IaHms (=w) -nfr.t iry signifies
"born of the moon god - his beautiful companion". It is composed of two independent elements: (I) Ahmes, very frequent in her family (the reference to the moon could be an Asian influence), and Nefertari, which could only be used or given to the sovereign certainly when she became the Wife of the God, "his" designating the latter and not the king.
Girl of king, sister of king, wife of king (Ahmosis was her husband and her brother), mother of king, queen Ahmes-Nefertari gave birth to many children (most of which didn't reach adult age). She also played a very important political role, at one time at the sides of her spouse and her son, then in the choice of a successor to the latter, who died without male heir. Her character and the circumstances lent themselves to this.
The cult of the queen, alone or associated with her family members or with gods, seems to start slowly. Then about hundred years after her death, it became extraordinary in size with the Ramessides, with no real apparent reason, and it will lasted until the end of the New Kingdom.
Her titulature includes four main titles:
"Wife of the god", "Wife of the god - Amon", " (Great) royal wife", "Mistress of the Two Lands", "Mother of the king".
The queen intervened in public business, as is shown by some of the titles she carried at the end of the reign of Ahmosis, which translate to indicate her universal control on the Two Lands. It seems that she also played a role in the conquest of the Nubia. Under her son, her influence remained considerable.
Ahmes-Nefertari had the responsibility of restarting the official cult worship, seriously unsettled since the end of the Middle Kingdom, which had to take place essentially under the reign of Amenhotep, testified by:
the profitable creation of the foundation of the Wife of the God, to produce an economic and religious role, ceaselessly increasing in the Theban agglomeration (see below).
the patronage which she exercises on the reopening of quarries.
the importance of her grants to various temples of Egypt.
Her action can be seen in the setting up of a vast reorganisation of Egyptian religion, accompanied by an intense policy for reconstruction of the ruins of which Karnak proved again the scale of her power.
Also attributed to Amenophis I (and by association to his mother) the creation of the "Ritual of the daily divine cult worship" of the temples. There is no doubt that it would have contributed extensively to the deification of Ahmes-Nefertari and her association with her son.
Ahmes-Nefertari is considered to have been the first to have carried the title of
"Divine Adoratrice" also known as
"Divine Wife of Amon", or
"Spouse of the God", or
"Hand of the God" in reference to the Heliopolitan theology. She was invested into this position by her royal husband, Ahmosis, whose political aim in this issue was obvious: to avoid giving too much power to the priests of Amon.
The function was occupied solely by princesses of royal blood, so the daughters of Ahmes-Nefertari succeeded their mother and would ritually marry Amon-Ra. But not every queen married the God, even if she was the mother of the heir to the throne, nor does each Wife of the God play a role in transmitting royal power.
The so-called Karnak stela "of the donation" or even "the expensive of life" is difficult to decode and led to various interpretations, but which end in the same result. The theme is important: Ahmes-Nefertari, who held the responsibility of Second Prophet of Amon (in principle a masculine function) bequeaths it to the king. As compensation, Ahmosis autonomises and endows another function, the one of Wife of the God, by granting to the queen (who doubtless exercised it already) enormous income in kind, in lands, in staff, etc.
It thus transforms an obscure function, of which Ahmes-Nefertari was probably the first holder, into a fully-fledged institution with at its head a nearly autonomous person: the queen cannot only do as she pleases with her incomes, but she is also owner of the function, with freedom to bequeath both. The whole takes the form of a contract between two people, made in front of the god Amon and in front of witnesses.
The institution of the Divine Adoratrice will persist until the 26th dynasty, undergoing meaningful variations of which there is not enough space to elaborate here, but exercising a more and more important political role as the Pharaonic central power is divided.
The domain of the Divine Adoratrice is to the north of Thebes, and it is therefore logically that the queen's funerary temple should be built close by, at the foot of Dra Abu el-Naga.
This includes many classic attributes of royal wives. So the great tripartite wig, on which is placed an artificial vulture (the vulture goddess Nekhbet, guardian leader of el-Kab and all Upper Egypt). The whole is covered by a round pancake-like structure resembling a mortar or modius, framed (if space permits) by two tall feathers resembling (but slightly different to) those of Amon. of course, some variants exist.
Unlike the goddesses, an attempt is always made to adorn the queen in a most luxurious and sumptuous dresses, generally transparent dresses, sheath dresses (red on a black skin, green on fair skin), with embossed belts. A magnificent example is on the fragment to the right, from the tomb of Kynebu (courtesy of the British Museum).
The queen sometimes encloses in her arms a member of her family or a god, so in TT181, Nebamon and Ipuky, she encloses Amenophis I (see ) but most frequently she holds in her right hand the ankh sign, or a flower, and in her left, folded on her chest, the supple floral sceptre of the queens of the 18th dynasty, a flower, a crosier, etc.
Ahmes-Nefertari is often found at the side of the gods of Thebes, especially Hathor represented as a cow coming out of the Theban mountain, as in TT277, Amenemopet, (see left) : a very clear symbolic parallel will also operate between the goddess and the queen. This appears several times in the background of the funerary ceremony, as one of the heads of the necropolis, or, as her son Amenophis, in company of great funerary gods (but she is never represented by herself as a funerary god) ; thus, if the king is present at the side of Anubis, Ahmes-Nefertari is always also present (for example: on the curved top of the preserved in the Louvre). Finally, the queen is often associated with other members of her family, as will be seen.
The representative statuary of the queen remained remarkably stable: the sovereign is shown, left leg forward, left arm folded on the chest, grasping a flexible was-sceptre, tight-fitting dress, tripartite wig, headware including the vulture. Such statuaries could accompany the deceased in his tomb or could be set down in an oratory (see for example the from Deir el Medineh, now in the Turin museum).
Ahmes-Nefertari as goddess possesses, as do Hathor and Ma'at, characteristics appropriate to the goddess daughters (title "daughter of Ra"; she calls Amon "my father"). Her iconography is close to that of Hathor (horns around the disk, wadj sceptre, sistra) and her titulature comes close to hers and that of Mut.
This subject has been much debated, particularly in the Afro-centric communities, but after the sovereign's death, and in particular in the Ramesside period, she is represented most often with a coal black skin.
Nevertheless, the indisputable facts seem to prove, that despite her appearance, the queen was not Nubian: her mummy is that of a white race; her son's mummy is never represented black. But there is a problem: Elliot Smith, who has removed the bandages of the mummy in question, speaks of:
"The mummy SUPPOSED TO BE that of Nofritari". So a doubt persists; hopefully the research on the DNA of the royal mummies will definitely resolve the question.
It seems that it is necessary to look especially at the festivals organised in honour of the dead queen during the Ramesside period, during which was transported in a shrine the sovereign's statue in wood covered with asphalt. A supplementary argument for this theory is in the tombs: often, the cult is given to statues of the queen and her son, and no to "living" images (see opposite).
Cerny proposed a link between the queen's image and that of Anubis, the black canine, an idea which is no longer followed. Another hypothesis is the one of a link with Hathor in the form of a black cow. Hollender thinks that the black colour doesn't have anything to see with the underground world, or Osiris, but represents the fertile soil of Egypt after the decline and that the royal couple must be understood not as "King-Queen" but as "Mother-Son". It would be therefore be about showing Ahmes-Nefertari as the "surrogate mother" of the 18th dynasty.
Finally, Gitton showed that the queen's skin could be painted in four colours: rose (TT2), golden yellow or bronze (TT16), dark blue or black (TT277), dark red (TT49). On the other hand, she is never shown as dark green as could be Osiris.
It should be noted that the queen is not the only person of the royal family who could be represented with black skin, it is also the case of Thutmosis I in the tomb of TT51 Userhat (see ), or of Ramesses II in a Theban tomb of which the number is forgotten (see ).
Ahmes-Nefertari could be represented on architectural elements, such as lintels or doorposts (example on the left, from TT210, Rauben), but especially on the wall decoration of near fifty private tombs (never in royal tombs). The first representations date from her lifetime and continue until the end of the Ramesside period.
Geographical distribution (Gitton) :
Dra Abu el-Naga: 22 tombs
TT13, TT14, TT15, TT16, TT19, TT141, TT149, TT153, TT161, TT255, TT284, TT285, TT300, TT302, TT306, TT332, TT334, TT375, TT377, TTA8, TTA12, TTA18.
TT49, TT178, TT181, TT296.
TT23, TT44, TT54, TT65, TT106, TT113, TT134, TT384.
Qurnet Murai: 2 tombs
Deir el-Medineh : 13 tombs
TT2, TT4, TT7, TT10, TT210, TT213, TT219, TT250, TT266, TT290, TT322, TT357, TT359.
A widespread distribution can thus be seen, with a predominance in Dra Abu el-Naga (therefore close to the queen's temple) ; Deir el-Medineh comes next, with probably a bias explaining a relative sub-representation: the necropolis of the 18th dynasty of the village has almost disappeared.
From Ramesses II, the queen is also present alone (one exception), on the bas-reliefs of the great Theban temples: the temple of Karnak, the Ramesseum, the temple of Sethy I; in this last one, situated close to the prestigious Men-Set temple, the sovereign is represented at least five times, notably on a navigation barque.
On the other hand, and this is a mystery, the queen is only mentioned in two graffiti among the thousand listed in the Theban mountain.
" (that) whose site is stable", which has disappeared completely today, was located at the foot of the hill of Dra Abu el-Naga, not far from the always standing temple of Sethy I (see ). It represents a temple of Amon, built by Amenophis for his mother, the sovereign is associated there with the cult of the god; the king was also extensively represent there, without knowing if a cult was specifically given over to him.
The reason for where the place was chosen is easily understood: it is close to the domain of the god's wife, below the tomb prepared for the queen (tomb "B" of Dra Abu el-Naga) and on the axis of the Karnak temple, which is on the other side of the Nile, therefore a prestigious site, a point of reference for all the West bank.
It is in Men-Set that more accounts of the cult worship to the sovereign are found, whilst personal piety remained more discreet, notably at Deir el-Medineh: where is evoked the benevolent ancestor, the mother of numerous children, the protector of the very young son and the entire country.
Perhaps the fragment above, which is in Louvre, comes from this Men-Set temple?
The sovereign lived for several years under the reign of Thutmosis I, who buried her and created her temple, the least that he could do, seeing that she had helped him by allowing him to reach the throne, which was an excellent means to assure his legitimacy.
Her body was put to rest in tomb B of Dra Abou el-Naga, a vast monument which would undergo several important changes and which would finish being completely robbed, as so many others. In the 21st dynasty, some pious priests transported her mummy to the "hiding place" of Deir el-Bahari in an enormous coffin of 3.17m in length, accompanied by four canopic vases with human heads.
When it was discovered by archaeologists, the body assigned to the queen was that of a white race woman, of about 70 years, measuring 1.61m. It became corrupted by contact with the air. The description of the mummy can be found in in the "Catalogue General Antiquites Egyptiennes du Musee du Caire: The Royal Mummies, Le Caire", 1912, (see from plate VII).
There appears to be three especially active locations: Karnak, Deir el-Medineh and north of the necropolis, where the domains of the foundation of the Divine Adoratrice and the Men-Set are located. The cult is also often found to Ahmes-Nefertari "of Men-Set" according to a diagram which will act as a model for the other places of cult. The association with Amenophis I doesn't come from a sharing of Men-Set but from the closeness of two neighbouring cults. The queen's cult starts at the end of the 18th dynasty and remains bound to that of Amon, the true master of the place (the Men-set). At the time of his journey of the Beautiful Festival of the Valley, the statue of Amon spends a whole day at Men-Set, where it is received by the god's Adoratrice, without knowing if this is by the statue of Ahmes-Nefertari or the living Adoratrice with the title.
The cult statue came out at the time of certain festivals and was carried on the back of man or placed on a sledge and towed towards one or several places which remain unknown.
For some journeys the statue took to water, such as at the time of visit to the royal temple (i.e. the Ramesseum). Scenes of navigation also exist towards the temple of Amenophis I "from the courtyard", whose palanquin awaits for it in front of a pylon, and which seems especially connected to Ahmes-Nefertari, just like the Theban triad of Amon - Mut - Khonsu. It is perhaps in relation to "river exit of Nefertari" that a date is found in the "journals" of the necropolis at the end of the New Kingdom. The barque, especially known by representations from the Ramesseum, is decorated at the stern and the prow with the heads of women, based on the model of that of the queen. It carries a closed shrine with the name of
"Portable shrine of the god's wife, Nefertari".
At Deir el-Medineh, the queen is a lot less present than her son and does not benefit from her own clergy, nor from a sanctuary as does her son. On the other hand, she was certainly mentioned in one or several "corporate chapels" to the north of the site, which served for the worship of the gods of the place. It seems that the inhabitants of the village essentially paid homage to the founder of their community, Amenophis I, his mother only being associated with it.
Besides Amenophis and the Theban triad, Ahmes-Nefertari is often present beside the deified dead sovereign (Ramesses I and II, Thutmosis I, III and IV, Horemheb, Sethy I and Montuhotep II). So in the tomb TT359, of Inerkhau, (see image to the left), or in company of Amenophis and the goddess Satet at TT335, Nakhtamon, (see ), or with Montuhotep II and the goddess Hathor at TT277, Amenemopet, (see ). More frequently even, she is at the sides of other members of his family (Ahotep, Ahmosis, Sat Kamose, Satamon, Ahmes Sapair, Merytamon) who are hardly ever represented without her. But it is of course with her son Amenophis I that the sightings are the most frequent.
As highlighted by Guillemette Andreu, it is necessary to amit that we do not know why the king and his mother, after having been ignored for nearly a century, have abruptly become the object of such a popular cult.
For Ahmes-Nefertari, various explanations can be put forwards, relating to her functions as ruler, of ancestral mother, of priestess, of goddess, and the prestige of her funerary temple.
Ahmosis and his family succeeded in chasing away the Hyksos invaders from the Delta and to finalise the reunification of Egypt after the stagnation of the Second Intermediate Period which must have profoundly raised spirits. The queen (Ahmes-Nefertari) appears thus, because of her action and her character, as the focal point and dominant personality within the family of the liberators.
The association with the deceased and deified kings has been seen; in an inscription, Ramesses II calls her "my mother", as if she had come to embody THE good mother, the parent of all legitimate kings and of which she watches in childhood (regency) without ever trying to change her role (unlike Hatshepsut who, in a comparable situation, chose to seize the throne). Her name of Nefertari will be taken up by two other queens (of which one is the Great Royal Wife of Ramesses II, whose magnificent tomb is on ), whilst her title of wife of the god,
Hmt-neTer, will become a proper noun extending into the New Kingdom, especially at Deir el-Medineh.
"Wife of the god" is the most frequently used to designate the queen, so evident for the contemporaries that, sometimes, they don't even complete it with her name.
Essentially it refers to the service of Amon. When she is seen carrying out the cult practice on the stelae, the walls of the tombs, she acts at that time as intercessor for the living, which is without any doubt one of the keys to her popularity.
Before being cult beneficiary to the rank of gods, Amenophis I, his mother and all of his family was perceived as agents of this cult, which they had worked so much to put back on a firm footing. When seen in a political dimension: the devotion to Ahmes-Nefertari in all these reinstated temples was a means for the clergies to remind the following sovereigns their duties (towards the temples).
The queen is not a simple officiant, but receives a cult worship on an equal basis with numerous other divinities, and is addressed using the traditional invocatory offering
"Hetep di nesu". Four main groupings appear: the Theban triad, the funerary gods, the gods of Thebes and the gods of Upper Egypt. They provide the measure of her importance and the domains in which she participates.
The Men-Set, situated justifiably opposite Karnak, is exceptional by its position and by the fact that a queen is associated it. There is also no doubt that Thutmosis I, who had everything to gain from it for its recognition, embellished (and maybe enriched) the building and its clergy.
It is likewise probable that the decline, then the disappearance of the cult of Ahmes-Nefertari was in parallel with the neglected and the destruction of this foundation. The last certain trace that is known of the cult is located under Ramesses X.
In the Ptolemaic period, there was no trace of the royal couple at Deir el-Medineh.
This represents a widely-known character who exercised his functions at the end of the 20th and into the beginning of the 21st dynasty, at the time of the transitional period known as the "Era of rebirth". Among his functions, he had the responsibility for the inspection of the royal tombs of the west bank of Thebes. When one of these was found robbed, Butehamon assured the reburial of the sovereign and the transfer of what remained of the funerary material. He also did this for Amenophis I and Ahmes-Nefertari by concealing them in the cache of Deir el-Bahari. The name of Butehamon is repeatedly inscribed in Medinet Habu.
At his death, his body was placed in three anthropoid (human-shaped) coffins, completed with a false lid, and now preserved in Turin and Brussels.
It is quite interesting that this character chose to represent on the lid of his external coffin the images where he makes a libation or presents offerings to Amenophis I, Ahotep and Ahmes-Nefertari, as well as to the children of Ahmes-Nefertari (see ).
Which, in this period, for a man as such as Butehamon to create on his coffins these venerable forebears, shows the extraordinary prestige which the royal family enjoyed again, from the beginning of the 18th Dynasty. This probably indicates the nostalgia of that era as one of the most glorious in the history ancient Egypt.