Papyrus Blank Sheets


Queen Nefertari

Not to be confused with Queen Nefertiti, whose image is well known from her statue now in Berlin, Neferati was the wife of Ramesses II - the longest ruling Pharaoh who reigned in the 19th Dynasty. When I say wife, I of course mean one of his many wives, as it was common for a Pharaoh to have more than one, but clearly from all the evidence at our disposal, she was his most significant partner.

She produced as many as ten children for Ramesses including Amenhirwenemef, his eldest son and Meritamen, his favourite daughter. Those mentioned and most of his offspring died before the demise of their father, who reigned for about seventy years. Clearly, it was the queen's function to produce heirs for her husband and she certainly did, but it was also her duty to support her husband in all ceremonial occasions. We have ample evidence that she did this to the full and she may have even accompanied her husband to many of his battles, most notably, his victory over the Hitittes at Kadesh in the early part of his reign. From the many surviving inscriptions we know that her titles included  Mistress of the South and the North and  Lady of the Two Lands . There are many monuments remaining in her honour, built by her husband who was a prolific monument builder. Although on the face of it these monuments were dedicated to his loving queen, they were in fact mainly built as a testament to himself and his legacy to Egypt. Regardless, we still see that there was a special relationship between them and we can clearly see that she was held in very high esteem. The temples at Abu Simbal are examples of this, where the queen is depicted as being the same size as her husband. Often in Egyptian monuments the queen appears in a much smaller scale to that of the Pharaoh, as is the case in other monuments concerning Nefertari.


Usually for the most part the Pharaoh died before his wife, but in this case, as was the case with most of his children, the reverse proved the rule, which left Ramesses in an unfamiliar position. He is said to have taken Iset-Nofret as his wife after the demise of Nefertari, who produced at least four children. There is some evidence to say that both Nefertari and Iset-Nofret were of a similar age, so it is likely both were producing offspring at the same time. This is not unusual for the time or for an Egyptian ruler as already alluded to earlier. Nefertari was buried in the Valley of the Queens where most of the 18th Dynasty queens were buried. Her tomb (QV66) was discovered in 1904 by Ernesto Schieparelli of the Turin Museum excavation group, but like many of the ancient tombs it had suffered greatly at the hands of tomb robbers. Some minor objects were found including shabti figures, a pair of the queen's scandals and the knob of a cane with an imprint of the cartouse of King Ay. The main treasure found here was of course the wall paintings. Although Schieparelli understood the significance of this, he could see that the paintings were in a very poor state. This was due to the poor quality of the tomb and in particular the limestone. The paintings were not painted directly on to the walls but on a thick layer of plaster, which coated the tomb. Deterioration due to landslides and the formation of salt deposits threatened these exquisite works of art. To the great credit of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization and the Getty Conservation Institute who worked jointly to carry out conservation work on this tomb, it is now open to visitors.

It is obvious that many different artists or teams of artists were employed on this tomb and in some cases we can see that some of these artists were not afraid to experiment with new techniques such as shading and the use of red paint to highlight certain detail. It is not my intention to go into detail on these paintings here but as you can imagine most of these works depict Nefertari's progress from her death to eternal life in the afterlife. Her mummified body is depicted being protected by Isis and Nephthys, Anubis and the sons of Horus. She is shown playing the game of senet, which had a major significance for a person's journey in the afterlife. There are also many hieroglyphic texts and indeed the whole quality of this workmanship is superb. Having said this, we can also see the human side where there are some examples of slopy workmanship i.e. where paint was allowed to drip and some lines were drawn incorrectly. This adds to the whole character of the work.

Although we know some detail about Neferari's life from her tomb and the monuments in her honour, we certainly don't know all the details of her life and like many Ancient Egyptian figures we are left to speculate and use our imagination to paint a more complete picture. Maybe this is not such a bad thing, as in this case we have a reasonable template to work on. Part of the fascination with this culture is that we will never know for sure all the details and maybe this is the ways things should be.

Egyptian Writing Kit