Queen Mereneith


Around the middle of the first dynasty, the king Den may have been preceeded by Queen Mereneith (Meryneith or Merneith, "beloved of Neith"), considered by some to be the first female ruler of Egypt and possibly the world. However, it is unclear whether she reigned alone for a period or simply reigned alongside her husband Djet (if he was her husband) and then acted as regent for her son Den. She is named as the King's Mother on a seal impression created during Den's reign, but was not recorded on any of the kings lists. Manetho does not refer to her by name, but he does state that there were eight pharaohs in the first dynasty which is "correct" if you include Mereneith as a pharaoh. However, it is also possible that he included Narmer in the first dynasty (and not dynasty 0), and so counted eight pharaohs.

stelae erected in front of the tomb of Queen Mereneith at Abydos copyright Juan R. Lázaro

Her name appears on a clay seal listing the rulers of the first dynasty which was found in the tomb of her son Den. However, it gives her the title "King's Mother", not king. A seal depicts her name inside a serekh (reserved for the name of a pharaoh), and it is possible that she was listed on the Palermo Stone (damage makes hard to be sure), yet she does not appear on the later kings lists. It is perhaps not surprising that she does not appear on the New Kingdom lists, but there is no mention of her on the second dynasty kings lists found in the tombs of Qa'a or her son Den either.

The most compelling evidence that she was a ruler rather than just a queen is her tomb in Abydos (Tomb Y). Because it was constructed on the same scale as the kings of that dynasty and was surrounded by satellite burials for forty servants and the burial of a solar boat, when it was discovered Petrie concluded he had discovered the grave of a pharaoh. The base of her tomb consisted of a stepped structure concealed within the usual rectangular shape of the Mastaba (a low flat "bench" shaped tomb). This may have been an early fusion of Northern and Southern styles which led to the development of the stepped pyramid complex. Stone vessels and seal impressions bearing her name, along with a stela on which her name was written in an archaic form using the crossed arrows of the ancient goddess Neith.

Furthermore, Merenith had two burial sites. To date she is the only woman known to have followed this practice which was reserved for the pharaoh. Her Saqqara tomb (3503) contained a seal with her name in a serekh was also surrounded by the sacrificial burials of servants, each provided with objects symbolising their trade.

copyright J Hill 2010
Return to Top
Ancient Egypt Online