Egyptian Queens: The Royal Harem
In the private sections of the Royal Household were quarters devoted purely to the women of the Palace, including the first Queen, lesser wives and concubines. The ancient Egyptian word, which commonly referred to this part of the Palace, was ipet or per-khemret, which is often translated into, ‘harem’.
It would perhaps be more accurate to translate ipet or per-khemret into ‘private rooms or apartments’, as opposed to the more public parts of a Palace where business was carried out.
Presiding over all proceedings of the household would be the first queen, who was most likely to be of Royal birth, sometimes a half or full sister to Pharaoh. She would have also been a woman of considerable personal wealth, influence, and, as the wife of the living god on earth, highly privileged.
Surviving texts describe ‘harems’ as important economic organisations that received regular supplies of rations and were governed very much as a business. They were obviously powerful and independent establishments, both physically and economically, and it is not surprising that occasionally they would become involved in political intrigue.
One account of ‘harem treachery’ involved the Pharaoh Ramses III (1184-1153 BC). It was devised by one of his lesser wives, Tiye who planned to dispose of the king before installing her son onto the throne. The details of the trial have been handed down nearly complete in the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, which was translated by M. Le Page Renouf. The fate of Tiye is not recorded on the surviving papyri but it is known that many were forced to commit suicide.
It is obvious that the Egyptian queens royal harem was an integral part of the
palace’s economy and stability. And sometimes a place of serious intrigue.