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Merneith (c. 2925 BCE)

Updated: Jan 17

First Female Ruler in Human History

Reign: Egypt from 2939–2929 BC

Merneith was a queen of Ancient Egypt during the First Dynasty. Her name means 'Beloved by Neith'. Neith was an important deity in the Early Dynastic Period and revered as a warrior and funerary goddess and the patron of weaving, in particular the linen used for mummy bandages. Merneith lived during the Archaic Period of Egypt, between 3100 and 2686 BC. She was the wife of King Djet and the mother of King Den, one of the first pharaohs of unified Egypt. Merneith may have ruled Egypt in her own right for almost a decade making her the first female ruler of Egypt and possibly the world. Queen Merneith’s name is named in the famous Palermo Stone that states the list of kings of early Egypt.

Palermo Stone

Merneith was the first documented queen regent. When her husband died, she stepped into power on behalf of her young son. She shepherded her son to the throne and insured stability in Egypt. Although her royal reign is still debated, evidence confirms Merneith ascended Egypt's throne and had independent autonomy. For example, she is the only First Dynasty queen to have two tombs, in Saqqara and Abydos. Her Saqqara tomb still carries magnificent inscriptions and artistic details and was surrounded with smaller tombs of her workers to serve her after death.

In 1900, the Egyptologist Flinders Petrie examined Queen Merneth's tomb, which was one of the best-preserved tombs in the area. Inside the tomb with an overall size of 19.2m x 16.3m, there was a solar boat pit (empty) but it was 17.8 m (58ft) long and it was large enough to have held a real boat. Her tomb was constructed in the shape of a house or mastaba. It was extraordinary, like a palace with many rooms and doorways. Next to her large tomb, there were several burials of her servants. As many as 41 males and 77 female servants had to follow her on her journey into the afterlife. The size of her tomb confirms her importance and her rule. Unfortunately, her tomb was plundered and the history of Queen Merneith is incomplete.

Stele with Merneith's name

Merneith's royal name was written down on a stele found at her son’s King Den’s tomb. The stele includes the name of Merneith as one of first dynasty rulers.

During Merneith's reign the harvests were very plentiful; thus, Egypt experienced a great deal of development and economic boom. Her diplomatic policies with neighboring nations also prevented unnecessary wars and internal conflict in the kingdom. During her decade long reign, she brought about a great deal of development to Egyptian the empire.

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