April 18, 2012

Ramses II Pharaoh and the Royal Wives

The royal wives
The youthful Ramses took his two principal wives, Nefertari and Istnofret, at least ten years before Seti's death. The old king thus saw his grandchildren around him - at least 5 sons and 2 daughters by them, as well as possibly another 10 to 15 children from other ladies of the harem. No wonder that in later years and after further marriages, Ramses could boast of over 100 sons and daughters that simply were not numbered.

Queen consort of Egypt - Tomb wall depicting Queen Nefertari, the great royal wife of pharaoh Rameses II
Virtually nothing is known of the background of either Nefertari or Istnofret except that Nefertari was always the Chief Queen until her death in about Year 24 of the reign. Her recently restored tomb in the Valley of the Queens (QV 66) is one of the wonders of ancient Thebes. Istnofret took Nefertari's place, but only for some ten years as she seems to have died about Year 34. Nefertari bore Ramesses' first son, the Crown Prince Amenhirkhopshef, and at least three other sons and two daughters. Istnofret bore a son named Ramesses, plus two other important sons, Khaemwaset and Merneptah (the king's eventual successor). Khaemwaset later became famous as a 'magician', and is often referred to today as the first archaeologist thanks to his interest in ancient monuments and their restoration. The 5th Dynasty pyramid of Unas at Saqqara, for example, bears his inscription high up on the south face (p. 63).

Following royal custom, Ramses took many of his other and subsequent wives from his immediate family. They included Henutmire, his younger sister, and three of his daughters: Meryetamun, Bint-Anath (a distinctly Syrian name meaning 'Daughter of Anath', which is curious since her mother was Istnofret) and Nebettawy. After peace had been concluded with the Hittites (see below), Ramses cemented the new alliance by taking a Hittite princess as his bride, given the Egyptian name Maathorneferure. Seven years later, in 1239 BC, a second Hittite princess joined the court. In his old age, Ramesses' harem was nothing if not cosmopolitan, numbering another Hittite princess together with Syrian and Babylonian royal ladies.

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