Saturday, 19 June 2010

Ruling queens of ancient Egypt.(1)

When we think about Egyptian queens, names like Nefertiti and Cleopatra are most likely the first to spring to mind. But Egypt has been ruled by four more women: Neithikret, Sobeknefru, Hatshepsut and Tawosret. A seventh, MerNeith could possibly be the first Queen ever to rule Egypt but is too much disputed to be considered a ruling Queen without a doubt. Still she is mentioned here because she can’t be ruled out.

Although there are several types of queens in the history of ancient Egypt, the Great Royal Wife for example, only the actual ruling queens of royal blood will be mentioned in this post and the ones that follow on this subject.


Possible father: King Jer.
Mother: unknown
Consort: King Djet
Offspring: King Den
Buried: Tomb Y in Abydos

MerNeith or MeritNit was possibly the first female ruler of Egypt and she lived during the first dynasty of Egypt. Although the period of her reign is not exactly known it must have been around the 30th century BC. Her name means “beloved by Neith”. Merneith was the Great Royal Wife of King Djet and the mother of King Den.
MerNeith became Queen of Egypt because when King Djet died, her son Den was still thought to be too young to rule over Egypt.
Her Tomb was found at Abydos by William Petrie, a famous English Egyptologist at the beginning of the twentieth century. At first Petrie thought the tomb belonged to a, until then, unknown king of the first dynasty. Although her name can be found in a seal impression with those of other kings of the first dynasty, the falcon being the sign of kingship, is not present. On other lists there is no mention of her but there is of her son. For these and other reasons many scholars do not accept MerNeith as a ruler in her own right but see her as a co-regent next to her son. On top of that, there are no clear inscriptions that detail her role as a ruling queen so she is never looked at as “Queen” like the later female rulers Hatshepsut or Cleopatra.

Neithikret (ca 2148 – 2144 BC)

Possible father: Pepi II
Possible mother: Queen Neith

Neithikret, also known as Nitiqret or Nitocris has been claimed to have been the last ruler of the sixth dynasty at the end of the Old Kingdom period and the start of the First Intermediate period. Little is known about the first female to rule over ancient Egypt, there not even clear proof she ever existed. But she is mentioned in the Histories of Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, and writings of Manetho, who was an Egyptian historian.

The Histories of Herodotus tells us the story of Neithikret who in revenge of her brother’s death kills all the people she holds responsible for this murder. Besides by Manetho and Herodotus Neithikret is only mentioned in the Turin Papyri.


Father: Amenemhat III
Mother: Queen Aat
Consort: Amenemhat IV (her brother)
Horus name: Merytre
Nebty name: Sat-sekhem-nebettawy
Golden Horus name: Djed-et-kha
Throne name: Sobekkare
Birth name: Sobeknefru
Burial place: unsure but could be Mazghuana

Queen Sobekneferu (Sobek is (like) the beauty of Ra) was a ruling queen during the 12th dynasty.
Sobekneferu became queen of Egypt after the death of her husband and brother Amenemhat IV. Her name often appears with the addition Shedty which means “with Shedet”, indicating she was involved in a religious movement in this town in Faiyum.
There are very few records of her short reign that only lasted four years but some damaged (headless) statues of her have been found in the Delta. It is also known she extended the funerary complex of Amenemhat III at Hawara but she also build structures at Herakleopolis Magna. She is listed in the Turin Canon, and there is a fine cylinder seal bearing her name and titulary, currently locate at the British Museum. Although generally the queen would use feminine titles, several masculine ones were also used.
There is an interesting, but damaged statue of the queen of unknown origin; the costume on this figure is unique in its combination of elements from male and female dress, echoing her occasional use of male titles in her records. This ambiguity might have been a deliberate attempt to mollify the critics of a female ruler.
(The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, p159, The middle Kingdom Renaissance – Gae Callender)


  1. Sobek was the crocodile head god. Crocodiles are like the beauty of Ra? Good to know. :)

    Interesting that there was so much diversity in assigning a male or female pronoun or description to a by sex clearly female ruler. Sexism as an anthropological constant dating back even to the times of ancient Egypt?

  2. Sexism and crossdressing is a thing of all times so it seems ;)