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Egypt: God


God's Wife of Amun

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Taylor Ray Ellison

 

Introduction


 

God's Wife of Amun

 

 

Egypt throughout the ancient ages was a male dominated society, indeed as most civilizations were then, and actually continue to be today. Yet, some women soared to amazing positions and at various times, ruled Egypt even during the earliest dynasties. In fact, one of Egypt's most famous and beloved personalities will perhaps always be Cleopatra VII, who we simply know as Cleopatra.

 

Beginning from the 18th Dynasty and the start of Egypt's New Kingdom, one of the most consistently important positions held by Egyptian Women (outside of queen) was that of the God's Wife of Amun (Hemet Netjer nt Imen). She took on the function of playing consort to the "National God" in one of Egypt's most important cities, Thebes, yet it could be argued that it was as much an important political posting as it was a religious role (In many ways, it is difficult to separate the two in ancient Egypt). No other comparable role is known for any of the other cult of an Egyptian gods, with the exception of the Middle Kingdom when there appears to have been God's Wives associated with Min and Ptah. This position remained important until the Persian invasion at the end of the 26th Dynasty of Egypt's Late Period, when it seems to have ceased to exist (or at least viably).

 

 

 

Amun and his wife

 

 

Like the king, the God's Wife took a prenomen as well as a nomen, which were both enclosed in cartouches. Most of these were composed with the name of Mut and the God's Wife was considered to be the earthly incarnation of that goddess.

 

 

The position was endowed with its own estate, a staff of male officials and probably even musicians associated with the cult of Amun. Her primary domain would have been the Temple of Amun at Karnak on the East Bank at Thebes. Over time, it appears to have given considerable independent wealth to its holder. In fact, by the Late Period, the God's Wife was elevated to become the principal priest of the cult of Amun at Thebes, after the title of First Profit of Amun was eliminated (or perhaps, integrated with the God's Wife title). Other titles that became incorporated within this position included God's Hand and Divine Adoratrice, a position that was held by the daughters of the High Priest of Amun until the reign of Hatshepsut.

 

History

 

 

Nefertari

 

God's Wife of Amun has its origins prior to the 18th Dynasty, appearing first in the 10th and 12th Dynasties of the Middle Kingdom, but it was an obscure, non-royal role prior to the reign of Ahmose I, the founder of the New Kingdom. He not only elevated the "Great Southern City" (Thebes), but also the position of God's Wife of Amen, by bestowing it on his chief wife, Ahmose Nefertari. She had held the title, Second Prophet of Amun, an exceptional rank for a woman, but arranged by contract to exchange the title for that of God's Wife. In doing so, she created an important religious concept held at least through the 18th Dynasty. During this period, the Egyptians held that the crown prince was the child not of the king, but of the union between Amun and his Great Royal Wife.

 

At first, the position was hereditary, more or less, passing either to the daughter of the Queen who held the title, or to the next king's wife, who frequently was one and the same. From Ahmes Nefertari the title passed to her daughter, Meritamen after she married her brother, Amenhotep I. However, it was Hatshepsut who took the position over from Meritamen, rather than the wife of Tuthmosis I, perhaps because his chief wife, Ahmes, may have been the sister of Meritamen. Hatshepsut seems to have kept it when she became regent for Tuthmoses III and it has been suggested that the title was so important that this was a means to gather authority for Hatshepsut before she claimed the throne. She did not relinquish the title until she later took the full titles of a king. However, now as king, sometimes depicted as a man, it would have been incongruent for her to remain as God's wife, so she relinquished the role to her daughter by Tuthmosis II, Princess Neferure.

 

We believe that after the death of Princess Neferure (and her mother, Hatshepsut), the title passed to the non-royal mother of Tuthmosis III, Aset, and after her death, went to his daughter, Meritamen, and though it is somewhat unclear, it may have passed from her to the mother of his successor and son, Amenhotep II. Her name was Meritre. The role was held by Tiaa, the king's mother in the reign of Tuthmosis IV. However, as the later kings of this dynasty moved towards the worship of the sun disc culminating with the heretic king, Akhenaten, the title slipped into obscurity and we do not find records of the last six kings of this dynasty having wives in this role.

 

The Dauther of Hatshepsut, Amun Neferure

 

In the 19th Dynasty, the title was revived, though we lack records that queens of that, or the 20th Dynasty functioned in any special religious capacity. Prior to the 19th Dynasty, most if not all of the title holders had been married, but it may have been the maiden daughter of Ramesses VI, Aset, who was the first unmarried God's Wife. This would evolve into a tradition followed in future dynasties. In fact, from the 21st Dynasty on, the title was always held by an unwed daughter of either the king, or the High Priest of Amun. These included Maatkare, the daughter of the Priest and King, Pinudjem I, and Istemkheb, the daughter of King Psusennes I. Now, the position was passed on through "adoption", with the God's Wife of Amun naming her successor.

 

 

Shepenwepet II

 

This was also during the period that the title became even more political. The 21st Dynasty is considered by most to be the initial phase of the Third Intermediate Period, and the country was divided administratively. Now, we find kings in both the north and the south, at Thebes, and kings of the Delta in the north sought to have their daughters installed with the Title at Thebes. This practice continued until the position was apparently abandoned during the Persian conquest of Egypt, and for the Nubian rulers of Egypt in the 25th Dynasty it was essential.

 

Even before the first Nubian King we recognize as ruler of Egypt, Piye, his father invaded Egypt and persuaded the current God's Wife, Shepenwepet I, to adopt his daughter, Amenridis, as her successor. What persuasion he used is unknown, for Shepenwepet I was actually the daughter of Kashta's adversary in the Delta. After ascending to this title, Amenridis remained God's Wife of Amun through the reigns of the next two Nubian Kings, Piye and Shebaka. When she died during the reign of Shebitku, her replacement was the daughter of Piye, Shepenwepet II. She held the office into the reign of Tantamani and was replaced by the daughter of Taharqa, Amenridis II.

 

God's Wife of Amun

 

She actually continued to hold the office even after the Nubians were ejected from Egypt. In fact, the new ruler of Egypt in the north who had driven her family from Egypt, Psammetichus I (Psamtik) negotiated with her (with the help of Montuemhat, "Overseer of Upper Egypt") to adopt his eldest daughter, Nitiqret (Nitocris) as her successor, in order to secure his position in the south. A stela recording her later installment as God's Wife describes the elaborate ceremony involved, and lists the enormous endowment allotted to the office during this period. Nitiqret's successor was Ankhnesneferibre, the daughter of Psammetichus II, but soon the Persians could come, and that would put, virtually, an end to the title, God's Wife of Amun.

 

 

 

Appearance

 

The depictions we have of God's Wife of Amun evolve over the title's history. At first, for example in the Red Chapel, Neferure is portrayed in what might have been priestly attire, a simple sleeveless costume with a headdress consisting of a headband with streamers worn over a skullcap (or perhaps simply closely cropped hair). Later, she was depicted as a queen, wearing the tripatite wig, vulture cap with uraeus, modius and tall double feathers. She was also sometimes shown with horns and a sun disc. She most likely also carried the "fly Whisk" scepter. When depicted with Amun, interestingly, she was usually shown in the same scale, whereas queens with their king were often portrayed in a much smaller scale.

 

Statue of Amenridis I from the Temple of Montu at Karnak

 

Function

 

We do not completely, and some would say even remotely, understand the functions of God's Wife. Until Aset, the daughter of Ramesses VI took the role of God's Wife, she was certainly not exclusively considered as Amun's wife, for she was as well that of the king in most cases. However, with Aset, it has been assumed by some that she may have remained a virgin. And although the role has a sexual connotation, the god Amun did not procreate through intercourse, but rather by self stimulation. It may have been her function to simply stimulate the God sexually through ritualistic ceremony, such as playing the sistrum (a musical instrument) before him, in order to be impregnated with the future king. However, this was certainly not her only function.

 

New Kingdom God's Wives are shown taking part in temple rituals at Luxor and elsewhere. For example, title holders of the 25th and 26th Dynasties are shown presenting Ma'at to a god in non-funerary contexts, an honor only bestowed on one queen (Nefertiti), but mostly only allowed to Kings.

 

See Also

 

 

References:

 

Title

Author

Date

Publisher

Reference Number

Ancient Gods Speak, The: A Guide to Egyptian Religion

Redford, Donald B.

2002

Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-515401-0

Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian; Nicholson, Paul

1995

Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers

ISBN 0-8109-3225-3

KMT, A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt

Forbes, Dennis

Summer 2001 (Bolume 12, Number 2

KMT

ISSN 1053-0827

 

Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011

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