NEFERTARI---GREAT WIFE AND FAVORITE OF RAMESSES II
Nefertari, the Great Wife of Ramesses II whom we today call Ramesses the Great, was granted one of the most spectacular tombs in the Valley of the Queens. Her mummy and most of the treasures buried with her were destroyed by tomb robbers, but much of the wall painting has survived. The paintings are not only incredibly beautiful but they contain a wealth of information on the Egyptian beliefs about Judgement Day and the Afterlife.
Horemheb, who ruled after the deaths of Tutankhamun and Aye, picked for his successor the chief general of the army. Ramesses already had a son and a grandson so there was hope that the throne would pass smoothly. Ramesses I (the founder and first king of the Nineteenth Dynasty) lasted only a year before dying and leaving the throne to his son Seti I. Seti ruled successfully for a decade or more before passing the throne to his son Ramesses II. As Horemheb had hoped, the succession was smooth. No doubt when Seti chose his son's wife, he kept in mind that he was also picking the next queen of Egypt, but the record gives us no hint as to her origin or family. The new kings came from the Delta region and had no royal blood in them; it has been suggested that the marriage with Nefertari was arranged to strength Ramesses hold on the throne by linking his family with one from Thebes, but there is simply no evidence one way or the other. Since her titles do not include that of "king's daughter" it is probably safe to conclude that she did not have a royal father by a principal wife, although both Ay and Horemheb have been suggested as parent along with a lesser member of the royal harem.
Whatever the reason for the marriage it appears to have been a loving and successful one. Some see Nefertari as continuing the tradition of strong queens begun in the Eighteenth Dynasty. Nefertari carried the title God's Wife of Amun which gave the holder considerable independent wealth and power, and wore the elaborate head-dress of Ahmose-Nefertari, but we actually know very little about her activities as Queen. She played a fairly prominent role in state ceremonies for the first three years or so and then disappeared from the record for about eighteen years before appearing again to write a letter to the Queen of Hatti on the occasion of a treaty between the two countries that ended a long period of uneasy relations. Did Nefertari revert to the fairly passive role of the Old Kingdom queens, or did the records of her activity simply disappear?
Nefertari's tomb has given her considerable fame, but in truth we know very little about her
Egyptian rulers were expected to have more than one wife and Ramesses followed tradition. See Harem---The Women's Residence for further information. We do not know when Ramesses married Iset-Nofret, but it was probably not long after he married Nefertari. Iset-Nofret gave birth to Ramesses' second son and to his first daughter, Bintanath, as well as his successor, Merenptah. Nefertari died somewhere between the 24th and the 30th years of her husband's reign and was replaced as Great Wife by Iset_Nofret.
In keeping with a tradition followed by her predecessors, Tiy and Nefertiti, Nefertari was worshipped as a goddess. The Greeks saw a very sharp division between the divine and the human: gods and goddesses could live for ever; men and women could not. To the Ancient Egyptians almost everyone could enjoy immortality under the right circumstances, so they saw no difficulty in the idea of partial divinity. Nefertari was pictured as the goddess Hathor in a temple at Abu Simbel, located in Nubia, some 40 miles north of the Second Cataract. It is unlikely that she was worshipped anywhere else, nor is it likely that anyone outside of the temple gave much thought to the possibility that Nefertari might be a goddess.
Ramesses had two temples cut into the limestone cliff at Abu Simbel. It was the smaller one, known appropriately as the Small Temple of Abu Simbel, that was dedicated to Nefertari. While it may have been dedicated to his wife, Ramesses saw to it that four of the six statues at the front were of himself. Only two showed Nefertari wearing the clothes and symbols of the goddess Hathor, and the picture on the inner wall of the sanctuary shows Ramesses presenting the offering to Hathor.
Nefertari gave her husband as many as ten children, but none outlived their father, and so of course, none succeeded to the throne.