Positive Progress Through The Benevolent Use Of Knowledge

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

First Queens of Africa

Spirit of Sankofa writes........

This is one of the rare opportunities to post information not commonly known.
Often times, when we hear of queens of Africa, only a few comes to mind. Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Hatshephat and maybe Nefartari.
Their bloodline was important to show their right to heritage. Which is a matter of importance to any culture of people today.
Know Thyself

The First Queens

Predynastic Period: No name known.

1st Dynasty: Nithotep, Bener-ib, Herneith, Merneith, Betrest.

2nd Dynasty: Nemaathap.

These names to us are not more than names indicating that once there was a woman behind it. Nothing of their personal life or belongings, except for Merneith, has come down to us, an no knowledge is availabe of how they lived, how their station i life was carried out, how many children they had or how long they lived. In most cases not even their tombs are left. Yet we know that they were of some importance as wifes to kings and rather likely they were also mothers to kings. Already at this early period, the bloodline was important to show the right to heritage of the kingship and descent on the female side was what counted. The naming of the Royal Mothers have helped to throw some light over the first dynasties though when it comes to individual lifes we are left to speculations, perhaps with the background knowledge from later periods of woman and her conditions in ancient Egypt.

1st Dynasty:

Nithotep (Neithotep)
This is the name of the wife of King Aha or Narmer. Once a lady of importance - perhaps the first queen of a united Egypt to ever have come down through history. The name Nithotep is spelled in various ways: NeithHotep, N-th-t-p, Nithetep - all of them indicating Nit as the aim of the devotions.

Her tomb, originally thought to belong to the mythical Menes, but later acknowledged as belonging to the mother of Aha, was found at Naqada. There has been some speculations if she was from Lower Egypt, as indicated by the name, Nit being a deity from there, and married Narmer for political reasons. Nothing has been found to support this theory. As she most likely buried at Naqada, it might be that she originated from there and that Narmer married her to secure an alliance with this important location in Upper Egypt.

All we know of this lady is that on the Cairo Annals Stone*, she is said to be the mother of Djer.

The form of the name Bener-ib is somewhat uncertain but a fragment of ivory from a box links her with King Aha, the first king of the 1st Dynasty, c 3100 BC. That is all we know about her.

Herneith stands out a little due to her immense tomb at Saqqara, which show some special architectural features. Also, differing from other royal and noble burials at this period, there were no sacrificial burials alongside of her. Only her dog was found lying across the threshold. It was of the same breed which later in history followed kings and leaders of Egypt. Herneith is believed to have been the wife of King Djer, c3000 BC.

Nakhtneith is only known form a stela from the funerary complex of Djer at Umm-el-Qaab.

MerNeith - First Female Ruler?

Queen MeritNit deserves a bit of attention. The spelling of her name varies; MerytNeith, MerNeith. She must have been a significant woman in Dynasty 1, c 2950 b.c., as she was given a funerary structure at the Royal funerary enclosure at Abedjou as well as funerary monument at Sakkara. She is also the very first woman in the history of ancient Egypt recorded as regent.

MeritNit or MerNeith, meaning Beloved of Nit , (Gr: Neith) was probably, though not proven, daughter to King Djer, the second king of the 1st Dynasty. She was also the Great Royal Wife ( that is queen, though that word does not exist in ancient Egyptian) of King Djet and the mother of King Den.

After the death of Djet, whose rule seems to have been short, it is believed that MeritNit reigned for a period while her son Den was too young.

The tomb of MeritNit was first excavated by William Petrie in 1900, who believed he had found the tomb of a king. Two large funerary stelae with the name of MeritNit (MerNeith) in raised relief, though not within a serekh were found nearby, and its structure corresponded to the other royal tombs in the enclosure. It consisted of a central burial chamber surrounded by eight store rooms. Around this structure over 40 subsidiary tombs were found. Many of those buried there seem to have been in her service, due to the content. Her shipmaker, her vasemaker and her artists were among those found here.

Though her name was first thought to be that of a king´s, it was later found engraved on a clay sealing in the tomb of Den as "King´s Mother MerNeit" (MwtNiswt). The seal states the kings from Narmer to Den and confirmes her status. It is somehow uncertain if she ruled in actual fact, since her name is not found on another clay seal listing of early rulers, which was found in the tomb of Qa´a, who reigned several kings later. The King´s Mother was an important position already in this early period, and brought a great deal of influence.

It was customary for the early dynastic rulers to have two funerary monuments, one for the actual tomb, the other one functioning as a cenotaph. MeritNit is sofar the only woman to have been commemorated in this way. At her funerary monument at Saqqara there were burials of various craftsmen intended to work for her in the Afterlife, as well as a solar boat to enable her to travel with the Sungod in the Afterlife. This last was normally exclusively the right of the King and it indicates that she may very well have been a regent or co-regent. At the least, she must have been a very influential and powerful woman.

Apart from this, evidence of MeritNit outside of Abydos is scarce except for at Saqqara. One explanation for this could be that all documents from her period of regency bore the name of the king, which in this case was her young son, Den. But there exists an unprovenanced alabaster cylinder vessel with her name in relief, and one small ivory vessel from Saqqara, also bearing her name. From same area are also three other named vessel fragments. Her name, MeritNit, meaning Beloved of Nit, indicates that she must have had some power in Lower Egypt, where the cult center of Nit was located at Sais. Here Nit was a deity of great importance ever since Predynastic times, with a dominant influence at court since several royal names from these periods are formed in combination with the deity´s.

Another name which is uncertain, though she is thought to have been the wife of King Anedjib, c 2925 BC., the next to last king of the 1st Dynasty, and the mother of King Semerkhet, with whom the 1st Dynasty ended.

Her names is on a stela from a tomb in the funerary complex of Den at Umm-el-Qaab.

Same thing here, Semat is only known from a stela in a tomb at the funerary complex of Den at Umm-el-Qaab.

Same thing again, known from a stela in a tomb at the funerary complex of Den at Umm-el-Qaab.

Batirytes is named on the Cairo Annals Stone as the mother of king Semerkhet.

2nd Dynasty: Nemaathap

Nemaathap is thought to be both the daughter and the wife of Khasekhemwy, c. 2686 BC. as she is named on several sealings from his funerary complex at Abydos and also from a tomb at Beit Khallaf. Titled 'Mother of the King´s Children', she was the mother of Djoser Netjerikhet in the 3rd Dynasty. A cult in her honor was still maintained during Sneferu and was referred to in the tomb of Metjen at Saqqara.

Cairo Annals Stone: Belongs to the collection of inscribed, stone fragments known as the royal annals and which is divided between museums in Palermo, Cairo and London.

Sources: Early Dynastic Egypt - Toby A.H. Wilkinson
Chronicles of The Pharaohs - Peter A. Clayton
Daughters of Isis - Joyce Tyldesley
Who´s Who in Ancient Egypt - Michael Rice
Aegypten, die Welt der Pharaonen - Stephan Seidlmeyer (article)

Historic Overview

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