Women Who Once Ruled the World- Merneith


Keyra Herrington, Staff Writer

To add to the list of political switches of power from men to women is one of the earliest examples, Merneith. Unlike the last woman mentioned, Queen Elizabeth, Merneith’s rule was rooted in her son’s success. In Ancient Egypt, the power of women was centered around securing the men around her a strong spot in politics. When women in Ancient Egypt came to power, which was rare, it was not essential for themselves. These women in power were referred to as Regents. The female regents, especially Merneith, who ruled solely for the political stability and well-being of men. Merneith’s role was to ensure that her family line of men stayed as the rulers. Merneith, being from the first dynasty in Egypt, makes it very difficult to prove exactly what she did although historians and scientists have been able to come to educated conclusions on her power based on tombs and artifacts.  

Merneith became the first Egyptian Queen during the first dynasty, which has an estimated time period of 3000 to 2890 B.C. She came into power due to the fact that her husband had died and left behind her entirely too young son to rule. So, to secure her family’s spot in the political lineage of Egypt, she began to head for her son. When her son reached the age of about 16 years old, she was believed to have given the power back to her son. However, it can be assumed that she gently assisted in it all at the beginning of his journey with the reigns of power. A few of Merneith’s accomplishments during her reign were surrounding her gaining prosperity for her family line. Her very first and biggest display of great power was the planning and execution of her husband’s- the previous King- funeral. The funeral tendencies of Egyptian rulers would be deemed as odd or brutal to today’s standards, but nonetheless were extremely pivotal to their culture. When an Egyptian King died, the funeral was the best way to ensure their honor and prosperity in the afterlife. Along with the dead King’s assurance of the afterlife, preparing a successful funeral would be crucial to asserting the new King’s power. The preparation and execution of the King’s funeral would prove to the people that her young son could sit on his throne without interruptions. 

The details of the funeral itself actually involve more death than just the King. When someone of high nobility in Egypt died, they were to be buried with everything they needed in the afterlife, including companions. Usually, a few high-ranking men would also be killed and buried with the King, but the most prominent deaths were of women consorts. Merneith would be the first to execute the funeral tendencies differently. Instead of burying women to follow the King into the afterlife for his pleasure, she chose many high-ranking men. Along with the men, were more well-established important people. Merneith did not bury anyone unless deemed necessary. Just because she only buried people of importance, does not mean the numbers were low. The number of people following the King into the afterlife was just a little under 600. This process was about showing honor to the King as well as giving the newly dead god power. Alongside the people of power were also potential threats to her son’s reign. If anyone, brother, uncle, friend, enemy, etc were deemed as a threat, and they were. They would be buried as well in hopes that the King would protect his son even in the afterlife. 

Merneith was a woman who secured her power in a dark and horrifying manner. No matter what needed to be done, Mernieth would do it to secure her son’s future as the King of Egypt. One may question the legitimacy of Mernieth even being a Queen or Regent with total power, but her own tomb proves just how powerful she was. Upon discovering her tomb initially, historians and archeologists believed she was actually a man. Merneith’s tomb was full of lavish luxuries like pottery vessels once filled with beer, wine, honey, olive oils, perfumes, and other various foods. Along with the treasures found in her tomb were also 41 skeletons surrounding her and protecting her. Many more souls surrounded her funerary enclosure, the numbers were estimated to be about 79. This tomb is living proof that her son greatly valued her and recognized her strength and power. Since we do not have much more record of Merneith’s inevitable accomplishments, we can come to this conclusion that Merneith forged and protected her family through death, blood, and public sacrifice.



Information from When Women Ruled the World by Kara Cooney