Whispered from the tongues of ancient historians, NITIQRETI is a contender for the first female pharaoh. Her story a mystery, her existence questionable, but her name spoken since the days of Herodotus and Manetho and found on the Turin Royal Canon.
Herodotus—remembered as the first historian to collect his research and study its accuracy—claimed only to report the stories he was told; however, he was known to write them in a vivid folklore manner. In The Tale of Nitocris (Nitiqreti translated to Greek as Nitocris) he wrote: “...she succeeded her brother. He had been the king of Egypt, and he had been put to death by his subjects, who then placed her upon the throne. Determined to avenge his death, she devised a cunning scheme by which she destroyed a vast number of Egyptians. She constructed a spacious underground chamber and, on pretense of inaugurating it, threw a banquet, inviting all those whom she knew to have been responsible for the murder of her brother. Suddenly as they were feasting, she let the river in upon them by means of a large, secret duct.”
Yet, “brother” and “sister” in ancient Egypt was a term of respect. Was it her brother? Her husband, lover? Or someone close? Did it really happen or was it just a tale? The truth will forever be a mystery and the stories will write their own but if she did exist, she lived after the Old Kingdom during the beginning of the First Intermediate Period. Believed to be the second or third pharaoh after Pepi II, Manetho states, “...she was the noblest and loveliest woman of her time.”
It wasn’t until the Middle Kingdom that the first known female pharaoh appears. SOBEKNEFERU, meaning “beauty of Sobek” was the daughter of Amenemhat III whose predecessor, Amenemhat IV died without an heir. Uncertain as to whether he was the brother of Sobekneferu, the crowns were nonetheless passed onto her where they remained for just less than four years. During her reign, Sobekneferu ruled under both feminine and masculine titles but it was her name, encircled by a cartouche that gave her a seat amongst the kings. Cartouches were reserved for pharaohs as were pyramids; Sobekneferu received both, making her decidedly a pharaoh—king of Egypt.
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