Queen, Warrior, and a Symbol of a Forgotten Dynasty – The Powerful Matriarch Ahhotep
A few surviving records show that Ahhotep was a woman who was stronger, braver, and a more powerful ruler than the average man. Her thrilling story starts in the Egyptian Middle Kingdom and ends in the storage rooms of the famous Cairo museum.
The Second Intermediate Period is one of the most underrated times of ancient Egypt. There are countless forgotten stories of women and men whose mummies found a safe harbor in the tomb DB320. The story of Ahhotep is full of gaps, but the bits and pieces that can be ascertained show a woman who knew no limits when she lived millennia ago.
Her Royal Family
Ahhotep was a daughter of Pharaoh Senakhtenre Ahmose and Queen Tetisheri. She grew up in a court where people were very aware of the royals’ power. Her mother was a strong political player and an influential queen, and Ahhotep wanted to follow in her footsteps. With time, she gained an important role amongst the princesses and became her brother Sequenenre Taa II’s wife. He was also one of Tetisheri’s sons and the husband of two of their sisters: Inhapy and Sitdjehuty. However, Ahhotep wasn't made to be just one of many. She bore four children to the pharaoh and gained more power than her sisters. Her political decisions and actions made in the court seemed to be an homage to her father and the continuation of his vision. Even her two daughters were named in his memory – Ahmose-Nefertari and Ahmose-Nebta.
Stela depicting Tetisheri (seated) and pharaoh Ahmose. (CC BY 2.0)
It is possible that she could have been a lifelong pharaoh’s wife if Sequenenre Taa II hadn’t died during battle. But he received horrible wounds to his skull and body by a Hyksos battle axe and other weapons – a bloody event he couldn’t have survived. His successor was Kamose, one of Ahhotep’s sons with the deceased pharaoh.
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Mummified head of Sequenenre Taa II depicting his battle wounds. (Public Domain)
A Warrior Woman
Ahhotep actively took part in battles and other military activities. She was a queen who took care of soldiers, rode a horse, and held an important role in diplomacy. She lived like a ruler and acted like a man in politics, but at the same time she maintained her female charm. As Joyce Tyldesley has written:
“Whatever his lineage, it is reasonable to assume that Kamose was a warrior of noble birth chosen to continue the struggle against the Hyksos. This he did until, a mere three years later, he too lay dying on a distant battlefield. Kamose was succeeded by Ahmose, the younger son of Seqenenre Taa II and Ahhotep.
Now there was a break in hostilities of almost a decade as Ahhotep raised her son, ruling Egypt on his behalf as regent. As an adult, and king of the unified land, Ahmose was not ashamed to admit the deep debt that he owed to his mother. On a unique stela recovered from Karnak he encouraged his people to revere her as 'one who has accomplished the rites and taken care of Egypt':
She has looked after her Egypt's soldiers, she has guarded Egypt, she has brought back her fugitives and gathered together her deserters, and she has pacified Upper Egypt and expelled her rebels.
If we read this stela literally, and there seems to be no good reason not to, it seems that Ahhotep had been forced to take up arms in defense of her country (Thebes), perhaps in the uncertain days following the death of Kamose. For the first time, we have written proof that the queen regent could wield real authority.”
Sarcophagus of Kamose, Cairo Egyptian Museum. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
As noted above, some records suggest that Ahhotep essentially ruled Egypt for a time after Kamose died. However, the official successor was Ahmose I, another of her sons. She was definitely an important figure in the court for many years, but it is unknown when she gave up her role as regent. Her life is still a mystery, and it is possible that many questions will never be answered.
Ahhotep had a long and fascinating life. She probably died during the reign of Thutmose I, however, this is uncertain. Researchers have agreed that Ahhotep’s life was long and she saw many pharaohs reign over her beloved country. Unfortunately, many pieces of evidence documenting her life were destroyed by the people who entered her tomb.
One of Ahhotep’s rings. (Juan R. Lazaro/CC BY 2.0)
The Queen Mummy
What happened to the mummy of the authoritative Queen Ahhotep? It seems that it became one of the most tragic victims of 19th century excavations. In those times, researchers were focused on finding golden treasures. Modern researchers doubt that her body was placed within DB320 - unlike most royals who died around her time. Only her outer coffin was reburied there.
DB320 Cache Tomb Shaft. (CC BY 3.0)
It is more likely that Ahhotep’s mummy was discovered in 1858 by Auguste Mariette’s hired workmen excavating Dra Abu el-Naga. Mariette noted the discovery of the King's Great Wife Ahhotep’s coffin. This title suggests that she was more important than the pharaoh’s other wives. Mariette also discovered gold jewelry inside the coffin, so the mummy was hastily unwrapped. Once the golden treasures were taken, the bandages were thrown away without a second thought. The impressive grave goods he found alongside this mummy included an inscribed ceremonial axe made of gold and a copper and wood electrum decorated with a Minoan-style griffin. Moreover, the burial contained jewelry as well as a type of ‘'medal'' that was given as a reward to high-ranking Egyptian soldiers and three golden flies of valor.
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Jewelry, awards, and an axe from Ahhotep’s tomb. (Temple of Mut)
Sadly, the queen’s bones seem to be lost. One hypothesis says that her remains were left in the desert, but there is also a chance that her mummy was taken to Cairo and is one of the individuals in the famous Egyptian museum.
Ahhotep is one of the forgotten queens of Egypt. She is nowhere as famous as Hatshepsut, Cleopatra, Nefertiti, or Nefertari. However, her story is certainly one of the most thrilling of all the queens of Ancient Egypt.
Top image: Sarcophagus of Ahhotep. (CESRAS, Moscow)
Joyce Tyldesley, Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt, 2006
Aidon Dodson, Monarchs of the Nile, 1995.
Aidan Dodson, Dyan Hilton, The complete royal families of Ancient Egypt, 2004.