Nefertiti versus Nefertari

anne-baxter

Guess who I’m supposed to be…

Here at Histastrophe!, I make it a personal goal to arm my readers with random factoids they might have the pleasure of one day ‘Well, actually…” utilizing in everyday conversations to exert their historical dominance. Life is too short to go through in ignorance, after all. And while I’ve covered myths and misconceptions before, sometimes a common knowledge mix-up is nothing more than just a bit of confusion in differentiation. History certainly didn’t make it easy on us, especially with the insistence on naming all those damn kings Louis, for example.  Here’s looking a heavy side-eye at you, Kate & William

First up, two completely different famous Egyptian queens who ruled a Dynasty apart and have, unfortunately, similar monikers. Here’s how to tell the difference!

Nefertiti

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The Bust of Nefertiti,  made from stucco and limestone, currently residing in the Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany.

Nefertiti is, arguably, one of the most famous Egyptian queens–right along side Cleopatra, and with growing renown, Hatshepsut. But the reason for the world’s attention has everything to do with the bust above and less to do with what we actually know about her, which isn’t a whole lot. The bust in question was discovered in 1912 by a German archaeologist in the ancient capital of el-Amarna (then Akhetaten) in a sculptor’s workshop named Thutmose. Since then, the world has been enraptured by her beauty and her image has become synonymous with Ancient Egypt. But who was Nefertiti? That’s still a matter of debate.

What we do know for sure is that she was the reigning queen and Great Royal Wife alongside her husband Akhenaten. Being the principal wife meant that you were a step above the rest of the wives and concubines that typically made up the harem of an Egyptian pimp-daddy Pharaoh. In Nefertiti’s case, she might have been a step even above that. What’s notable about the rule of Akhenaten, is that a few years into his reign, he decided to revolutionize the Egyptian cult of worship by proclaiming that Aten, a sun god, was the single monotheistic religion. This, understandably, didn’t go over too well with the Egyptians since they had an entire pantheon of gods and most cities had their own patron deity. But while the whole one-true-god experiment went on, it seemed Akhenaten shook up a bit of the social hierarchy too. When it came to his chief consort Nefertiti, archaeologists were a bit surprised to find her depicted in parallel with her husband suggesting they were both co-regents. Typically, a queen was shown behind the pharaoh or at least smaller in scale, but in this case there were many examples of Nefertiti sitting alongside her husband, walking next to him in processions, officiating at ceremonies, and even sometimes wearing a distinctive crown signifying she might have been a bit more badass boss lady under this new era of Aten. [1]

King Tut's Funerary Mask

Not gonna lie, had a crush on this kid when I was 8-years old

In fact, it’s this seeming display of power that have lead archaeologists and historians to wonder if perhaps she even became pharaoh for a period of time. After the death of Akhenaten, another extremely famous ruler took his place–our favorite clubfooted teenage boy king, Tutankhamen. But while he would have been too young to immediately rule at the time, it seems there might have been a separate ruler entirely in the interim, which some have suspected to be Nefertiti herself. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell. And herein lies the problem with attempting to subvert an entire religious order in the matter of one lifetime. Tutankhamen immediately reversed his father’s monotheism and restored the old Gods when he became pharaoh but even that wasn’t enough to  ward off the animosity towards his family. After Tut’s untimely death at such a young age, his grandfather’s old vizier Ay came to power, shortly followed by a general named Horemheb who was determined to erase as much of the family from history as he could. That’s partially why the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb was such an amazing find at the time–due to it’s unorthodox location given Tut’s early death (some believe the tomb was intended for Ay in the first place) and the resulting erasure from history that followed, it’s entirely possible that his tomb remained untouched and un-defiled for so long because people had simply forgotten he existed.

Piecing together a timeline and a story of a family who had almost been struck from history forever is no easy task. And there are a lot of theories and unanswered questions about Nefertiti, some that may never be resolved. Who were her parents? Possibly the adviser Ay or maybe she was a sister of Akhenaten. Was she King Tutankhamen’s mother or would that have been a lesser wife Kiya? If she was King Tut’s mother, perhaps we’ve already found her and is the mummy known as The Younger Lady. [2] Or, maybe she’s still out there in the sands somewhere, waiting for us to find her. You’ve probably seen her recently in the headlines, Nicholas Reeve’s having theorized a hidden chamber within King Tut’s tomb having belonged to Nefertiti (Spoiler: It wasn’t), or Expedition Unknown’s facial reconstruction on The Younger Lady trying to figure out if the mummy is possibly the queen, it’s clear that Nefertiti is still certainly in the forefront of our attention.

Nefertari

Nefertari

Queen Nefertari under the Ramasside Dynasty

 

As for Nefertari, a quick google image search will get you a whole bunch of images of the Bust of Nefertiti above, siiiigh. Nefertari perhaps doesn’t have a world famous bust hanging around in a museum, but she too was known for her beauty back in the day. And she must have been some looker to be Ramesses II’s most beloved wife out of his extensive harem that bore him somewhere around 100 children. [4] Ramesses II loved her so much, he even constructed a temple for her at Abu Simbel which you’re probably familiar with…

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Hey baby, I heard you like monuments so I put a monument in a monument

Ramesses II was so smitten with his queen his dedication text reads like something a teenage boy would scribble into song lyrics in a flex notebook.

A temple of great and mighty monuments, for the Great Royal Wife Nefertari Meryetmut, for whose sake the sun does shine, given life and beloved. [4]

Oh, and though it would take me an entirely separate post to detail why Ramesses II is known as ‘The Great’, I’m sure you’ve all already heard of him. He’s the pharaoh commonly associated with the biblical story of Moses in popular culture re-tellings. There isn’t any verifiable evidence to suggest he was the pharaoh mentioned in The Bible, but that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from portraying him and his wife Nefertari whenever they’ve gotten the green light. So, perhaps Nefertari’s face isn’t featured in archaeology magazines every now and again, but she’s been immortalized on the silver screen and has become famous in her own right as a result. Take your pick!

So, a quick little guide to tell the difference between the two…

Nefertiti is the queen with the famous bust resembling Angelina Jolie.

Nefertari is the queen in that crappy Ridley Scott Exodus movie.

Who knows where the hell Nefertiti is or even who really mothered King Tutankhamen.

We uh, er, found Nefertari’s knees.

Nefertiti maybe probably kinda who knows got to play as Pharaoh before she died.

Nefertari got temples and the most lavish tomb known to queens.

 

Does that help?

 

Fact Check it, yo!

[1Samson, Julia. “Nefertiti’s Regality.” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 63, 1977, pp. 88–97. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3856305.

[2Rose, Mark. “Who’s in Tomb 55?” Archaeology, vol. 55, no. 2, 2002, pp. 22–27. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41779653.

[3] Kemp, Barry, and Albert Zink. “Life in Ancient Egypt Akhentanen, the Amarna Period, and Tutankhamun.” RCC Perspectives, no. 3, 2012, pp. 9–24. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26240370.

[4Agnew, Neville, and Shin Maekawa. “Preserving Nefertari’s Legacy.” Scientific American, vol. 281, no. 4, 1999, pp. 74–79. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26058441.

 

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French Etiquette

Marie Antoinette's Execution

Pardon me, sir, I did not mean to do it.

-Marie Antoinette’s, the last Queen of France, supposed last words before being guillotined on October 16th, 1793 during the French Revolution. She had accidentally stepped on the executioner’s foot.

 

Memoirs of the Sansons, Chapter XXXI ‘The Queen’: [1] Source written by the executioner Henri Sanson’s grandson. Makes no mention of this comment, yet other passing phrases between The Queen and her executioner are as follows:

“Have courage, madam!”

“Thank you, sir, thank you.”

He then offered to support her to the scaffold to which she was said to have replied,

“No, I am, thank Heaven, strong enough to walk that short distance.”

Memoirs of Marie Antoinette, by Madame Campan; Removal of the Queen: [2] Memoirs on the court of Marie Antoinette as told by her lady in waiting, Campan. The below is a quote from Alphonse de Lamartine from his Histore des Girondins, a French poet, writer, and politician who helped to compile the Memoirs with Campan:

The Queen, after having written and prayed, slept soundly for some hours. On her waking, Bault’s daughter dressed her and adjusted her hair with more neatness than on other days. Marie Antoinette wore a white gown, a white handkerchief covered her shoulders, a white cap her hair; a black ribbon bound this cap round her temples …. The cries, the looks, the laughter, the jests of the people overwhelmed her with humiliation; her colour, changing continually from purple to paleness, betrayed her agitation …. On reaching the scaffold she inadvertently trod on the executioner’s foot. “Pardon me,” she said, courteously. She knelt for an instant and uttered a half-audible prayer; then rising and glancing towards the towers of the Temple, “Adieu, once again, my children,” she said; “I go to rejoin your father.”

This is, perhaps, the origin–and though most contemporary sources of her time weren’t without bias or accusations of cake eating, this is one of the few sources painting Marie as a sympathetic figure. Unfortunately, with the politics surrounding the French Revolution, it’s a mess to separate fact from fiction.

Marie Antoinette's Prayer Book

Prima Nocta or Prima “Not”?

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One classy evening after a long night of getting paid to repeatedly explain where the restrooms were and pouring the occasional decaf, I felt like unwinding with a game of Animal Crossing (had some big loans owed to that skank Tom Nook) and a viewing of Braveheart because I’m rock n’ roll and really like that scene where Mel Gibson gets hanged, drawn, and quartered. Oops, spoilers.

There must have been a considerable amount of time since I last saw the movie and between that must have had tea and crumpets with a history book because, suddenly, I took offense at the very mention of ‘Primae Noctis’ and the fact that all those Scotties were prancing around in kilts (but that’s a post for another day).

For those unfamiliar, Primae Noctis or the French version Droit du Seigneur, was the idea that a lord was within legal rights to take the virginity of a serf’s daughter, most notably, on her wedding night. We see this concept perpetuated in Braveheart when crotchety ol’ King Edward I of the Britains enacts this law to “breed out the Scots” and we see a few fug lords wedding crash on the friend of William Wallace which escalates quickly into war and the entire point of the film and Mel Gibson’s career.

Braveheart isn’t alone, though. The Office, Game of Thrones, Merlin, and Family Guy reference it. And if you were living in the Enlightenment Era, you had the Marriage of Figaro or some of Voltaire’s sass to help spread the fire. What is even more strange and can possibly be found to prey victim to the widespread misconceptions present through these times is that some notable scholars even believe it, toting around ‘evidence’ where there is none.

So how did this happen?

Obviously, with something like this, you need an account or source that has either witnessed, observed, or found any sort of legal documentation of this act being practiced. Curiously, with a right as supposedly as widespread as we are led to believe, almost nothing exists and yet a few scholars are determined to hold the belief that it was a real thing. Or it happened in the Dark Ages, duh. Or France at least, yes, at least France. (Always France).

These select few will point to Herodotus (who, if you’ve been keeping up with me, know that I am already familiar with) and say, “Herodotus claims daughters of Babylon had to offer their virginity to a stranger!” [citing paragraph 199 Book 1]

The fact that Babylon =/= Medieval Europe and a vastly different political climate and caste system is neither here nor there because a closer look at what Herodotus actually said is more illuminating and vastly more interesting.

After detailing how Babylonian men found wives during marriage auctions (It’s like the dowry, women are either property or a burden) Herodotus goes on to say,

…has now fallen into disuse and they have of late years hit upon another scheme, namely the prostitution of all girls of the lower classes to provide some relief from the poverty which followed upon the conquest with its attendant hardship and general ruin. [Book 1 para. 196]

No sign of putative legal rape here, folks, just the exercise of the oldest profession in the world. Oh, but wait. Here’s the passage being referenced in support of the claim (Book 1, para. 199) check it out:

There is one custom amongst these people which is wholly shameful: every woman who is a native of the country must once in her life go and sit in the temple of Aphrodite and there give herself to a strange man.

Oh, sure. Taken out of context, I suppose you could take out some phrases and compare this to a feudal sex crime, but what this is actually referring to is a form of phallic worship which was common in the area as detailed by Westermarck in the penultimate History of Human Marriage. Herodotus goes on to detail that the woman enters the temple, is offered a silver coin as bargain, and slept with in order to complete the religious rite. This can be seen as a form of ‘sexual sacrifice’ in the form of worship which wouldn’t be all to dissimilar with the antics of Aleister Crowley’s crew.

Herodotus DOES, however, write in Book 4 about the Adyrmachidae tribe in Libya who are guilty because

They are the only Libyan tribe to follow this practice, as also that of taking girls who are about to be married to see the King. Any girl who catches his fancy, leaves him a maid no longer. [para. 168]

But note the “only” and the “Libya” and a few thousand years, and this example is further away from Medieval Europe than indoor plumbing.

So Herodotus had a small mention, but how did this translate into a giant boogie laden finger pointing at Europe?

Well, Dr Karl Schmidt, a German and a doctor so enuff said, believes it “was only a learned superstition” and that it originated from culagium, a requirement that a serf get permission to marry, and such a permission often required the peasant to pay a fee or give some kind of service (not prostitution, okay, calm down). This apparently appeared to come up in the consequence of marrying under the lands of another Lord, as it would be like losing a ‘headcount’ and a laborer by right so compensation was in order. So the “right of the Lord’ was more likely a tax rather than a romp in the Motte-and-bailey.

And the idle belief that the higher clergy practiced Droit du Seigneur in Middle Age France? (Geez, again with this? Let them rebel in peace)

This misconception could have stemmed from the symbolic “possession” of a man’s wife by the church as it was a requirement that for three days and three nights to go by before any copulation happened because of the “spirit of solemn devotion”. But, mostly, because any ecclesiastical authority could be thus payed off with a nice meaty fee if you wanted the privilege of the dirty deed on the first night instead. Certainly, there was a legal rape happening here, but not one of the flesh…

Of course, there is also Boece, an established uncredible source who fabricated many narratives, who wrote of an event that happened more than 700 years before he did. I shudder to think this may have been the basis for Braveheart

And othir law he maid, that wiffs of the commonis sal be fre to the nobilis; and the lord of the ground sal have the maidenhead of all virgins dwelling on the same. [The Chronicles of Scotland. 1938.]

Perpetrator of myths not history. And if this didn’t help spread it, Voltaire’s cheeky comedy ‘Le Droit du Seigneur: Comedie en vers’ and his parallel criticisms of a pre-revolution/enlightenment satirical view of early France has probably got him giggling around in his grave now that common knowledge totes Primae Noctis around like a slutty party girl.

Either way, somewhere between no evidence to shady business to disrespectful double-takes and biased views of civilized society, we have a gross pock mark on the history of Medieval Europe (well, two, if you’re also counting the pestilence. Gosh, I’m witty.) I’m not saying it didn’t happen, I’m sure a position of power and dominance led to frequent abuse of lower classes and sexual violence against women. But it certainly wasn’t a cultural or legal custom that was practiced without prejudice all across Europe. And in the case of Braveheart, there is no evidence to support an event of this nature occurring on the British Isles unless you want to go sit over there with Boece and the guy who wrote about George Washington cutting down a cherry tree.

So, the next time you’re out making a reference about claiming someone’s wife for a night ala Prima Nocta, that’s me staring you down in the corner and predatorily stalking you with a conversation about violent youth, knighthood, and the Crusades. So just don’t do it, okay?

Fact check it, yo!

Secondary Sources:

Old Babylonian Marriage Ceremonies and Rites. S. Greengus. Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2 (1966)

The History of Human Marriage. Edward Westermarck. 1891. pp. 72-76-80.

Jus Primae Noctis: Eine Geschlichtliche Untersuchung. Schmidt, K. (1881)

Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe. Brundage, J. (1987)

Jus primae noctis or droit du seigneur. Vern L. Bullough. The journal of Sex Research, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Feb. 1991), pp. 163-166.

Primary sources:

The Histories Herodotus

Other:

The Chronicles of Scotland. 1938. Boece.