Queen Neithhotep, the First Queen of Ancient Egypt!
Parents: Local NaqadaSon: Aha
- Consort of the Two Ladies.
- Foremost of Women
Burial Place: Naqada "Great Tomb"
Also known as Neithotep
A Naqada III ceremonial palette recovered from the ruins of the Early Dynastic temple of Horus at Hierakonpolis, southern Egypt (and now displayed in Cairo Museum) celebrates King Narmer at the moment of his triumph. On one side of the palette we see Narmer wearing the white crown of a southern Egyptian king as he raises a club to smash the head of the unfortunate enemy who grovels at his feet. On the reverse we see him wearing the red crown of a northern Egyptian king as he marches with his army to inspect the ranks of decapitated war dead. High in the sky above the king we see a woman with horns and cow ears observing events - she is Bat, an early form of the goddess Hathor. Even at this early stage in Egypt's history, it is obvious that Narmer rules a land whose kingly iconography is already well developed.
The meaning of a second ceremonial relic, also found in the Hierakonpolis temple, is less clear. The Narmer Macehead (today housed in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) shows the king, wrapped in a ceremonial cloak and wearing the red crown, seated in a raised pavilion or tent. Above the pavilion a large vulture hovers protectively. Around the pavilion there are disjointed images of captives, soldiers carrying standards, a sandal bearer, animals, a temple or shrine and a schematic representation of the sacred enclosure at Hierakonpolis. Approaching the pavilion in carrying chair is a shrouded, featureless figure of indeterminate gender Early Egyptologists leapt to the conclusion that they were observing wedding. But the ancient Egyptians rarely mention their weddings. This marriage, then, must have been an occasion of above-average importance. Narmer, a southern warrior king, must have united his land by force then sealed his position by marrying a daughter of his defeated northern enemy.
Confirmation of the wedding theory was sought from the name of the woman generally assumed to have been Narmer's wife. The name Neithhotep translates as '[the goddess] Neith is'satisfied'. The argument that only a northern woman would be named after the Delta goddess Neith, ingenious though it is, does not stand up to scrutiny. Neith had a powerful link with queenship and many of Egypt's Early Dynastic queens bore names compounded with 'Neith'. Indeed, the fact that she was buried at Naqada indicates that Neithhotep is more likely to have been a daughter of the long line of local Naqada chiefs or kings. An alternative, more acceptable interpretation of the macehead scene suggests that Narmer is celebrating his heb-sed, or jubilee, before a shrouded divinity.
Excavating some 2 miles (3 km) outside the modern Naqada village in1897, Jacques de Morgan uncovered a 1st Dynasty tomb so splendid it was immediately labelled the Great Tomb and assigned to the legendary King Menes. Seen from the outside the tomb was a typical mastaba rectangular mud-brick superstructure built above a burial pit and name after the Arabic word mastaba, meaning low bench). But this mastaba lacked a burial pit; instead, the superstructure had been converted into a ground-level burial chamber surrounded by storage chambers. The super structure, measuring an impressive 177 by 88 ft (54 x 27 m), had recessed or niched 'palace facade'-style mud-brick walls, and the whole complex was protected by a thick enclosure wall. The tomb, already looted in antiquity, yielded a series of cosmetic items, stone vessels, ivory labels and clay sealings giving the names of Narmer, his son and successor Aha, and Neithhotep herself. The Naqada tomb was re-excavated by John Garstang in 1904. By then it was suffer
ing badly from post-excavation erosion and it vanished soon after.
Additional references to Neithhotep have been found at Abydos and Helwan. Neithhotep is nowhere describe as either a King's Wife or a King's Mother - these kingship titles are not found before the 2nd Dynasty. However, on an ivory lid recovered from the tomb of Djer at Abydos she is described as Consort of the Two Ladies, an epithet which may be the ancient equivalent of 'consort'. On just one seal (represented by several impressions) recovered from Naqada her name is presented in a serekh, the rectangular box representing the entrance to an Early Dynastic palace in which Egypt's earliest kings
wrote their names. On top of the traditional king's serekh perched Horus the falcon, symbol of the living Horus kings. But on top of Neithhotep's serekh were the pair of crossed arrows that symbolized the goddess Neith. On the basis of this evidence it is generally agreed that Neithhotep was a queen who outlived her husband, Narmer, and was buried by her son Aha in the Great Tomb. Some scholars would take this further, citing the use of the serekh and the exceptionally large tomb as evidence that Neithhotep actually ruled Egypt on behalf of the infant Aha.