Friday, April 03, 2009

Queen Pharaohs
In the world of Ancient Egypt it was considered normal that Pharaohs had to be male. It was viewed that a female Pharaoh was just not in keeping with Maat, (justice); that such a thing was a violation of the natural order of things. That attitude combined with the large harems of Egyptian Kings made it highly unlikely that in the traditional Egyptian State that women would achieve the supreme political position. However a couple of features were unique to Egypt made the possibility of female rulers possible in Egypt. The following essay will look at the following areas. The first section will be a brief look at the position of Queens and Princesses in Egyptian Royalty and society. The second will look at the four undisputed cases of Female Pharaohs, albeit briefly.
The Royal Women
It used to be thought that in the dynastic system the right to rule went through the female line, and this resulted in men marrying their sisters, mothers, daughters etc. In other words this explained the prevalence of Royal incest. The bottom line is that this idea does not work because there are too many exceptions to this. What appears to be the case is that Egyptian royalty conceived of itself as a divine group like the incestuous divine couples for example the brother sister pair of Osiris / Isis. The result was that the right to rule was dependent not just on the heritage as a divine individual of the Pharaoh but also his wife. The Royal Princesses carried this divinity also. So that a Pharaoh marrying a Royal princess with the right pedigree would improve and reinforce his claim to the throne. The importance placed on this seemed to have waxed and waned over the years and among the different dynasties. Thus a man having the "right" ancestry from both his mother and father would have an advantage over the older son of a Minor Queen of a lesser lineage.1
One result of this was that Royal Women had a position and power independent of their position as daughters, wives, sisters etc of royal men. For example Egyptian women were NOT given in marriage to foreign rulers. The reasons for this seem to be a combination of the Egyptian sense of superiority to other societies and the apparent fact that Royal Princesses would NOT marry non-Egyptians but were kept to ensure that the Royal household would continue to be large. Even when Egypt went into serious decline the marriage of Royal women to foreign rulers did not happen. At least we have no record of it until the Ptolemaic period, which was a non-Egyptian Dynasty.2

From the Tell-El-Armana letters we know that Foreign Rulers wrote directly to the Queens of Egypt. Apparently the Queens could engage in diplomacy in their own right. For example the letter of King Tushratta of Mitanni to Queen Tiye, Wife of Amenhotep III and mother of Akhenaton, requesting her assistance. Other such letters exist in the Tell-El-Armana letters. Also we know from the Hittite Archives that this diplomacy could reach a very high level, i.e., when an Egyptian Queen, probably Ankhesenamun the widow of Tutankhamun wrote King Mursilli of the Hittites requesting that he send her one of his sons so she could marry him and make him Pharaoh. Mursilli sent his son Zannanza who was apparently murdered and Ankhesenamun forced to marry Ay who became Pharaoh.3

We know that frequently when a new Dynasty was established the founder of the new Dynasty reinforced his claim to the throne by marrying a Princess of the previous Royal Family. For example the founder of the 2nd Dynasty seems to have married a Princess of the 1st Dynasty. This pattern was repeated by the founders of the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th, 18th, 21st, Dynasties and probably by other Dynasties as well. It appears for example that Horemheb, the last Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty was not a member of the Royal family but that he established his membership of the 18th Dynasty by his marriage to Mutnodjme a sister of Nefertiti and a member of the Royal family. It appears that Horemheb had no suitable sons to succeed him and therefore he appointed his Vizier Rameses to succeed him. Rameses became Rameses I founder of the 19th Dynasty. At the beginning of Egypt's history Narmer who is often identified with Menes the unifier of Egypt apparently cemented his conquest of Lower Egypt by marrying a northern Princess. More than 2,500 years later Ptolomy I initially tried to reinforce his claim to the throne of Egypt by marrying a Princess of the last native Egyptian Dynasty, the 30th. The marriage failed.4

An example of the importance of the Royal women was the position of "Heiress" and "God's Wife". The Chief Queen became the High Priestess of Amun. This position came into being during the reign of Amosis founder of the 18th Dynasty. Until this time the "God's Wife" was a women of rank. During Amosis's reign it became a position held by the chief Queen of the Pharaoh. The position also became hereditary within the Royal family through the female line so that each generation had a chief Queen who was also the "God's Wife". The result was that the Pharaoh had to marry has his chief Queen this Royal woman who was called the "Heiress". The position swiftly acquired great prestige and influence. The first "God's Wife" was Amosis's Queen Ahmose-Nefertari who was either his sister or cousin. All "Heiresses" had to be descendants of her. This gave the Queens of the 18th Dynasty formidable power independent of their position as wives and daughters of the Pharaoh. A Pharaoh was considered to be, hopefully, the son of a Pharaoh and a "God's Wife". If not The Pharaoh was usually married to the "God's Wife" as soon as possible even if the "God's Wife" was his sister.5
Later the position of "God's Wife" changed, during the period (c. 750 B.C.E. - 525 B.C.E.) The position was given to the eldest daughter of the Pharaoh. The "God's Wife" at this time was celibate and she resided in Thebes. Her successor would be the eldest daughter of the next Pharaoh, who she would train. By this time the Pharaoh's ruled Egypt from the Delta and the "God's Wife" in effect ruled upper Egypt from Thebes. By making sure their daughters functioned as viceroys for them in Upper Egypt the Saite Pharaoh's helped insure that Upper Egypt did not slip out of their control.6

The Four Queen Pharaohs

Queen Nitocris

Queen Nitocris one of the last rulers of the 6th Dynasty who ruled c. 2180 - 2170 B.C.E. There are many fantastic legends recorded about her in the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus, (5th century B.C.E.), and in the fragments of Mantheo, (3rd century B.C.E.). Herodotus records that Nitocris took power after the murder of the King, her brother, and murdered hundreds of Egyptians in revenge by flooding a chamber she had constructed and then lured them into. According to Herodotus she killed herself by jumping into a room full of ashes. Mantheo records similar fantastic stories and confuses her with the character of Rhodophis the Courtesan.

If we just had these stories it would be tempting to record Queen Nitocris has entirely mythical, given that no contemporary records or other archaeological evidence have been found concerning her. However the Turin Canon papyrus, (dated c. 1600 B.C.E.), that lists the Pharaohs of Egypt, lists her. The Turin Papyrus gives her reign has lasting 2 years, one month and a day. Mantheo gives her a reign of 12 years. Other sources give her a reign of 6 years.
It is the suppossed mention of her in the Turin Canon that makes her an historical figure and not a mythical figure. however it appears that the mention of her may in fact be the result of damage to the inscription and her historical status is not entirely secure. Although most Egyptologists accept her as being real. The circumstances of her alleged ascension to the throne are unknown although the stories recorded by Herodotus and Mantheo would seem to indicate that intrigue and the possible murder of her first husband played a role. After her alleged death the First Intermediate Period began with the reign of a few brief Pharoahs.7

Queen Sobeknafou

Queen Sobeknafou was the last ruler of the 12th Dynasty who ruled c. 1790 - 1786 B.C.E. According to the Turin Canon she ruled for a period of 3 years, 10 months and 24 days. She was the daughter of Pharaoh Amenenhat III and sister/wife of Amenenhat IV. Upon the death of Amenenhat IV she assumed the throne. Contemporary inscriptions give her royal titles and indisputably indicate her ruling as Pharaoh.

It appears that Queen Sobeknafou took the throne because no suitable male members of the Royal family were available. There is no evidence that her role of Pharaoh was resented then or later neither was she considered a usurper, as she is listed in later historical accounts as Pharaoh.
Queen Sobeknafou apparently selected as her successor the founder of the Egyptian 13th Dynasty. After her death Egypt's middle kingdom went into a serious decline and the Second Intermediate Period began.8

Queen Hatshepsut

Indisputably the greatest of Egyptian Queens and one of the greatest of Egyptian rulers. Hatshepsut was a Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty who ruled c.1479-1457 B.C.E. She was the daughter of Thutmose I and had married her half brother Thutmose II to secure his hold on the throne.

Hatshepsut was the daughter of Thutmose I by his chief Queen or "God's Wife". As such her "pedigree" was better than that of her husband who was the son of Thutmose I and a concubine. Thutmose II reigned only for about 5 years before dying. Hatshepsut and Thutmose II had one child, a daughter. The inscriptions of the time period give Hatshepsut no unusual prominence over and above that of chief Queen and 'Gods Wife". Upon the death of Thutmose II, Hatshepsut as chief Queen and mother of the next Heiress Queen, her daughter Nemonje becomes regent for Thutmose III, (at most 12 years old at this time), Thutmose II son by a concubine or secondary wife.
Regencies like this had happened before but this time a crisis seems to have developed. By the second year of the regency Hatshepsut was emerging from the background and by year seven the transformation was complete, she was Pharaoh, co-ruler with Thutmose III nominally and ruler in fact of Egypt. What has been called a "creeping coup" was a success.

Hatshepsut then embarked on a vast propaganda campaign and an ambitious building program to justify her rule. She claimed to be a daughter of the God Amun and that her father Thutmose I had selected her to succeed him. Hatshepsut emphasized her descent from both Thutmose I and his Chief Queen, thus indirectly emphasizing that her divine ancestry was better than that of both her half brother Thutmose II and her nephew Thutmose III and hence her right to rule.

In fact Hatshepsut backdated the start of her reign to the death of her father Thutmose I. Despite this no effort was made by her to dispose Thutmose III or to exclude him from the nominal symbols of being Pharaoh. It appears possible that Hatshepsut, given her later actions probably did exercise an enormous amount of influence during the reign of her half brother / husband Thutmose II, the written record gives no evidence of this however.
During her reign has part of her propaganda campaign Hatshepsut built near the valley of the kings the beautiful and magnificent temple at Deir-el-Bahri and had numerous monuments erected to justify her right to rule. As part of this propaganda campaign she had herself depicted wearing male garb and sometimes wearing a male pharaonic beard, at other times she was depicted as a women.

Hatshepsut as a woman
Her foreign policy was one of peace abroad and the pursuit of trade. One of accomplishments was the re-establishment of direct trade with Punt a country located in modern day Somalia. Direct trade had been broken off centuries earlier. At Deir-el-Bahri the walls are covered with inscriptions describing this expedition. Also has part of this campaign Hatshepsut linked herself with the expulsion of the Hyskos from Egypt. Virtually no military campaigns are recorded during her reign.
One of the perennial mysteries of Egyptology was how Hatshepsut managed to keep Thutmose III under control, until he was in his early thirties. Thutmose III has been called Egypt's Napoleon and was one of the most formidable soldiers ever to have lived. And aside from being a formidable general was an all round strong Pharaoh. How Hatshepsut was able to take power and to keep it in her hands until Thutmose III was well past the age of ascension, (in Egypt 15 years of age) is a mystery.
It used to be though that after Hatshepsut's death, (which in this school of thought may have been arranged by Thutmose III), Thutmose III had her monuments defaced and destroyed in a fit of revenge against his step-mother for usurping the throne and keeping him in the background. It is now known that this attack on Hatshepsut's memory occurred 20 years after Hatshepsut's death. Even more importantly it appears that during the later part of Hatshepsut's reign Thutmose III was apparently in command of the army. It appears likely that Hatshepsut and Thutmose III worked together and that the theory of unbridled hatred by Thutmose III against his step-mother is myth. The reasons for the attack against Hatshepsut's memory apparently had little if anything to do with personal animosity. If this is the case Hatshepsut probably died of natural causes still Pharaoh of Egypt.
Hatshepsut was not listed in the list of Egyptian rulers probably because she was considered a sort of usurper. During the reign of her successor, Thutmose III, Egypt became the most formidable military power in the middle east. Hatshepsut's reign was apparently a great success and inaugurated Egypt's Golden Age.9

Queen Twosret

Queen Twosret was the last ruler of the 19th Dynasty and she ruled c. 1193-1185 B.C.E. Twosret was the wife of Seti II and apparently upon the death of her husband made herself co-ruler with Siptah, Seti's son. It is not clear if Sipah was also Twosret's son also. It is clear that Siptah was very young, (less than 10 years old), when his father died.

It appears that Twosret was a member of the Royal family by descent although how closely she was related to her husband is not known. Certainly the ease with which she took the throne indicates this, further she is listed in the official lists of Egyptian rulers, which indicates that her rule was accepted as fully legitimate. Siptah did not live long dying in c. 1191 B.C.E. After Siptah's death Twosret ruled alone, depending on the source, any where from 2 - 6 years, (more likely 6 years).

After the death of Rameses II, (c. 1212 B.C.E.), Egypt was subject to a series of major crises of foreign invasion, drought, a breakdown of law and order and rampant corruption. The reign of his two successors Merenptah and Seti II were both short. It appears that when Seti II died there were no suitable, male, Pharaoh's available so Queen Twosret became Pharaoh as the only suitable member of the Royal family available.

Queen Twosret's tomb in the valley of the kings is imposing in both size and grandeur, and the start of its construction appears to predate her ascension as ruler of Egypt. It appears that even during the reign of her husband Seti II she was a formidable figure.

During the later part of her reign she was involved in a power struggle with her Vizier Bay over the succession and she may have been deposed. This is unlikely given that her chosen successor Sethnakhete came to throne shortly after her death and established the 20th Dynasty. Egypt's long decline was well underway by the time her reign started.10

Two Ambiguous cases

Queen Meryt-Neith

Queen Meryt-Neith was the chief Queen of Wadj, the third ruler of 1st Dynasty, c. 3000 B.C.E. Queen Meryt-Neith is poorly known and she is not mentioned as a ruler in any of the Egyptian king lists.
What makes some it likely that Meryt-Neith ruled as Pharaoh is that she was buried like a Pharaoh. For example a solar boat was buried with her. An honor reserved for a king. Also Meryt-Neith had a tomb in both Upper and Lower Egypt, which during the 1st and 2nd Dynasty was only done with Pharaohs to symbolize their rule of the two lands. Also buried with Meryt-Neith were 40 attendants who were killed to accompany her into the hereafter, which again was at the time something done only for Pharaohs. If the burial had been of a man it would have been accepted unquestionably as a Pharaoh's tomb. It appears likely that Meryt-Neith was regent for her son the Pharoah Den. Athough she may have ruled alone or co-ruled with her husband.11
Queen Nefertiti

Queen Nefertiti was the wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, called the "Heretic Pharaoh", c. 1350-1334 B.C.E. It appears that she was a member of the Royal family probably a cousin of Akhenaten and not a sister. Due to the contentious nature of reign of Akhenaten and the myriad disputes about virtually every aspect of this period nothing is at all clear about Nefertiti's position. No inscription describes her as Pharaoh however a number of indications have been, reasonably in my view, been interpreted has indicating that Nefertiti may have co-ruled with her husband for a time if not succeeded him for a time has Pharaoh.
We know that Nefertiti supported the religious reforms of the period and had with Akhenaten 6 daughters. The art of this time period shows in rather loving and intimate detail a loving relationship between Akhenaten and Nefertiti which as made them attractive to modern tastes.

Among the treasures of world art is the magnificent bust of Nefertiti found in the ruins of Akhenaton's capital at Tell-el-Amarna. It is perhaps the most perfect example of unearthly, divine beauty ever created. It was found in the work shop of the chief sculptor of Tell-el-Amarna, by the name of Thutmose. It purpose was not, as a work of art in its own right but to serve as a model for other sculptors, while working on sculptured reliefs, of how to sculpt the face and head of Queen Nefertiti. The bust now resides in the Berlin Museum where it is considered one of it's greatest treasures. This sculpture more than any other object associated with Nefertiti has made her world famous.

The Bust of Nefertiti
If the art of the Amarna period is the reason for how well Nefertiti is known to today, modern historians are more interested in the questions concerning her influence and importance. In this there is lots of speculation and few facts.
We know that with the ascension of Akhenaton Nefertiti was also elevated to a position of great importance. In the temple that Akhenaton built at Thebes, shortly after his reign started, Nefertiti's image is as prominent has his and more common. Also it appears that certain colossal images that had been thought to portray Akhenaton, with very large hips, thighs and no visible genitalia in a skin tight costume are in fact of Nefertiti. If this is the case, the statutes also have a Pharonic beard like Queen Hatshepsut, the statutes also show Nefertiti holding the Croup and the Flail, Egyptian symbols of Kingship. Later in the reign a relief shows Nefertiti wearing a triple Atef-crown which is usually worn only by Kings. In fact Akhenaton's religious reforms which elevated the Aton, the disk of the sun, into the supreme, and possibly only, God required that his subjects worship the Royal family as divine. Nefertiti in this system was a combination fertility symbol and the wife of the sun. The implication seems to be that sometimes early in the reign of Akhenaton Nefertiti became co-regent with her husband, certainly Nefertiti is shown frequently performing tasks performed usually only by kings.

Inscriptions describing and referring to Nefertiti late in the reign are few and sparse. The old solution to this problem was that Nefertiti was leader of the "radical" Atonists and was exiled to the North Palace at Tell-el-Amarna where she lived until she died. Variations of this idea are used to explain her sudden disappearance in about the 14th year of the reign of Akhenaton. Another idea is that Nefertiti was not exiled but that she reappeared as the mysterious and shadowy Smenkhare, usually thought to be a son of Akhenaton, who was co-ruler with Akhenaton and who briefly survived Akhenaton. A variation of this is that Nefertiti was another character referred to in the inscriptions which is usually thought to be another name for Smenkhare, Ankhheperure who then was co-ruler with Akhenaton. All of this is quite contentious. Recent genetic analysis has provided evidence that Smenkhare was a real figure and not Nefertiti. The simplest solution for the problem of Nefertiti's disappearance, and one supported by some evidence, is that Nefertiti simply died in the 14th year of Akhenaton's reign.

After the death of Akhenaton his new capital was abandoned and his religious reforms were dropped and within one generation an effort was made to erase the memory of the reign of Akhenaton, Smenkhare, Tutankhamen, Ay all of whom were tainted with the heresy of Atonism. In fact the last Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Horemheb, considered himself the direct successor to Akhenaton's father Amenhotep III. The reigns of at least 4 Pharaoh's and 5 if Nefertiti was in fact Pharaoh was systematically erased from History. Later Egyptian king lists do not mention any of the Amarna kings or Queens. Until the late 19th and early 20th century this rewriting of history was successful. Nefertiti was only rediscovered after being buried in oblivion for 3000 years.12

Such is an outline of the major native Egyptian Queen Pharoahs.

1. Aldred, pp. 134-141, Tyldesley, 1994, pp. 187-203.

2. Tyldesley, 1994, p. 185.
3. Aldred, pp. 228-229, Tydesley, 1994, pp. 202-203.

4. Breasted, p. 93, 98, 335, Race, p. 141, 144, see also Ancient Egypt, Here

5. Aldred, pp. 134-145.

6. Ancient Egypt, Here, Tydesley, 1994, pp. 204-206.

7. Tydesley, 1994, pp. 216-218.

8. Tydesley, 1994, pp. 218-220.

9. Breasted, pp. pp. 220-235, Tyldesley, 1994, pp. 220-230, & 1998.

10. Tyldesley, 1994, pp. 237-241, Breasted, p. 339.

11. Tyldesley, 1994, pp. 214-215, Rice, pp. 122-123.

12. Tyldesley, 1994, pp. 231-237, & 1999, Aldred, pp. 219-230.
Tyldesley, Joyce A., Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt, Penguin, London, 1994

Tyldesley, Joyce A., Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen, Penguin, London, 1999.

Tyldesley, Joyce A., Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh, Penguin, London, 1998.

Kuhrt, Amelie, The Ancient Near East: c. 3000-330 B.C., Vol 1, Routledge, London, 1995.

Kuhrt, Amelie, The Ancient Near East: c. 3000-330 B.C., Vol 2, Routledge, London, 1995.

Aldred, Cyril, Akhenaten: King of Egypt, Thames and Hudson, London, 1988.

Breasted, James Henry, A History of Egypt, Bantam Books, New York, 1964.

Rice, Michael, Egypt's Making, Routledge, London, 1991.
Sitek, Dariusz, Ancient Egypt, Here.
Pierre Cloutier

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