Khentkaus II

Facience fragment depicting Khentkaus II (copyright kozuch)

Queen Khentkaus II (Khentkawes, Kentkawes) lived during the fifth dynasty (Old Kingdom) of Ancient Egypt. She was the wife of Neferirkare and (probably) the mother of Neferefre and Niuserre. There is also some evidence that she ruled as a pharaoh in her own right or as a regent for her sons after the death of her husband.

She was buried in a pyramid to the south of the pyramid of her husband Neferirkare at Abusir. Her pyramid was not simply a satellite attached to that of her husband, although it may have started out that way. Instead it was supported by a small pyramid complex including a mortuary temple and had its own satellite pyramid.

She had a large number of fairly orthodox titles including “Great one of the hetes-sceptre”, “She who sees Horus and Seth”, “King’s Wife”, “Priestess of Bapef”, “Priestess of Tjazepef”, “Directress of the butchers in the acacia house”, “Attendant of Horus”, and “God’s Daughter”.

Khentkaus II also used the title “mut nesu-bity nesu-bity” which can be translated as either “Mother of Two Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt” or, more controversially, “Mother of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, and King of Upper and Lower Egypt”. This title when considered along with the fact that she had a full pyramid complex has prompted some experts to suggest that she ruled Ancient Egypt (or at least acted as a Queen Regent). A depiction of her holding a Hetes Sceptre and wearing the royal ureaus would seem to support this conclusion.

Casting doubt on the theory of her rule, other experts have pointed out that her name was not written inside a cartouche as would be normal for a ruler. It is interesting to note that the “mut nesu-bity nesu-bity” title was also used by Khentkaus I (who is also considered by some to have ruled Egypt) and for some time it was thought that the two women were one and the same. This is referred to as the “Khentkaus Problem”. Archaeological evidence now supports the fact that there were indeed two very powerful queens named Khentkaus.

In the case of Khentkaus II, we know that she was the mother of two kings. However, this does not entirely discredit the suggestion that she also ruled as King. The Egyptians loved dual meaning, and the ambiguity in the term may not be accidental. Whether Khentkaus II was a ruler of Egypt or not, she was certainly a powerful woman with sufficient prestige to be buried in the manner of a pharaoh.

  • Bard, Kathryn (2008) An introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt
  • Dodson, A and Hilton, D. (2004) The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt
  • Hawass, Zahi (2009) Silent Images: Women in Pharanoic Egypt
  • Kemp, Barry J (1991) Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilisation
  • Lehner, Mark (1997) The Complete Pyramids
  • Malek, Jaromir (2000) “The Old Kingdom”, in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt Ed I. Shaw
  • Tyldesley, Joyce (2006) Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt
  • Verner, Miroslav (2001) The Pyramids
  • Verner, Miroslav (2002) Abusir : Realm of Osiris
  • Wilkinson, Toby (2010) The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt

Copyright J Hill 2010