Ancient Egyptian Female Pharaohs

MERYT-NEITH (1st Dynasty c.3000 BC)
Meryt-Neith is believed to have ruled at the start of the dynastic period, possibly the third ruler of the dynasty, and is known principally for her funerary monuments. Her reign lasted less than three years. Her name means 'Beloved of the Goddess Neith' and she has a funerary monument and solar boat at Sakkara. This boat would enable her spirit to travel to the Afterlife, a honour reserved only for a king. She also has another funerary tomb at Abydos. Both these tombs are surrounded by over fifty graves of attendants and servants, demonstrating that she was buried with the power of a king and was full honours of a powerful ruler.

NITOCRIS (6th Dynasty 2148-44 BC)
Nitocris came to the throne during much dispute, when there was no apparent male heir. But she has become entangled with romantic legend and myth, so much so, that very little true facts are known about her reign. She would be remembered later in Egyptian history as 'The bravest and most beautiful woman of her time'. No structures were commissioned by her and she is left unmentioned in many Egyptian records. She is, however, referred to in the Turin King-list, by the Greek traveller Herodotos who wrote that she caused the deaths of hundreds of Egyptians in revenge for the killing of her brother, the king. This was done by inviting all those guilt of his murder to a banquet then, when the party was in full swing, she opened flood gates and let the River Nile in on them, drowning them all. According to legend she then flung herself into a room of ashes to escape her punishment. Again, her reign lasted less than three years.

SOBEKNOFRU (Neferusobek) (12th Dynasty ?1767-1759 BC)
Sobeknofru ruled only briefly at a time of civil unrest, followed by a period of anarchy. Monuments which record the troubled times have allowed Egyptologist to piece together her reign. Manetho states she was probably the sister of Ammenemes, whom she succeeded and he tells us that her reign lasted for 3 years and 10 months. She is mentioned in the Turin 'List of Kings' and is mentioned at Karnak Temple (Luxor) and Saqqara (near Cairo). Portraits show her wearing the royal head cloth and kilt over her female attire, a way of declaring that she is as fit to rule as any man.

HATSHEPSUT (18th Dynasty c.1473-1458 BC)
Hatshepsut was one of the most important female pharaohs of Egypt. She ruled during the early part of the 18th Dynasty, an exciting time known as the ‘Golden Age of Egypt’ that includes many of the best known pharaohs and queens, including King Tutankhamen, Amenhotep, Tiye, Akhenaton and Nefertiti. There are problems pinpointing the actual date of her reign with the following all being possible: 1504-1482, 1488-1468, 1479-1457, and 1473-1458 B.C
Hatshepsut was the daughter of Thutmose I and Queen Ahmose. Upon the death of her father his son Thutmose II succeeded him and, as was the custom, he married his stepsister, Hatshepsut, in order to preserve the royal blood line. When Thutmose II also died, his son Thutmose III became Pharaoh. However as the new pharaoh was a minor, Hatshepsut stepped in as his guardian and a co-regency was formed. This lasted approximately a year before Hatshepsut took fully control and appointed herself Pharaoh. In order to legitimise her role she used a number of strategies, including having herself depicted as a man wearing the traditional regalia of the pharaohs, including false beard, the head cloth with uraeus (cobra), royal flail and crook, the crown of two lands and kilt. She also claimed that the god Amun-Ra had visited her mother whilst pregnant proclaiming that it was the will of the god that Hatshepsut be Pharaoh, which effectively made her a divine child. During her very successful fifteen-year reign Hatshepsut’s trade expeditions were ground breaking and her building work was on a scale that had never been seen before. She initiated a number of impressive projects, including her superb funerary temple at Deir el-Bahari and several structures at Karnak and Luxor Temples. In fact, it’s quite possible that she was the founder of the latter. Yet another remarkable achievement was the transportation of two huge granite obelisks on the River Nile from Aswan to the Temple of Karnak.
During her sovereignty Hatshepsut mounted at least one military campaign but perhaps her greatest achievement was the expedition that she orchestrated to the Land of Punt, which is recorded on the walls of her mortuary temple. Amongst other things it shows ebony, ivory, myrrh saplings, animal skins, incense, gold, perfumes and exotic animals being brought back from Punt, a land believed to have been located near the Red Sea and present-day Somalia. Unlike the warlike temperament of many of her 18th dynasty counterparts Hatshepsut devoted herself to administration, the encouragement of commerce and trade and will be forever immortalised by the illustrations at Deir el Bahri that are said to be so exquisitely detailed that even fish species can be identified from the drawings.
Even though Hatshepsut was a powerful and admirable woman who increased her country’s wealth and brought great stability to Egypt she mysteriously disappears around 1458 BC, when Thutmose III regained his title as Pharaoh. It’s thought by many scholars that her stepson despised Hatshepsut for keeping him from the throne and ordered all reference to her be wiped from Egyptian history by defiling her images, smashing her statues and removing her mummy from its tomb. Because of this Hatshepsut's name was nearly lost to the annals of history. Although her grandfather, father, husband and stepson mummies have all been found, Hatshepsut’s mummy has never been positively identified and remains one of Egypt’s many mysteries yet to be resolved.

Hatshepset's MUmmy Found??? (Not sure)
The tomb was documented by Belzoni but it was the English archaeologist Howard Carter who first excavated Hatshepsut's tomb (KV20) whilst working at the Valley of the Kings in 1902. But it wasn’t until 1920 that he decided to properly explore its interior which resulted in the discovery of two sarcophagi, one for Hatshepsut and the second for her father, both of which were empty. In 1903 he had also found and opened a separate tomb now known as KV60, where he found coffins of mummified geese and the partially disturbed and decaying coffins of two women lying side by side. One bore the inscription of Sitre-In, Hatshepsut's wet nurse, the other was anonymous. As the tomb was not deemed to be Royal it received little attention until Egyptologist Donald Ryan reopened it in 1989. The sarcophagus marked with the name of the wet nurse was taken to Cairo museum, and the second unnamed sarcophagus remained behind. In 2007 Egyptian Egyptologist Mr Hawass reopened the tomb for a Discovery television special and the remaining sarcophagus which taken to Cairo for a CT scan. The scan revealed that this mummy was an obese woman aged between 45 and 60, who had suffered with bad teeth and diabetes. It was determined that she had died from cancer, evidence of which could be seen in the pelvic region and spine, indicating that it had spread throughout her body. The scanner was also used to examine artefacts associated with the queen. One of those was a small wooden box that bore the cartouche, or royal seal, of Hatshepsut and contained a liver and tooth. Egyptian dentist Galal El-Beheri studied the scans of the tooth and noted that the fat lady from KV-60 was also missing a tooth and that the hole left behind and the type of tooth that was missing was an exact match for the loose one in the box. It was determined that the molar tooth in the box fitted within a fraction of a millimetre within the space of the missing molar in the mouth of the mummy. Speculation was also fuelled by the fact the mummy's left arm was bent in a pose thought to mark royal burials and it wore a wooden face-piece. Mr Hawass believes that the mummy in KV-60 is that of Hatshepsut and has been quoted as saying, "We are 100 percent sure that the mummy is Hatshepsut" In order to verify the identification a DNA laboratory was set up close to the Cairo museum funded by The Discovery Channel. However some archaeologists have expressed scepticism about the possibility of using DNA technology to identify the queen, including US molecular biologist Scott Woodward who was quoted as saying, "It's a very difficult process to obtain DNA from a mummy. To make a claim as to a relationship, you need other individuals from which you have obtained DNA to make a comparison between the DNA sequences." Also other Egyptologists did not see the left arm on the chest as a royal characteristic, including Dr. Bard of Boston University who said that royal mummies were usually laid out with both hands crossed at the chest. It should be noted that at the time of completing the documentary the DNA evidence had not been conclusive and further DNA investigation has still not been published (May 2010). It has to be said that there is some secrecy surrounding Egypt's DNA testing as they are very reluctance to share or publish the results. Dr Hawass is also unwilling to have the results double checked by other DNA laboratories elsewhere in in the world and has been quoted as saying that the DNA of Egyptian mummies can only be tested by the Egyptians themselves. So far, the science shown in the Discovery Channel's television special "Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen" has not been published in a reputable peer-reviewed scientific journal — the gold standard of scientific research worldwide. Egypt also lacks an independent second lab to review the testing. Before any DNA results can be published in a scientific journal, the Egyptian Museum lab must have its initial findings duplicate by an independent lab. The ancient-DNA world goes by a very stringent set of criteria, one of which is replication by an independent lab. If you don't do this, particularly with something so important, then no peer review journal will publish it. And if you don't get it published, then as a scientist you haven't achieved anything.

In conclusion: Mummy identification is a very tricky job and it can be very difficult to positively ID a mummy solely from the sarcophagi or nearby funerary objects, especially with the regular shifting of royal mummies in ancient times in order to protect them from tomb robbers. Also as long as Egyptian Egyptologists continue to refuse to let other reputable teams of international scientists examine their results then any claims to mummy identification will be less than meaningful.

NEFERTITI (18th Dynasty c.1336 BC)
Nefertiti was the beautiful wife of Pharaoh Akhenaton who was also known as Amenophis IV and the Heritic king. They couple reigned for 17 years toward the end of the so-called Amarna period. A famous sculptured head of Nefertiti was found at Amarna, which showed her remarkable beauty. She was actively involved in her husband's revolutionary policies and is often shown wearing kingly regalia and officiating at his side. It is believed that after the death of Akhenaten she ruled independently around 1336 BC. Although this is by no means certain and I have only inlcuded her name here as a possible female pharaoh, not a certainty.

TWOSRET (Tausert) (19th Dynasty c.1187-1185 BC)
As with Nitocris and Sobeknofru above, Twosret's reign was during troubled times and lasted less than three years. She was the last Pharaoh of the 19th dynasty. Twosret was the wife of Seti II and even though she was not his first wife it’s believed he loved her so much that that he ordered her tomb to be built in the Valley of the Kings; an honour given to very few queens. Again the evidence is sketchy, however the general consensus is that upon the death of her husband Queen Twosret became co-regent with the king's young son, Siptah, born to another of Seti’s wives. Then some six years later around 1190 BC Siptah died and in the absence of an acceptable male heir, Twosret ascended to the throne proclaiming herself Pharaoh. Due to her new royal status work began immediately to widen the existing tomb to the proper dimensions fit for a king, including the entrance and corridors that needed to be enlarged to accommodate the size of what was now to be a king’s coffin.

It was over one thousand years after Twosret, during the Ptolemaic period, that Cleopatra reigned as Pharaoh. However, as the Ptolemaic kings were essentially Greek invaders, Cleopatra, unlike those mentioned above, was not of true Egyptian lineage. Descended from Macedonians, who had ruled Egypt ever since the death of Alexander the Great, some 250 years earlier, Cleopatra VII was born to Ptolemy XII in 69 B.C. She came to the throne when she was just 17 year old in 51 B.C. It's thought that she ruled jointly with her father, then after he died, with her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII. It is said that Cleopatra captivated Julius Caesar (Roman) when he came to Alexandria and in order to assume sole power over Egypt she asked for Julius Caesar's help, which he willingly gave. However their relationship was doomed and when her liaison with Mark Anthony, another powerful roman, also ended disastrously, Cleopatra, also known as the "Queen of the Nile." famously committed suicide in 30 BC. Not only was Cleopatra the last female to be called pharaoh, her demise also brought to an end 3,000 years of dynastic rule.

Almost certainly, these female Pharaohs were all of royal blood and were at one time queen-consort to their husbands. It is also believed that most of them did not produce heirs and therefore, upon the death of their husbands/brothers/fathers, they ascended to the throne.

Being a royal woman in Ancient Egypt obviously did not exclude you from the throne, unlike the vast majority of kingdoms at that time. Women in Ancient Egypt had great advantages over their contemporaries in other cultures, such as Mesopotamia and Greece. Egyptian women were allowed to own property and hold official positions. Women could also inherit their wealth and take any disputes to court and defend their legal rights. As Heroditus, a famous Greek historian pointed out, much to his horror, that Egyptian women were free to move about in public, unlike her Greece counterpart who were confined to her home. However, it is general regarded that if a woman did become pharaoh it was most likely because she had the backing of some very influential men upon whom she relied to help her maintain power.

BBC History - Egyptian Women

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