The Ladies Who Ruled Ancient Egypt

Sculptures of Cleopatra and Dioskourides on Delos Island, Greece.
Sculptures of Cleopatra and Dioskourides on Delos Island, Greece.

The history of Egypt dates back to the prehistoric period that spans thousands of years starting in the early dynastic era which is equivalent to the final part of the Neolithic period. The rulers of the Egyptian kingdom were known as Pharaohs who were extremely revered by their subjects who saw them as deities. While the majority of the known Pharaohs were male, the few who were women had some of the most impressive reigns of any Pharaoh.

7. Meryt-neith

Meryt-neith is considered by many Egyptologists and historians as one of the earliest reigning queens in history. Meryt-neith’s name loosely translates to “Beloved of Neith” with “Neith” being an ancient Egyptian deity. Meryt-neith’s tomb also bears the symbols of the deity. According to historians, Meryt-neith reigned during the 1st Dynasty or around 2970 BC. Meryt-neith is believed to have been the senior royal wife to Pharaoh Djet and daughter to Djer (a direct descendant of Pharaoh Narmer, who unified the kingdom). Meryt-neith’s burial site offers the strongest evidence to her reign as ruler of Egypt as her tomb was similar to that of kings both in size as well as design. Historians believe that Meryt-neith ruled over Egypt after the death of her husband, Djet, a position she held temporarily before her son Den came of age. Meryt-neith’s reign lasted about three years. Archeologists discovered Meryt-neith’s tomb in 1900 which was surrounded by about 40 smaller graves believed to be of her servants.

6. Nitocris

Nitocris was another famed female ruler of Egypt. While there exist no records in ancient Egyptian inscriptions which indicate the reign or even the existence of Nitocris, the queen is mentioned by an ancient Greek biographer, Herodotus in his “Turin List of Kings.”Herodotus claims that the queen once killed hundreds of Egyptians to avenge the murder of her brother who she had succeeded to the throne. Writings from another ancient writer, Manetho claim that Nitocris had commissioned the construction of another pyramid at Giza. Nitocris committed suicide soon after conducting the mass murder to escape her punishment. Historians believe that if indeed Nitocris existed, she must have been the daughter to Pharaoh Pepi II Neferkare and Queen Neith Neferkare.

5. Sobeknofru

Sobekneferu was a female Pharaoh who ruled over the kingdom of ancient Egypt during the 12th Dynasty. The queen’s name means “the beauty of Sobek” as a testament to her great beauty. The queen was also known as Neferusobek was the sister of Pharaoh Amenemhat IV whom she succeeded upon his death. Sobekneferu is also mentioned by both Manetho as well as Herodotus in their respective publications. Sobekneferu’s reign was characterized by civil unrest which had plagued the entire kingdom. Manetho indicates that Sobekneferu’s reign was relatively brief and lasted three years and ten months and twenty-four days. Sobekneferu left no heirs when she died in 1802 BC and her death marked the end of the 12th Dynasty and the commencement of the 13th Dynasty. The queen is believed to have been buried in the Northern Mazghuna Pyramid.

4. Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut was a female ruler of the kingdom of ancient Egypt and was the fifth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. Hatshepsut is believed to have been born in 1507 BC to Pharaoh Thutmose I and his wife, Ahmose. Hatshepsut became queen consort after her marriage to her step-brother Thutmose II, who had succeeded his father as pharaoh. Hatshepsut then ascended to the throne as the queen regent after the death of Thutmose II as his rightful heir, Hatshepsut son, Thutmose III was underage. After Thutmose III had come of age, he assumed the title of the pharaoh and reigned in conjunction with his mother until around 1473 BC when Hatshepsut appointed herself as pharaoh. During her reign, Hatshepsut commissioned the construction of many monuments including the Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple situated at Deir el-Bahri. Foreign trade also grew during Hatshepsut’s reign with her 70-foot ships sailing all the way to the land of Punt where Egyptians returned with myrrh trees from their expedition.

3. Nefertiti

Nefertiti is one of the best-known rulers of ancient Egypt after the discovery of her well-preserved bust which showcased the Queen's famed beauty. When translated, Nefertiti means “the beauty has come” as a testament to Nefertiti’s beauty. The Queen's exact birth date is not known but is estimated to be about 1370 BC. Nefertiti’s ancestry is also not known with certainty, but there are theories from historians which claim Pharaoh Ay was the queen’s father, but there exist no theories to support such theories. Nefertiti was married to Akhenaten who ascended to the throne between 1353 BC and 1351 BC to become Pharaoh Amenhotep IV while Nefertiti became the queen consort. The reign of the two represents what is perhaps the wealthiest period of ancient Egypt with the kingdom enjoying economic and political stability. Nefertiti was so powerful and influential during the reign of her husband that the pharaoh appointed her as co-regent in the 12th year of his reign. Nefertiti is believed to have died in 1330 BC, but the exact cause of her death is not yet established. The queen was later buried at the Valley of the Kings.

2. Twosret

Twosret (also known as Tausret) was a ruler of the kingdom of ancient Egypt and was the last Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. Twosret is believed to have been the daughter to Takhat and Merenptah and sister to Amenmesse. Historians and archeologists believe that Twosret was the second royal wife to Pharaoh Seti II. Upon the death of Seti II, Twosret became the queen regent to the rightful heir, Siptah, a position she held until the death of Siptah. After the death of Siptah, Twosret ascended to the throne to become pharaoh around 1191 BC. In the later years of Twosret’s reign, Egypt was plagued by civil wars which are believed to have caused her death. Historians believe Twosret died around 1189 BC and her death marked the end of the 19th Dynasty and was succeeded by Setnakhte who marked the beginning of the 20th Dynasty.

1. Cleopatra

Cleopatra was another female pharaoh in ancient Egypt. However, despite receiving the title of Pharaoh, Cleopatra was not of a true Egyptian lineage but rather of Macedonian heritage. Cleopatra was born in 69 BC to Pharaoh Ptolemy XII Auletes and Queen Cleopatra V Tryphaena. Cleopatra ascended to the throne around 51 BC after the death of her father Ptolemy XII. Cleopatra is perhaps best known for her intimate relations with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, who were leaders of Rome. Cleopatra died on August 12th, 30 BC either through suicide or poisoning.


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