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Merneith (also written Meritneith and Meryt-Neith) was a consort and a regent of Ancient Egypt during the First Dynasty. She may have been a ruler of Egypt in her own right, based on several official records. If this was the case, she may have been the first female pharaoh and the earliest queen regnant in recorded history. Her rule occurred around 2950 BC [1] for an undetermined period. Merneith’s name means "Beloved by Neith" and her stele contains symbols of that ancient Egyptian deity. She may have been Djer's daughter and was probably Djet's senior royal wife. The former meant that she would have been the great-granddaughter of unified Egypt's first pharaoh, Narmer. She was also the mother of Den, [3] her successor.

A queen consort is the wife of a reigning king. A queen consort usually shares her husband's social rank and status. She holds the feminine equivalent of the king's monarchical titles, but historically, she does not share the king's political and military powers. A queen regnant is a queen in her own right with all the powers of a monarch, who (usually) has become queen by inheriting the throne upon the death of the previous monarch.

A regent is a person appointed to govern a state because the monarch is a minor, is absent or is incapacitated. The rule of a regent or regents is called a regency. A regent or regency council may be formed ad hoc or in accordance with a constitutional rule. "Regent" is sometimes a formal title. If the regent is holding his position due to his position in the line of succession, the compound term prince regent is often used; if the regent of a minor is his mother, she is often referred to as "queen regent".

Ancient Egypt ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa

Ancient Egypt was a civilization of ancient North Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in the place that is now the country Egypt. Ancient Egyptian civilization followed prehistoric Egypt and coalesced around 3100 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Menes. The history of ancient Egypt occurred as a series of stable kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as Intermediate Periods: the Old Kingdom of the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Kingdom of the Middle Bronze Age and the New Kingdom of the Late Bronze Age.



Merneith is linked in a variety of seal impressions and inscribed bowls with the kings Djer, Djet and Den. Merneith may have been the daughter of Djer, but there is no conclusive evidence. As the mother of Den, it is likely that Merneith was the wife of Djet. No information about the identity of her mother has been found. [4] [5]

A clay seal found in the tomb of her son, Den, was engraved with "King's Mother, Merneith". [3] It also is known that Den’s father was Djet, making it likely that Merneith was Djet’s royal wife.

Cylinder seal form of seals

A cylinder seal is a small round cylinder, typically about one inch in length, engraved with written characters or figurative scenes or both, used in ancient times to roll an impression onto a two-dimensional surface, generally wet clay. Cylinder seals were invented around 3500 BC in the Near East, at the contemporary sites of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia and slightly later at Susa in south-western Iran during the Proto-Elamite period, and they follow the development of stamp seals in the Halaf culture or slightly earlier. They are linked to the invention of the latter’s cuneiform writing on clay tablets. They were used as an administrative tool, a form of signature, as well as jewelry and as magical amulets; later versions would employ notations with Mesopotamian cuneiform. In later periods, they were used to notarize or attest to multiple impressions of clay documents. Graves and other sites housing precious items such as gold, silver, beads, and gemstones often included one or two cylinder seals, as honorific grave goods.


Segment of King list from tomb of Den at Saqqara, Merneith is mentioned twice as King's Mother Merneith (mwt-nsw mr nt) Merneith on Den list of pharaohs - 83d40m - repeated on Abydos seal.JPG
Segment of King list from tomb of Den at Saqqara, Merneith is mentioned twice as King's Mother Merneith (mwt-nsw mr nt)

Merneith is believed to have become ruler upon the death of Djet. The title she held, however, is debated. It is possible that her son Den was too young to rule when Djet died, so she may have ruled as regent until Den was old enough to be the king in his own right. Before her, Neithhotep is believed to have ruled in the same way after her husband King Narmer died, as Narmer's son was too young to rule. Her name was written on a Naqada seal inside a serekh, which was the way the kings' names were written. This would mean Merneith may have actually been the second female in Egypt's first dynasty to have ruled as pharaoh.

Djet Egyptian pharaoh

Djet, also known as Wadj, Zet, and Uadji, was the fourth pharaoh of the First Dynasty. Djet's Horus name means "Horus Cobra" or "Serpent of Horus".

Neithhotep Ancient Egyptian queen consort

Neithhotep or Neith-hotep was an ancient Egyptian queen consort living and ruling during the early First Dynasty. She was once thought to be a male ruler: her outstandingly large mastaba and the royal serekh surrounding her name on several seal impressions previously led Egyptologists and historians to the erroneous belief that she may have been an unknown king.

Narmer Ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period

Narmer was an ancient Egyptian king of the Early Dynastic Period, circa 3100-3050 BC. He probably was the successor to the Protodynastic king Ka, or possibly Scorpion. Some consider him the unifier of Egypt and founder of the First Dynasty, and in turn the first king of a unified Egypt.

The strongest evidence that Merneith was a ruler of Egypt is her tomb. This tomb in Abydos (Tomb Y) is unique among the otherwise exclusively male tombs. Merneith was buried close to Djet and Den. Her tomb is of the same scale as the tombs of the kings of that period. Two grave stelae bearing her name were discovered near her tomb. Merneith's name is not included in the king lists from the New Kingdom. A seal containing a list of pharaohs of the first dynasty was found in the tomb of Qa'a, the third known pharaoh after Den, her son. However, this list does not mention the reign of Merneith. [5]

Abydos, Egypt City in ancient Egypt

Abydos is one of the oldest cities of ancient Egypt, and also of the eighth nome in Upper Egypt, of which it was the capital city. It is located about 11 kilometres west of the Nile at latitude 26° 10' N, near the modern Egyptian towns of el-'Araba el Madfuna and al-Balyana. In the ancient Egyptian language, the city was called Abdju. The English name Abydos comes from the Greek Ἄβυδος, a name borrowed by Greek geographers from the unrelated city of Abydos on the Hellespont.

Qaa Egyptian ruler

Qa'a was the last king of the First Dynasty of Egypt. He reigned for 33 years at the end of the 30th century BC.

A few other pieces of evidence exist elsewhere about Merneith:

Den seal impressions

In 1985, the German Archaeological Institute discovered seal impressions of a cylinder seal in the tomb of First Dynasty king Den. They were published by Günter Dreyer the following year. The impressions are the earliest confirmed king list for ancient Egypt.

Horus name

The Horus name is the oldest known and used crest of Ancient Egyptian rulers. It belongs to the "Great five names" of an Egyptian pharaoh. However, modern Egyptologists and linguists are starting to prefer the more neutral term: the "serekh name". This is because not every pharaoh had placed the falcon, which symbolizes the deity Horus, atop his serekh.

Palermo Stone document

The Palermo Stone is one of seven surviving fragments of a stele known as the Royal Annals of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt. The stele contained a list of the kings of Egypt from the First Dynasty through to the early part of the Fifth Dynasty and noted significant events in each year of their reigns. It was probably made during the Fifth dynasty. The Palermo Stone is held in the Regional Archeological Museum Antonio Salinas in the city of Palermo, Italy, from which it derives its name.

Tombs at Abydos and Saqqara

Cemetery B, Umm el-Qa'ab. Tombs of the pharaohs of the first and second dynasty of Egypt. Ummal-qaab.png
Cemetery B, Umm el-Qa'ab. Tombs of the pharaohs of the first and second dynasty of Egypt.
Plan of the main chamber of Merneith's tomb. Map of the tomb of Merneith.svg
Plan of the main chamber of Merneith's tomb.

At Abydos, the tomb belonging to Merneith was found in an area associated with other pharaohs of the first dynasty, Umm el-Qa'ab. Two stelae made of stone, identifying the tomb as hers, were found at the site.

In 1900 Flinders Petrie discovered Merneith’s tomb and, because of its nature, believed it belonged to a previously unknown pharaoh. The tomb was excavated and was shown to contain a large underground chamber, lined with mud bricks, which was surrounded by rows of small satellite burials, with at least 40 subsidiary graves for servants. [5] [7]

The servants were thought to assist the ruler in the afterlife. The burial of servants with a ruler was a consistent practice in the tombs of the early first dynasty pharaohs. Large numbers of sacrificial assets were buried in her tomb complex as well, which is another honor afforded to pharaohs that provided the ruler with powerful animals for eternal life. This first dynasty burial complex was very important in the Egyptian religious tradition and its importance grew as the culture endured.

Inside her tomb archaeologists discovered a solar boat [8] that would allow her to travel with the sun deity in the afterlife.

Abydos was the site of many ancient temples, including Umm el-Qa'ab, the royal necropolis, where early pharaohs were entombed. [9] These tombs began to be seen as extremely significant burials and in later times it became desirable to be buried in the area, leading to the growth of the town's importance as a cult site.

At Saqqara, Merneith's tomb exhibits features that possibly preview the builders of the Third Dynasty. Concealed within the normal rectangular palace façade mastaba of Merneith's tomb at Saqqara is the base of a stepped structure, a juxtaposition of two different methods of building. It is perhaps indicative of the fusion of northern and southern styles that was to lead, ultimately, to the Step Pyramid of Djoser, or influenced the design of the Third Dynasty structure. [10]

Related Research Articles

The First Dynasty of ancient Egypt covers the first series of Egyptian kings to rule over a unified Egypt. It immediately follows the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, possibly by Narmer, and marks the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period, a time at which power was centered at Thinis.

Djer ancient Egyptian pharaoh of the 1st Dynasty

Djer is considered the third pharaoh of the First Dynasty of ancient Egypt in current Egyptology. He lived around the mid-thirty-first century BC and reigned for c. 40 years. A mummified forearm of Djer or his wife was discovered by Flinders Petrie, but was discarded by Emile Brugsch.

Hor-Aha Egyptian pharaoh

Hor-Aha is considered the second pharaoh of the First Dynasty of Egypt by some Egyptologists, others consider him the first one and corresponding to Menes. He lived around the 31st century BC and is thought to have had a long reign.

Den (pharaoh) Horus name of an early Egyptian king

Den, also known as Hor-Den, Dewen and Udimu, is the Horus name of a pharaoh of the Early Dynastic Period who ruled during the First Dynasty of Egypt. He is the best archaeologically-attested ruler of this period. Den is said to have brought prosperity to his realm and numerous innovations are attributed to his reign. He was the first to use the title "King of Lower and Upper Egypt", and the first depicted as wearing the double crown. The floor of his tomb at Umm El Qa'ab near Abydos is made of red and black granite, the first time in Egypt this hard stone was used as a building material. During his long reign he established many of the patterns of court ritual and royalty used by later rulers and he was held in high regard by his immediate successors.

Umm El Qaab Ancient Egyptian necropolis

Umm El Qaʻāb is a necropolis of the Early Dynastic Period kings at Abydos, Egypt. Its modern name means "Mother of Pots" as the whole area is littered with the broken pot shards of offerings made in earlier times. The cultic ancient name of the area was (w-)pkr or (rꜣ-)pkr "District of the pkr[-tree]" or "Opening of the pkr[-tree]", belonging to tꜣ-dsr "the secluded/cleared land" (necropolis) or crk-hh "Binding of Eternity".

Iry-Hor Egyptian pharaoh

Iry-Hor or Ro was a predynastic pharaoh of Upper Egypt during the 32nd century BC. Iry-Hor's existence was debated, with the Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson contesting the reading and signification of his name. However, continuing excavations at Abydos in the 1980s and 1990s and the discovery in 2012 of an inscription of Iry-Hor in the Sinai confirmed his existence. Iry-Hor is the earliest ruler of Egypt known by name and possibly the earliest-living historical person known by name.

Seth-Peribsen ancient Egyptian ruler

Seth-Peribsen is the serekh name of an early Egyptian monarch (pharaoh), who ruled during the Second Dynasty of Egypt. His chronological position within this dynasty is unknown and it is disputed who ruled both before and after him. The duration of his reign is also unknown.

Semerkhet Egyptian pharaoh

Semerkhet is the Horus name of an early Egyptian king who ruled during the first dynasty. This ruler became known through a tragic legend handed down by the ancient Greek historian, Manetho, who reported that a calamity of some sort occurred during Semerkhet's reign. The archaeological records seem to support the view that Semerkhet had a difficult time as king and some early archaeologists even questioned the legitimacy of Semerkhet's succession to the Egyptian throne.

Ka (pharaoh) Predynastic pharaoh of Upper Egypt

Ka, also (alternatively) Sekhen, was a Predynastic pharaoh of Upper Egypt belonging to Dynasty 0. He probably reigned during the first half of the 32nd century BCE. The length of his reign is unknown.

Herneith was a Queen consort of ancient Egypt. She lived during the 1st dynasty. The name Herneith means "The face of Neith".

Khenthap was allegedly a queen of Ancient Egypt. She is said to have lived during the 1st Dynasty. Her historical figure is very obscure, since there are no contemporary sources for her name. She appears only once in a much later inscription.

Amka was the name of an ancient Egyptian senior official who served the Pharaohs Djer, Djet and Den during the First Dynasty of Egypt. He is the first early Egyptian official whose career can be traced almost continuously.

Nebty name

The Nebty name was one of the "great five names" used by Egyptian pharaohs. It was also one of the eldest royal titles. The modern term "Two-Ladies-name" is a simple derivation from the translation of the Egyptian word nebty.


  1. 1 2 Teeter, Emily (ed.). Before the Pyramids, The Origins of Egyptian Civilization. The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 2011, p. 207
  2. vergl. Günter Dreyer, in: Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo. (MDIAK) Bd. 43, von Zabern, Mainz 1986, S. 115-119.
  3. 1 2 Wilkinson, Toby A.H. Early dynastic Egypt Routledge; 1 edition (14 Jun 2001) ISBN   978-0-415-26011-4 p.74
  4. Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton: The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson, 2004, ISBN   0-500-05128-3, p.140
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 J. Tyldesley, Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt, 2006, Thames & Hudson
  6. Porter and Moss Topographical Bibliography; Volume V Upper Egypt Griffith Institute. p.55
  7. Tomb of Merneith at Abydos
  8. Egypt solar boats
  9. "Tombs of kings of the First and Second Dynasty". Digital Egypt. UCL. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
  10. A., Clayton, Peter. Chronicle of the Pharaohs : the reign-by-reign record of the rulers and dynasties of ancient Egypt. New York, N.Y. pp. 24–25. ISBN   0500050740. OCLC   31639364.