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An Egyptian Title: Hereditary Princess

Bust of Queen Tiye Great Royal Wife of Amenhotep III
Bust of Queen Tiye Great Royal Wife of Amenhotep III

Many ancient Egyptian royal women seem to have born the title iryt-p`t, translated as Hereditary Princess, but what does it mean?

The title was used for women from the 6th Dynasty through to the Late Period[i].  Usage outside of that date range is not currently attested. The title is indisputably a royal one, in other words overwhelmingly the title is born by women of the royal house: Kings Wife, Kings Sister, Kings Daughter or Kings Mother. However, there are instances of bearers of this title not holding royal titles.

Royal women who held the title Hereditary Princess and one or more of the titles: Sister of the King and or Daughter of the King, Eldest Kings daughter or Daughter of his Body, confirm that the bearer is a daughter and / or sister of a king. But what of those that do not hold these titles, but do carry the title Hereditary Princess? We can divide the remainder into three groups,

  1. Those that bear the title Kings wife and Hereditary Princess and no other royal titles

  2. Those that bear the title Kings Wife, Kings Mother and Hereditary Princess. These may also be a daughter and or sister of the King.

  3. Those that have no other royal titles at all than Hereditary Princess. They also appear to hold this title Hereditary Princess in their own right, not as a wife of an Hereditary Prince.

The male equivalent title: Hereditary Prince, is held by numerous nobles, usually in conjunction with the title Count. These gentlemen usually have other titles of office such as Seal Bearer, Treasurer, High Priest etc., indicating the administrative or religious roles held. Sometimes they may also hold such titles as Kings Eldest Son or Kings son or Kings son of his body (the title Kings Son of Kush, is considered to be a King’s Deputy title and not to indicate a blood relationship). Like their female equivalents however, the bearers of these titles are not always coupled together. In other words an Hereditary Prince is not invariably also a Kings Son (or one of its variants)[ii].

Khnumhotep II grandson of Bakhet and  son of Khunumhotep I and Zatipi
Khnumhotep II grandson of Bakhet and son of Khunumhotep I and Zatipi

Let us consider an example of an Hereditary Prince and his mother, wife and daughter, all of whom are designated Hereditary Princesses. Khunumhotep I, a powerful Nomarch of the 12th Dynasty.

Khnumhotep bore the title Hereditary Prince and Count (among other’s), he was a favoured companion of Amenhotep I and appears to have supported his bid for the throne. Only Khnumhotep’s mother’s name: Bakhet, has been preserved, suggesting that she was the more nobly born of his parents. Khnumhotep was seemingly awarded his titles of Hereditary Prince and Count after Amenhotep became King[iii]. It should be noted that Khnumhotep’s wife Zatipi was also an Hereditary Princess in her own right[iv]. It is possible that she conferred this title on her daughter Bakhet.

So what might this title mean, how do examples like the two Bakhet’s and Zatipi above fit into this structure of titles born by royal women?

Bakhet was likely related to the Governor of the Hare Nome Khety son of Bakhet III. The introduction of the name Khety into the house of the Hare, may indicate a relationship with the 10th Dynasty royal house. Zatipi means “Daughter of Ipi”, which is a version of the name of the Theban Hippopotamus Goddess Ipet. This may indicate that Zatipi was related to the Theban Royal House. These attributions are speculative at best, but do indicate that the attribution of collateral royal descent for these seemingly unroyal ladies is at least possible.

Given that examples like Bakhet and Zatipi  are rare, lets take a more numerous set of data to examine: a survey of royal women who held the title Hereditary Princess. All of these ladies held either the title of Kings Wife and or Great Kings Wife in addition to the title Hereditary Princess. There are thirty of them to be found between the 6th and 20th Dynasties. This would seem to be a decent sample size to work with.

Of this thirty, twelve also held the title of Kings Mother, eight were Kings Daughters and six were Kings Sisters. Only two held all titles and twelve were Wives or Great Wives but not Sisters, Daughters or Mothers of a King. There were also a great many Queens outside of this sample who were not Hereditary Princesses. So the title Hereditary Princess, while common for a Queen or Great Wife is not a mandatory title.

So what do we know so far? The title is royal, it was held by women of the royal house, however it could be held by women who were not Queens, Sisters or Mothers of Kings, although instances of this are rare. It was most commonly applied to Queens, and they may or may not hold other royal titles indicating their relationship to the King.

Conclusions we can draw from this are:

  1. The title was not a duplicate title for a Mother, Daughter or Sister of a King as its appellation for these ladies is less common.

  2. The title was not a duplicate title for a Queen either.

  3. Title bearers could be Queens, daughters, sisters or mothers of a King and conversely, they might not be any of these things, although this is rarer.

  4. Therefor it must have some meaning of its own, separate from these titles and relationships.

So what could it mean? One theory that has been advanced by Dodson is that it means the carrier has some sort of Executive role in the Government[v]. He rejects the suggestion that it indicates royal affiliation by blood because so many examples of bearers (male and female) do not appear to be directly related to the King, based on our knowledge of who their parents are, an obvious example is Queen Tiye discussed below. Despite this, it seems to me that the most likely meaning of this title is that, in most cases, the title bearer had a parent or grandparent who was the son or daughter or sister or brother of a King. Thus the bearer could also be the mother, sister or daughter of a King and for example the granddaughter of a King, or the niece of a king or some other one step removed relationship; it seems likely that this relationship could come through either parent.

Let’s test the hypothesis with three famous examples from the 18th Dynasty:   Queens and Great Royal Wives: Ahmose-Nefertari, Ahmose and Nefertiti.

Queen Ahmose Nefertari
Queen Ahmose Nefertari

Ahmose-Nefertari was the daughter, sister and wife of a king, she was also the granddaughter of a King and she held the title of Hereditary Princess.

Bust of Hatchepsut as King
King Hatchepsut, daughter of Ahmose I and Thutmose I

Ahmose (Hatcheptsut’s mother), she was the sister and wife of a King and held the title Hereditary Princess. We don’t know who her parents were, but given her title as sister of a King, she would have been a sister of Amenhotep I, which should make her a daughter of a king too, surely? Yet she is not given this title. So what could the designation sister of the King mean in her case? Could she have been a milk sister of Amenhotep? Or a half-sister with the same mother and different fathers? This is unlikely as Amenhotep’s mother was Ahmose-Nefertari.

Another explanation for the title Kings Sister for Ahmose (favoured by Dodson[vi],) is that she derived this title through her relationship with Thutmose I, either literally or ritually. Another interpretation however could be that she was a niece or granddaughter of Ahmose I, this would make her an Hereditary Princess. How to explain the use of the Kings Sister title? The Egyptians didn’t have separate terms for niece, granddaughter, aunt, or cousin. It is possible that the title Kings Sister is used here to imply niece or cousin. Admittedly this is a stretch. The case of Ahmose is not clear cut. Principally because we cannot satisfactorily explain her title of Kings sister, unless we make her a blood sister or milk sister of Thutmose himself, which is the generally accepted interpretation of this title.

Nefertiti, was the wife of a King and held the title Hereditary Princess. Her father was thought to be the Courtier Ay (Later Pharaoh Ay)[vii]. Her mother’s identity is unknown. Ay was the brother of Queen Tiye who also holds the title, but Tiye seems to be a case where the title was conferred upon her after her marriage, as neither her brother’s Ay and Anen or her parents Yuya and Thuya bare the title. This suggests that Tiye was truly a commoner by birth and given the title Hereditary Princess after her marriage, possibly as a reflection of that Executive role that Dodson suggests. We may then explain Nefertiti’s acquisition of the title in the same manner.  However there is another explanation.

Nefertiti could have derived the title from her mother, if her mother was a Daughter of a King or an Hereditary Princess herself. We have evidence from the Khnumhotep example above that the title Hereditary Prince/Princess could be passed to the children of the bearer.

But how did Khnumhotep come by the title? It seems likely that he got it from his mother, who may have been a sister of Khety, who was perhaps himself a relative of the last Herakleopolitan King Merikare. This would explain his being given the title after Amenhotep’s ascension to the throne, as Amenhotep may have aligned himself with the 10th Dynasty who were (like he was) opponents of the House of Intef/Montuhotep. It seems likely that the title petered out after the second generation, if it wasn’t reinforced by a new injection of royal blood from the current generation. But this is conjectural.

As for Nefertiti, I explore the possible identity of her mother in another post.


Bryan, Betsy 1991 The Reign of Thutmose IV John Hopkins University Press

Dodson & Hilton The Complete royal families of ancient Egypt T&H 2004

Hawass et al Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s Family JMAA February 17 2010 Vol 303 No. 7 p 638-647

Newberry, Percy E 1893 Beni Hasan Part III, Archaeological Survey of Egypt


[i] Dodson & Hilton p 31, Bart

[ii] Dodson &Hilton p 33

[iii] Newberry p 14

[iv] Ibid

[v] Dodson & Hilton p 28

[vi] Dodson & Hilton p 130

[vii] This identification seems to be pretty firmly confirmed by the DNA results from the Tutankhamun Project.

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