The powerful women who ruled ancient Egypt in a male-dominated world were unusual and extraordinary wonders for their time. Cleopatra VII Filapator, Twosret, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, Sobekneferu and MerNeith were some of the few ancient women who ruled during Egypt’s long history.
Historical records indicate that MerNeith was the wife and regent of a queen, but she may have been a ruler herself for a time. Her tomb is very similar to the tombs of the Egyptian kings of the First Dynasty, and reflects many of the tributes paid to them, including a large underground chamber, burial chambers for servants, offerings and a sun boat.
The name also appears on a list of early pharaohs on a seal on his son’s tomb. However, next to her name on this seal is the title ‘Mother of the King’.
If MerNeith really ruled in her own right, she would be the first female pharaoh and reigning queen in history.
Sobekneferu was the last ruler of the 12th Dynasty after the death of his brother Amenemhat IV. More than five other women are thought to have ruled Egypt as pharaohs before Sobekneferu, but she is the first whose existence has been confirmed by evidence.
The ancient power couple Nefertiti and Akhenaten ruled Egypt together from 1353 to 1336 BC, and are best known for launching the monotheistic religious revolution. They advocated the worship of a single god, the sun-disk Athena. Before their empire, Egyptian religion was polytheistic.
During the reigns of Nefertiti and Akhenaten, ancient Egypt enjoyed prosperity and wealth, perhaps the greatest the country had ever known. In the temples built at Karnak, Nefertiti is depicted in works of art almost twice as often as her husband. There are even scenes in which she appears in roles usually reserved for the pharaoh, such as defeating enemies and decorating the throne with prisoners.
Some scholars believe that she ruled Egypt briefly as pharaoh under the name Neferneferuaten after the death of her husband and before the accession of Tutankhamun.
Hatshepsut is the second historically confirmed female pharaoh. At the age of 12, she became queen of Egypt after marrying her half-brother Thutmose II and ruling over his infant son Thutmose III after his death.
Less than seven years after becoming ruler, Hatshepsut took the title of pharaoh and full powers. Officially, he still ruled with Thutmose III, but it was clear that he was in charge.
As a symbol of his pharaonic power and in an attempt to legitimise his rise to power, Hatshepsut decreed that all official descriptions of him should include all the traditional pharaonic honours and symbols: the khat-head and uraeus, the false beard and the shendyt-kilt. Since Thutmosai III tried to erase Hatshepsut from history after his death, many surviving statues have alternatively used elements of traditional female iconography.
Hatshepsut is generally regarded by scholars as one of the most successful pharaohs in Egyptian history, and his reign lasted at least twenty years. He expanded trade and undertook ambitious building projects.
At the end of his life, Hatshepsut was buried in the Valley of the Kings.
Twosret was the last known pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. Initially, she was the second wife of Seti II and the deputy ruler of his heir Siptah. When Siptah died, Twosret took over the throne and officially declared herself Pharaoh. It is uncertain whether his reign ended in civil war or whether the conflict started as a result of his death.
Cleopatra VII Philopator
Cleopatra VII Philopator, of Macedonian-Greek origin, was the last active pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt. She ruled Egypt first with her father Ptolemy XII Auletes and later with her brothers Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV.
Although Cleopatra married Ptolemy XIII at the age of 18, in accordance with her father’s wishes, she made it clear that she did not want to share power with him and removed his name from official records. She also kept his face off banknotes and coins, reserving that honour for herself alone.
He could speak six languages, including Ethiopian, Aramaic, Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek and Latin.
Around 48 BC. Cleopatra abdicated and fled to Syria. In exile, she raised a mercenary army and rebelled. She quickly allied herself with Julius Caesar and exploited Caesar’s hatred of Ptolemy XIII, who had killed the Roman consul and his daughter Julia, the widowed Pompey. With Caesar’s help, Cleopatra regains the throne with her youngest brother Ptolemy XIV.