Badass Women in History- Nefertiti


Get ready for a long one, folks. In this edition of “Badass Women in History” we’ll be discussing without a doubt, one of the most powerful women of ancient Egypt: Queen Nefertiti.

If you’ve ever had to take a World History class, chances are you’ve seen the above photo in a textbook somewhere. The woman depicted in this bust in Nefertiti.  She is most known for her famed beauty (her name literally means “the beautiful woman has come”) but behind the fair façade, she was a much more complex character, which is why many historians can’t agree on the role she played in history.

What We Know for Sure

Nefertiti ruled alongside Akhanaten as Great Royal Wife (as I mentioned in the last post about Hatshepsut, the pharaohs were almost always polygamous) during a time of great religious and political upheaval. This was because her husband decided to replace Amon, who was Egypt’s chief god, with another, Aten, restructuring society to revolve around this new deity. To reflect his revolution, , he changed his name from AmenhotepIV to Akhenaten, and Nefertiti took on the additional name “Neferneferuaten” which made her full name mean (ever so redundantly) “Beautiful are the beauties of Aten. A beautiful woman has come.”

The Debate: Queen or More?

This is where it gets fuzzy. Some historians say she was only the chief wife of Akhenaten and was not really as powerful as others claim. But there are a ton of reasons to believe otherwise. For instance, artwork of that time period depicted her alongside her husband more frequently than any other Egyptian Queen. Many times she was even shown in positions of power usually reserved for men, like driving a chariot or smiting her enemies.

She disappears from historical record before her husband’s reign ends. Some think she died, but many scholars believe she may have been named co-regent by her husband, leaving her to rule until his son Tutankhamen came of age. If you look up a list of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, a female pharaoh shows up between Akhenaten and King Tut. It is said that Nefertiti took on the name Smenkhkare, and took control of Egypt for that time.  In her reign, she began reverse her husband’s religious reforms. This was finally complete during the reign of Tutankhamen.

The Face of a Pharaoh
Reconstruction of “Nefertiti”

In a recent episode of Travel Channel’s Expedition Unknown, Josh Gates gets access to a mummy who they believe is Nefertiti (this is also up for debate, but we’ll get to that in a minute).  He is given permission to use a scanner to 3D-print an image of her face, which is then reconstructed by an artist in France. Side rant: people are pissing and moaning that the reconstruction looks “whitewashed.” Listen, were you alive then? No. They even say in the show that the skintone is purely speculation because Egypt was a melting pot of many different cultures. And I’m pretty sure they used a more modern Egyptian model for skintone reference, and many of them do not have skin that dark. So save your race-card BS for something that’s actually intentionally and obviously racist.  Not everything is about black v. white, but I digress.

Here is where I disagree with the show. This mummy has been DNA tested and has been determined that she is the mother of Tutankhamen, which is leading them to assume that this is Nefertiti because she was Great Royal Wife. However, my research says that in her marriage to Akhenaten, she bore him six daughters, with no mention of a son. Due to the fact that she only bore him daughters, he took his sister as a second wife, who bore him a son: King Tut.  Nefertiti’s daughter then married her half-brother Tut, making Nefertiti his mother-in-law, not his mother. In typical in-law (and chauvinist?) fashion, he didn’t get along wither her. His youth (he was only a teenager) and fragile male ego got the best of him, and therefore he had many depictions of her in positions of power destroyed. One of the few that remain in the famous Bust in the Berlin Museum.

Nefertiti is one of the most mysterious and powerful women in history. Whether or not you choose to believe she ruled a kingdom alongside her husband only as queen regent or ruled an entire civilization on her own, she is undeniably worthy of a place on my list of Badass Women in History.

Until next time, friends!