Smithsonian Journeys Dispatches

Women of Ancient Egypt

File:Maler der Grabkammer der Nefertari 004.jpg

Image of Nefertari from her tomb in the Valley of the Queens

No history of ancient Egypt is complete without considering the integral role of women. Unlike many women before and after them, ancient Egyptian women had the right to own property, sign contracts, and initiate divorce, among other things. In some cases, women became Pharaoh.

Here's a few ancient Egyptian women you should know more about:

1) Cleopatra, perhaps the most famous of all Egyptian women (though she was ethnically Greek), convinced Caesar and later Marc Antony to help assure her position as Pharaoh and dispatched all of her siblings in the process. Very popular among ethnic Egyptians at the time, she learned the Egyptian language and used her power to expand Egypt's trade and keep it from becoming part of the Roman Empire. Click here for more on Cleopatra.

2) The lesser-known Hypatia, one of ancient Alexandria's last great scholars, was also one of the first women we know of to become an astronomer and mathematician. Her public lectures were very well-attended, but ultimately she was killed by Christian zealots for her pagan beliefs. Learn more about Hypatia's life, death, and legacy here.

3) Hatshepsut's 21-year reign as Pharaoh was marked by prosperity gained through extensive foreign trade, advances in art and architecture, and a period of relative peace. Her successor (stepson, and nephew), Thutmose III nearly obliterated all traces of Hatshepsut from the historical record, removing her name from many monuments. Why? Read more here.

4) Tiy, wife of Amenhotep III and mother of Akhenaten, was a powerful woman in her own right. Her strength in foreign relations meant than many foreign leaders dealt directly with her on matters of state. Her image appears beside Amenhotep III's in tomb artwork, stelae, and smaller objects, reiterating her importance.

5) Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten, began with her husband a religious revolution, where followers worshipped only one god - Aten. Scholars believe that she may have served as co-regent with Akhenaten. She was also stepmother to King Tut.

6) Nefertari was one of the principal wives of Rameses the Great, who built a temple in her honor at Abu Simbel. One of the most famous Egyptian queens, her tomb at the Valley of the Queens is notable for its beauty and her image abounds at the temples of Luxor and Karnak.

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What would history be without women? Share your thoughts.