major relics. It is often the case that the partial remains of the hieroglyphs that are used to write this title are enough to associate an item with Ay. Not only is this title found identified with Ay before he became king but, Ay uses it-netjer as part of his royal title. Conclusive analysis of this title beyond these observations is difficult.

The Connection With Yuya

In 1905 German scholar Ludwig Borchardt studied the material available on it ntr and concluded that based on the relationship between an individual named Yuya, who was Father of the God and Master of Horse, and the Pharaoh Amenhotep III, that the title Father of the God could at times mean father-in-law of the king. Borchardt concluded this was the case for Ay as well. Borchardt therefore suggested Ay should be seen as the father-in-law of Akhenaten. The strength of this argument is that such a relationship can be confirmed for Yuya based on a commemorative scarab issued by Amenhotep III on the occasion of his wedding to Tiye. This scarab clearly states Tiye’s parents were Yuya and Tuya but there is no such evidence where Ay is concerned.

In place of this evidence a long debate has ensued. The dividing lines on this issue are well represented by the opposing views of Keith Seele and Cyril Aldred. Seele believes, that because of the confusing state of the evidence it is impossible to know what the title God’s Father meant in reference to Ay. Aldred takes a different tact and comprehensively compares Ay with Yuya drawing upon all possible reference points. Aldred notes that there is also a record of another God’s Father and Master of Horse named Yey, whom he surmises could have been Yuya’s ancestor.

Statue head of Ay

Statue head of Ay

The Ahkmin Family

Aldred not only compares the names Yey, Yuya, and Ay but he also compares the physical similarities of Ay and Yuya by analyzing Ay’s statuary and Yuya’s mummy. One compelling association between the two men that can actually be substantiated by the record is that they both had a strong connection to the city of Ahkmin. Ay is associated with several individuals from Ahkmin and there is evidence that he constructed a temple there. Yuya held the position of Chief Priest, Prophet, and Superintendent of the Cattle of Min. The offices of this official, an important post in the leather industry, are located at Ahkmin. In summary Aldred’s argument is for the existence of a parallel dynasty that evolved alongside of and was intermarried with the Egyptian ruling house.

Seele’s main objection is simpler than Aldred’s elaborate comparison. He asks that if Ay were Nerfetiti’s father, making him the father-in-law of Akhenaten, which is Aldred’s suggestion, then why is Tey identified as Wet-nurse of the Great King’s Wife and not as Mother of the Queen? Aldred’s theory rests ultimately upon Nefertiti’s mother dying near the time of her birth and her being adopted by Ay’s second wife as a stepdaughter.

Unfortunately this theory does not adequately address why the God’s Father title would have carried on to the reign of Tutankhamun or why it would have been used as part of Ay’s royal device. Other theories do little to answer these lingering questions.

The idea that God’s Father was a priestly title or a designation of elder statesman status, has been offered by other historians, but has largely been rejected when dealing with Yuya and Ay. The possible interpretation of it-netjer as God’s tutor instead of father, while seeming reasonable, has not inspired the attention of other interpretations. Nevertheless, none of the ideas presented would explain the promotion of Sennedjem, a courtier of the aged King Ay, to the position of God’s Father during Ay’s reign.

The confusion over the God’s Father titles continues to cloud efforts to understand the Amarna period in Egypt during which Ay was a major player. Future fieldwork may yet provide additional evidence and a chance to further understand the enigmatic title of God’s Father.

The Tomb Of King Ay At Amarna

One of the main sources for understanding the enigmatic Pharaoh Ay is this tomb at Akhenaten’s capital city Akhetaten, now known as Amarna. It is possible from the archeological record to determine that this tomb, which Ay was to share with his wife Tey, was worked on no later than year nine of Akhenaton’s reign (ca. 1343 BCE). At this time Ay was not depicted as a future Pharaoh but rather as an exalted member of the Pharaoh’s court. It is, however, impossible to say for certain when construction began or why it ended prematurely before the burial chamber was fully carved out. Nor can it be determined as to why parts of the entrance chamber remained as uncut stone while other parts of the room were finished to the level of detailed relief work.

Aside from this tomb’s internal features its location at Amarna and its size distinguish it from others of the same period. Ay’s tomb is the largest and westernmost of the private Amarna tombs and is one of four that stand apart from the large number of lesser tombs. This tomb provides an abundance of information about its intended occupants. That its construction was likely stopped before the relocation of the capital back to Memphis  speaks to a level of uncertainty at Akhetaten.

Ay’s Titles And Epithets

The tomb contains a number of titles and epithets, as well as lengthy liturgical inscriptions and numerous compelling images. Ay’s prominent title it ntr, was first found here, as well as three other titles; Fanbearer On The Right Hand Of The King, Acting Scribe Of The King and Overseer Of All The Horses Of His Majesty.

The list of epithets also associated with Ay, which is generally regarded as being not as informative as the proper titles, is extensive. The epithets read;

Beloved by Him [the King], A Servant Whom his Majesty Fostered,The Favorite of the Good God, Maakheru, Great of Winning the Heart to Him [Great of Access to his Lord] One Loyal to the King, to him who fostered him, Scrupulous towards the Lord of the Two Lands One Serviceable to his Lord, seeing his beauty as he appears in his palace, Head of the Great ones, the Companion of the King, Chief of those that follow his Lord, Beloved of the Lord of the Two Lands on account of his achievements, filling the heart of the King in all the Land Favorite of his Lord in every day matters, and Head of the Rekyht.

The term Maatheru is comparable to our term late when used to refer to the deceased and is therefore a standard tomb epithet. The title Head of the Rekhyt is also a common moniker for tombs where the occupant’s lifetime achievements are extolled. The word Rekyht is the Egyptian name for the Lapwing bird. This bird is traditionally shown with wings held behind its back as a symbol of those bound in service to the Pharaoh. It originally represented the people of Lower Egypt in particular but by the Amarna period it was used to symbolize all of the people of Egypt.

The Great Hymn Of The Aten

The east and west walls of the tomb are dominated by two liturgical inscriptions, one being the famous Great Hymn to the Aten and the other being The Hymn of Ay. The second hymn is structurally similar to, but not as colorfully written as its better known neighbor. The placement of the Great Hymn to the Aten in Ay’s tomb has been seen as a sign of his prominence at court. The words of the Great Hymn are shown as being spoken by Ay, yet most scholars over the last century have agreed that the Pharaoh Akhenaten was the likely author. The similarity of the Great Hymn to other lesser Aten hymns found throughout Amarna makes it difficult to determine its ultimate significance other than as a part of the new cultic practices associated with the Amarna regime.

Tey, Nefertiti, and Mutnedjmet

The tomb also features detailed images of court life at Amarna. In addition to anticipated representations of Ay, his wife Tey is also well represented, and it is clear that this tomb was intended to be shared by both husband and wife. Additionally, Tey’s titles and epithets are very informative in gauging Ay’s own career. They are; Favorite of the Good God, The Great Nurse, Tutoress of the Queen, Hand-maid of the King, and Maatheru.

As for other individuals represented in the tomb, there are two points of interest. The presence of Queen Nefertiti, represented in the company of her husband the Pharaoh Akhenaten, is unusual when compared with other tombs. Similarly, the representations of the queen’s sister, Mutnedjmet, are also conspicuous.

These images, as well as Tey’s aforementioned titles that associate her with Queen Nefertiti, have led to suggestions of a special, if not familial, relationship between Ay and his wife with Nefertiti and with Mutnedjmet and are part of Aldred’s argument mentioned above. These connections were no doubt foundational to him becoming pharaoh after the death of Tutankhamun.

Ay as pharaoh portrayed in Tutankhamun's tomb.

Ay (on the right) as pharaoh portrayed in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Even with all of this to go on the Pharaoh Ay and his relationship to the royal family remains mysterious. He was more than just a powerful vizier and adviser to the king but more evidence is needed to say for certain why this was. However it is clear that this man who served in the court of at least three pharaoh’s enjoyed a unique place in the history of Egypt.



Aldred, Cyril. (Akhenaten, Pharaoh of Egypt: a new study, 1968.)

(Akhenaten and Nefertiti. New York: Brooklyn Museum in association with The Viking Press, 1973.)

Davies, Norman de Garis, (The Rock Tombs of El Amarna Volume I-IV. London: The Egypt Exploration Society, 2004.)

(Egypt: the Amarna period and the end of the eighteenth dynasty. Volume II, Chapter XIX. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P, 1975.)

Borchardt, Ludwig,( Das Grabdenkmal des konigs Suhu-re. vol. 1 Leipzig: J.C.Hinrichs, 1910.)

Peet, Eric, (City of Akhenaten, vol. 3. Egypt Exploration Society, 1951)

Schaden, Otto John, (The God’s Father Ay. Ann Arbor, Mich: University Microfilms International, 1980.)

Seele, Keith C. King Ay and the Close of the Amarna Age. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3. July, 1995, pp. 168-180.