Nefertari Merytmut (? – 1250 BCE)

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nefertari

Nefertari, was Chief/Great Royal Wife to Ramesses II, the 3rd Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. He was called Ramesses the Great, for he was one of the greatest and most powerful Pharaohs of the Egyptian Empire. He was known for his several military campaigns into Syria, Nubia, Libya, and his peace treaty with the Hittites. He was also a great builder of astounding tombs and monuments.

It was after the discovery of the Nefertari’s tomb, the largest of the Queen’s tombs in the Valley of the Dead, that we see her importance. We uncovered that she was the favorite and most beloved wife of her husband. “My love is unique — no one can rival her, for she is the most beautiful woman alive. Just by passing, she has stolen away my heart,” he writes on the walls of her tomb in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Her walls are covered in words of love and devotion and poetry from the Great Ramesses II. This is significant as although a lot of marriages of the Pharaohs were politically/traditionally motivated, this was not necessarily the case with all.

Although very little is known about Nefertari, the discovery of her tomb and the romantic ideal of a powerful Pharaoh besotted with his lady has made Nefertari one of the more famous Egyptian queens along with Cleopatra, Nefertiti, and Hatshepsut. But, who was she?

Nefertari, given her age at death and the discovery of the Pharaoh Ay’s cartouche in her tomb could possibly mean that she was a great granddaughter to him. This is speculation, but it would make sense. We also only know that she married Ramesses before he became Pharaoh of Egypt. Nefertari was one of seven royal consorts to Ramesses II, but no others received quit as much attention and honors from the Pharaoh. Even though Pharaohs could have several wives and it was hard to say how many they actually had, they did usually have Chief/favorite wives. From the children of these wives is where the next Pharaohs and Queens would come from. It was not uncommon for half brother and sisters of chief wives to marry. This was a way to keep the blood line pure in their beliefs.

Also the Pharaoh and his 1st Chief Wife, or his Great Wife, were reincarnations of the brother and sister God and Goddess, Osiris and Isis. This, and the fact that all Egyptian names were so similar or exactly the same (people always named their babies the same names) makes it difficult to separate mother, father, son, daughter, etc… from each other. The royal inbreeding and use of the same names just makes it difficult to get a clear picture. It’s quit a trial for historians and archaeologists to sort through this mess. Sometimes, forensic anthropologists or physical anthropologists are very helpful if there are well preserved mummified corpses to be examined.

There were possibly eight children between Ramesses and Nefertari, but Ramesses had a total of at least 28 sons and 11 daughters which are recorded. This number could be a lot greater, especially due to lesser wives/concubines and daughters. Not all daughters were important enough to be recorded in history. Ramesses’s 13th son by another wife, Isetnofret, would be the next Pharaoh. Two of Nefertari’s sons died as young men during their father’s reign, and the 3rd son was a high priest and would not become Pharaoh.

What we see regarding Neferari’s importance and esteem by her husband were the many monuments of her likeness seated beside the Pharaoh, and her image depicted all over important buildings, such as  at Luxor and Karnak. She is always shown more prominently and more often than the Pharaoh’s other wives. We even know that she was involved politically within the Empire. Her name is mentioned in cuneiform tablets from the Hittites. She corresponded with the Hittite King and Queen, helping to negotiate peace between them. There is even mention of her sending gifts.

By the looks of the walls of her tomb, her death probably devastated Ramesses, the man and King who gave her the title of ‘The one for whom the sun shines.’ No one had seen anything quite as touching within any other Egyptian Queen’s tomb before.

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