Neithhotep (also referred to as Nihotep) was a queen of ancient Egypt at the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period, who may also have ruled as a regent. Her name has been found on items discovered in the cemeteries at Helwan (near Memphis), Abydos and Naqada and in inscription at Wadi Ameyra.
The name Neithhotep means Neith is satisfied. Many queens of the first dynasty would be named for this important goddess, but Neithhotep was the first. The goddess Neith was strongly associated with Sais in the Western Delta, so this could suggest that she came from Sais. Alternatively, naming her after the goddess may have been an attempt to minimise dissent from that part of the Delta. After all, we do not know whether she was named Neithhotep from birth, or whether she adopted this name for political or religious reasons.
There is little doubt that she was in a position of significant power, but the exact nature of her role is not clear. She is not referred to with the usual titles accorded to a queen (King’s mother, King’s wife or King’s daughter). These seem to have come into use a little later in the first dynasty. Instead she is referred to as “Consort of the Two Ladies” (referring to Nekhbet and Wadjet). Her name was also placed inside a serekh. In one example the serekh was topped with the crossed arrows of Neith. Only the kings name was written within a serekh, and there are only two other examples of a serekh being topped by a god other than Horus (Sekhemib/Seth Peribsen topped his serekh with Set, and his successor Khasekhemwy topped his serekh with Horus and Set). Some have seen this unusual move as evidence that she ruled Egypt.
Kaplony suggested that the Neith serekh may have been a specific marker of a queen regent, but there are some problems with this assertion. A potential gap between the reigns of Aha and Djer has been proposed by Seipel as the regency of Neithhotep, and the evidence from Wadi Ameyra would seem to support her regency. However, there is evidence that she used the “Neith serekh” during the reign of Aha which is inconsistent with the suggestion that it marks her promotion to regent on his death. Either the Neith serekh was not a specific marker of her position as regent, or she was co-regent with Aha before acting as regent for Djer.
It has also been suggested that the queen may have acted as the high priest of the cult of Neith to further consolidate power over the area, but no independent evidence corroborates this.
Her origins are the subject of debate. Petrie suggested that she was a Lower Egyptian princess who married Narmer in order to unify Upper and Lower Egypt, and that this marriage was depicted on the Narmer Macehead. The macehead is no longer considered to depict a wedding, but many scholars still consider her to be the wife of Narmer. However, it is also proposed that she was the daughter of Narmer and the wife (and possibly half-sister) of Aha. An object bearing her name was found in the tomb of Djer and an inscription found at Wadi Ameyra seem to confirm that she was acting as queen regent at the beginning of his reign. Djer could therefore have been her son or her nephew.
When the Royal Tomb at Naqada was discovered it was initially considered to be a pharaonic burial. It is now generally associated with Neithhotep (de Morgan 1897, Borchardt 1898, Wilkinson 1999, Bryan 1997). Its size and its serekh-like facade are cited as evidence in support of the proposition that she ruled Egypt. This may well be correct, but nothing in the tomb specifically confirms its ownership.
Van Wetering suggests that Naqada had already been absorbed into the Thinite state before the accession of Narmer so there is no real evidence that Neithhotep came from this area. If she did not, would this spot have been chosen for her burial? The number of sealings in the tomb mentioning Aha suggest that the burial took place during his reign, and his tomb has already been located at Abydos. If she acted as regent after his death, she cannot have been buried after his reign – although it is concievable that her regency was short and the burial took place soon after his demise.
Van Wetering also notes that there are more references on items in the tomb to another individual named Prince Rekhyt (most likely the son of Narmer and potentially the brother of Neithhotep) than to the queen herself. Could this suggest that the Royal Tomb at Naqada was actually his burial place? It seems unlikely that anyone other than a king or regent would have been able to employ the palace facade design on their tomb, but at this early stage the iconography may not have been so firmly entrenched. If this is the case, her tomb may yet be discovered.
- Bryan, Betsy M (1997) “In Women, good and bad fortune are on earth” pp 25- 46 from Mistress of the House, Mistress of Heaven: Women in Ancient Egypt Ed Anne K. Capel, Glenn Markoe
- Millet, N. B. (1990) “The Narmer Macehead and Related Objects” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt Vol. 27 pp. 53-59
- van Wetering, Joris (2012) “Relocating De Morgan’s Royal Tomb at Naqada and Identifying Its Occupant” pp91 – 124 from Prehistory of Northeastern Africa New Ideas and Discoveries
- Tyldesley, Joyce (2012) “Foremost of Women: The Female Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt” from pp Tausret: Forgotten Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt
- Wilkinson, Toby (1999) Early Dynastic Egypt/li>
- Wilkinson, Toby (2010) The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt
copyright J Hill 2018