Women currently make up 49.56 percent of the population. But, sadly, they are also more likely to be trapped in a cycle of poverty and hunger than their male counterparts. Today, however, is a day to honor all women. Established in 1909, International Women’s Day gives us all a chance to celebrate the accomplishments of women regardless of their color or creed. Today, in honor of International Women’s Day, Nefertari’s vault will pay homage to our namesake: Queen Nefertari.
WOMEN IN ANCIENT EGYPT
To better understand the great queen’s accomplishments, we must better understand her environment. Unlike many ancient societies, women in Egypt benefitted from a legal status nearly identical to men. They could not only own property but also initiate civil proceedings, borrow money, sign contracts, and initiate divorces. While women rarely held jobs outside of the home, it was certainly not unheard of. Many women owned businesses selling clothing or cosmetics and others made a living as entertainers. Under very specific scenarios, women could even become pharaoh.
It should be noted, however, that legal permissions and cultural realities rarely coincide. Numerous texts indicate that the common populace often regarded women as inferior to men.
THE STORY AND IMPACT OF NEFERTARI
Likely a member of a high-ranking noble family, Nefertari Merytmut married Ramses the II at just 13 years old. Records indicate that they were wed before Egypt’ s longest-serving pharaoh took the throne and decades before he established himself as Ramses the Great. Their marriage would last for 24 years before Nefertari died. What started as a loveless political union would go down as history as a loving relationship filled with poetry, statues, and one of the most lavish tombs uncovered in the Valley of Queens.
While most statues of Nefertari of these are concentrated in lower Egypt, where she was particularly popular, Egyptologists have found images of her across the ancient empire. She can even be found at the foot of Ramses II statues in Luxor. When she does show up, it’s often leading the royal children in procession, officiating rituals, or standing toe to toe with her husband at important events. Scholars believe she even accompanied her husband on key military campaigns.
Scholars believe she may have also played a part in diplomacy and international relations. Evidence acquired in the capital city of the Hittites seems to confirm this theory. Ramses spent much of his early reign at war with the Hittites but would later pass a peace treaty. Researchers would later uncover a series of letters between Queen Nefertari and the rulers of the Hittites. Political gifts, such as a beautiful gold necklace, were also uncovered.
She is believed to have mothered six of Ramses’ 85 children. Due to their father’s long life, however, none of them ever ascended to the throne. Their mark upon history is also negligible. Their mother, however, was left two grand buildings to commemorate her rule. The first of these is the smaller temple at Abu Simbel. Dedicated to both her and the goddess Hathor, this temple is noted for its lavish carved columns and large hypostyle hall. The second, also known as QV66, is Nefertari’s tomb. Though looted of its goods by grave robbers, the beautiful murals left upon its walls were virtually untouched by the passage of time. This tomb is considered a cultural and architectural icon and is heavily protected.
Nefertari was truly a queen ahead of her time. She not only reveled in the equality offered to ancient Egypt’s women, but also pushed its boundaries. She was not just a queen. She was a diplomat, a mother, and a religious icon. Nefertari’s Vault is proud to honor her, and all women who call our planet home.
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