A Day in the Life of a Female Pharaoh

We don't have any records from female pharaoh Sobekneferu's reign telling us what her daily life was like. But we can reconstruct a basic day in her life based on what we know about the lives of kings, queens, and other upper-class Egyptians at the time (12th Dynasty, late 18th century BC).

Head of a statue of Sobek
Even though Sobekneferu inherited a kingdom that wasn't as powerful and wealthy as it once was, she still lived an extremely privileged existence. Her palace was constructed out of mudbrick, like all houses in Egypt, but the walls were covered in fine frescoes that depicted scenes of nature and everyday life. Sobekneferu slept in a wooden bed with tall legs. The feet were carved into images, perhaps of lions or the dwarf god Bes--both protective images. When she woke up in the morning, she lifted her head from a carved headrest of ivory or ebony rather than a pillow.

Sobekneferu's name means "beauties of (the god) Sobek." Perhaps upon rising she prayed to this crocodile god she was named after, lighting incense in front of a shrine and reciting a hymn.

Perhaps, however, she went straight to her morning toilette. She would have gone to a special bathing room, where a servant would have poured water over her and tended her with other basic hygiene products, like scented oils. Sobekneferu would also have had a morning shave--like most Egyptians, both men and women, the pharaoh would have been shaved bald and had most other hair removed from her body with a copper razor. If she did have hair on her head, it was probably short, possibly with real hair extensions woven in.

Sobekneferu's servants dressed her in a gown of high-quality linen. Although some Egyptian reliefs, especially from the early periods, depict women wearing very tight sheath dresses, outfits recovered from tombs suggest that the actual clothing tended to be a baggy, rather shapeless robe. Sobekneferu's outfit could have had a plunging neckline or even exposed her chest--the Egyptians weren't shy about their bodies! She probably tied it off with a colorful sash. Like the women in the wooden models below, the pharaoh may also have worn a bead net dress over her linen gown.


Wooden model of offering bearers, 12th dynasty

Next came the jewelry. Sobekneferu wore a broad beaded collar like the one her sister Princess Neferuptah wore. She also wore bracelets, and probably rings and earrings as well. Her sandals were of the finest leather and probably had images of Egypt's enemies on them so that every time she set her foot down, she stepped on her enemies.

What kind of headdress did Sobekneferu wear over the wig she sported in place of hair? A damaged statue of her shows her wearing the royal nemes headcloth. But she could also have chosen from a wide range of crowns and diadems.

Sobekneferu's breakfast probably consisted of the finest, freshest fruit and bread with dip. After breakfast, it was time for work.

The pharaoh had an army of advisers and high-ranking employees to help her run the country. Probably all of them were men. Most of Sobekneferu's day was taken up with meetings and deliberations about her building projects and the political and economic state of the country. She would also have received some petitioners in a royal audience hall.

At some point she would have taken a break for lunch, which probably included more fruit and bread with dip as well as vegetables and possibly fowl or some kind of meat or fish. Then she went back to her administrative duties.

Dinner was probably very similar. Perhaps Sobekeferu attended a feast that night. She would have dressed in her finest party clothes. If she wore a wig instead of a crown, she placed a cone of scented fat on top of her head. As the evening wore on, the fat would melt and run down, cooling her off and drenching her in a sweet smell.

Ancient Egyptian dinner party, 14th century BC


Musicians and dancers performed for pharaoh and her guests. The food was very rich--fowl, beef, vegetables, fruit, sugary desserts, and so on. The beer and wine flowed freely, and as the night wore on the party became more and more raucous. At Egyptian dinner parties, it was considered rude not to get drunk!

Late into the night, Sobekneferu stumbled off to her bedroom, probably more than a little tipsy herself. Her servants undressed her and bathed her once more before she climbed into her tall bed and fell asleep.

Not every day was fun, though. Being pharaoh was a job, and it was probably even harder if you were a woman, because some people would always be wary of you. If Sobekneferu was a good pharaoh, she spent most of her days working hard with others to make sure the country did well, and may have been stressed.

She had good cause to worry. A graffito from the third year of her four-year reign indicated the Nile only rose 1.83 meters, a dangerous low. That year, many people went hungry. Some of them probably starved or died of disease.

The morning after the party, Sobekneferu woke up and started the routine all over again. If she had a hangover from the night before, she couldn't let it stop her. She had a country to run.

2 comments:

  1. Ancient Egypt fascinates, from the lives of pharoahs to the herdsmen. Thanks for posting this.

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  2. Lisa, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. I've always loved learning about the daily lives of both the kings and commoners of ancient Egypt.

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