Tausret (Tawosret, Twosret) was the last ruler of the nineteenth dynasty (New Kingdom) and one of the few women to rule ancient Egypt as a king with full pharaonic honours. Homer made reference to a king, Polybus, and his wife, Alcandra, who ruled Egypt during the Trojan War. Manetho recorded that the name of Polybus was in fact Thuoris, and “he” was the ruler of Egypt when Troy fell. It is now generally agreed that Manetho got the gender of the king wrong and Thuoris was actually Tausret.
Manetho credited Tausret with a seven-year reign but the highest regnal year recorded on any of her monuments is year eight and she may have reigned for a couple of years after this date. Recent work on her mortuary temple suggests a reign of around ten years. She included the years of her regency for Siptah within her regnal years, so her sole reign may only have been around three or four years.
Tausret was the principal wife of Seti II, the son of Merenptah. Despite having a strong claim to the throne following the death of his father, Seti II had to contend with a rival named Amenmesse who seems to have ruled over part of Egypt concurrently with Seti for a few years.
Seti took the unusual step of granting Tausret (and a prominent official named Bay) a tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Her tomb (KV 14) bore little resemblance to the traditional tomb of a queen suggesting that she held significant power even at this early stage. It is possible that even though he had a strong claim to the throne he needed the additional legitimacy that she could provide. Yet, her familial relationships are unconfirmed.
Tausret never used the titles “daughter of the king” or “sister of the king”. She made frequent references to Ramesses II in her monuments and titles, so it is possible that she was his granddaughter, but there is no firm evidence to support this. She may have been the daughter of a powerful official, able to obtain the support of members of the nobility for her husband, but it remains more likely she was of royal blood.
We do not know whether Tausret and Seti had any children. A pair of silver gloves and bracelets inscribe with their names were found in KV 56, also known as the Gold Tomb. It seems to have been the burial of a royal child, but the identity of the badly damaged mummy could not be confirmed. In any case, when her husband died towards the end of his fifth year as king there was no clear successor and Tausret became regent for a young boy named, Siptah.
The family background of Siptah is fairly muddy. His mother, Sotereja, used the title King’s Wife, but it is never confirmed which king she was married to. Some experts have suggested he was the son of Seti, Dodson and Hilton suggested she may have been married to Ramesses II, and others have proposed she was the wife of Merenptah. All of these options would explain why he had a legitimate claim to the throne, but not why he was later removed from the list of kings. It has also been suggested that he was the son of Amenmesse, put in place to pacify his father’s supporters as Seti had no heir. Whatever his background, it seems clear that he required the extra legitimacy provided by Tausret as the Great Wife of the King. He also had the support of the prominent official, now Chancellor, Bay.
In the early stages of her reign, Tausret was a conventional Queen Regent. It has been suggested that the true power behind the throne was the Chancellor Bay who was depicted at the same scale as Tausret in a relief in Amada and took credit for placing Siptah on the throne. However, by the fifth year Tausret had adopted the full titles of a king, and Bay had been disgraced and executed. Around a year later Siptah, who may have suffered from polio, also died and Tausret was left to rule on her own.
As pharaoh, Tausret followed the patters of Sobekneferu and Hatshepsut in using a combination of female and male elements in her titles. Sometimes she is referred to as “Son of Re”, sometimes “Daughter of Re”. She used both “Lady of the Two Lands” and “Lord of the Two Lands”. She features goddesses such as Mut and Hathor in her titles and epithets. Her Nebty name “the one who sets Egypt in order and subdues foreign lands” echoes those of her husband Seti II, and possible grandfather Ramesses II, but may also be a reference to the turbulent times in which she lived.
Three deposits of precious metal goods have been recovered from her reign. The first is a cache from a pit tomb (KV 57), the Gold Tomb (referred to above). The other two caches are from Bubastis and contain items with typical Syrian workmanship, confirming that even though the period was turbulent trade continued. These caches mostly have references to her and her husband from the period before she ruled, although some also have her double cartouches.
Fragments of jars bearing her name have been found in Wadi Tumilat (the Delta near the border with Palestine) and near Sidon, further confirming trade with the near East during her reign. A highly unusual scarab featuring her name alongside those of Tuthmosis III and Senusret III was found, however, it has a rather atypical inscription, and is considered by some to be a forgery.
The Elephantie Stele and Great Harris Papyrus
The Elephantine Stele (dated to the beginning of the twentieth dynasty) and the Great Harris Papyrus I (from the reign of Ramesses IV) claim to record the events towards the end of her reign and shortly afterwards. Both refer to a foreign influence which has taken over Egypt and plunged the land into chaos. The papyrus refers to a Syrian named Irsu (literally “he made himself”) and the stele to “this Asiatic”.
Both texts suggest there was an actual invasion of people from the Near East followed by “empty” years with no king while the Syrian was in power. The gods were not worshipped and temples were plundered. A hero named Setnakht (the successor of Tausret) defeated the usurpers and restored order to Egypt.
The Syrian Irsu is generally thought to be the Chancellor Bay, but neither text makes reference to Siptah or Tausret. Tausret ruled on her own after the death of Bay and Siptah so either the claim that Setnakht defeated the foreigner and restored order was propaganda covering the fact that he usurped power from Tausret or we have to imagine another foreign influence seizing power after the death of Tausret.
The Cairo Ostracon (CG 25125) depicts an Egyptian queen in battle firing arrows against what appears to be a rival pharaoh. Was Tausret fighting an invading Asiatic army, or fighting an army raised by Setnakht to depose her? The fact that the son of Setnakht seems to have been responsible for stealing her tomb (KV 14), erasing her name and attempting to write her out of history suggests that latter scenario is the most likely
Depictions and Statuary
Despite her relatively short reign, and the best efforts of her successors, she did leave her mark on the archaeological record. Two fragments from a limestone doorway excavated in Pi-Ramesses depict her as a queen standing behind her husband. She is given the title “Great Royal Wife” and wears the crown of a queen topped by the swty feathers.
She may also be depicted in a statue with Siptah. The young king (whose head is missing but names are intact) sits on the lap of a royal adult whose identity cannot be confirmed. The figure of the adult has been comprehensively, and apparently intentionally, hacked away. However, the parallel with the famous statue of Ankhenespepi and her son Pepi II is clear, and so it is generally agreed that the adult was Tausret. This statue is thus a record of her position as regent.
Her position as regent is also supported by the Amada relief which features her standing on one side of a door jamb, identified with the titles “God’s Wife of Amun, the King’s Great Wife, Lady of the Two Lands, Tausret-beloved-of-Mut, justified”. On the other side of the door Bay is depicted on the same scale as the queen, but kneeling in front of the titles of his king. Siptah is not depicted at all. The meaning seems clear. Tausret and Bay are in charge, but he is given the more subservient role.
The only depiction of Tausret as a ruler is a beautiful statue found at Medinet Nasr which is highly reminiscent of the famous black granite statue of Ramesses II in Turin. Like Ramesses, she is depicted wearing the pleated tunic which was popular in the post Amarna period. Although the attire of men and women at this time were fairly similar, it is clear that she is dressed as a male king. In addition to a short skirt, she wears an apron from which six uraeus cobras are suspended. However, her form is clearly feminine with noticable breasts. Her head is missing, but the lapels of the Nemes Headress are clearly visible on her shoulders. She is identified by four of the five great names of the king. The Golden Horus name is missing, and has not been found in any other inscription. Instead she has the epithet “beloved of Hathor, Lady of the Red Mountain”, a reference to the quarries nearby. Most of her titles on the statue are in the masculine form, but her personal name and throne name are in the feminine form.
The statue of Iyri, the High Priest of Ptah at Memphis, is also of interest because of the cartouches on his shoulders. On his left shoulder is Seti-Merenptah. (personal name of Seti II), on the right shoulder Tausret-Setepenmut (an extended form of the personal name of Tausret). As far as we know, Tausret did not use this extended form before becoming sole ruler, so this statue serves to reinforce her legitimacy by commemorating her the association with Seti. It is also notable that as her name is on the right shoulder, she is the dominant party.
As a ruler, Tausret undertook building work and a number of sites. She built a monument at Giza, but only a single limestone block with elements of her name carved on it has been recovered. An offering formula and a reference to the Memphite Temple of Ptah suggest that the structure must have been related to her mortuary cult in some way.
Another block bearing her cartouche was found in the Tell el Daba region. It is thought to have come from an extension to an existing monument rather than a structure entirely built by her.
The Bilgai Stele refers to a temple she built for Amun-of-Usermaatre-Setepenre, a form of Amun associated with the deified Ramesses II. The stele is badly damaged, but records substantial offerings being collected for the temple. The chapel itself has not been found, and it is likely that all of its stone was harvested in antiquity.
Her most substantial building work was probably her mortuary temple which was located in the plains between that of Ramesses II and Merenptah. Although Petrie recorded an excavation at the site, examination of the excavation report suggested that he was not actually present at the dig. It would seem that his workers did a fairly unimpressive job, focusing on finding the foundation deposits for which they would be well paid and compiling a wildly inaccurate foundation plan.
Thankfully, the University of Arizona Expedition has been working hard to re-examine the site. They found that her temple closely mirrored the plan of the Ramesseum, but was nearer to the (smaller) mortuary temple of Merenptah in size. They also found that, contrary to the suggestions of Petrie, the temple may have been substantially completed. Unfortunately, it was used as a stone quarry by later builders who left little at the site. It is likely that Setnakht and Ramessess III had a hand in this, but the blame could also lie with much later parties. Despite this the site seems to have been considered sacred for some time after the temple was demolished with evidence of numerous Late Period burials in the vicinity.
It is possible that she was initially buried in her tomb, KV 14. However, as the circumstances of her death have not been confirmed, we cannot be sure. At some point her sarcophagus was moved to KV13 (originally the tomb of Bay) where it was reused by Amenherkhepeshef (a son of Ramesses VI). It is quite possible that she had a different sarcophagus made for her when she became king, but it is also possible that she only ever had this one sarcophagus from which she was unceremoniously removed, if indeed she was ever buried in it. What is clear, is that her tomb was usurped by Ramesses III who used it to bury his father, Setnakht. It is sometimes suggested that the mummy of “unknown Woman D” found in KV35 is hers, but we cannot be sure.
- Manetho; Thuoris
- Horus name: Kanakht Merymaat Nubenem Nisutmiitmu (Strong Bull, Beloved of Maat, the Lord beautiful of appearance, the ruler like Atum)
- Nebty name: Gereg Kemet Waf Khasut (the one who sets Egypt in order and subdues foreign lands)
- Golden Falcon name: unk
- Prenomen: Satra meramun (Daughter of Ra, beloved of Amun)
- Nomen: Tausret Setpetenmut (The powerful/fiery female, chosen by Mut)
- Bard, Kathryn (2008) An introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt
- Dodson, A and Hilton, D. (2004) The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt
- Dodson, Aiden (2016) The Royal Tombs of Ancient Egypt
- Tyldesley, Joyce (2006) Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt
- Van Dijk, Jacobus (2000) “The Amarna Period and later New Kingdom”, in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt Ed I. Shaw
- Wilkinson, Richard H. Editor (2012) Tausret: Forgotten Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt
- Wilkinson, Toby (2010) The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt
- Ziegler, Christine Editor (2008) Queens of Egypt: From Hetepheres to Cleopatra
Copyright J Hill 2018