GODíS WIFE OF AMUN
This title, applied sporadically in the Middle Kingdom to non-royal women, became a major honor given only to the wives, mothers, and daughters of kings in the Eighteenth Dynasty, and celibate daughters of kings in the Third Intermediate Period. Although the same title was used in all three periods, it would probably be best to treat them separately for what we say about the office in one period may not apply in the other. We know almost nothing about the office in the Middle Kingdom so we will look at the evidence for the New Kingdom and for the Third Intermediate.
The first of the royal women to bear the title was Ahhotep, but it was under her daughter, Ahmose-Nefertari, that the office achieved importance. King Ahmose made a deal with the priesthood of Amun whereby his wife and her heirs would hold the title in perpetuity. Along with it came its own estate and officials. Amun acquired a great deal of wealth; the king acquired a position of considerable prestige and power for a queen or princess.
An18th dynasty Godís Wife might have worn priestly garments (short wig, a thin square of cloth hanging in a knot from the back of the head, and a belted or unbelted sheath dress) or, the dress and regalia appropriate to her standing as a royal princess or queen.
From the reign of Hatshepsut there is a scene in which the Godís Wife participated in temple ritual along with a male priest, a scene in which she led male priests into the sacred lake for purification and one where she followed the King into the inner court of the temple. So much wealth and prestige was attached to the office that we must wonder if there was not more to it than the performance of a few rituals. There is absolutely no sign of sacred prostitution anywhere in Ancient Egypt so we can safely assume that despite the title there was nothing sexual about the office. The following have been suggested:
- It is possible that she was, perhaps through the playing of music, supposed to make Amun happy and stimulated enough to carry out the reproductive activity necessary for the continued survival of Egypt. This could account for the word wife without involving any sexual activity.
- The Egyptians did see everything in pairs---good and evil, order and chaos, day and night, etc.---so that one was never possible without the other. It has been suggested that the Godís Wife could participate in worship along side the King as a sort of matching pair. The problem with this suggestion is that the office was not always held by a Kingís Great Wife and yet the chief queen was a much more natural match for a king.
- Others have suggested that a fear of the rising power of the Amun priesthood existed as early as the end of the Seventeenth and the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasties and that Ahmose hoped that by planting a trusted female relative in a position of power at the center of the Amun temple he could curb the pretensions of the male priesthood. This argument is strengthened by the fact that throughout the Eighteenth Dynasty princesses were forbidden to marry anyone but the king himself. This prevented the dispersal of royal wealth and hence of political power. Whatever authority and prestige a royal woman possessed came entirely from the King, allowing no one to set up a rival power base simply through association with a Kingís daughter.
- If a queen or princess is the wife of Amun then the god might have fathered any children she produced. Pharaohs liked to claim that they were sons of the divine. The claim was always made retroactively: after they ascended the throne they could point out that their mother had been the wife of the god.
THE THIRD INTERMEDIATE PERIOD
Central authority broke down once again in the Third Intermediate Period. Unlike the first two such periods, fragmentation was not seen as a particularly bad thing. The power and size of each region fluctuated over time and there were moments of intense rivalry that could include war, but the four-century period was more stable than one might expect.
Upper Egypt was essentially a theocracy under the control of the god Amun and his priests; Lower Egypt (the Delta) was further divided into several principalities. For most of the time all parts of Egypt pretended to accept a single ruler, usually the King of Tanis, as the supreme Pharaoh, but this individual rarely demanded or received obedience outside of his own corner of the country.
Throughout the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms one of the Pharaohís most important jobs was that of leading the worship of the gods in order to maintain Maíat. By the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period the Amun priesthood had succeeded in transferring that responsibility to itself, at least in the area of Upper Egypt. If the king was not needed to propitiate the gods, he was certainly not needed to appoint men to important civic offices like the Vizier, Treasurer, and Commander of the Army. At times a Pharaoh based in Tanis would have his daughter appointed as Godís Wife of Amun. By having a celibate daughter carry out the traditional ceremonies by which the monarch appealed to the gods to help Egypt, the Pharaoh could pretend to rule the whole country without the Amun priesthood actually having to give up any real power, though it is possible there were occasions when the balance shifted and the Godís Wife actually exercised some genuine authority.
Towards the end of this period the kings of Kush controlled the Godís Wife. New Kingdom Pharaohs had taken great pains to control Nubia, but over the course of the 20th Dynasty Egyptís physical presence disappeared. By the middle of the Eighth Century BCE the roles were reversed and Nubia controlled Upper Egypt. Although the King of Kush called himself the Pharaoh of Egypt, his authority seldom extended north of Memphis and was often exercised through the office of Godís Wife of Amun.
Throughout the Third Intermediate Period the Godís Wife of Amun was always celibate; she might have been the daughter of a king or a high priest, but she was never a kingís wife. She was always pictured wearing a queenís costume and never the dress of a princess or priestess. Paintings show her performing rituals that had hitherto only been carried out by a Pharaoh: making an offering or libation to a god; being embraced by a god; receiving the symbols of kingship from a god. A relief from North Karnak even shows a Godís Wife celebrating a Sed Festival, traditionally the thirtieth anniversary of a kingís reign.
Standing figure of a 22nd Dynasty God's Wife of Amun. Photo used with the kind permission of Jon Bodsworth www.egyptarchive.co.uk