Nefertari's Religious Role
Queen Nefertari presenting offerings to the goddess Hathor.
Queen Nefertari played a significant role in the religious life of New Kingdom Egypt. Due to her numerous titles, her significance in religious ceremonies and rituals is recognised. The queen was seen as someone who was linked directly to the gods, much like the pharaoh. This is portrayed through the regalia that was worn by queens during this time.
The relief (pictured below) is a clear example of Nefertari's involvement in Egypt's religious life. As Hathor is the goddess of fertility, it could be speculated that the reason Nefertari is consistently shown presenting offerings to her is because she is praying for the birth of a son to be an heir to Ramesses II.
Queen Nefertari commonly wore a vulture headdress, either alone or topped by the solar disk and double plumes, which was originally worn by the vulture goddess Nekhbet. This crown was associated with the goddess Isis in a relief depicting Nefertari's father in law, Seti I making an offering to the god. This resulted in Nefertari being personally associated with Isis as well as the queen-deity Ahmose-Nefertari.
Ahmose-Nefertari was deemed the first queen to receive the title of God's Wife of Amun, courtesy of her husband, King Ahmose. This was the first time that a position with such economic and religious power had been given to a woman. The role of God's Wife of Amun dictated that the god's wife had to play her sistrum before the god in order to placate his impending anger and to stimulate him in her role as god's hand to keep the fertility of the world from wavering. This resulted in the deification of Ahomse-Nefertari.
Most depictions of Nefertari, wife of Ramesses II show her wearing the same headdress as Ahmose-Nefertari, thus indicating that she was likely to have done so to make a clear connection with Ahmose-Nefertari. Mary Abram, in her article, 'The Power Behind the Crown: Messages Worn By Three New Kingdom Egyptian Queens" suggests that Nefertari's constant donning of the headdress is indicative of her "willingness to conform to and even perpetuate established Egyptian ideals." Essentially, Abram is saying that Nefertari did not deviate from the expectations placed upon her as queen of Egypt and that she was willing to carry out her traditional duties.
"To her countrymen, Nefertari's name no doubt evoked a wealth of positive associations, above all with the memory of Ahmose-Nefertari, the founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty... it was probably intentional that Nefertari's chose headdress - a vulture surmounted by double plumes - was also the headdress favoured by Ahmose-Nefertari." (McDonald, The Tomb of Nefertiti, 15)
This quote indicates the link that Nefertari chose to make with Ahmose-Nefertari in order to command the same respect that Ahmose-Nefertari was granted as a result of her position in Egypt at the time. The headdress is symbolic of the rise of women in religious roles in New Kingdom Egypt and appears to be something that Queen Nefertari wished to promote during the reign of her husband.
Queen Nefertari has also been dubbed "the living manifestation of the goddess Hathor" and served as the chief priestess. Keeping within her duties as God's Wife of Amun, Nefertari is depicted in a relief with Ramesses II, standing behind him shaking the sacred sistra that are affiliated with Hathor. This scene shows Nefertari completing her duties as the wife of the pharaoh and the fact that she was privileged enough to be present during a religious ceremony with the pharaoh is indicative of the importance of her religious role.
Nefertari's religious role is further seen through Ramesses II's dedication of a temple to her solely and one to her and Hathor at Abu Simbel. It has been speculated that she was in fact deified and worshipped at these temples. However historians have suggested that she would not have been worshipped outside of these temples.
Nefertari's religious significance is only heightened through the depictions of her with Ramesses II at the rock shrine of Gebel el-Silsila. Here she is shown as a religious officiant where she is portrayed as "appeasing the gods". The scene demonstrates Nefertari's importance, as it was generally the king in his role as chief priest who would make such offerings.
Nefertari's contribution to Egypt through religion was immense. She, as previously mentioned, is depicted all over Egypt on shrines and in temples, presenting offerings to various gods. This demonstrates that she exercised her title of God's Wife if Amun and the epithet "who satisfies the gods" in order to ensure the prosperity and well being of the nation through placating the gods and thus ensuring their kindness. As she was chief priestess, she had the power to perform many religious rites and ceremonies and has been shown in reliefs on the walls of her tomb to have a large role in the festival of Min, the ceremony that celebrated the long rule of the pharaoh which was extremely important in ancient times.
Furthermore, through her title of God's Wife of Amun, Nefertari had the power to uphold maat in Egypt, that is upholding order and tranquility throughout the nation. This was done by performing a ritual with the king and offering maat to other gods to emphasise that the pharaoh was maintaing peace and order. This was said to legitimise the king in the "eyes of the ruled".
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