Ellen Lloyd - AncientPages.com - In The Valley of the Queens there is a very large and spectacular ancient tomb that belongs to Queen Nefertari (1290–1224 BC).
Nefertari Meritmut, whose name means ‘beautiful companion' was the first of the Great Royal Wives of Ramesses the Great and one of the best known Egyptian queens, next to Hatshepsut, Cleopatra, and Nefertiti.
Wall painting of Queen Nefertari playing senet. Credit: Public Domain - Right: Statue of Ramesses II at Thebes. Credit: Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0
Compared to the Cleopatra, the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, or Nefertiti who suddenly disappeared after being elevated to near-equal status by King Akhenaten, Nefertari’s life history is not as complicated or mysterious, but nevertheless significant.
Her giant tomb, QV66 offers evidence of her importance and power as the first wife of Ramesses the Great, who was the third pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt.
Who Was Queen Nefertari?
It is true we possess little knowledge about Nefertari’s early years. Historians are uncertain about who her parents were and where she was born. A discovered cartouche of Pharaoh Ay inside her tomb has led archaeologists and historians to speculate she may have somehow been related to him, but there is no conclusive evidence supporting this claim.
Tracing the life of a person who lived so long ago is always difficult, but historical records show she married Ramesses II before he ascended the throne. At the time of their union, she was 13-year-old and the pharaoh was 15-year-old. The couple had four sons and daughters, or maybe even more. Ramesses II lived for over ninety years and he had dozens of children with different wives.
Historians have identified the sons of Queen Nefertari as Amun-her-khepeshef, Pareherwenemef, Meryatum, and Meryre. Her two daughters were Meritamen and Henwttawy.
Ramesses The Great’s Devotion To Queen Nefertari
In ancient times, politics often decided how marriages were arranged. Some unions were nothing but political business affairs, but there were also cases like the marriage between Ramesses the Great and Queen Nefertari that appear to have been a true love affair. Contrary to what many think, marriage and divorce in ancient Egypt was an uncomplicated matter.
Ramesses The Great was married to Queen Nefertari for 24 years until her death that is. At Abu Simbel, the pharaoh raised, next to his own colossal monument, a magnificent temple in her honor.
He referred to her as Sweet of Love, Bride of God and Lady of the Two Lands, and wrote her sweet love poems. The inscriptions the pharaoh left behind reveal Queen Nefertari played an important role in his life and the whole of Egypt.
Queen Nefertari was a very intelligent lady. She could read and write hieroglyphs, which was a very rare skill at the time. Most pharaohs didn’t master hieroglyphs. Nefertari used her education and skill in her diplomatic work and she was a respected and admired Egyptian queen.
Legacy Of Queen Nefertari
Nefertari’s children never reached her level of fame. The one who is most well-known today is her son Meryatum became a high-priest of Ra in Heliopolis. This was an impressive title because Heliopolis was not only one of the oldest cities in Egypt, but also very important as a religious center.
Credit: Public Domain
Before Pharaoh Akhenaten began to express his dissatisfaction with the old Egyptian tradition, ancient Egyptian priests were very powerful. Their status diminished of course when Akhenaten introduced his religious reforms. As the unorthodox ruler, he changed the traditional religion of Egypt from the worship of many gods to the worship of a single god named Aten. In that sense, Egyptian priests, whose daily life focused on pleasing the gods were no longer necessary.
Aerial view of the Karnak Temple
What happened to Nefertari’s other children is uncertain, but the legacy of Ramesses the Great’s first wife is still visible today if you visit Egypt. Although her tomb was robbed in antiquity it’s decorated walls testify to her greatness as mighty Queen of Egypt.
The fact that she had her own Nubian temple at Abu Simbel made her follow in the footsteps of Queen Tiye, Amenhotep III's Great Royal Wife. The smaller temple of Goddess Hathor is also dedicated to Queen Nefertari. There, the great Egyptian Queen is depicted on the facade of equal size to her husband.
There are many ancient depictions of Queen Nefertari. Credit: Public Domain
In Luxor and Karnak there are also many statues of Queen Nefertari where she appears as the consort of Ramesses the Great. Her name is also mentioned on cuneiform tablets from Hattusha, the magnificent capital city of the Hittites.
As previously mentioned in Ancient Pages, ancient Egyptian object known as the sistrum was a magical and sacred musical instrument. Though the sistrum was mostly associated with goddess Hathor, it was also used by other ancient Egyptian people, and Queen Nefertari and there are several depictions of the pharaoh’s wife playing the sistrum.
Nefertari, wife of Ramesses II, holding a sistrum. Credit: Public Domain
Queen Nefertari’s lavishly decorated tomb was excavated in 1904 by Italian Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli. When he and his team opened the resting place of this once powerful ancient Egyptian Queen they were astonished and the decorations in her tomb have captivated Egyptologists. The tomb’s ceiling was blue and painted with magnificent stars. The scenes depicted on the ancient walls are still considered some of the most beautiful of the entire necropolis. Her tomb has undergone several restoration works and is today closed to the public.
Because both had similar names, Queen Nefertari is often confused with Queen Nefertiti, but they were two entirely different persons who had little in common.
Nefertari has gone to the history books as a powerful, intelligent Queen of ancient Egypt whose memory has been kept alive thanks to the impressive buildings pharaoh Ramesses The Great raised in honor of his beloved first wife.