Women in Pharaonic Egypt

By Dr. Zahi Hawass

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- When we talk about the grand history of [Egypt] which 
extends more than fifty centuries into the past, we find ourselves continually 
speaking about the ancient Egyptian man, whether this is ancient Egyptian 
engineers who built temples and pyramids, the ancient Egyptian doctors who 
carried out the first medical operations in human history, or the ancient 
Egyptian artists who carved huge statues and inscribed hieroglyphics on the 
walls of temples and tombs. However we rarely find mention of ancient Egyptian 
women, as if this great civilization was built by men alone, and as if ancient 
society was comprised solely of men, which of course is something that is 
completely untrue. 

Yes, there is a clear injustice regarding how the role that was played by 
ancient Egyptian women in building this ancient civilization is portrayed in 
comparison to how the role of men is portrayed; however what is strange is that 
this injustice is a product of modern research and did not exist within ancient 
Egyptian society. Women played an important role in ancient Egyptian 
civilization, and they also enjoyed unparalleled luxury compared to other women 
at the time, and this is why when I decided to publish a book about the role 
played by women in Pharaonic Egypt I decided that the best and more accurate 
title for this would be "Silent Images: Women in Pharaonic Egypt." 

After a long examination of Pharaonic antiquities I discovered that ancient 
Egyptian women were represented by a number of goddesses, such as the goddess 
"Isis" who was the goddess of fertility and worshipped as the ideal mother, the 
goddess "Hathor" who personified motherhood and was worshipped as a protector, 
"Sekhmet" the warrior goddess, and "Bastet" the protector goddess. Upper Egypt 
also worshipped its own patron goddess "Nekhbet" while Lower Egypt worshipped 
the patron goddess "Wadjet." This represents the religious aspect; however at 
the political level the wife of the pharaoh also played an important role with 
regards to the continuation of the royal line, while ancient Egyptian 
princesses could also politically increase the strength of the ruling family 
through marriage. 

Pharaonic Queens bore the burden of rule and raising their young children and 
teaching them to govern, for example Queen-Consort "Ankhesenpepi II" the mother 
of Pharaoh "Pepi II" ruled in her son's name until he was old enough to take 

Queen "Khentkaus II" also acted as regent for her two young sons Pharaoh 
"Neferefre" and his successor "Nyuserre Ini" protecting the throne until the 
latter came of age. Prior to this, historical sources have preserved the name 
of Queen "Nimaethap" for the important role she played as regent and for her 
protection of the throne for her son Pharaoh "Djoser" the first King of the 
Third Dynasty.

Throughout ancient Egypt's history, the names of just a few ruling Queens have 
been made known, with the great Queen "Hatshepsut" - who became a legend 
amongst ancient women - enjoying the longest and most successful reign. 
Hatshepsut ruled over an Egyptian golden age during which ancient Egypt was 
unrivalled in power in the Near East. 

During a 20-year reign, Queen Hatshepsut protected the borders of her empire, 
wearing the same royal regalia as worn by male Pharaoh's. She attributed her 
birth and divine right to rule to the ancient Egyptian god Amun-Ra. Queen 
Hatshepsut did indeed rule over Egypt, and she was responsible for the 
construction of a beautiful temple complex [Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut] at 
Deir al Bahari on the west bank of the Nile.

Just one visit to this magnificent temple - which was constructed by a woman - 
is sufficient for anybody to feel the glory and grandeur of Egypt's past, which 
is something that fill's one's soul with the conviction that the earth belongs 
to those who take action, for history does not remember those who don't. 

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