Warrior Woman: Queen Ahhotep of Egypt

Sarcophagus of Queen Ahhotep.
Photo by Theodule Deveria. (source)
I'm starting a new ongoing series about warrior women of history. Many ancient women were not content to sit at home and wait for wars to end. They became military leaders. Some even took part in battle. Some of the women I'll be featuring are famous, but many are virtually unknown to people who work outside specific fields of history. I'm proud to present to you a little-known warrior woman who was the mother of a famous dynasty: Ahhotep of Egypt.

Ahhotep lived during a turbulent period of Egyptian history, so different scholars have different interpretations of how she fits into the family sequence. I'm going with the interpretation set forth by Aidan Dodson and Dyan Hilton in The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt.

Ahhotep was born into the ruling family of Thebes (in southern Egypt) in the 16th century BC. During this time, which is known as the Second Intermediate Period, Egypt was fragmented. Northern Egypt had fallen under the control of Asiatic invaders known as the Hyksos. Ahhotep's family wanted to reunite the Two Lands, and they sacrificed at least two sons in this venture.

Ahhotep was married to her brother, Seqenenra Taa II. Along with their two sisters, who were also Seqenenra's wives, they fathered a brood of children, almost all of them named Ahmose. Seqenenra's skull is riddled with gashes that are shaped like Hyksos ax blades, so most likely he died in battle.

Seqenenra was succeeded by a man named Kamose, who was probably his brother. Apparently Seqenenra's sons were all too young to succeed him. Kamose was also married to a lady named Ahhotep, who may have been his brother's sister-wife. Kamose too died after several years.

The next king to take the throne was Ahhotep's son Ahmose I. Ahmose was still a child, so Ahhotep served as his regent until he came of age. Once Ahmose was grown, he resumed the fight against the Hyksos and ultimately expelled them from the country.

Ahhotep is the first Egyptian woman known to have held the important religious role of God's Wife of Amun. The God's Wife was a powerful priestess chosen from among the royal women. This title was inscribed on her coffin.

Weapons and jewelry of Ahhotep. (source)
Also found at Ahhotep's burial were several battle axes and swords, as well as the Golden Flies of Valor.
These fly necklaces were normally awarded to warriors who had acquitted themselves well in battle. A stela set up in Karnak by her son declares that Ahhotep took decisive military action, probably after the death of one of her husbands. It mentions specific steps she took to restore order, such as rounding up fugitives and deserters and driving out rebels. Given the flies and weapons found in her burial, Ahmose's stela might not be just a pious tribute to his beloved mother. Did Ahhotep take part in battle rather than just rally the troops? We have no way of knowing, but I think she did.

Ahhotep mothered a dynasty of powerful warrior kings who ruled a rich and powerful empire. Her female descendants too enjoyed a great deal of religious and political power. One of them, Hatshepsut, even became a female king. I think Hatshepsut may have been partly inspired by her illustrious great-grandmother.

Ahhotep must have been a woman with a strong and charismatic character. She was the wife of two kings and the mother of a third. She took control after the death of one of her husbands and may even have led troops into battle. No doubt the power she enjoyed made it possible for later women in her family to hold powerful positions as well. More people remember Hatshepsut than Ahhotep. But if Ahhotep had not lead her people at a critical time in their history, Hatshepsut may never have become king.

Further Reading
Dodson, Aidan, and Dyan Hilton. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004. Print.
Robins, Gay. Women in Ancient Egypt. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993. Print.
Tyldesley, Joyce. Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh. London: Penguin Books, 1996. Print.

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