Friday, September 30, 2016

Hatshepsut, Cleopatra & the women who ruled Egypt before them

Mada Masr
Hatshepsut, Cleopatra and the women who ruled Egypt

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Jano Charbel

Ancient Egypt had female rulers sitting on the throne before the advent of the renowned Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled nearly 3,500 years ago, with some Egyptologists claiming one woman may have been a pharaoh around 5,000 years ago.

If this claim is accurate, Meryt Neith (or Merneith), who lived during ancient Egypt’s First Dynasty – sometime around 3,000-2,970 BC – may have been the world’s first female ruler, a title officially held by Kubaba, the Sumerian queen regnant, who is estimated to have lived and ruled sometime between 2,500-2,330 BC.

Besides this contentious claim, there are a handful of royal women who ruled ancient Egypt, and several others – mothers, wives and daughters – who shared the throne as co-rulers, queen consorts or queen regents. This typically transpired in cases where there was a crisis in designating a royal male as the heir and legitimate successor to the throne.

While Hatsepshut and Cleopatra are often referred to as being Egypt’s “female pharaohs,” Egyptologists insist the title isn’t correct.

“They should be known as women rulers, not pharaohs. Each one of these royal women’s historic conditions is different, and they held different official titles,” explains Monica Hanna, an associate professor of archaeology and cultural Heritage at the Arab Academy for Technology and Maritime Transport in Aswan.

Associate Professor in Egyptology at the American University in Cairo Mariam Ayad agrees, asserting that “pharaoh” is a Hellenized term derived from the ancient Egyptian “pr-aa,” which first appears in official records from the 19th Dynasty – circa 1,292-1,189 BC – and onwards.

“Female pharaoh” is a misnomer for ancient Egyptian “women who ruled in their own right. Some even had their own titles in the manner of kings,” she adds.

There are only about four or five royal women who assumed the throne as kings, Ayad says, and who thus served as the sole rulers of ancient Egypt. These women, with the exception of Hatshepsut, came to power when there were no male heirs. “There were queens who identified themselves as kings, such as Hatshepsut. She donned male regalia, costumes and even the king’s false beard to depict herself as king.”

But the female rulers of ancient Egypt were more than just royals who filled gaps in dynastic succession. Most contributed to construction work, served as unifying forces, engaged in historic acts of foreign diplomacy, led expeditions to foreign lands and perhaps also waged wars.

Hatshepsut is particularly known for her massive construction works that include temples, obelisks, statues and monuments. She also embarked on expeditions to the land of Punt – near present day Somalia – while Hanna says Cleopatra is internationally more renowned in Greek literature.

“Archaeological excavations have yet to shed further light on the full extent of the accomplishments of Hatshepsut, Cleopatra and the other historic female rulers of Egypt. In many cases, this evidence hasn’t yet been discovered,” Hanna adds.

Cleopatra is Egypt’s most well known female ruler, even though she wasn’t Egyptian, but ethnically Macedonian. “She is an integral part of Roman history. Her numerous affairs, her relations and links to powerful men, along with her diplomacy and warfare are also widely featured in modern media,” Ayad says.

The five women who are assumed to have ruled ancient Egypt as kings, according to Ayad, include: Nitocris of the Sixth Dynasty, who lived and ruled approximately 4,200 years ago; Sobekneferu of the 12th Dynasty, 3,800 years ago; Hatshepsut of the 18th Dynasty, over 3,400 years ago; Queen Nefertiti of the 18th Dynasty, who may have assumed a male name and male regalia after her husband’s death, possibly ruling alone for a few years following the death of Akhenaton, her husband, around 3,300 years ago; and Tawosret of the 19th Dynasty, around 3,200 years ago.

Yet, according to Hanna’s count, there may be as many as eight women who were the sole rulers of Egypt at various moments. In addition to the five Ayad mentions and Meryt Neith of the First Dynasty, who may have reigned nearly 5,000 years ago, there are the female rulers of Ptolemaic Egypt: Cleopatra II, who reigned briefly as sole ruler over 2,100 years ago, and Cleopatra VII Philopator, the last and greatest renowned Cleo, who ruler over 2,050 years ago.

That most of these women are not as well known as Cleopatra and Hatshepsut has prompted Ayad to speculate why they have been relegated to the footnotes of history. Several of the women in question ruled during the turbulent endings of dynasties, she observes.

While it was almost universally perceived that the role of king was reserved for male heirs, “Hatshesput broke with this tradition, and accordingly may be perceived to have violated the Ma’at,” the ancient Egyptian concept of law, order and social harmony, Ayad says.

The king’s mother, wife and daughter all had their own royal titles, but there was no specific word for queen. Rather, royal women were defined according to their relationship to the king, along with descriptors that emphasized their charm and beauty.

But were the historical records of these ruling women erased, or intentionally wiped out because they were women? For example, the statue of Sobekneferu in the Louvre Museum no longer has a head, which appears to have gone missing.

As for Hatshepsut, in several instances, her name, titles and images have been chiseled away. Hatshepsut is depicted as the senior king, while Thutmose III, her stepson, nephew and male co-regent, appears as a junior ruler. He subsequently removed her name from many murals.

Hanna says this is likely “the result of personal disputes among royal successors, not because they were women.”

While ancient Egyptian society was highly stratified and centralized, it was not particularly sexist or misogynistic, particularly not in the context of the ancient world.

Some historic studies indicate noblewomen in ancient Egypt worked as administrators, doctors, governors, judges, high-ranking priestesses and supervisors. One woman, identified as Nebet, even served as the vizier, the king’s top advisor or minister, around 4,000 years ago.

Egyptian women from lower classes typically worked as farmers, cooks, beer brewers, dancers, musicians and weavers.

Egypt may have been among the best places to be a woman in the ancient world, as women had the right to divorce and own property, as well as access to luxury items, gynecology and healthcare, according to Hanna, who adds, “The men even washed the clothes at the time.”



+MERYT NEITH (or MERNEITH) : First Dynasty, Old Kingdom. May have reigned circa 2,970 BC. Daughter of King Djet. Wife and co-regent of King Den. Was buried with sacrificial items in her tomb, in the royal necropolis of Abydos, where the first kings of a unified Egypt were entombed. Meryt Neith was also buried with a solar boat, or sun boat, as was the practice with the very early “pharaohs.”

+NITOCRIS (or NITIQRET): Sixth Dynasty, Old Kingdom. May have reigned circa 2,180 BC. Bore the title of king. May be considered the final “king” of the Sixth Dynasty. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus claims Nitocris may have killed her brother, the king, by drowning him.

+SOBEKNEFERU (or NEFERUSOBEK): 12th Dynasty, Middle Kingdom. Reigned circa 1,806-1,802 BC. The first ancient Egyptian woman known to be a “king” and the only legitimate heir to the throne following the death of her brother, King Amenemhat IV. Listed as the last king of the 12thDynasty. Records frequently note that she is buried within the Northern Mazghuna Pyramid, near Dahshour.

+HATSHEPSUT: 18th Dynasty, New Kingdom. Reigned circa 1,478-1,458 BC. Prime example of an ancient Egyptian female “king” and likely the longest reigning woman. Daughter of King Thutmose I. Wife and Queen Consort to King Thutmose II, and regent for Thutmose III.

She rose to prominence as high priestess, or “God’s Wife,” in the cult of Amun. Acting in the capacity of a male king, she presided over prolific construction works – temples, obelisks, statues, and artifacts – along with foreign expeditions and the reestablishment of foreign trade routes. Built temples at Luxor (Thebes), including Hatshepsut Mortuary Temple at Deir al-Bahari, and obelisks at Karnak Temple and the Grotto of Artemis near Minya.

+NEFERTITI: 18th Dynasty, New Kingdom. Reigned circa 1,353-1,336 BC or 1,351-1,334 BC, as co-ruler with her husband, the sun-worshiping King Akhenaton – arguably the first monotheist, in Tal al-Amarna. Some historians and Egyptologists claim she may have ruled as king alone for a few years following Akhenaton’s death.

+TAWOSRET (or TAUSRET): 19th Dynasty, New Kingdom. Reigned circa 1,191-1,189 BC. Ruled for one to two years, and appears to be listed as the last king of the 19th Dynasty. She may have been the stepmother to her predecessor, King Siptah. Was not a very powerful or influential king, and her turbulent reign may have ended in civil war. She is buried in the Valley of the Kings.

+CLEOPATRA II: Ptolemaic Egypt. Reigned circa 170-127 BC. Was not ethnically Egyptian, but of Macedonian origin. Successor to Ptolemy VIII. This lesser known Cleo reigned as the sole ruler of Egypt from around 132-127 BC.

+CLEOPATRA VII PHILOPATOR: Ptolemaic Egypt. Reigned 51-30 BC. The internationally renowned “Cleopatra,” the historical Macedonian woman reigned as co-ruler with her brother Ptolemy XIII. Served as Egypt’s sole ruler from around 47 BC to 30 BC. Had romantic relationships with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony and was defeated, along with Antony, by the Roman Empire in the naval Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Allegedly committed suicide the following year. Cleopatra generally referred to herself as a queen, yet she is often described as “Egypt’s last pharaoh.”

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