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The Divine Adoratrices By Patricia Blosser

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The Divine Adoratrices

By Patricia Blosser

In 656 BC, or regnal year 9, first month of Akhet, day 28, of the Sais King Psamtek I, his young daughter Nitocris, is recorded as leaving his private apartments in Sais. Dressed in the finest of linen garments and adorned with new turquoise she is headed for her own destiny. Her father had arranged for her to marry no other than Amun, the great god of Thebes(1). She left her father’s city in a great fleet sailing up the Nile to Thebes. It isn’t known how old she was at the time of her marriage, but she lived another 70 years (2) in Thebes as the Divine Adoratrice, the god Amun’s wife. She would s 

The office of the Divine Adoratrice, the God’s Wife had evolved greatly. Since the day Ahmose, first Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty had first made his wife Ahmose-Nefertari the god’s wife of Amun at Karnak(3). At this remote time Ahmose-Nefertari, the god’s wife, wasn’t the Divine Adoratrice. It would be several centuries yet, before the God’s wife took the office of the “adoratrice of the god”(4) and combined it with her royal office. Until that time this secondary office for women in the Temple of Amun at Karnak, was held by well-born noble women. The God’s Wife position was a priestly office at first held by non-royal ladies of the Middle Kingdom(5). From Ahmose-Nefertari on it would be an office held only by women of the royal house. Ahmose endowed the position with lands and entitlements, making it a wealthy position as well as a religious office. During Ahmose-Nefertari’s occupation of the office, its title the God’s Wife appears to be the title she preferred over the usual titles. She was entitled to use such as King’s wife, King’s principle wife, or even King’s mother. From Karnak Deir el Bahri, Abydos, and Serabit el Khadim in Sinai there are a number of ritual offerings dedicated by Ahmose-Nefertari. While other Queens and Kings dedicated similar objects, chronologically and numerically Ahmose-Nefertari heads the list and perhaps sets the trend. She opened quarries along with her husband and was asked for her approval on some of his building projects(6). Such participation of a queen is unique in the records.

Queen Hatshepsut, was the third holder of this important religious office, again the god’s wife was the title she too, preferred over other titles she was able to use. It is believed by modern scholars that it was her position as ‘God’s Wife’ that enable her to take up the titles and offices of King during her step-son’s minority(7). After she did become, Pharaoh she passed her role as god’s wife to her daughter Neferura(8). In the modern belief, that Neferura as the god’s wife assumed the role in temple rites that traditionally fell to a senior ranking royal woman. Roles she most likely fulfilled during her mother’s Kingship. Neferura’s preference of her title ‘the god’s wife’ is the third such preference of that title, by a royal woman over the more traditional titles such as the King’s daughter, or even King’s wife. It is as the God’s Wife that we find her, following her dressed as King mother, into the temple of Amun at Karnak. Whereas she is dressed in a simple sheath dress, sometimes tied at the waist unlike most such dresses, with a short wig and a thin fillet knotted at the back of the head the loose ends hanging down(9).

The office and title of God’s Wife, while not disappearing began a period of eclipse under the succeeding rule of Thutmose III, his son Amenhotep II, and grandson Thutmose IV. Under these three rulers there were four more god’s wives of Amun at Thebes. Aset, the mother of Thutmose III, and Meritamun his daughter held it. During the reign of Amenhotep II his mother Meritra, is given the title. While Tiaa, the mother of Thutmose IV is the last named god’s wife. In the reign of Amenhotep III, there is at one point a god’s wife but she is unnamed and after her the office disappears until the 19th dynasty(10). While the title disappears in the reign of Amenhotep III and his immediate successors, it would be incorrect to assume, that the power and statue of the King’s principle wife suffered any lost. In fact, with the advent of Amenhotep III’s queen, Tiye we see the power of the Queen rise to an equality that would have been familiar to Queen Ahmose-Nefertari back at the start of the dynasty. This was true as well with Akhenaten’s queen, Nefertiti. It is only after the death of Tutankhamun that we see the role of queens again fading into the background. Until Ramesses II once again, brings his principle wife Nefertari with a cult along side his at Abu Simbel(11). By this time, the title god’s wife is again being given to queens’ married to Kings, but it does not return to a position of power until much later.

In the mid-20th dynasty while Egypt began it’s post empire decay, as the power of the Chief Priest of Amun grew thorough out the nation. Ramess VI made his daughter Isis, the god’s wife of Amun at Thebes but this attempt of royal control was not successful(12). The country continued to decline, grave robbery of the Valley of the Kings and even the Queens grew at an alarming speed. The beginning of the 21st dynasty was beset with reburials of the ancient Kings and Queens. Into this came the Chief Priest of Amun at Thebes Pinudjem I, married to a daughter of Ramess XI. In the sixteenth year of Smendes, Pinudjem I(13) adopted royal titles and wrote his name in a cartouche and passed his office of Chief Priest of Amun to a son. He named his virgin daughter Maatkare, to the post of god’s wife of Amun at Thebes. Maatkare, combined the roles of God’s Wife and chief of the priestesses of Amun, in one title: the Divine Adoratrice from this time on the position was held by virginal daughters of the royal house who selected their successor by adoption(14). At one point, the burial remains of this Divine Adoratrice was thought to provide proof that the office wasn’t virginal in reality, because found with her remains was another smaller bundle of remains thought to be her child. However, as examination proved it was actually a monkey’s remains not a child. This finding restored both the honor of the Divine Adoratrice Maatkare, and the office she held(15).

Her successor isn’t known and might have been a member of the 22nd dynasty Libyan royal house. The next known Divine Adoratrice was Karomama, the granddaughter of Osorkon I(16). Her successor apparently was taken from the 23rd dynasty, another Libyan royal house and was Shepenwepet I, sister of Takelot III, the children of Osorkon III. Together this sister and brother shared the privileges of rule over Thebes. She appears to have taken over the position of chief priest that her brother had given up to ascend to the throne. While along with her brother and their father, she appears on the temple walls of Osiris heka-djet (‘lord of eternity’) at Karnak(17). It wasn’t long after her brother’s death, and the short succession of his heir. That Pianky the Kushite King began his conquest of Egypt from the southern boarders of Egypt. Shepenwepet I would adopt this foreign King’s sister as her heir and with that adoption. Pianky’s control over Upper Egypt was cemented as he continued his conquest of Middle and Lower Egypt(18.

In this Kushite Dynasty of the 25th, the role of the Divine Adoratrice, the maiden princess of the royal house, dedicated to Amun was equal to that of a royal governor in Thebes(19) . Considering that Pianky was busy most of the time with his conquest of Lower Egypt, and then his brother Shabak, the first Pharaoh of the 25th Dynasty consolidating his rule over the rebellious northern Egypt. It was up to their female family members to control Thebes. This, Amenirdis I(20)did, as the adopted daughter and heir of Shepenwepet I.

Amenirdis I maintained the secular power of Amun’s chief priest, even after her brother Shabak revived the position for a son of his. It had remained vacant since Takelot III had given it up to become Pharaoh(21). She under took the building of her own mortuary chapel and tomb for herself within the temple enclosure at the 18th dynastic temple at Medinet Habu(22). She ruled Thebes into the reign of Pianky’s son Sebitku, when her adopted daughter Shepenwepet II, the daughter of Pianky succeeded her.

Shepenwepet II raised, along with another of her brothers Taharqa, a chapel to Osiris, Lord of Life, and another one to Osiris, Lord of Eternity at the temple at Karnak. Her building achievements continued with other sacred edifices in the Theban region. She adopted as her successor her niece, the daughter of Taharqa, who took the name Amenirdis II. Amenirdis II often appears next to her aunt in reliefs at Thebes, like a co-regent(23).

Assurbanipal, King of Assyria in 663 B.C.E. resumed Assyria’s attacks on Egypt. He conqueror Memphis and even reached Thebes sacking it. Despite this treatment Upper Egypt refused to accept Assyrian rule and continued support for the Kushite Pharaoh Tantamani, who had fled on to Kush. This state of affairs continued, until the Sais King Psamtek I 26th dynasty, given his power by the Assyrians, threw off the Assyrian yoke once and for all pushing them out of Egypt in 655 B.C.E.(24) shortly, after reuniting Egypt. With his daughter’s adoption, by the last Kushite Divine Adoratrice Amenirdis II in Thebes. At that time the elderly Shepenwepet II was still very much alive and had approved the adoption of Nitocris, by her own adopted daughter Amenirdis II. It was the first time in the history of the Divine Adoratrice, that there were three such ladies in Thebes.

Nitocris I lived and ruled in Thebes for another 70 years after her arrival in Thebes. Her own successor Ankhnesneferibre, daughter of Psamtek II mounted the throne of the Divine Adoratrice in 586 B.C.E. Two years later, she was invested officially with the office of high priest. Ankhnesneferibre was another long-lived God’s Wife ruling until her death in 525 B.C.E. The year the Persians invaded Egypt. Her successor Nitocris II, ruled only until the Persians took control of their new land(25). The office of Divine Adoratrice was over, the glorious royal women who served Egypt would never again offer sacrifices, adoration, or reenact age-old rituals in the Temple of Amun at Karnak.

1) Robin Gay, Women in Ancient Egypt, pg 155
2) Karol Mysliwiec, First Millennium B.C.E. The Twilight of Ancient Egypt, translated by David Lorton pg. 115
3) Robin Gay, Women in Ancient Egypt, pgs 43, 44
4) Robin Gay, Women in Ancient Egypt, pg 27
5) Robin Gay, Women in Ancient Egypt, pg 150
6) Robin Gay, Women in Ancient Egypt, pgs 43, 44
7) Robin Gay, Women in Ancient Egypt, pg 153
8 ) Robin Gay, Women in Ancient Egypt, pg 48
9) Robin Gay, Women in Ancient Egypt, pg 151
10) Robin Gay, Women in Ancient Egypt, pg 150
11) Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, pg 313
12) Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, pg 288
13) Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, pg 312
14) Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, pg 314
15) Karol Mysliwiec, First Millennium B.C.E. The Twilight of Ancient Egypt, translated by David Lorton pg 34
16) Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, pg 332
17) Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, pg 331
18) Karol Mysliwiec, First Millennium B.C.E. The Twilight of Ancient Egypt, translated by David Lorton pg 57
19) Karol Mysliwiec, First Millennium B.C.E. The Twilight of Ancient Egypt, translated by David Lorton pg 94
20) Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, pg 335
21) Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, pg 345
22) Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, pg 344
23) Karol Mysliwiec, First Millennium B.C.E. The Twilight of Ancient Egypt, translated by David Lorton pg 111
24) Karol Mysliwiec, First Millennium B.C.E. The Twilight of Ancient Egypt, translated by David Lorton pg 108, 109
25) Karol Mysliwiec, First Millennium B.C.E. The Twilight of Ancient Egypt, translated by David Lorton pg 131″


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