Dear Readers: As I have been recovering form hip-replacement surgery, I have had a chance to catch up on some of my reading. I finished a wonderful book, TAUSERT: Forgotten Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt (edited by Richard H. Wilkinson). Because it has been a while since I prepared a pure Egyptology post, I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to share some new information that has been uncovered, especially by a group of intrepid researchers of the University of Arizona Egypt Expedition.
When I began my study of Egypt about 40 years ago, very little was known of Tausert (aka Twosre, Twore, Tawosret and Twosret), the the 19th Dynasty queen who was the sole ruler around 1200 B.C.E. She was the King’s Great Wife of Seti II…then Regent of the young Pharaoh Siptah (who was afflicted by polio)… then the lone royal until the next Pharaoh, Sethnakht, established Dynasty 20. The item that perked my interest when I was young was the speculation that she had an affair with the Vizier Bay (rather like the more famous Hatshepsut may have done with her adviser, Senmut).
Recent finds, including those of the University of Arizona group, have unveiled intriguing new information about Tausert. For example, the length of her Regency and Sole Rule needs to be extended by at least 2 years, which puts question marks around the timeline of the 19/20 Dynasty transition.
Her full name is Tausert Setep-en-mut (“Powerful One”, “Chosen of Mut” — which I appreciate). She was born at the end of the reign of Ramses the Great — and while her parentage is unknown, there are theories that she was one of the last children fathered by this pharaoh. And while Egyptian records give just enough information to titillate, and rarely enough to answer fully, I like to think of her as the daughter of this “badass” pharaoh, as it turns out she was pretty badass herself! And given the number of queens/wives/concubines and children Ramses the Great had, I think that we can safely assume she is descended from him in some way.
There seemed to be an optimum lifespan for an Egyptian king that guaranteed a smooth transition. Ramses II exceeded it by 30 years. By the time he died, 12 of his eldest heirs had already”went west“. This left lucky #13, a 50-something Merenptah, to lead the nation. However, when he died, there were complexities. Ramses had grandchildren from the first 12 sons (and also from Ramses’ daughters, also important to consider because an element of the complexities regarding royal claims were dependent on the female line), several of whom felt entitled to a little power. When Merenptah died, there was a challenge to the succession.
Seti II, Merenptah’s heir, theoretically should have been the automatic pharaoh. However, he was challenged by another claimant named Amenesse (who was likely descended from another branch of Ramses’ vast tree). In fact, Amenesse was at one point in charge of the Theban area down to Nubia from year 2-4 or Seti II’s reign. This impertinent imp even usurped a few statues and carved a royal ureaus or two in his old images highlighting his newly exalted status. It seemed Seti II and Tausert kicked Amenesse to the curb, establishing Ma’at once again.
Therefore, if Tausert was Ramses daughter (as I suspect), it would be in Seti II’s best interest to highly honor her as the Great Wife. It would help seal his legitimacy to rule. Interestingly, Seti II ordered her tomb to be built in the Valley of the Kings during his reign: She is one of the few woman to make the grade.
Sadly, it seemed Seti II didn’t inherit Ramses II’s longevity, as forensic studies indicate that he died at the age of 25. And while Tausert gave birth to his first born son, Seti Merneptah, this child died young. So, Tausert became Regent to Siptah, the son of a Syrian woman named Tiaa (NOTE: Seti II may not even have been the father — they boy may have been the son of one of Ramses/Merenptah’s other descendents). This Syrian woman had a close relative, perhaps a brother, who became very powerful during Siptah’s early years. This relative was Bay, who I mentioned earlier. It seems Bay helped Siptah consolidate power.
Instead of a love relation, it turns out Bay and Tausert were actually less than enamored of eachother. In year 5 of Siptah’s short reign, after hitting the pinnacle of power, Bay was sent “West”. Two ostraka fragments tell the story of his undoing: “Pharaoh, Life! Health! Prosperity! has killed the great enemy Bay”. As Siptah was merely a boy, and Tausert firmly took charge at that point, one can readily connect the dots.
With two power-hungry opponents so adeptly handled, it is easy to see that the name “Powerful One” suited this queen so well. “Chosen of Mut”, indeed!!!
Siptah died shortly after this coup, in year 6 of his reign. Given that he had a club foot and evidence of other chronic illness, he totally missed out on the Ramses longevity genes.
Tausert then became the sole ruler of Egypt. I would like to point out that in this essential aspect she differs from Hatshepsut greatly. Hatshepsut ruled as the senior partner in a regency shared by Thutmosis III – she never held power strictly on her own. In fact, the luminous Cleopatra VII never held power solely on her own, either: She sat on the throne of Egypt beside a brother or a son.
Tausert dated her reign starting with the Regency; she reigned for at least 8 years, and new evidence from the University of Arizona team shows that she may have been on the throne for as long as 11 years.
And, once Siptah died, Tausert shared power with nobody else.
One aspect of the art associated with Tausert’s reign, which I think speaks to her as an individual, is that she never totally masculinizes her dress. Compare this image of Hatshepsut:
To the drawing of a statue taken of Tausert:
Tausert makes it a point during her reign to maintain a semblance of femininity. That is why I hesitate to use the term “Pharaoh” for her, even though she is the lone royal on the throne. In fact, the flail she is depicted with in statues and other artwork is that of the “Great Royal Wife”, never the standard one used by kings. She takes on only a few male trappings in all her images:
What was the fate of this powerful queen? It also seemed she missed out that long-life DNA, though the exact reason for her end is uncertain. It is thought that she died in her 30’s. The ostrakon I depicted above, showing an Egyptian queen in a rain of arrows, hints at a possible outcome. Records of her successor, Sethnakht, indicate peoples from the east were invading:
(MUT Note: Putting on my geology hat, it has been ascertained that this region went through a drastic climate change around this period, which could result in the massive population migrations that are being described. Presently, solar fluctuations and ocean current changes are being propsed as potential candidates).
Tausert could have died in battle, as it was not unheard of for Egyptian rules to fight beside their troops — sometimes successfully, sometime with mixed results. It is obvious Sethnakht picked up where Tausert left off, and contained these invaders. But it must be pointed out that the figure Tausert is facing in the picture I showed above has elements of pharaonic dress — so, the piece could be depicting a civil clash between Tausert and another contender to the throne (perhaps Sethnakht).
As Thutmosis III did for Hatshepsut, Sethnakht and his successor (Ramses III, Egypt’s last truly magnificent king) essentially did to Tausert — can’t have any uppity women disrupting Ma’at. Tausert was essentially erased. If it weren’t for her beloved husband Seti II, who was very closely associated with his queen, she may have been much more lost to history.
Tausert’s tomb was recarved by Ramses III to be used for his father’s remains. As Sethnakht only managed to reign 4 years before dying, and royal tombs took a normal reign of about 15-20 years to carve out, this must have seemed a practical solution.
Tausert’s sarcophagus, interestingly recovered in the tomb of her arch-enemy Bay, was the reworked for Ramses III’s son Amunherkhopshef.
Her mummy has never been identified, though it is speculated she is “Unknown Woman D” in the Cache found in KV35:
The book notes that the time-frame for Tausert’s rule corresponds to the period of the Trojan War. In fact, Homer makes reference to the Theban rules in his Odyssey, and editor Richard Wilkinson made this comment regarding the reference in his interview about the University of Arizona expedition: She was known at the time of Homer, who referred to her in the Odyssey as king of Egypt — and assumed she was a man…Homer confused the relationship, and in his Odyssey “talks about the King of Egypt and his wife, referring to Tausert as King, and the young boy, Siptah, as the wife.”
His whole interview is excellent, and is must-read if my piece interests you at all: A Forgotten Female Pharaoh Comes to Life
As a side-note, here is an Egyptian myth that relates to the fall of Troy: The Greek Princess.
The following University of Arizona publications may also be of interest, as it details the amazing work being done on her “Temple of Millions of Years”, which was only lightly excavated previously and not properly recorded nor appreciated:
To wrap this up, I hope you enjoyed learning about a fascinating woman warrior who is now being rediscovered. Now, for something lighter, a classic horror tale featuring a Egyptian queen who was not afraid to take out a few opponents to her rule: