To get this blog started, I thought I would begin by telling you a little something about the ancient Egyptian queen whose name I have adopted as my handle. She was the last queen of the 18th dynasty, which also included the famous King Tutankhamen and Queen Nefertiti. As I have always had a fondness for underdogs (she was completely overshadowed by her famous sister, Nefertiti) and I didn’t want to be one of 1000 Cleopatra derivatives, I selected Mutnodjmet for representation.
The name is pronounced as follows by my Egyptological guru Dr. Bob Brier: MUT-ned-jo-met. According to Dr. Brier, it essentially means”Sweet Mama”, and is one of his favorite ancient names. As I view being a mother to my 5-year old son as my greatest blessing…and I am normally very nice (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), this name has additional appeal.
I wanted to give shout-out to my friend, DAL, who asks the most amazing historical questions, before I proceeded father. He asked me once why I favored the spelling I do, as opposed to the other variations more in-tune with the phonetics. I like the way this version looks best: Simply aesthetics.
The following is the article on Wikipedia concerning Mutnodjmet, which I initially developed and which has been recently expanded by other Egyptology scholars:
The Egyptian noblewoman Mutnedjmet (or Mutnodjmet) was the second wife of Horemheb, the last ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty. The name, Mutnedjmet, translates as: The Goddess Mut is the Sweet One or Sweet Mother. Some historians believe that Mutnodjmet was the sister of Nefertiti, and that Horemheb married her to legitimise his accession to power but the Egyptologist Geoffrey Martin notes that there is no evidence to prove either assertion. Martin additionally observes that:
- The name Mutnodjmet was is not particularly rare in the late Eighteenth Dynasty, and even if she were the sister of Nefertiti her marriage to Horemheb would have had no effect on Horemheb’s legitimacy or candidacy since Mutnodjmet (who is depicted in the private tombs at El-Amarna) was not herself of royal blood. In any case whatever her antecedents Mutnodjmet could have been married to Horemheb a little before he became Pharaoh.
Mutnedjmet in an Amarna tomb
She appears in some of the Tombs of the Nobles at Amarna, particularly that of her possible father, Ay (Southern Tomb 25), where she is shown as a young girl. Her formal titles include ‘The Sister of the King’s Great Wife’ (indicating a direct relationship with Nefertiti), as well as: Singer of Hathor, Singer of Amun, King’s Great Wife, Lady of the South and the North, Mistress of the Two Lands.
Mutnedjmet is occasionally shown accompanying Nefertiti’s three eldest daughters (Meritaten, Meketaten, and Ankhesenpaaten) in reliefs. Additionally, Mutnedjmet is sometimes depicted in the company of two court dwarfs. It is speculated that an alabaster piece found in Tutankhamen‘s tomb of a boat carrying a lady with a dwarf represents Mutnedjmet with one of these men. She is known to have usurped a number of inscriptions of Ankhesenamun at Luxor temple and appears with her husband at the latter’s coronation on a statue in Turin Museum.
Mutnedjmet died soon after Year 13 of her husband’s rule in her mid-40s based on a wine-jar docket found in a burial chamber of Horemheb commoner tomb at Saqqara, in Memphis and a statue and other items of hers found here.The mummy was found in King Horemheb’s unused Memphite tomb along with the mummy of a still-born, premature infant. She appears to have been buried in the Memphite tomb of Horemheb, alongside his first wife Amenia. Mutnedjmet’s mummy shows she had given birth several times, but the last King of the 18th dynasty did not have a living heir at the time of his demise. The presence of the infant along with Mutnedjmet in the tomb suggests that this queen died in childbirth. A canopic jar of the Queen is now located in the British Museum.
Reviewing this entry, DAL made the following query:
I was struck by the number of times Mutnodjmet appears with various rulers in your Wikipedia article. That leaves me with the question of why she doesn’t appear more strongly in the literature. My favorite person from Ancient Egypt is Hatshepsut, yet she appears far less often as what I feel her true power was. Similar situation?
This question is very complex. Answering it will help us begin this journey of discovery.
Firstly, it is important to understand that the Egyptians viewed their rulers as divinities and religious entities and that the most essential figure was that of the Pharaoh. They were more than mere heads-of-state, but semi-divine beings who interceded with the gods on behalf of mortals and who became truly divine after death. Subsequently, the Pharaoh gets all the press, and his mortal family is provided limited mention. For example, with the exception of Ramses II and maybe a couple of other kings, there will be no details on children and very little mention of other relatives (outside the occasional listing of a queen or the rare naming of a crown prince). You have better luck figuring out the family tree of the sheep clerk, as the tombs of nobility and lesser mortals did focus on daily life instead of religious protocol.
Secondly, there is the nasty habit of “usurpation” with which Egyptological scholars must contend. This is when the new king hacks alters the hieroglyphics of the old one so it appears that the newbie built the temple or conquered the enemy. Theoretically, the new pharaoh could argue that it was OK — after all, he was last in the continual line of kings. However, I get the sense that it really wasn’t kosher to them either (Ramses II, for example, altered the mode of relief sculpture and incised his name so deeply that it could not be readily amended).
Thirdly, the ancient Egyptians had away of editing their own history on-the-fly, so to speak. While it is uncertain to Egyptian scholars if Hatshepsut(the first female to take on all the power, titles, and attributes of a pharaoh) had a friendly or antagonistic relationship with her co-ruler, Thutmoses III, what is certain is that the Egyptians viewed female rulership has a disruption of Ma-at (the way things ought to be). Hence, the Egyptians tried to destroy all trace of her (which, perversely, preserved a lot of the material we have related to her rule).
The forth and final point is the most important. Unlike other ancient civilizations, the ancient Egyptians left just enough record of the complex personalities that ruled them as to make them more intriguing to us modern folk. For example, you will see very little mention of any ancient Greek queen — and there are very few movies, posters, tours or TV shows about the opening of a Greek queen’s tomb. The ancient Egyptians have left enough of a hint so that speculation is possible, but not so much that we have definitive answers. This fact, combined with the fact they seemed unchangeable over the course of 5000 years, makes them appealing to us.
How we interpret their world says much about how we view ours.