Queen Nefertari was the wife and queen of Ramses II. She lived during the New Kingdom Period and was a member of Egypt’s 19th Dynasty. Her name, Nefertari Merytmut (meaning The Beautiful Companion, ‘Beloved of [the goddess] Mut), embodied the majesty and stature of queen Nefertari. At the young age of 13 she married the 15 year old Ramses II, who would come to be famously known as Ramses the Great, the son of Seti I whose father was Ramesses I (the founder and first king of the Nineteenth Dynasty) and grandfather was Horemheb, who ruled after the deaths of Tutankhamun and Aye. Queen Nefertari’s known biography begins after her husband became Egypt’s ruler. Scholars know little about her family or past but they can make some assumptions based on her titles. She was highly educated and able to both read and write hieroglyphs, a very rare skill at the time. She used these skills in her diplomatic work, corresponding with other prominent royalties of the time.
Nefertari held many different titles, including: Great of Praises (wrt-hzwt), Sweet of Love (bnrt-mrwt), Lady of Grace (nbt-im3t), Great King’s Wife (hmt-niswt-wrt), Great King’s Wife, his beloved (hmt-niswt-wrt meryt.f), Lady of The Two Lands (nbt-t3wy), Lady of all Lands (hnwt-t3w-nbw), Wife of the Strong Bull (hmt-k3-nxt), god’s Wife (hmt-ntr), Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt (hnwt-Shm’w-mhw). Ramesses II also named her ‘The one for whom the sun shines’.
Although it has been suggested that the marriage with Nefertari was arranged to strength Ramesses hold on the throne by linking his family with one from Thebes, but there is simply no evidence one way or the other. Since her titles do not include that of “king’s daughter”, it is would be safe to conclude that she did not have a royal father by a principal wife, even though both Ay and Horemheb have been suggested as parent along with a lesser member of the royal harem. Whatever the reason for the marriage it appears to have been a loving and successful one. Some see Nefertari as continuing the tradition of strong queens begun in the Eighteenth Dynasty. Nefertari carried the title God’s Wife of Amun which gave the holder considerable independent wealth and power, and wore the elaborate head-dress of Ahmose-Nefertari, but we actually know very little about her activities as Queen. She played a fairly prominent role in state ceremonies for the first three years or so and then disappeared from the record for about eighteen years before appearing again to write a letter to the Queen of Hatti on the occasion of a treaty between the two countries that ended a long period of uneasy relations.
The greatest honor was bestowed on Nefertari however in Abu Simbel. Nefertari is depicted in statue form at the great temple, but the small temple is dedicated to Nefertari and the goddess Hathor. The building project was started earlier in the reign of Ramesses II, and seems to have been inaugurated by ca year 25 of his reign (but not completed until ten years later). Nefertari’s prominence at court is further supported by cuneiform tablets from the Hittite city of Hattusas (today Boghazkoy, Turkey), containing Nefertari’s correspondence with the king Hattusili III and his wife Puduhepa. She is mentioned in the letters as Naptera. Nefertari is known to have sent gifts to Puduhepa:
The great Queen Naptera of the land of Egypt speaks thus: Speak to my sister Puduhepa, the Great Queen of the Hatti land. I, your sister, (also) be well!! May your country be well. Now, I have learned that you, my sister, have written to me asking after my health. … You have written to me because of the good friendship and brotherly relationship between your brother, the king of Egypt, The Great and the Storm god will bring about peace, and he will make the brotherly relationship between the Egptian king, the Great King, and his brother, the Hatti King, the Great King, last for ever… See, I have sent you a gift, in order to greet you, my sister… for your neck (a necklace) of pure gold, composed of 12 bands and weighing 88 shekels, coloured linen maklalu-material, for one royal dress for the king… A total of 12 linen garments.
In keeping with a tradition followed by her predecessors, Tiye and Nefertiti, Nefertari was worshipped as a goddess. The Greeks saw a very sharp division between the divine and the human: gods and goddesses could live for ever; men and women could not. To the Ancient Egyptians almost everyone could enjoy immortality under the right circumstances, so they saw no difficulty in the idea of partial divinity. Nefertari was pictured as the goddess Hathor in a temple at Abu Simbel, located in Nubia, some 40 miles north of the Second Cataract. It is unlikely that she was worshipped anywhere else, nor is it likely that anyone outside of the temple gave much thought to the possibility that Nefertari might be a goddess.
Ramesses had two temples cut into the limestone cliff at Abu Simbel. It was the smaller one, known appropriately as the Small Temple of Abu Simbel, that was dedicated to Nefertari. While it may have been dedicated to his wife, Ramesses saw to it that four of the six statues at the front were of himself. Only two showed Nefertari wearing the clothes and symbols of the goddess Hathor, and the picture on the inner wall of the sanctuary shows Ramesses presenting the offering to Hathor.
Nefertari can be seen wearing Greek silver earrings in one of the portraits. These would have been sent to her as a gift for diplomatic reasons. The tomb was robbed in antiquity. In 1904 it was rediscovered and excavated by Ernesto Schiaparelli. Several items from the tomb, including parts of gold bracelets, shabti figures and a small piece of an earring or pendant are now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Additional shabti figures are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
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