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Egypt’s Forgotten Warrior Queens


The Golden Flies of Queen Ahhotep awarded for her gallant defence of Egypt in the Wars of Reunification at the end of 17th Dynasty. The Warrior Queens of the 17th Dynasty echo their distant forebears from the Predynastic, who modelled themselves on the Warrior Goddess Neith.

Rediscovering Egypt's Predynastic Warrior Queens

Women played a bigger part than has been previously acknowledged in the formation of the Egyptian state, a revaluation of the serekhs of predynastic Kings reveals several rulers with female names.

The pattern of female corulers and regents so prevalent in the 1st Dynasty seems to have its roots in the Predynastic. The prominence of female rulers in the 1st Dynasty is indisputable, the fact that we know the names of ten Queens of the Ist Dynasty is one indicator, the size of their tombs is another. The prevalence of several female names among Dynasty 0 Kings supports the hypothesis that this pattern was a carry-over from the Predynastic Period and that the so-called Kings of the Predynastic with female names are in fact women, not men as they have been assumed to be.

Raffaele’s[i] reconstruction of the line of succession in Dynasty 0 (Predynastic) Begins with Dju Nbwy otherwise known as Double Falcon, Neith, Ny Hor, Hat-Hor, Hedjw Hor, Iry Hor, Ny Neith, Sekhen Ka, Sereq, Narmer.



Speculative reconstruction of Dynasty 0
Speculative reconstruction of Dynasty 0

The names: Neith, Hat-Hor and Ny Neith are clearly female, yet they have been assumed to be men (Dreyer, Wilkinson et al). If however these ancient Queens are restored to their rightful position, they are more likely to be the consorts of the Kings mentioned before them and mothers of the kings mentioned after them. This admittedly speculative reconstruction appears in fig 1.


1st Dynasty Queens


Kings and Queens of Dynasty I
Kings and Queens of Dynasty I

We can look to the 1st Dynasty for confirmation that this is a likely reconstruction. By comparing the known Serekhs[ii] of the Queens from Dynasties 0 and I (fig 2), we can see the similarities. While we lack any further information about our Dynasty 0 Queens than the location of the Serekh’s with their names on them, we know a lot more about Neithhotep and Merytneith of Dynasty I.



Serek of Neithhotep
Serek of Neithhotep

Neithhotep has long been identified as the be wife of Narmer and mother of Aha based on the prevalence of their names in her tomb, however an inscription discovered at Wadi Amery in the Sinai in 2012 linking her Serekh with King Djer has prompted the suggestion that instead she is the wife of Aha and perhaps therefore the daughter of Narmer. However it is not impossible that she is Djer’s grandmother and not his mother. This would require her outliving both her husband and her son, less likely perhaps but not impossible. In either case she has a serekh and was clearly a ruler in her own right.



Stele of Merneith
Stele of Merneith

Merytheith doesn’t technically have a serekh, but she does have a stele with her name on it, and a huge tomb, she is also mentioned on the Palermo Stone as ruling for her son Den.


Names compounded with Neith are following a clear tradition through Dynasty 0 and Dynasty I with Neith and Ny Neith from Dynasty 0 and Neithhotep, Herneith, Nakhtneith and Merytneith known to us.


Neith Warrior Goddess

Neith is an ancient and powerful Warrior Goddess from the Northern Kingdom of Lower Egypt. Her cult centre is at Buto (and later Sais) in the Delta. She is associated with the Red Crown and often shown wearing it. Her emblem is the shield and crossed bows or crossed arrows of the Goddess of the Hunt. That so many of the earliest Queens are named for her is indicative that the Queens religious role was likely related to this Goddess in some way.

The other ancient goddess that we find among these early Queens names is Hat-hor or Hathor, the cow goddess, mother of Horus, goddess of the moon, love, marriage and drunkenness. Hathor in her avatar of Bat, a woman with cow ears and horns, appears on the Narmer palette. Hathor/Bat is likely an Upper Egyptian Goddess as opposed to Neith who clearly belongs to Lower Egypt.


Consorts, Queens and Regents


The founder of Dynasty 0, Dju Nbwy (Two Falcons), is likely to have been the first King to rule over all of Egypt as his serekh’s have been found from the Levant and Sinai all the way to lower Egypt.


Serek of "King" Neith
Serek of "King" Neith

If Neith was his Queen, it is not inconceivable that she was a royal princess from the Delta region who helped him rule a united Egypt.  The fact that she had a serek of her own indicates that she did rule, either as a coruler or in her own right or perhaps both.



Serek of "King" Hat-hor
Serek of "King" Hat-hor

If Hathor was the consort of the next ruler Ny Hor, she was (perhaps) a Southern Princess. In either case she also ruled in her own right as her Falcon topped Serekh tells us.



Serek of "King" Ny-Neith
Serek of "King" Ny-Neith

Ny Neith is perhaps a daughter of Ny Hor (a tentative identification based on the name alone) and if she ruled with Iry Hor then we know that their capital in the North was based at Memphis because an inscription found at Wadi Amery indicates that he was the founder of that City, called Ineb Hedj (White Walls) by the Ancient Egyptians. Iry Hor is known from Tell el Farkha in the Delta, Abydos and This in the South. The administrative centre at Tell el Farkha shows a sophisticated culture distinctly different from the Southern one and is a hallmark of the complex administration required to manage a large Kingdom such as Egypt. Iry Hor, whose name means Mouth of Horus, was a powerful man judging from his tomb, perhaps an early incarnation of the Haty (Vizier) of Dynastic Egypt, who went on to become ruler. Perhaps consolidating his power through his wife, a royal princess. His successor was Sekhen Ka, perhaps father of Sereq II (Scorpion II the owner of the famous Macehead) and perhaps grandfather of Narmer.


Queens Titles

These early queens ruled in their own right, likely as the wives, daughters and mothers of Kings, but they also most probably had a religious role reflected in their names. Some hints of the roles played by the Queens of 1st Dynasty may be gleaned from the titles that have been found associated with them.

We find both Neithhotep and Herneith (wife of Djer) with the titles of Consort of the Two Ladies (a reference to the Goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt, Nekhbet and Wadjet respectively) and Foremost of Women. This latter title might be an early version of the later Great Royal Wife title, indicating the status of these Queens as chief Queens or Chief Wives with religious and or secular functions. Nakhtneith, another wife of Djer holds the title Sceptre of Horus, which surely also indicates a role in ruling the country. It is possibly a religious rather than secular role. Merytneith also holds the title Foremost of Women, could this title then indicate Queens who rule, as it is held by two women known to rule? Merytneith also holds the title Kings Mother. Seshemetka (a wife of Den) holds the titles One who sees Horus (again thought to be a religious title) and Sceptre of Horus. Semat (another wife of Den) also holds the title One Who Sees Horus.


Conclusion

This excursion into speculative history with some creative interpretation of the available evidence, has attempted to mount an argument for restoring to history, Egypt’s earliest lost queens. Women who held both secular and religious positions of power in the formation of the Egyptian State. The prominence of women seems to have waned toward the end of the 1st Dynasty and into the 2nd Dynasty where a more male dominated religion, spearheaded no doubt by the priests in the Temples of Ptah at Inbu Hedj (Memphis) in the North and of Set and Min at Gubt and Gebtu respectively in the South, appears to take hold, demoting the power of the warrior Queens of old who perhaps reflected the power of the Goddesses for whom they were named.


References

[ii] The Serekh is a box with vertical lines reflecting the palace façade pattern and a panel above in which the name of the ruler appears, from Dynasty O onwards it is surmounted by a falcon, (Horus). The serekh was the fore-runner of the cartouche and seems to have been in use from Dynasty 0 through to the end of the 3rd Dynasty. Early serekhs from Dynasty OO don’t all have a Horus falcon on top. The significance of this is not fully understood.


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