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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Ancient Egypt: The Miracle of Contraception Part 1

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Ahhh, contraception. One of the most well conceived scientific conceptions of all time…see what I did there?

Women have been trying to wrestle control back from their ovaries since the dawn of civilization. What with a near consistent almost worldwide patriarchy and, if Game of Thrones is to be believed, the hourly struggle for a dude to keep his breeches laced up, the threat of unwanted pregnancy has always haunted the female psyche. Sometimes a woman wants to do other things, guys. Like be a super Senet master or…uh…something else. Nah, but for real, as hard as it is to believe, contraception and preventing pregnancy has been around longer than the idea that women’s purpose is to marry and baby-make.

Even though the debate rages today on just how much freedom a woman is “allowed” to exert over her body, know that if ever one so much as uses the word “tradition” to explain why any form of birth control should be prevented from a modern day and supposedly educated populace, swift kick that fool in the jugular, yah get me?

Because if they don’t already know, the Egyptians have been getting down for ever. I mean, really, what else is there to do on the Nile’s off season?

The Ancient Egyptian recipe for preventing pregnancy (Because frak you, Isis!):

First of all, ladies, in the off chance that your conservative minded government prevents access to the methods I will describe below or if you get stuck with a “blessing from God” in the disguise of a sex crime, you’ve got the best natural and free birth control possible–Breastfeeding!

Women were known to extend their breastfeeding for many years! During lactation, progesterone fails to build up like in a normal menstrual cycle and thus ovulation can be prevented by keeping that kid dependent on the boob! Side note: Perhaps this is why royalty had wet nurses? Not just for social standing implications but to encourage every opportunity of producing an heir?

If the thought of childbirth turns you off though, luckily we have a papyrus from 1850 BC known as the “Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus” which details other means of birth control. (Check it out here)

“Another prescription hin of honey, sprinkle over her womb, this is to be done on natron bed.”

This was a substance mixed with honey and sodium carbonate which was applied inside the vagina. Couldn’t find any modern opinions on if this one in particular worked but than again I admittedly didn’t look hard enough.

One other substance they did use was an acacia gum which was also placed inside the vagina. This does, in fact, contain spermatocidal properties. Compounds of the substance produce lactic acid anhydride which is today used in some preventive jellies. Point goes to Egypt!

The most interesting and somewhat shocking suggestion given by the papyrus for a pessary (for those without a vagina, doctorate, or a girlfriend–a pessary acts as a physical barrier between the cervix and any invading sperm) is as follows:

“For preventing […] crocodile dung, chopped over HsA and awt-liquid, sprinkle […]”

Ignore the jumbled untranslated Egyptian text because, yes, that says crocodile dung.

As I try not to imagine dealing with that whole business, science at least puts my mind a little at ease with why anyone would consider such a thing.

It has been suggested by some modern historians that not only would the feces most likely effectively block seminal fluid at the os of the cervix but that it could also change the pH level.

Not good enough an excuse?

Well, John Riddle puts forth the suggestion that inserting feces into a woman’s vagina would, in fact, be an excellent form of contraception because…well, it would keep the boys away, wouldn’t it?

There’s also the idea that such a practice may refer to an incident in Egyptian mythology where the deity Set attempted to harm Isis while she was pregnant. He was typically associated with a crocodile (Not to be confused with Sobek) so, crocodile =/= pregnant.

Either way, I guess they had their reasons.

Any of these sound good to you, ladies? D:

Fact check it, yo!

Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance. John Riddle. 1994.

Economic Transformations and General Purpose Technologies and Long-Term Economic Growth.“Historical Record on the Control of Family Size.” Richard G. Lipsey, Kenneth I. Carlaw, Clifford T. Beker. 2005.

Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus. 1850 BC. http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/med/birthpapyrus.html