) was a
, a regent
, and the fourth pharaoh
of Ancient Egypt
during the first dynasty
. The later being
evidenced by several official records and persuasive evidence
confirmed in diverse archeological research. Her rule was in the
thirtieth century B.C.
, for an
undetermined period of time. Merneith’s name means
Beloved by Neith
her stela contains symbols of that deity
Generally, she also is believed to have been the wife of Djet
and the mother of Den
It is acknowledged widely that Merneith possessed an enormous
amount of power and influence in her time, but academic debate
remains in some quarters as to how much power she had and, to
whether she was a regent or pharaoh. In either event, she gained
more power than any previous Egyptian woman about whom details are
Her name does appear on at least one list of pharaohs among the
fragmentary contemporary records of the first dynasty and she was
buried with the full honors—traditionally afforded only to pharaohs
at that time.
In 1900 William Petrie
Merneith’s tomb and, because of its nature, believed it belonged to
a previously unknown pharaoh. The tomb was excavated and described
as a significant discovery that expanded modern knowledge about the
pharaohs of the first dynasty.
Subsequent findings at another site later proved that Merneith was
a woman, creating a dilemma
of the day who never expected to
discover a pharaoh of early Egypt who was a woman. A clay seal
found in the tomb of her son, Den, was
engraved with “King’s Mother Merneith”
, supporting the
view that Merneith was a woman. It also is known that Den’s father
was Djet, making it likely, therefore, that Merneith was Djet’s
royal wife. Descent from royal women was important throughout the
history of Ancient Egypt because they carried the royal lineage, so
their names appear on written records that have been found to
Evidence of rule
Merneith is believed to have become ruler
the death of her husband, Djet. The title she held, however, is
debated. It is possible that her son Den was too young to rule at
this point, so she may have ruled as regent. Along with other
historical details of the first dynasty and its pharaohs, evidence
supporting the view that Merneith ruled as pharaoh is scarce.
The strongest evidence that Merneith was a pharaoh is her burial.
She was afforded all of the burial rights of a pharaoh. It was the
custom for early pharaohs to have two funerary monuments, the first
being the tomb and the second serving as a monument and place of
worship. Merneith has both. So far Merneith is the only woman known
to have been afforded the honor of both funerary monuments in that
dynasty, and there are other women from the first dynasty who are
honored highly. Other women from that dynasty who served as regent
have large tombs, but they differ significantly from those of the
pharaohs, lacking the place of worship, as Merneith's does.
Abydos the tomb
belonging to Merneith was found in an area associated with other
pharaohs of the first dynasty, Umm el-Qa'ab.
made of stone
identifying the tomb as hers, was found at the site. This monument
would have served as an offering place separate from the tomb,
where she would be worshiped in the same fashion as the other
pharaohs buried near her.
Her burial was in a tomb that contained a large underground
chamber, lined with mud bricks, that was surrounded by rows of
small satellite burials where approximately fifty sacrificed
servants were buried.
The servants were thought to assist the ruler in the afterlife. The
burial of servants with the ruler was a consistent practice in the
tombs of the early first dynasty pharaohs. Large numbers of
sacrificial assets were buried in her tomb complex as well, which
is another honor afforded to pharaohs that provided the ruler with
powerful animals for eternal life. This first dynasty burial
complex was very important in the Egyptian religious tradition and
its importance grew as the culture endured.
Inside her tomb archaeologists discovered a solar boat
allow her to travel with the sun deity in the afterlife. This is
strong evidence that hers is the tomb of a pharaoh. The journey in
the solar boat after death was believed to fulfill the sacred
destiny reserved for pharaohs. A solar boat was provided
exclusively for the burial of pharaohs. In the pyramid texts
the solar barque (boat) carries
the soul of the pharaoh to the heavens and it may have been the
means to transport the body of the pharaoh to the tomb.
one of the most important archaeological sites of ancient Egypt
(near the town of al-Balyana), the sacred city of Abydos was the site
of many ancient temples, including a Umm el-Qa'ab, the royal
necropolis, where early pharaohs were entombed.
began to be seen as extremely significant burials and in later
times it became desirable to be buried in the area, leading to the
growth of the town's importance as a cult site.
Repeated listing of Merneith on the
list of pharaohs found in the tomb of Den at Saqqara, the white
vulture represents Nekhbet and the line below that shows the name
of Merneith as found on her stelas at her own tomb
Other evidence which supports Merneith’s rule is a seal found in
the tomb of her son, Den. The seal includes Merneith on a list of
the first dynasty pharaohs. Merneith's name was the only name of a
woman included on the list. All of the names on the list had a
falcon, the symbol of a king, next to
it. However, there is no falcon against Merneith’s name, as using
that symbol may have been unacceptable for a woman. Her name is
preceded instead by a Nekhbet white vulture
, representing what may be the
oldest deity of southern Ancient Egypt—a protector of pharaohs who
is shown on their crowns. Further evidence that she was a pharaoh,
is that none of the queens of the other pharaohs were listed,
including one who may have ruled as regent for a youthful
other pieces of evidence exist elsewhere about Merneith, items from
the great mastaba (Nr 3503, 16 x 42 m) in Saqqara where her
name has been found in inscriptions on stone vessels, jars, as well
as the seal impressions.
Although evidence about all early
pharaohs is rare, one explanation proposed for the scarcity of
evidence about the rule of Merneith is that all documents from her
reign may have used the name of Den, her young son. A seal
containing a list of pharaohs of the first dynasty was found in the
tomb of Qa'a
, the third known pharaoh after
Den, but it contains no mention of the reign of Merneith. Names of
pharaohs, however, are not consistent on the various lists found.
Records of the early pharaohs are incomplete and vary from one
source to another, some are difficult to corroborate.
Saqqara a funerary monument dedicated to Merneith was found
along with those of five other pharaohs from the same
Monuments were built for earlier pharaohs at this
location when it became the burial grounds for some later pharaohs,
which also provides evidence of recognition of Merneith as an early
ruler by those who followed her.
Speculation and unproven assertions
Conjecture exists that Merneith was the daughter of the pharaoh,
Djer, although no evidence has been found to support this theory.
The exact position that Merneith held is greatly disputed.
indicates that the first dynasty ruled from Memphis, and that a wife of Djer, named
Herneith, is buried at Saqqara.
make her the mother of Merneith if the lineage is correct.
Another unproven assertion is that the marriage of Djet and
Merneith served to unify the newly joined kingdoms of Lower and
. Although her father
ruled from Memphis, based on her name’s meaning some theorize that
she came from Lower Egypt
where the center of worship for Neith was
located at Sais in the delta