Women in Ancient Egyptian Religion, Part II
The Divine Adoratrice and God's Wife of Amun
in the Third Intermediate Period
By Marie Parsons
One of the highest ranks a woman could attain in a cult of the god was the position known as Gods Wife. Another high temple rank for women was Divine Adoratrice, which in the 18th Dynasty was sometimes held by women of high status at court, like the mother of the queen, or by the wife of the high priest in the Amun cult at Karnak.
The title of Gods Wife was originally held by a Kings daughter who was destined to become queen. If she died before her father, then both title and heir apparent were transferred to another daughter of the king.
The title was passed from mother to daughter, and both could wear it simultaneously, as did Hatshepsut and her daughter Neferure. It was abandoned during the Amarna period, when Tiy and Nefertiti became queens, though neither was of royal blood. The title was revived in the 19th Dynasty, when the wives of Ramesses I and Seti I were each called "Divine Wife of Amun," but they were not daughters of kings. None of the wives of Ramesses II bore the title. The only other "Divine Wife of Amun" during the 19th Dynasty (that we know of) was Tausert, the wife of King Siptah, who may have been the daughter of Seti II.
By this time, the title meant that the wife of the High Priest of Amun was the embodiment on earth of the gods wife. This did not preclude her from marrying and having children.
After the high priest of Karnak became the virtual ruler of Upper Egypt, daughters of the High priest filled the role of Gods Wife but also took the old queenly title of Lady of the Two Lands and wrote their names inside the royal cartouche. Other women of the family served as Prophetess of Mut.
After the end of the 20th Dynasty, Egypt embarked upon what is called today the Third Intermediate Period, 21-24th Dynasties. Ramesses XI, the last king of the 20th Dynasty, was powerless to prevent the Theban region in the south from becoming independent of the royal rule centered in Tanis in the Delta. This move to independence in Thebes was initiated by Herihor, an army general who became High Priest or First Prophet of Amun, controller of the vast temple estates of the god. The Tanite kings accepted this independence and gave princesses to the priest-kings in marriage.
So the rule of Egypt was divided between the royal family living in Tanis in the Delta and the High Priests of Amun in the south at Thebes. The northern princesses would marry the High priests, and then the Gods Wife of Amun was conferred upon a daughter of this union. So Piankh married Henttowy of Tanis, and their son, Pinudjem, married first Makare and then her niece Esemkhebe. At her marriage, Makare was given the titles of "Divine Wife of Amun" and "Divine Votaress."
Thus the High Priests from then on were descended from the Tanite kings. The Gods Wives are generally credited with being the true leaders of Upper Egypt at this time, their long lives, spanning several kingly reigns, bringing moral and political stability and leadership.
A papyrus found at Deir el-Bahri shed some light on the relationship between Neskhons, the wife of Pinudjem II, and her husband:
I will turn the heart of Neskhons, the daughter of Thendhout, and she shall not do any evil thing to Pinudjem, the child of Isimkheb; I will turn her heart, and will not allow her to curtail his life; I will turn her heart and will not allow her to cause to be done to him anything which is detrimental to the heart of a living man.
By the 23rd Dynasty, Egypt was under Libyan rule. From the reign of Osorkon III to that of Psammetik III, Thebes was ruled by a succession of five daughters of the ruling royal house who would live in Thebes and give all their attention to the gods cult. The first was Shepenwepet I, who was appointed Divine Wife by her father, Osorkon II, who received all the estates and property formerly possessed by the High Priest.
She also officiated at the Temple of Osiris. Shepenwepet I continued in power under Osorkons successor, Takeloth III, though no mention of the Divine Wife appears in his records and he made no arrangements for a successor.
When at the end of the Third Intermediate Period the rulers of Kush began to extend their authority into Egypt and took power away from the Libyans, Piankh invaded Thebes from Kush to become the first ruler of the 25th Dynasty. He persuaded Shepenwepet I to adopt his sister Amenirdis, as successor. So Amenirdis carried the old title of Divine Adoratrice Apparent.
When Shepenwepet I died, she was buried along with several family members in a vault beneath the floor of her mortuary chapel at Medinet Habu.
Amenirdis I, sister of the general Piankh, reigned as Divine Wife under Piankh, Shabaka, and Shabitko of the 25th Dynasty. She in turned adopted Piankhs daughter to succeed her as Shepenwepet II. Some years later Shepenwepet II adopted the daughter of Taharqa to reign as Amenirdis II. There is a fragmentary stela that refers to Taharqa having given his daughter to marry the vizier Montuemhat and that they had a son named Nasalsa.
When Amenirdis I died, her niece completed a mortuary chapel at Medinet Habu for her, though nothing now remains in the burial chapel. But her grave goods can be found in museums all over the world.
When the Assyrians first invaded Egypt, they placed a puppet, Necho of Sais, on the throne in the Delta. Taharqa had fled to Kush, leaving behind his wives and children. When Taharqa died, his successor, Tantamani, had a dream promising him Egypt, and marched north, killing Necho of Sais. The Assyrians again marched on Egypt and sacked Thebes. But Shepenwepet II remained in position as Divine Wife of Amun.
From Osorkon IIIs time on, the title "Divine Wife of Amun" was that of a daughter of the king who became the consecrated wife of the god, Amun. She was expected to reside in Thebes and probably responsible to make known the will of Amun through oracular means. The Divine Wife held a second title, that of "Hand of the God."
At this time, political power was held by Montuemhet, a man holding a minor political office. He was only Fourth Prophet of Amun, but also mayor of the city and governor of Upper Egypt. Taharqa had installed Montuemhet in Thebes when he was residing at the royal palace in Tanis in the Delta. After Taharqa fled Egypt, the Assyrians confirmed Montuemhet as vassal, and he boasts of protecting the city of Thebes and conducting ceremonies of purification in the despoiled temples.
Psammetik I became the first ruler of the 26th Dynasty, but was little more than an Assyrian vassal. Psammetik gradually formed an alliance with the rulers in Herakleopolis and was recognized as overlord. When he was recognized as ruler by Thebes, who had still considered the Kushites their king, Egypt was once again unified and could declare itself independent from Assyria. Psammetik appointed his daughter Nitoqret as Divine Wife of Amun.
Other women were still involved in serving in the temple, not just the daughter of the king. The title "singer in the temple of Amun" was held by approximately 100 women from the reigns of Takelot II to the end of the 26th Dynasty. They were most likely retainers of the gods wives, and some are buried not far from the tomb chapels of the 25th and 26th Dynasties at Medinet Habu.
Shepenwepet II meanwhile, the reigning Divine Wife, already had an adopted daughter, Amenirdis II, to succeed her. Both of them were loyal to Tantamani, the Nubian. But Nitoqret did not arrive in Thebes until some months after Tantamani was already dead.
It has been suggested that Nitoqret was adopted by Amenirdis II, who was Divine Wife Apparent at that time, and not by Shepenwepet II. But possibly, Shepenwepet II adopted Nitoqret, and Amenirdis II returned to Kush.
This adoption of Nitoqret was recorded on a great granite stela at Karnak which tells how she was escorted from the Delta to Thebes in a long procession of boats bearing much dowry. It describes how, in the spring of 655 BCE, Nitoqret and her retinue boarded ships from the Delta and sailed to Thebes.
Montuemhet accepted Nitoqret as Divine Wife, and agreed to allow the king to appoint not only her officials but also the governor and border commander of the area to the south of Thebes. In return Montuemhet was allowed to retain his position as mayor of Thebes. Probably in return for his new loyalty, Montuemhets tomb near Deir el-Bahri is magnificent, its large pylon dominating the plain. It has a vast underground complex and enormous sun-court adorned with statues of him.
The Gods Wife now dressed in royal insignia, including the uraeus, was accorded royal titles and even wrote her name in a royal cartouche. She owned about 2000 acres of fertile land in both the Delta and in Upper Egypt.
Rather than administering her own wealth, Nitoqrets father Psammetik I appointed an overseer who would answer to him. But once the king died, Nitoqret appointed her own men, loyal to her. Nitoqret was given some 2000 acres of land in both Upper and Lower Egypt. Every day, Nitiqret was to receive from the fourth priest of Amun, his eldest son, his wife, and from the first and third priests of Amun, a total of 600 deben of bread, 11 hin (just under half a liter) of milk, 2 1/6 cakes, 2 2/3 bundles of herbs. Monthly she would receive 3 oxen, 5 geese, 20 heben of beer, and the yield of many fields. Various temples gave her 1500 deben of bread. She thus received 2100 deben of bread daily and over 2000 acres in eleven nomes.
Nitoqret reigned for over fifty years, not appointing a successor in all that time. During her time, the Assyrians invaded and Thebes was sacked, the temple robbed of its treasure. But when she was in her eighties, in 594 BCE, she adopted the daughter of Psammetik II, her great niece Ankhnesneferibre. This girl not only took the title of Divine Wife of Amun, she was also given the title of First Prophet or High Priest of Amun, the only woman known to hold this office. Her beautiful stone sarcophagus shows her effigy wearing a queens headdress and holding the flail and crook scepters of Egypt.
Eight years later, Nitoqret died. Her funerary inscription bears language very similar to that used by the kings themselves.
"Year 4 of Apries, 4th month of Shomu, day 4, the Divine Wife Nitoqret, justified, was raised up into heaven, being united with the suns disk, the divine flesh being merged with him who made it."
She was buried at Medinet Habu. Though her burial chamber was pilfered, her sarcophagus sits in the Cairo Museum.
Ankhnesneferibre could not prevent King Amasis from appointing his own man as her steward. When the King of Persia conquered Egypt, she had reigned for 60 years. When the Persians conquered Egypt, the office of Gods Wife was discontinued and never again resurrected.
Position of Women in the Egyptian Hierarchy by Aylward Blackman, JEA 7
Daughters of Isis by Joyce Tyldesley
Celibacy and Adoption Among Gods Wives of Amun and Singers in Temple of Amun by Emily Teeter
Women in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Watterson
Women in Ancient Egypt by Gay Robins
Marie Parsons is an ardent student of Egyptian archaeology, ancient history and its religion. To learn about the earliest civilization is to learn about ourselves. Marie welcomes comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011