Shows the authority the pharaoh had over everyone else and the hierarchical Egyptian system.

Menkaure and his Wife

A common assumption has been
¬†that the queen is Menkaure’s wife, and that the position she occupies in the sculpture shows that she is subordinate to the pharaoh.

Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe

2548-2530 BCE

Her more relaxed, naturalistic pose, the fact that her left foot does not extend as far forward as Menkaure’s, the less rigid position of her arms, her open hands compared to his clenched fists, are believed to indicate her inferior rank within the rigorously hierarchic social organization of Egypt. Her pose has therefore been interpreted as that of passive, dutiful wife standing supportively next to her powerful husband. Especially recently, this interpretation of the queen has been challenged [see Nancy Luomala’s article in the BIBLIOGRAPHY]. 

The queen’s status, and that of all Egyptian women, but especially of those in the royal family, has been a matter of some debate. Women in Egypt seem to have enjoyed the same legal and economic rights as men, a situation which the Greeks, writing about the Egyptians, found very strange. 

Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BCE and who had visited Egypt, lists among their contrary customs that “women buy and sell, the men abide at home and weave” (Book II, 35) [see Herodotus in the BIBLIOGRAPHY]. 

Diodorus of Sicily, who had visited Egypt some time between 60 and 56 BCE, writes that the Egyptians had a law “permitting men to marry their sisters” and adds that “it was ordained that the queen should have greater power and honour than the king and that among private persons the wife should enjoy authority over her husband” (Book I, 27) [see Diodorus of Sicily in the BIBLIOGRAPHY]. 

Such notions have contributed to the so-called “heiress” theory which argues that the right to the throne in Ancient Egypt was transmitted through the female line. A man, no matter what his status, be he the eldest son of the previous pharaoh or a commoner, became a pharaoh through his relationship to the queen. The pharaohship was legitimised through marriage to the “heiress” who was often the pharaoh’s sister or his half-sister. It has been argued, therefore, that Ancient Egypt was a matrilineal society where power resided in the female line.

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In the pyramid of Menkaure, Giza, Egypt

How far back?

Pre 500 BCE 1%

2020 | Present