Dear Readers: I was recently reminded of Queen Ahhotep by a friend who posted a picture of a prestigious military award given to Egypt’s 17th Dynasty ruler, which accompanied her to the grave: The Golden Flies of Valor.
So, today, I would like to review the life and death of one of Egypt’s most dynamic and influential women. It seems she was the “leader of the pack”, obviously influencing the strong women who later dominated Egypt’s 18th dynasty (e.g., Hatshepsut, Tiye, Nefertiti and Mutnodjmet)
Ahhotep, whose name means “The Moon is Satisfied”, was the wife of pharaoh Seqenenre Tao (likely her brother), whose own mummy points to a rather gruesome death at the hands of the Hyksos (a group of mixed Semitic-Asiatics who immigrated into Egypt’s delta region and eventually dominated it). She lived sometime around 1560- 1530 BC. Eventually, her son drove the foreigners from the country and established the extremely famous 18th Dynasty (featuring favorites such as Thutmosis III, Akhnaton, Tutankhamon).
Ahhotep was likely the mother of Pharaoh Ahmose I. Her exact relation to Pharaoh Kamose is not known, but he may have been her brother-in-law (brother of Tao) or her son. Other children of Queen Ahhotep I include the later Queen Ahmose-Nefertari who was married to her brother Ahmose I.
It seems that she was an active Queen Regent once her husband was killed in battle. In a unique inscription dated to a later part in his reign, Ahmose calls upon the people to honor his mother and credits her not only for having ruled Egypt while he was too young, but also for having rallied the troops and fought off rebellion:
“Give praise to the lady of the land, the mistress of the lands of Haw-nebut, whose name is (held) high in every foreign country, who has made many plans, the King’s Wife, the sister of the sovereign, may he live, propser and be healthy, the King’s Daughter, the noble King’s Mother, who knows (all) things, who took care of Kemet. She looked after its troops, she guarded them, she rounded up its fugitives, brought back its deserters, she pacified the South and she repelled those who rebelled against her, the King’s Wife Ahhotep, may she live””
So, Ahhotep is acknowledged for suppressing a rebellion, but the the nature of the rebellion itself is not recorded. Could it be that her regency was not generally accepted by all those who here under Theban rule, and this period represents a transition in ancient Eygptian attitudes toward female rulers that would eventually culminate in Pharaoh Hatshepsut?
This effort seems to have been worthy of formal military honors. More details about the “Golden Flies of Honor” can be found in a wonderful piece by Graciela Gestoso Singer: Ahhotep I and the “Golden Fly
“From the beginning of the XVIIIth Dynasty, gold rewards were given in several forms: a) bracelets and necklaces -as the “Order of the Golden Collar” or šbyw collar, b) flies -as the “Golden Fly of Valor” or the “Order of the Golden Fly”, and c) ceremonial and warlike artifacts -such as daggers, axes, armlets, headdresses, barks, and lions. Queen Ahhotep did wear and/or receive most of them, initiating an era of brave and political active Queens.
The fly motif in military decoration could be related to several aspects: a) the behavior and the persistence of biting flies attacking humans; b) the presence of flies on battlefields, where blood is being shed; and c) the fly is the hieroglyphic determinative sign of the word “fly” (‘ff), the verb “to fly” (‘ff ), and the sound “aff” (‘ff) (expressing “rejection” and “bother”), all of them connected with the same idea of “shooing away” animals or enemies. In later times (ca. 1550 BCE onwards) it was used as a symbol of bravery.
The weaponry and the “Golden Fly”, found in the tomb of Ahhotep, and the inscriptions of Ahmose, at Karnak, permit to confirm her active role during the Hyksos war. Queen Ahhotep received splendid ceremonial artifacts after the country was liberated from the Hyksos because of her bravery and support for her late husband and her two sons. The ceremonial artifacts (three golden fly pendants, a battle axe, and two models of ceremonial bark) found in her tomb were part of the funerary and ritual objects used to symbolize and guarantee the eternal victory of the order (maat) over the chaos (the enemies or evil forces).
Ahhotep is mentioned on the Kares stela (CG 34003) which dates to year 10 of Amenhotep I, and her steward Iuf mentions her on his stela (CG 34009). Iuf refers to Ahhotep as the mother of King Ahmose I, and would later be the steward of Queen Ahmose, the wife of Thutmose I. This suggests Ahhotep I may have died at a fairly advanced age during the reign of Thutmose I. There are suggestions she may have lived to the ripe-old-age of 90.
She was buried with all due honors, but like with most of Egypt’s rulers, her tomb was plundered. Ahhotep I’s outer coffin was eventually reburied in TT320 in Deir el Bahari.
In 1858, Auguste Mariette’s team excavating at a site called discovered a coffin labeled for a King’s Great Wife Ahhotep. Interestingly, it was during the New Kingdom that King’s Great Wife was the title bestowed pn the principal consort of the pharaoh. Opening the coffin, the excavators found a mummy and a collection of golden artifacts. In one of the biggest tragedies known to Egyptology, the mummy was stripped, and both body and bandages were thrown away – eliminating all the possible data we could collect with today’s technology. The coffin shows the queen with a tripartite wig and a modius. The body is covered in a rishi-design (feathers). The “Golden Flies of Valor” were found with the coffin.
Then, in 1881, a large outer coffin belonging to the King’s Daughter, King’s Sister, King’s Great Wife and King’s Mother Ahhotep was recovered from the famous Deir el-Bahari cache of royal mummies. It is thought this might have been unusable for the queen at the time of her dealth so the smaller coffin was used. The mummy found in this coffin was that of Pinodjem I, a High Priest of Amun who, at the start of the Late Dynastic Period.
Interestingly, there is a theoretical association of Ahhotep the mythical Io, a nymph who was seduced by Zeus, who changed her into a cow to escape detection by Hera. The glyph ‘Ah’ in her name is the same as Canaanite/Pelasgian moon goddess Io or Ya(h). The Aegean region was known to the ancient Egyptians as Yawan (Iaones). Ahhotep’s unique title, hnwt idbw h3w-nbwt ‘Mistress of the Shores beyond the Islands’, refers to the Egyptian term for lands bordering the Aegean Sea. Furthermore, Egyptain queens were often associated with cow-goddesses such as Hathor. (David Rohl: The Lords of Avaris)
It seems as if Ahhotep’s death has been as adventuresome as her life. Truly, her influence on the Great Queens of Egypt’s famous 18th dynasty was powerful.