May
02
2008

Dude looks like a lady: Did an Egyptian Pharaoh suffer from a gender-bending genetic problem?

King or queen of Egypt: This statue depicts Akhenaten, a pharaoh of Egypt  who some believe suffered a rare genetic disease that gave him a very feminine appearance.
King or queen of Egypt: This statue depicts Akhenaten, a pharaoh of Egypt who some believe suffered a rare genetic disease that gave him a very feminine appearance.Courtesy Gérard Ducher
In the movies, Egyptian pharaohs have that manly-man look with rippling biceps, clean-shaved heads and steely eyes.

But upon further review, it’s considered that one of ancient Egypt’s leaders my have been – in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger – “a girly man.”

A recent conference that does posthumous analysis of the medical conditions of famous people through history, this year looked at the genetic make up of Akhenaten, a pharaoh whose reign was believed to be around 1353 BC to 1336 BC. He is also considered the likely father of Tutankhamun, better known to us today as King Tut.

Through analysis of statues and artistic renderings of Akhenaten, a Yale University doctor proposes that the pharaoh suffered from Marfan syndrome which makes males have a much more feminine appearance. The condition makes the body convert a larger share of male hormones into female hormones than what normally occurs in male bodies.

Through artistic depiction, Akhenaten strikes a more female pose, with long fingers, wider hips, larger breasts and female-shaped eyes. Also, Akhenaten had an egg-shaped head which might have been the result of problems of skull bones fusing at an early age.

Another view: Here's another statue of Akhenaten. Do you think he might have suffered from Marfan syndrome?
Another view: Here's another statue of Akhenaten. Do you think he might have suffered from Marfan syndrome?Courtesy Paul Mannix
Despite his female appearance, Akhenaten was a prodigious reproducer. His chief wife was Nefertiti, who is often depicted in Egyptian art. All total, Akhenaten was known to have fathered six daughters and may have also been the father of Tutankhamun.

But here’s the big caveat: The researchers acknowledge that these theories are based solely on their observations of Akhenaten from works of art. They’re hoping to get clearance from Egyptian officials to do DNA analysis on Akhenaten’s remains to see if there are signs of Marfan syndrome there.

BTW: Akhenaten is one of the more intriguing pharaoh’s from ancient Egypt. There are theories that he worked with, or even actually was, the Jewish prophet Moses. There is another theory that he was the source of the Greek’s creation of the Oedipus complex story. You can get more background on these Akhenaten theories at this Wikipedia page.

The historical medical conference, held this week at the University of Maryland, in past years as delved into the medical histories of such luminaries as Edgar Allan Poe, Alexander the Great, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Florence Nightingale.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Kunicki24's picture
Kunicki24 says:

thats really interesting, is that syndrome common in males or is it one of those rare diseases.

posted on Thu, 05/08/2008 - 9:59am
flinch619's picture
flinch619 says:

kinda cool how we can figure this stuff out

BOOYAKASHA!

posted on Thu, 05/08/2008 - 10:16am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

dude..why do egyptians have make up; does it have to do with the weather there in?

posted on Sun, 10/05/2008 - 10:29am
Thor's picture
Thor says:

Why do people in our culture today wear make-up? Because they think it makes themselves look more attractive. It was the same in Egyptian times. Also, the more affluent you were, the more you could afford make-up. So it was partly a status symbol. I don't think weather had anything to do with Egyptians wearing make-up.

posted on Mon, 10/06/2008 - 10:03am
claire.'s picture
claire. says:

its because the royal family was the richest so they wore make up for showing off their wealth

posted on Fri, 12/27/2013 - 6:25pm
Jill Lizz's picture
Jill Lizz says:

it's just their culture back then
Some say they did their eye makeup to look like the eye of hourus

posted on Sat, 12/14/2013 - 9:43pm
jimh's picture
jimh says:

I have read somewhere a long time ago that kohl, the dark eyliner seen on some icons and sculptures of pharaohs, was effective against parasites of the eyelids that are found in that area.

posted on Mon, 10/06/2008 - 10:27am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

that is really wierd

posted on Mon, 06/22/2009 - 11:25am
Lah 's picture
Lah says:

this is a really bad case of unknown diseases that pass through ancient Egypt

posted on Thu, 12/26/2013 - 1:30pm
Gem's picture
Gem says:

Okay, dont judge me, but, the Khol they wore was a status symbol and a religeous symbol. The anceint Egyptions loved beauty and art. The goddess Isis, was the goddess of love, beauty, magic, and some believe the greek goddess Aphrodite was "based" off of her. Then make up was, yes, a symbol of status and beleif, but also, simply to become more attractive. The eye of Horus was a eye lined with Khol, but only because the people wore that khol when the story of the eye of Horus came about. It is a confusing cyclle with a simple answer.

posted on Mon, 12/30/2013 - 3:49pm

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