Nefertari

Picture (right): In this scene from her tomb Nefertari, first and best-attested consort of Ramesses II, wears the vulture headdress, modius, double plumes and sun disk, and is led by the goddess Isis.

Ramesses II, like his father and grandfather before him, had been born a commoner. With  his father's elevation his life underwent a profound change. While still a teenager he was officially proclaimed First King's Son, a position of great honour that brought with it a harem full of beauti­ful women. Ramesses clearly appreciated his good fortune:
It was Menmaatre [Seti I} who nurtured me, and the All-Lord himself advanced me when I was a child until I could start to rule .... He equipped me with private attendants and with female attendants who resembled the great beauties of the palace. Throughout the land he selected women for me...harem women and female companions.
This harem was only the beginning. Throughout his reign Ramesses con­tinued to add to his collection of wives, both foreigners and Egyptians, until he could boast some 100 children surviving infancy (a conservative estimate; some observers have put the number of royal children at over 1501 with daughters and sons in roughly equal numbers. Breaking with convention, Ramesses displayed and named his numerous offspring - the children of lesser wives shown alongside children born to consorts ­
walking in procession on the walls of his various temples. However, it is the children (the daughters in particular) born to his two principal wives Nefertari and Isetnofret I, who playa prominent role in his reign. With the exception of Suterery, mother of Ramesses-Siptah, who appears in a relief alongside her son, his minor wives go unrecorded while the lives of his less significant children are more or less unrecorded.

Ramesses was to rule Egypt for 66 years, outliving most of his wives, many of his children and even some of his grandchildren in the process. Because of this extreme longevity, he is associated with more queen con­sorts than any other Egyptian king. However, none of his wives attained the high political and religious profile of the Amarna women.

His first, and best attested, consort is Nefertari, whom he married  before becoming king. Nefretiti's parentage is never disclosed although, as she never uses the title King's Daughter, we know that she was not born a princess. It may be that she was a memeber of Ay's wider family, the discovery of a glazed knob (possibly the head of a walking stick, or the fastener from a wooden box) decorated with Ay's cartouche in her tomb lends some support to this theory. However, she is probably too young to have been Ay's daughter - a sister to queen Nefertiti and Mutnodjmet - as Ramesses reigned 20 yers after Ay's death.

Nefertiti produced Ramesses's first-born son and heir, Amenhirwenemef, before Seti I's death. More children followed: Ramesses' third son Prehirwenemef, his ninth son Seti, his eleventh son Merire the Elder, and his sixteenth son Meriatum. Several of these sons served as crown prince, but all predeceased their long-lived father. Nefertari's daughter included the ephemeral Baketmut, and Meritamun and Nebettawi who would eventually take their mother's place as queen. Princess Nefertari's name suggests that she, too, may have been the daughter of Queen Nefertari.

Nefertari spent at least 20 years appearing alongside her husband as a dutiful, beautiful, but entirely passive wife. As such, she is frustrating subject for any biographer. She supports Ramesses on all appropriate ceremonial occasions, and may well have accompanied him on his military campaigns. During the Year 5 battle of Kadesh the royal family (Nefertari and her children included?) came dangerously close to bring captured by the Hittities. Many years later, with the Hittites and the Egyptians reconciled, Nefertari was to correspond with the formidable Pudukhepa, queen of the Hittites. This seems somewhat out of character. It appears that Pudukhepa, who played a more prominent role in state afairs than her Egyptian counterpart, wrote first, and that Nefertari had to reply for the sake of politeness. Her stilted letters, however, reveal little of interest and nothing at all of her character.
Thus says Naptera (Nefertari), the Great Queen of Egypt, to Pudukhepa, the Great Queen of Hatti, my sister;
All goes well with me, your sister, and all goes well with my country. May all go well with you too, my sister, and with your country may all go well also. I have noted that you, my sister, have written to enquire after my well-being. And that you have written to me about the new relationship of good peace and brotherhood in which the Great King of Egypt now stands with his brother the Great King of Hatti.

Nefertari

Picture (right): In this scene from her tomb Nefertari, first and best-attested consort of Ramesses II, wears the vulture headdress, modius, double plumes and sun disk, and is led by the goddess Isis.

Ramesses II, like his father and grandfather before him, had been born a commoner. With  his father's elevation his life underwent a profound change. While still a teenager he was officially proclaimed First King's Son, a position of great honour that brought with it a harem full of beauti­ful women. Ramesses clearly appreciated his good fortune:
It was Menmaatre [Seti I} who nurtured me, and the All-Lord himself advanced me when I was a child until I could start to rule .... He equipped me with private attendants and with female attendants who resembled the great beauties of the palace. Throughout the land he selected women for me...harem women and female companions.
This harem was only the beginning. Throughout his reign Ramesses con­tinued to add to his collection of wives, both foreigners and Egyptians, until he could boast some 100 children surviving infancy (a conservative estimate; some observers have put the number of royal children at over 1501 with daughters and sons in roughly equal numbers. Breaking with convention, Ramesses displayed and named his numerous offspring - the children of lesser wives shown alongside children born to consorts ­
walking in procession on the walls of his various temples. However, it is the children (the daughters in particular) born to his two principal wives Nefertari and Isetnofret I, who playa prominent role in his reign. With the exception of Suterery, mother of Ramesses-Siptah, who appears in a relief alongside her son, his minor wives go unrecorded while the lives of his less significant children are more or less unrecorded.

Ramesses was to rule Egypt for 66 years, outliving most of his wives, many of his children and even some of his grandchildren in the process. Because of this extreme longevity, he is associated with more queen con­sorts than any other Egyptian king. However, none of his wives attained the high political and religious profile of the Amarna women.

His first, and best attested, consort is Nefertari, whom he married  before becoming king. Nefretiti's parentage is never disclosed although, as she never uses the title King's Daughter, we know that she was not born a princess. It may be that she was a memeber of Ay's wider family, the discovery of a glazed knob (possibly the head of a walking stick, or the fastener from a wooden box) decorated with Ay's cartouche in her tomb lends some support to this theory. However, she is probably too young to have been Ay's daughter - a sister to queen Nefertiti and Mutnodjmet - as Ramesses reigned 20 yers after Ay's death.

Nefertiti produced Ramesses's first-born son and heir, Amenhirwenemef, before Seti I's death. More children followed: Ramesses' third son Prehirwenemef, his ninth son Seti, his eleventh son Merire the Elder, and his sixteenth son Meriatum. Several of these sons served as crown prince, but all predeceased their long-lived father. Nefertari's daughter included the ephemeral Baketmut, and Meritamun and Nebettawi who would eventually take their mother's place as queen. Princess Nefertari's name suggests that she, too, may have been the daughter of Queen Nefertari.

Nefertari spent at least 20 years appearing alongside her husband as a dutiful, beautiful, but entirely passive wife. As such, she is frustrating subject for any biographer. She supports Ramesses on all appropriate ceremonial occasions, and may well have accompanied him on his military campaigns. During the Year 5 battle of Kadesh the royal family (Nefertari and her children included?) came dangerously close to bring captured by the Hittities. Many years later, with the Hittites and the Egyptians reconciled, Nefertari was to correspond with the formidable Pudukhepa, queen of the Hittites. This seems somewhat out of character. It appears that Pudukhepa, who played a more prominent role in state afairs than her Egyptian counterpart, wrote first, and that Nefertari had to reply for the sake of politeness. Her stilted letters, however, reveal little of interest and nothing at all of her character.
Thus says Naptera (Nefertari), the Great Queen of Egypt, to Pudukhepa, the Great Queen of Hatti, my sister;
All goes well with me, your sister, and all goes well with my country. May all go well with you too, my sister, and with your country may all go well also. I have noted that you, my sister, have written to enquire after my well-being. And that you have written to me about the new relationship of good peace and brotherhood in which the Great King of Egypt now stands with his brother the Great King of Hatti.

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