Nefertari – for whom the sun does shine…

I promised this a few weeks back and now it’s the time for me to cash in on that promise. As March is Women’s History month it seems appt to write about one of my favourite ancient women. This week’s blog is all about Nefertari Royal Wife of Ramesses II otherwise known as Ramesses the Great a woman who played an active role in ancient Egyptian society at large and her countries foreign relations. Her tomb in the Valley of the Queens is also considered one of the finest tombs created in Ancient Egypt.

Marriage and Children

Figure 1: Knob with the cartouche of Pharaoh Ay S. 5162  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0166571

Nefertari, or by her full name Nefertari Merytmut ( The Beautiful Companion, Beloved of Mut) married Ramesses II when he was the crown prince and both likey in their early teens. Her ancestry is unknown. Though some have speculated she was either the daughter or granddaughter of the Pharaoh Ay. This is based on an inscription from a faience knob head or pommel (Figure 1) in her tomb as, the throne name ‘Kheper-Kheperu-Ra’ which was connected to Ay was found[1]. The name Ay may be a familiar name to you as it was he who took the throne for a brief period after the death of Tutankhamun. However, some have argued that she was the daughter of a Theban noblemen as she does not hold the epithet ‘Daughter of the King’ instead she bares the title ‘Hereditary Noblewoman’. Which, in my opinion points strongly that she belonged to Theban nobility. If we follow that line of thinking it would make sense given broader Egyptian political history at the time. To marry a woman of that standing would be have been politically shrewd. The Ramesside clan was based in the Delta and had no blood ties with Egyptian royalty, classically based in Thebes. Their rise to social prominence occurred through military service under Pharaoh Horemheb. Horemheb died in 1307 B.C.E with no heir and designated his chief general, Parameses, as heir[2]. Assuming the throne Parameses changed the family name to Rameses, the name used by no less than eleven of his successors. What was probably a politically inspired union would, over time, blossom into an amorous relationship wherein Ramesses II celebrated his love for Nefertari with monuments and poetry dedicated to her honour.

“Rameses II has made a temple, excavated in the mountain of eternal workmanship in Nubia … for the king’s great wife Nefertari, beloved of Mut, forever and ever, … Nefertari … for whom the sun does shine”[3] Taken from the temple façade of Nefatari’s temple at Abu Simbel.

Ramesses II had eight wives, lived for over ninety years, and is estimated to have had around 100 children! 

Nefertari is always given preference by her husband and is said to have given birth to eight children- four sons and four daughters although there could be more. Of the known children they include; Prince Amun-her-khepeshef (crown prince /commander of the troops), Prince Pareherwenemef, Prince Meriatum (high priest of Heliopolis). Prince Meryre, Princess Meritamen, (chantress of Amun and priestess of Hathor) and Princess Henuttawy. Other daughters of Nefertari may also include Princesses named Bak(et)mut, Nefertari and Nebettawy as they are shown on the walls of her temple at Abu Simbel, but no clear connection has been found. She is given the title of King’s mother as part of her epithets. However, none of her male children outlived their father and so Merenptah is not a child of hers but of his second wife Isonofret[4].

Their marriage lasted for 24 years until her death in Ramesses’s 24th regnal year (ca.1255) around the age of about 40-50. She is shown by reliefs, attending the opening ceremony of the rock-cut temples of Abu Simbel but disappears after and is absent at the Sed-festival of Ramses II’s 30th regal year[5].  

Her tomb QV66 is one of the most spectacular tombs in the Valley of the Queens and was discovered by Ernesto Schiaparelli in 1904. The tomb of Nefertari, its brilliant images vividly depicting her voyage to the hereafter was looted in ancient times. So, only a few items remained intact including a pair of her sandals, some shabtis and fragments of jewellery (Fig 2 and 3). The paintings themselves on her tomb walls went through a massive modern restoration in 1986 by the Getty Institute but even now, her tomb is closed to help slow any adverse effects of human traffic. There are a few reconstructions online that are well worth a look.[6]

Figure 3 : Sandals of Nefertari S. 5160/01
http://collezioni.museoegizio.it/it-IT/material/S_5160_01/?description=&inventoryNumber=&title=&cgt=&yearFrom=&yearTo=&materials=&provenance=Valle+delle+Regine+%2f+tomba+di+Nefertari+(QV+66)&acquisition=&epoch=&dynasty=&pharaoh=

Nefertari At Home

Although the Egyptians did not have a word meaning ‘Queen’ to us in the modern world that is what we would consider Nefertari and others like her. Within the ranking of the kings wives that are three main type of ‘Queens’; The Great Royal Wife hemet nsw weret , the king’s mother mwt nesw and the Kings Wife hemet nsw [7].  

The title of Great Royal Wife appears to have been second only to the king in terms of political and religious hierarchy and often represented alongside him in monuments. This is true for Nefertari. The titles define her various roles as divine consort, queen, mother, and the scope of her expanding importance of queenship in the New Kingdom generally. Nefertari has twelve different title associated with her; [The one] to whom beauty pertains, Beloved of Mut, Kings Great Wife, Mother of the King, Gods Wife, Hereditary Noblewomen, Mistress of the two lands, Mistress of charm, sweetness and love, Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt, Who satisfies the gods, For whom the sun shines, great of favours and Pleasant in the twin plumes[8].

Figure 4: Tomb scene of Nebwenef showing his induction as Chief Priest of Amum by Ramesses II and Nefertari. https://www2.gko.uni-leipzig.de/aegyptologisches-institut/forschung/projekte/grab-des-neb-wenenef.html

From the outset of Ramesses II’s reign Nefertari seemed to have taken a more active role than those that came before. This is however, against the background of fundamental changes in the ideology of kingship, in the 18th Dynasty with the cultic and political significance of the queen gradually increased and was assimilated to the male ruler[9]. In year one of Ramesses’s reign, she is shown officiating with the king at the investiture of the new Chief Prophet of Amun, Nebwenef, a scene that is immortalized on Nebwenenef’s tomb (Figure 4). Another example of Nefertari shown actively involved in rituals comes from the rock shrine of Gebel el -Silsila, where she is shown ‘appeasing the gods’, a responsibility of the king alone in his capacity as the Chief Priest of Egypt. Furthermore, at the site she is also referred to as ‘mistress of the two lands, a title that, until this point, was normally used for kings[10]. Alongside this a scattering of other temple scenes show her involvement in religious ceremonies no clearer than those at Abu Simbel (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Nefertari is shown with Ramesses II, holding flowers and a sistrum at Abu Simbel http://museum.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/ImagingAncientEgyptAbuSimbel.pdf

A quick introduction to Abu Simbel. Abu Simbel is the site of two rock cut temples belonging to Ramesses II located about 250km south-east of Aswan. The larger of the two temples is dedication to Amun -Ra, Ra-Horakhty, Ptah and the defied Ramesses II (Figure 6) and the smaller rock cut temple dedicated to the defied Nefertari and Hathor of Ibshek[11]. Both temples had to be moved due to the rising waters of Lake Nasser resulting from the construction of the Aswan Dam a process that took from 1964-88 under a UNESCO initiative.

Figure 6: The Temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel, Authors Photo

Here the queen is shown making offerings before a local form of the cow-goddess Hathor, and Mut, Nefertari’s patron as reflected in her names. On either side of the temple entrance stands a colossus of Nefertari, flanked by colossi of her husband (Figure 7). The two statues of the queen are every bit as large as those of Ramesses. In the Egyptian artistic tradition, the scale of an image, signifies its relative importance; Kings are made larger than their wives, children, courtiers, subjects, or enemies. The representation of the pair like this puts them on an equal level to each other. Ramesses also took great care in taking any opportunity to literally stamp his name on to projects however the tone of this temple is more geared towards his wife rather than him.

Figure 7: The Temple of Nefertari at Abu Simble. Authors own photo

Nefertari Abroad

The influence of Nefertari also stretched outside of Egypt. Like Queens before her she had influence in foreign lands. This was mainly done through diplomatic correspondence, in the case of Nefertari her correspondences have been recorded on cuneiform tablets. A famous set of such cuneiform tablets come from Amarna and the Hittite capital, Hattusha. Queens featured among the correspondents include the dowager queens Ankhesenamun and Tiy; and regarding the Egyptian-Hittite treaty, Tuya and Nefertari[12].

Early in his reign, Ramesses II was at war with the Hittites, most famously coming to ahead at the Battle of Kadesh (1275 B.C.). The Hittites were a group to the north, an empire spread over modern-day Turkey and northern Syria led from their capital Hattusha (modern day Boghazköy). Nefertari wrote letters to the king and queen of the Hittites alongside sending gifts. In the letters she offers words of warmth and friendship to strength the bond that had just been created by the signing of the Hittite-Egyptian treaty ending 20 years of hostilities[13].

“Says Naptera [Nefertari], the great queen of Egypt to Padukhepa, the great queen of Hatti, my sister, thus. With you, my sister, may all be well, and with your country may all be well. Behold, I have noted that you, my sister, have written me enquiring after my wellbeing. And you have written me about the matter of peace and brotherhood between the great king of Egypt and his brother, the great king of Hatti. May the sun god [of Egypt [ and the storm god [of Haiti] bring you joy and may the sun god cause the peace to be good …. I in friendship and sisterly relation with the great queen [of Haiti] now and forever.”[14]

The treaty was not the only connection that these two powers shared. Nine years later, around the time of his 30-year jubilee, Ramesses and the Hittites decided to work for a closer, political alliance by proposing a marriage between the pharaoh and King Hattusilis III’s first born daughter whom upon their marriage took the name Maathorneferure[15].

With her death in around 1255 BCE Nefertari was laid to rest in her ‘house of eternity’ surrounded by beautiful objects and paintings, someone of the romantic persuasion would the care taken in her tomb is a reflection to Ramesses love for her. But there is one fact I always like to tell about Nefertari and it comes from her tomb. Within the tomb paintings of Nefertari she wears a few different styles of earrings; cobras, none , or her ears are covered by her headdress. But, in a lot of the scenes you see her wearing silver labrys earrings (labrys refers to an axe with a double head religiously significance to Crete[16]). These silver earrings where a gift from the Greeks. These earrings become then a true symbol of Nefertari’s reach and on a personal note she must have been very fond of them to want to wear them for all of eternity (Figure 8).  

Once again, I have written a long post this week, but I really have a fascination with this ancient woman don’t ask me why. I hope you have enjoyed this week’s topic even if there is a lot still left unsaid.   

Figure 8: A close up of Nefertari from her tomb showing her wearing her favourite silver axe shaped earrings. https://www.flickr.com/photos/manna4u/33148905553/in/photostream/

References


[1] Habicht ME, Bianucci R, Buckley SA, Fletcher J, Bouwman AS, Öhrström LM, et al. (2016) Queen Nefertari, the Royal Spouse of Pharaoh Ramses II: A Multidisciplinary Investigation of the Mummified Remains Found in Her Tomb (QV66). PLoS ONE 11(11): e0166571. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0166571

[2]  McDonald, John K. 1996. House of Eternity: The Tomb of Nefertari. Conservation and Cultural Heritage. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Conservation Institute and J. Paul Getty Museum. http://hdl.handle.net/10020/gci_pubs/house_eternity Page 15

[3] McDonald, John K. 1996. House of Eternity: The Tomb of Nefertari. Conservation and Cultural Heritage. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Conservation Institute and J. Paul Getty Museum. http://hdl.handle.net/10020/gci_pubs/house_eternity Page 16

[4] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ramses-II-king-of-Egypt/Prosperity-during-the-reign-of-Ramses-II Accessed 17.03.2021

[5] Habicht ME, Bianucci R, Buckley SA, Fletcher J, Bouwman AS, Öhrström LM, et al. (2016) Queen Nefertari, the Royal Spouse of Pharaoh Ramses II: A Multidisciplinary Investigation of the Mummified Remains Found in Her Tomb (QV66). PLoS ONE 11(11): e0166571. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0166571

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFUNLbEkC3c , https://www.osirisnet.net/3d-tours/qv66/index.php?en Accessed 17.03.2021

[7] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Page 267

[8] McDonald, John K. 1996. House of Eternity: The Tomb of Nefertari. Conservation and Cultural Heritage. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Conservation Institute and J. Paul Getty Museum. http://hdl.handle.net/10020/gci_pubs/house_eternity Page 17

[9] Roth, Silke, 2009, Queen. In Elizabeth Frood, Willeke Wendrich (eds.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles. http://digital2.library.ucla.edu/viewItem.do?ark=21198/zz001nf7cg  Page 4

[10] Heritage. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Conservation Institute and J. Paul Getty Museum. http://hdl.handle.net/10020/gci_pubs/house_eternity Page 16

[11] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press.  Page 12

[12] Roth, Silke, 2009, Queen. In Elizabeth Frood, Willeke Wendrich (eds.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles. http://digital2.library.ucla.edu/viewItem.do?ark=21198/zz001nf7cg Page 7

[13] McDonald, John K. 1996. House of Eternity: The Tomb of Nefertari. Conservation and Cultural Heritage. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Conservation Institute and J. Paul Getty Museum. http://hdl.handle.net/10020/gci_pubs/house_eternity Page 16

[14] McDonald, John K. 1996. House of Eternity: The Tomb of Nefertari. Conservation and Cultural Heritage. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Conservation Institute and J. Paul Getty Museum. http://hdl.handle.net/10020/gci_pubs/house_eternity Page 14

[15] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/world-history-magazine/article/ancient-egypt-ramses-pharaoh-hittite-royal-wedding Accessed 17.03.2021

[16] https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/labrys Accessed 18.03.2021

1 thought on “Nefertari – for whom the sun does shine…”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s