June 14, 2024


Simple Impartial Art

Egyptian Queens Ahmose-Nefertari and Ahmose-Nebta

Having driven the Hyksos eastwards out of Egypt, King Ahmose first sacked and then rebuilt their capital city, Avaris. His new Delta citadel included a fortified palace whose frescoed walls were decorated with vibrant bull-leaping scenes set against a maze-like background representing the bull-leaping ground. These scenes are so familiar to those found on the walls of the contemporary Minoan palace of Knosses, we must conclude that Ahmose employed Minoan artists. Bulls had religious significance in Egypt, where they associated with the solar cults, but bull-leaping and bull-grasping were purely Minoan rituals. So why had Ahmose – in all other respects a highly traditional Egyptian – chosen to decorate his northern palace in this outlandish foreign style? We have no idea, but some experts have suggested that he may have designed his palace to please a Minoan wife. This idea ties in well with an unexplained title held by the King’s Mother Ahhotep, ‘Mistress of the Shores of Hau-nebut’. Hau-nebut is an unknown land that may well be Crete. But there is as yet no more concrete evidence to support this theory, and some scholars believe Hau-nebut to have been a more generalized geographical term meaning the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

Ahmose married both his sisters (Ahmose-Nefertari and Ahmose-Nebta) and Ahmose-Nefertari became his consort. Even more influential than her redoubtable mother Ahhotep, Ahmose-Nefertari bore a string of titles including the now-standard ‘King’s Daughter, King’s Sister, and King’s Great Wife’, and the more unusual ‘God’s Wife of Amun’. The Donation Stela, recovered from the Karnak temple, tells us how Ahmose purchased the ‘Second Priesthood of Amun’ to endow his wife with a fund of lands, goods and male administrators, an endowment that was to be held by the queen and her descendants forever. A third, and entirely separate, religious position, the office of Divine Adoratrice, brought Ahmose-Nefertari even more independent wealth. This personal income allowed Ahmose-Nefertari to make an unprecedented series of ritual offerings throughout Egypt, and her name has been recorded in temples at Abydos, at Thebes, and at Serabit el-Khadim in Sinai, the last being a focus of Hathoric cult that would become particularly associated with 18th Dynasty royal woman.

Ahmose-Nefertari did not confine her influence to the religious sphere. Texts recovered from the Memphite limestone quarries, and from the Asyut alabaster quarries, record her name alongside that of Ahmose. When the king decided to build the Abydos cenotaph for his grandmother Tetisheri, he discussed his plans with his ‘companion’ first; his use of the word companion perhaps suggests that Ahmose-Nefertari is to be equated with the Egyptian goddess Maat, the constant companion of Ra and of all Egypt’s kings.

Ahmose-Nefertari gave birth to at least four sons and five daughters, five of whom died in infancy or childhood. Following the death of Ahmose she acted as regent for her young son, Amenhotep I. Later, following the death of his childless sister-wife Meritamun, she resumed the role of consort to support her son, playing an active role in the selection of Amenhotep’s adopted successor, Thuthmose I. Dying during Thutmose’s reign, she was buried in the Dra Abu el-Naga cemetery on the Theban west bank. Her mortuary temple stood close by, but is not almost completely destroyed.

Ahmose-Nefertari’s mummy, stored in an enormous coffin that also housed the body of the 20th Dynasty king Ramesses III, was recovered from the Deir el-Bahari mummy cache. Unwrapped by Emile Brugschin September 1885, her badly decomposed body smelt so unpleasant that it was hastily reburied in the museum grounds until the offensive aroma went away. Re-examination of her now odour-free, remains has shown that Ahmose-Nefertari died in her 70’s, an impressive age even by today’s standards. Her thinning hair had been augmented by a series of false plaits that would magically become real hair in the Afterlife, and she shared the family trait of buck teeth already seen in the mummy attributed to her grandmother, Tetisheri. Ahmose-Nefertari’s right hand wasmissing, presumably stolen by ancient thieves in search of jewelry.

Mother and son had become so closely linked that, after their deaths, both were deified as patrons of the state-owned west bank village of Deir el-Medina, the village built to house the workers involved in excavating and decorating the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings (and later the Valley of the Queens). Here Ahmose-Nefertari, now honored as a goddess of resurrection, ‘Mistress of the Sky’ and ‘Lady of the West’, would be worshiped until the end of the New Kingdom. Often, in this context, she was shown with the black skin that denoted fertility and rebirth rather than decay.