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, Sobekneferu, Hatshepsut and Twosret. 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.
Possible father: King Jer.
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.
Father: Thutmose I
Consort: Thutmose II (half brother)
Horus name: Wesretkau (Mighty of Kas)
Nebty name: Wadjrenput (She of the two ladies, Flourishing of years)
Golden Horus name: Netjeretkhau (Devine of appearance)
Throne name: Maatkare (Truth [Ma’at] is the soul [Ka] of Re)
Birth name: Khanumt-Amun Hatshepsut (Foremost of noble ladies)
Burial place: Originally KV20
Queen Hatshepsut lived from 1500 till 1458 BC and by ruling over ancient Egypt for 21 years (1479 – 1458 BC) she is the ruling queen with the longest reign in Egypt’s history.
She was the daughter of Thutmose I and Ahmose. Hatshepsut married her half-brother Thutmose II who became king of Egypt when his father died (1492 BC). Thutmose II was a son of Thutmose I and his minor wife lady Mutnofret. Since three of his older brothers died prematurely and Thutmose II was only a lesser son he had to marry his fully royal half sister to secure his claim of the throne and to secure his kingship.
Because of the similarities in domestic and foreign policies that were pursued under her reign Hatshepsut is believed to be the real power behind the throne during the (short) time Thutmose II ruled over Egypt. Hatshepsut only gave birth to a daughter named Neferu.
When Thutmose II died Thutmose III, son of Thutmose II and his lesser wife Iset (named after goddess Isis), was still an infant and too young to rule over Egypt so Hatshepsut acted as regent on his behalf. But how did Hatshepsut become queen of Egypt?
Never claiming to have ruled with or for her husband Thutmose II, Hatshepsut used her bloodline and fabricated a co-regency with her father Thutmose I to legitimize her accession to the throne. Even before Hatshepsut had taken on the throne name Maatkare there was an inscription left at Aswan by the royal steward Senemut, naming her as “king’s daughter, king’s sister, god’s wife, great royal wife Hatshepsut”. There are also scenes and texts at Deir el-Bahri of her claim that Thutmose I proclaimed her as heir even before his death.It was not uncommon for women to hold official positions and own property during the times of Hatshepsut’s reign but still Hatshepsut did take several actions to make her accession to the throne even more acceptable for instance for the priests that had much power back then.
She dressed up in male clothing and is known to even wear an false beard. She did not hesitate to declare herself near godlike, telling stories about the gods talking to her while she was still in her mother’s womb. Hatshepsut even made up a story about the god Amon-Ra visiting her pregnant mother while she was at Deir el-Bahri in the Valley of the Kings.
Furthermore, Hatshepsut wanted to be called king and be addressed as “his” majesty. She also wanted to rule as a king refusing to be outdone by previous kings.
Egypt did not go to battle during Hatshepsut’s rule, only minor skirmishes occurred on the borders of Egypt. But she expanded the trade routes, renewed trading with Punt and she initiated and encouraged free trading with other countries. Besides that Hatshepsut believed Egypt should withdraw from the outside world and stay clear of the political unrest that was upsetting the middle east that time. The priests of Amon shared Hatshepsut’s ideas making it more easy for her to stay in power. With the support of the priesthood it was possible for Hatshepsut to have a peaceful and prosperous reign.
Like many other rulers of ancient Egypt, Hatshepsut was a great builder that has left us many monuments. Ineni who also worked for her father, brother and the royal steward Senemut was her architect. Statuary that have been created during Hatshepsut’s reign can be found in museums all over the world. Not only did Hatshepsut construct monuments at the temple of Karnak, she also restored the Precinct of Mut at Karnak. Hatshepsut also had a masterpiece when it comes to building projects: her own mortuary temple build in a complex at Deir el-Bahri. It was designed by Senemut and the first complex to be build on the location that later would be known as the Valley of the Kings.
Some believe there was some kind of romantic relationship between Hatshepsut and Senemut. There are several reasons to take the option of a relationship in consideration. First of all, the finding of graffiti in a unfinished tomb that has been used by workers while building the Deir el Bahri tomb. A picture found there shows two figures, presumably Hatshepsut and Senemut, having sexual intercourse. Others think both figures in the drawing are male and see the missing of breast as prove of this. They also argue that the long hair of one of the shown figures can also have been a wig.
Secondly, Senemut’s name and image can be found inscribed behind one of the doors in Djeser-Djeseru. This is no solid prove of a romantic relationship between the two because Senemut can easily have done this without Hatshepsut approving or even knowing about this.
Last possible indication of a romantic relationship between Hatshepsut and Senemut could be the existence of two tombs near Hatshepsut’s tomb, but one must bear in mind this was not an uncommon thing to do concerning close advisors.
Hatshepsut’s reign came to a sudden end, according to Manetho Hatshepsut dies the 9th month of the 22nd year as queen but the cause of her death is still unknown. She could have died a natural death but some think it is also possible Thutmose III poisoned her to gain power. Computer tomography recently performed on what is thought to be her mummy, indicates that while being in her mid-fifties she died of a blood infection. If we are correct in thinking this mummy belongs to Hatshepsut, then she also suffered from arthritis, had bad teeth and on top of that possibly had diabetes.
Nefertiti, her name meaning “The beautiful one has come”, was the Great Royal Wife of King Akhenaten and under the name Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti ( The Aten is radiant of radiance because the Beautiful has arrived) she might have had a co-regency over Egypt together with her husband.
It is not exactly known when Nefertiti was born, nor when she died. Guesses are she was born around 1370BC and died 40 years later, around 1330BC.
Nefertiti gave birth to six daughters: Meritaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaten, Neferneferuaten Tasherit, Neferneferure and Setepenre. Ankhesenpaten, also known as Ankhesenamen, would get married to her half-brother Tutankhamum.
Although not for sure, Nefertiti is thought of as being the daughter of the army-officer and close advisor of the king, Ay who would become king of Egypt himself after the death of Tutankhamun. Nefertiti’s mother is unknown, Ay’s chief wife Tey has never been revered to as being “Royal mother of the chief wife of the king” so she can be ruled out as being mother of Nefertiti.
Together with Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) Nefertiti started the Aten-cult that worshipped the “only true god” Aten.
If we look at representations of Nefertiti and Akhenaten we can see there was true love between the two, often they are depicted as a happy, loving couple with their children playing around them. At times Akhenaten and Nefertiti are even shown kissing in public.
Although Akhenaten is generally seen as the father of early monotheism and the driving force behind the Aten-cult, Nefertiti had a mayor role during the Amarna period. She was a strong believer in the god Aten and even had a position as a priest. There are even some that say that not Akhenaten initiated the transition to monotheistic religion but it was Nefertiti who started it all.
During the 14th year of Akhenaten’s reign Nefertiti suddenly disappears. Had the most beautiful Queen that ever existed fallen out of grace or did something else happen?
Some think Nefertiti was killed by a plague or died a natural death but until this date it is not clear what happened to her. There are theories that suggest Nefertiti changed her name (first to Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten and later to Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare) and ruled over Egypt for a short time after the death of Akhenaten but as said, this is only a theory.
As little as is known about what happened to Nefertiti even less is known of what has become of her remains. Joan Fletcher, archaeologist and consultant Egyptologist for Harrogate Museums and Arts, said that one of the anonymous mummies found in KV35 in the Valley of the Kings could well be that of Nefertiti. Funded by the Discovery Channel, Dr. Fletcher was able to undertake a expedition to identify the mummy as being that of Nefertiti. (Nefertiti resurrected)
Many of the claims made by Dr.Fletcher are disputed by most Egyptologists for being unfounded. Dr. Zahi Hawass even goes as far to doubt the fact that the mummy pointed out by Dr. Fletcher as being that of Nefertiti is even female and stating Dr. Fletcher has “broken the rules” and therefore must be denied of the right to work in Egypt. Strangely enough Dr. Hawass himself is not consequent when it comes to the gender of the mummy, there have been occasions where he stated the mummy is female but also occasions where Dr. Hawass says the mummy is male. Until this date the mummy this famous Queen of ancient Egypt has not been found.
Reign: 1191 – 1190 BC (last queen of the 19th Dynastie)
Year of death: 1190 BC
Tomb: KV14 (also tomb of Seknakhte)
Twosret (Tawosret, Tausret) was the last ruler of the 19th Dynasty
When Seti II died after a reign of almost 6 years his son Saptah (Siptah) succeeded him. Saptah was not a child of queen Twosret, who is not known of having any children, but a child of Seti II and a Syrian concubine named Sutaila. Saptah was a sick young boy suffering from a atrophied leg that was caused by poliomyelitis. Therefore Twosret kept the title “great royal wife” and acted as regent on behalf of her stepson.
Although Twosret was looked upon as ruling queen of Egypt, she wasn’t the only one to have power over the throne. Bay, a Syrian, who was described as being “chancellor of the entire land” seems to have been the true ruler of Egypt in this period. The fact that Bay had been given permission to build a tomb (KV13) in the Valley of the Kings shows that he was a very important person for some time.
But according to information found in IFAO 1864, consisting of two inscribed potsherd fragments, “the great enemy Bay” is executed on the kings orders on year 5 III Shemu the 27th. This is the reason for Bay was not buried in dignity but a traitors fate was his share and his then unfinished tomb later got used by Menthuherkhepeshef, a son of Rameses IX.
When Saptah dies during the sixth year of his reign, Twosret becomes the sole ruler over Egypt for another two years.
It was a civil war that brought Twosret’s reign to an end but it is unsure if she died and was overthrown during that war or if she died a peacefully.
With the death of Twosret, the third queen of the New Kingdom after Hatshepsut and Nefertiti, the 19th Dynasty came to an end.
Cleopatra VII Philopator.
Reign: 51 – 30 BC
Father: Ptolemy XII
Mother: Unknown but some say Cleopatra V Tryphaena could have been her mother.
Consort: Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator, Ptolemy XIV, Gaius Julius Caesar (unofficially) and Marcus Antonius
Children: Ptolemy Caesar (Caesarion), Alexander Helios, Cleopatra Celene II and Ptolemy Philadelphus
Predecessor: Ptolemy XII (Ptolemy Auletes)
Sucessor: None, after her death Egypt became a Roman province.
Death: August 12, 30 BC
Burial place: Unknown
Queen Cleopatra VII Philopator, better known as simply queen Cleopatra by most people, was the last ruler of ancient Egypt. Cleopatra was born 69 BC and had two older sisters, Cleopatra VI Tryphaena and Bernice IV. During the reign of Ptolemy XII Cleopatra VI becomes very powerful and takes over the throne from her father who, together with Cleopatra VII, flees to Rome to seek help with regaining the rule over Egypt. While they are in Rome Cleopatra VI dies mysteriously, possibly poisoned by Berenice IV who seizes power and becomes the Queen of Egypt.
The reign of Berenice IV was a short one, lasting only two years. In 55 BC, with the help of the Romans led by Aulus Gabinius, Ptolemy XII regains power and has Berenice IV beheaded.
51 BC Ptolemy XII dies. Dictated by ancient Egyptian rule and tradition Cleopatra marries her, then twelve year old brother Ptolemy XIII, and starts a co-regency with him. Over the next three years Cleopatra becomes increasingly important as queen over Egypt, much to the dislike of Ptolemy XIII and Pothinus who together force her to flee to Syria.
In the meantime there is a battle for power ongoing in Rome between Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great). Pompeius turns to Ptolemy XIII for refuge but is stabbed to death by his betrayers Achillas, Septimius and Salvius on the shores of Egypt under the eyes of his wife and children. Hoping to gain Caesars favor on his arrival, Ptolemy XIII presented him the head of the murdered Pompeius but Caesar was disgusted by this act and ordered Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus to be given a burial worthy of his status.
While Caesar stayed at the house of Ptolemy XIII he was well guarded and there was no way for Cleopatra to get passed these guards. So in an effort to get to Ceasar, Cleopatra let herself to be rolled up in a carpet and be brought to him. When she successfully reached Caesars room she seduced him and convinced him to proclaim her Queen of Egypt again.
Ptolemy XIII allied with Arsinoe IV and in an effort to regain power, they battled against Caesar and the forces in favor of Cleopatra. This battle took place inside Alexandria and caused the destruction of almost 1/3 of the library present there.
Ptolemy XIII lost and had to flee. While on the run on January 13, 47 BC he comes to his end by drowning in the river Nile while attempting to cross it.
With Ptolemy XIII out of the way and the support of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra regained her power over Egypt but had to marry her 11 year old brother Ptolemy XIV to keep the Alexandrians and the priests happy.
Although married to her yournger brother, Cleopatra and Caesar had an affair resulting in the birth of a son, Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar (Caesarion). Ceasar at that time did not accept Ceasarion as his son, instead he adopted Gaius Octavius Thurinus (Octavian), the natural son of Gaius Octavius and Atia Balba Caesonia and made him his rightful heir.
Just before Cleopatra gives birth to Caesarion, Caesar returns to Rome to accept a ten year long dictatorship. Even though his relationship with Cleopatra is not accepted by the Romans because of the fact Ceasar is already married to Calpurnia Pisonis he builds a statue of Cleopatra depicting the god Isis.
To make matters even worse, Cleopatra visits Rome together with Ptolemy XIV and Caesarion and stays in one of Caesars country houses. At this time Caesar openly admits that Caesarion is his and Cleopatra’s son and regardless the Roman laws against bigamy and marriages with foreigners he announces he is planning to marry the Egyptian queen.
This is too much for his political opponents and with Cleopatra still in Rome Caesar is assassinated leaving Rome in political turmoil.
In his will Caesar leaves all his assets to Octavian and does not even mention Caesarion. Cleopatra feels threatened and flees Rome to return to Alexandria with her son.
After Caesars death the Roman empire is split between Octavian, Marcus Antonius (a Roman politician and general) and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, a Roman Patrician. Marcus Antonius gets the eastern part of the empire and with this Egypt.
Marcus Antonius only had weak strategic and diplomatic abilities and being a heavy drinker and womanizer he was an easy prey for the clever and manipulative Cleopatra. In October 41 BC Marcus Antonius summons Cleopatra to Tarsus, a historical city in south central Turkey and forms an alliance with her. Even though he is married to Fulvia (Fulvia Flacca Bambula), Marcus Antonius starts an affair with Cleopatra. The “couple” returns to Alexandria to stay there during the winter of 41 – 40 BC and Cleopatra gives birth to the twins Cleopatra Selene II and Alexander Helios.
Early 40 BC, Marcus Antonius has to return to Rome because his wife on his behalf is in civil strife with Octavian and gets exiled to Sicyon. While Marcus Antonius is on his way to Sicyon to meet up with her she dies.
Shortly after that Marcus Antonius makes peace with Octavian and marries his younger sister Octavia Minor. This is nothing more than a political marriage and there is no love between the two.
Four years later Marcus Antonius returns to Alexandria and his lover Cleopatra. Despite of his marriage to Octavia Minor, Marcus Antonius marries Cleopatra and together they have another child; a son by the name of Ptolemy Philadelphus.
Marcus Antonius’s behavior disturbs Octavian who even sees it as a threat to the stability of the Roman empire and in the year 31 BC he declares war on Egypt. The armies of Marcus Antonius and Octavian fight each other in a sea-battle near the coast of Greece. A large part of Marcus Antonius army deserted to Octavian’s army leading to the defeat of Marcus Antonius who flees to Alexandria.
With Octavian at the gates of Alexandria demanding their surrender Cleopatra convinces Marcus Antonius to commit suicide together. Tricked into believing Cleopatra killed herself Marcus Antonius committed suicide by falling onto his own sword.
Cleopatra tries to win the favor of Octavian but quickly it comes clear to her the only thing he is interested in is parading her through the streets of Rome as prove of his victory over Egypt.
Now knowing this Cleopatra decides to commit suicide too, some say by the bite of a asp (an Egyptian cobra) but other say she took her life by drinking a mixture of potions.
Cleopatra VII died on the 12th of August 30 BC at the age of 39 and by her death Egypt lost its last queen and ruler and became a province of the Roman empire.
(The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, p159, The middle Kingdom Renaissance – Gae Callender)
Nefertiti on Wikipedia.
Queen Nefertiti of Egypt.
The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (Ian Shaw)
Nefertete, een archeologische biografie (Philipp Vandenberg)
Twosret on Wikipedia.