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Female Pharaohs

Women Who Ruled in Ancient Egypt as Pharaoh

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The rulers of ancient Egypt, Pharaohs, were almost all men. The evidence for a few women Pharaohs is sketchy at best. Here is a list of the women most commonly thought to have served as Pharaoh, or to have assumed the power of the Pharaoh as a regent. I've put them in reverse chronological order, with the last Pharaoh of Egypt -- who was a woman -- first in the list. But don't miss the rest at the end of the list.

Cleopatra

Cleopatra VII
Getty Images / Hulton Archive
Ptolemy (~ 51-30 BCE)

The last Pharaoh of Egypt, daughter of Ptolemy XII, Cleopatra VII became Pharaoh when she was about 17 years old. She had no son at the time; she married a much younger brother.

Cleopatra tried to keep Egypt's independence during a time of Roman domination by allying herself romantically, matrimonially, and militarily with Roman commanders Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. She had a son, Caesarion, supposed to be fathered by Julius Caesar, for whom she was regent. When she died, Egypt's rule passed into the hands of Rome.

The Ptolemies were descendents of a Macedonian general of Alexander's army. During the Ptolemaic dynasty, several other women named Cleopatra and Berenice served as regents.

Also: Cleopatra Facts | Cleopatra in Pictures

Tausret (Twosret, Tausert, Tawosret)

Nineteenth Dynasty (~1194-1186 BCE)

Tausret was chief wife of Seti II. When Seti II died, Tausret served as regent for his son, Siptah (Rameses-Siptah, renamed at some point Menenptah Siptah). Siptah was likely the son of Seti II and a minor wife, so Tausret was his stepmother. There is some indication that Siptal may have had some disability. He died about six years into his reign, and Tausret seems to have served as Pharaoh for two to four years, using kingly titles for herself. The founder of Dynasty 20 took over her tomb, and her successors replaced her name and image with his own. It was a time of civil unrest and there are few clear records, so the story isn't completely clear. A mummy at the Cairo museum is said to be hers.

Nefertiti

Nefertiti, from a bas-relief from Tell-el-Amarna
(c) 2005 ClipArt.com, modifications (c) Jone Lewis
Eighteenth Dynasty (~1336 BCE?, with her husband ~1353-1336 BCE)

The claim that Nefertiti ruled after the death of her husband, Akhenaton (Amenhotep IV), is based on the theory that she assumed the name Smenkhkare after his death. Even if she did not rule, during her husband's reign she was accorded more honor than usual for a Great Wife, and is sometimes depicted as a co-equal officiant at ceremonies.

Hatshepsut (Maatkare)

From a public domain image.
Eighteenth Dynasty (~1472-1458 BCE)

Widow of Thutmosis II, she ruled first as regent for his minor son and heir, and then as Pharaoh, a female Horus. Her titles include "King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Maatkare, Daughter of Re."

She is depicted in a fake beard and with the objects that a Pharaoh is usually depicted with, and in male attire, after a few years of ruling in female form. She reported herself heading up a military campaign and going on a journey to the Land of Punt. She disappears suddenly from history, and her son apparently ordered the destruction of images of Hatshepsut and mentions of her rule.

Ahmose-Nefertari

Eighteenth Dynasty

Wife and sister of the dynasty's founder, Ahmose I, and mother of the second king, Amenhotep I, Ahmose-Nefertari served as regent for her son. Her daughter, Ahmose-Meritamon, was the wife of Amenhotep I.

Ashotep

Eighteenth Dynasty

Mother of the founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty and New Kingdom, Ahmose I, himself the pharaoh who defeated the Hyksos (foreign rulers of Egypt). Ahmose I credited her in an inscription with holding the nation together during his minority, when she seems to have been regent for her son.

Sobeknefru or Neferusobek or Nefrusobek or Sebek-Nefru (Meryetre)

Twelfth Dynasty (~1787-1783 BCE)

She ruled Egypt for a few years. She was the daughter of Amenemhet III and half-sister of Amenemhet IV and, perhaps, also his wife. She claimed to have been co-regent with her father. The dynasty ends with her reign, as she apparently had no son. Titles found with her image include Female Horus, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Daughter of Re.

There are some now-headless statues of her that remain, and other artifacts and mentions in the archaeological record. She was depicted in female clothing but wearing male objects related to kingship, and was sometimes referred to in terms using the male gender, perhaps to reinforce her role as Pharaoh.

Neithhikret or Nitocris or Neith-Iquerti or Nitokerty

Sixth Dynasty (~2148-44 BCE)

She is known only through a story in Herodotus and several brief mentions of her name elsewhere, but there is no other historical or archaeological evidence for her existence, much less ruler-ship. She is mentioned on one king list (Turin) and not another (Abydos). If she existed, she lived at the end of the dynasty, may have been married to a husband who was not royal and may not even have been a king, and probably had no male offspring.

She may have been the daughter of Pepi II. In Herodotus, she is said to have succeeded her brother Metesouphis II upon his death, and then to have avenged his death by drowning his murderers and committing suicide.

Ankhnesmeryre II or Ankhesenpepe II or Ankh-Meri-Ra

Sixth Dynasty

She may have served as regent for her son, Pepi II, who was about six when he assumed the throne when Pepi I (her husband, his father) died.

Wife of Djedkare-Izezi

Fifth Dynasty

In the 1950s, a mortuary temple was excavated, though the excavation remains unpublished. Reportedly, royal insignia were found related to the wife of Djedkare-Izezi. She may have had no son and ruled as king. But the temple was destroyed so completely that the details are not clear, and her name cannot even be identified.

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