Survivor; A soldier caught up in palace intrigue in the wake of Tutankhamun's death, Horemheb became pharaoh of Egypt-largely by being the last man standing.
The events surrounding the death of Tutankhamun are still far from clear. The king died unexpectedly in his tenth regnal year, at a time when Egypt was engaged in a major confrontation with the Hittites that ended in an Egyptian defeat at Amqa, not far from Qadesh. News of this disaster reached Egypt at about the time of Tutankhamun's death. We do not know whether Horemheb himself was leading the Egyptian troops in this battle, but the fact that he does not appear to have been involved in the burial arrangements for Tutankhamun, despite his role as regent and heir presumptive, is highly suggestive. Instead, Ay, a senior court adviser who had been one of Akhenaten's most trusted officials and may have been a relative of Amenhotep Ill's wife, Queen Tiy, conducted the obsequies and shortly afterwards ascended the throne. Apparently he did so at first as a kind of interim king, for Tutankhamun's widow, Ankhesenarnun, was trying to negotiate a peace with the Hittites by writing to the Hittite king Shupiluliuma to ask him for a son who could marry her and become king of Egypt, in order that Egypt and Hatti should become 'one country', an extraordinary step that may possibly have been instigated by Ay. This request met with much suspicion in the Hittite capital and, when Shupiluliuma was finally convinced of the Egyptian queen's honorable intentions and sent his son Zannanza to Egypt, the unfortunate prince was murdered en route, perhaps by forces loyal to Horemheb in Syria. The result was prolonged warfare with the Hittites.
King Ay, who must have been fairly aged when he mounted the throne, ruled for at least three full years. A fragmentary cuneiform letter appears to suggest that he tried to make amends with the Hittites, denying all responsibility for the death of the prince, but to no avail. He also made a conscious effort to prevent Horemheb from asserting his rights after his death, for he appointed an army commander called Nakhtmin (possibly a grandson of his) as his heir. Despite this, however, Horemheb succeeded in ascending the throne after Ay's demise and soon set out to deface the monuments of his predecessor and to destroy those of his rival Nakhtmin.
If Horemheb's path to the throne had been beset with difficulties, his actual reign (1323-1295 BC) appears to have been relatively uneventful. It should be borne in mind, however, that there are few inscriptions from the later part of his reign. Even its length is still uncertain; his highest attested date is year 13, but on the basis of Babylonian chronology and two posthumous texts many claim that he reigned for nearly twice as long as this. The unfinished state of his royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings (KV 57), however, even if it was not begun before his year 7, is difficult to reconcile with such a long reign. Trouble with the Hittites over territories in northern Syria continued, and around regnal year 10 the Egyptians appear to have made an unsuccessful attempt to reconquer Qadesh and Amurru, although it is typical of the reign that our sources for this confrontation are Hittite, and not Egyptian texts. It is even possible that Horemheb finally came to an agreement with his enemy, for a later Hittite text refers to a treaty that had been in force before it was broken during the reigns of Muwatalli and Sety I (1294-1279 BC).
At home, Horemheb embarked on a number of major building projects, including the Great Hypostyle Hall in Karnak. He may also have begun the systematic demolition of the city of Amarna, still inhabited at this time. Two stone fragments including a statue base bearing his cartouches were found there. The reorganization of the country was also taken in hand with great gusto. The Great Edict, which he published on a stele in the temple of Karnak, enumerates a large number of legal measures enacted in order to stamp out abuses such as the unlawful requisitioning of boats and slaves, the theft of cattle hides, the illegal taxation of private farmland and fraud in assessing lawful taxes, and the extortion of local mayors by officials organizing the king's annual visit to the Opet Festival during the journey from Memphis to Thebes and back. Other paragraphs deal with the regulation of the local courts of justice, the personnel of the royal harem and other state employees, and the protocol at court.
Perhaps the most salient feature of Horemheb's reign is the way that he legitimized it; after all, he was of non-royal blood and was, therefore, unable to claim a 'genealogical' link with the dynastic god Amun. It is often maintained that his queen, a songstress of Amun called Mutnedjmet, should be identified with a sister of Nefertiti of that name, but this is not very likely as she appears to have become his wife well before his accession, quite apart from the fact that the legitimizing force of such a royal marriage may well have been questionable, given the circumstances. In his Coronation Text Horemheb does not hide his non-royal background, but instead puts much emphasis on the fact that, as a young man, he was chosen by the god Horus of Hutnesu, presumably his home town, to be king of Egypt; he then goes on to describe how he was carefully prepared for his future task by being the king's (that is, Tutankhamun's) deputy and prince regent, a claim largely substantiated by the inscriptions in his pre-royal tomb in the Memphite necropolis. It is Horus of Hutnesu who finally presents him to Amun during the Opet Festival procession, and who then proceeds to crown him as king. Horemheb thus owes his kingship to the will of his personal god and to divine election during a public appearance of Amun (that is, by means of an oracle). In this respect Horemheb's coronation resembles that of Hatshepsut (1473-1458 BC), who had also been elected by an oracle of Amun after having been regent. However, Hatshepsut was at least able to claim to be of royal blood herself and actually stressed that Amun had fathered her by the queen mother, a subject that Horemheb carefully avoids in his Coronation Text.