When Egyptologist Dr Joann Fletcher went in search of one of Egypt’s most elusive tombs, she thought she’d found it, only to learn that she hadn’t. However, the trail led her to discover some of the most compelling historical insights. The tomb she’d been chasing was that of a 14th century BC queen, whose bust became one of the most iconic figurines in Egyptian history.
‘Nefertiti’, the queen was called. Her name literally announced, ‘A beautiful woman has come’. It must have mirrored the thoughts of the German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt who dug her bust up from the sands of Egypt in the 1900s. And ever since, her tomb has been one of the most searched for. Why? She wore something that was exclusively the prerogative of the ancient Egyptian kings—the khepresh, a blue headdress worn for battles and on ceremonial occasions.
Nefertiti’s crown told historians and archaeologists a crucial piece of information—she was as powerful as a king! That an Egyptian queen could have been equal to her king is a notion that many Egyptologists are still debating over. However, more and more pieces of evidences show that may well have been the case with Queen Nefertiti and her pharaoh-husband King Akhenaten.
There’s a temple complex in Egypt called Karnak, where a structure named ‘Mansion of Benben’ is dedicated to Akhenaten’s favourite wife Nefertiti. The relics there depict Nefertiti performing rituals that were only reserved for the kings. The relics show more of Nefertiti as the sole ruler than as Akhenaten’s queen! In fact, Dr Joann Fletcher writes of these relics in her book The Search for Nefertiti: “She rewards her officials with gold collars, just like a king, and is shown sitting alone on the royal throne decorated with heraldic plant designs; one example even shows Nefertiti on the royal throne while Akhenaten perches on a stool.”
Dr Fletcher’s findings certainly make for a strong case for Queen Nefertiti being just as powerful as an Egyptian king, if not more. According to her, it shouldn’t come as a surprise because the ancient Egyptian culture was known to believe in the male-female duality of the universe. She even points out that the very symbol of cosmic order was the female deity Maat, and that Pharaoh Akhenaten often described himself as ‘living by Maat’, despite his monotheistic devotion to the Sun’s disk Aten. So, his co-regency alongside his favourite wife and queen—Nefertiti—is probably neither as shocking nor impossible as some scholars argue. Exactly when he made her his coregent is not known, but going by what the relics depict, it certainly does seem like this king-queen couple were equals.
That she ruled like a Pharaoh—be it as coregent or as the sole ruler—is undeniable, for her bust and all the relics in Egypt make it very evident.