Monday, February 18, 2008

A Female Guard of Pharaoh Teti

Whoa! Okay, called me warped. Tonight is the grande finale of Bruno and Carrie Ann's Dance Wars, oooohhhh hhhaaaaa! And later, Pussycat Dolls start a new show "Girlicious". How can I resist? I've got a ham bone a mile long, always to be on the stage but I have absolutely no talent for dancing and, at my age darlings, I'm excusing myself from being sexy. Spunky is mostly what I manage these days...

So, tonight I'm splitting my time between doing the blog, research, and watching the shows.

BUT - you've just got to read this. I came across it entirely by accident as I was looking for information on Arabian battle queens. It's from Ancient Times Discussion Board under the topic Women in the Ancient World/ancient women and professions (this part of the Board hasn’t had a new post since 2005):

The latest Bulletin from the Australian Centre for Egyptology arrived today. It includes a little article that’s just right for this thread. This is the story of a woman of the Egyptian Old Kingdom who held a job not usually associated with women until the 20th Century CE. It’s also a story that might involve treason, retribution and a reward for loyalty. Does it sound interesting? Before we can get to the story of our lady we have to talk about the Old Kingdom in Egypt. Hang on. I think you’ll be happy.

Teti was the first King of Dynasty 6. Around his tomb he established a small but elite cemetery for members of his court. High position wouldn’t necessarily get a courtier a place in Teti’s cemetery. Loyal, personal service to the Royal Family just might do it. That seems to be the case of a humble lady known as Merinebti.

In the whole Teti cemetery uncovered so far, only 3 women have tombs of their own. One is Nedjetempet whose son married the King’s daughter. Another woman with a private tomb is a priestess of Hathor who was probably buried later that Teti’s time. It’s easy to see how Nedjetempet rated a tomb of her own. Merinebti’s tomb is a different story. The highest title the lady ever held was ‘guard’. The mystery is compounded by the fact that her tomb was taken from a man of much higher position.

The Old Kingdom title ‘guard wasn’t a high position but it was an honorable one. It isn’t clear exactly what their duties were but the term may refer to bodyguards for the royal family. In such a position it’s likely that royalty and humble folk saw each other on a daily basis. Perhaps the King could relax with his guard. He had to know them well. They were responsible for his life. They very well may have exchanged jokes.

As in modern law enforcement, the position of guard tended to run in families. Old Kingdom titles weren’t hereditary but we know of fathers and sons or groups of brothers who were all guards. We even know of one, Khufuankh, whose parents were both guards. Not many women held the position but female guards did exist.

We know nothing about Merinebti’s family or life except that she was probably in her 50s when she died. Why should an obscure female guard be given a coveted place in Teti’s cememtery? Why was her tomb taken from someone else?

The tomb in which Merinebti was buried originally belonged to Mereri, who held such titles as "overseer of weapons" and "Superintendent of the King’s house". He must have been a powerful man. He also must have done something horrible to have his tomb taken from him and his name erased. In the same area of the cemetery the tomb of the Vizier Hesi suffered a similar fate. Could both men have been involved in the same disgrace?

A key may be Mereri’s title "overseer of weapons". In the Old Kingdom there was no real army to speak of. In time of need local nobles were expected to provide troops for the King. Weapons were fairly rare. Even scenes of the King hunting in the desert show his bodyguards armed with sticks instead of something more lethal. An overseer of weapons could do a lot of mischief if he so chose.

Manetho claims that Teti was assassinated by his bodyguards. There’s really nothing to support this but it helps our story. Say Teti really was assassinated by plotters supplied with arms by Mereri and supported by the Vizier Hesi. Teti’s son Pepi I exacts justice with an iron hand. He imposes the worst possible punishment on the murderers of his father by depriving them of their tombs and obliterating their names. Perhaps Merenibti was the one who uncovered the plot. What better thanks than to reward her with the Overseer of weapons’ tomb?

Of course, we’ll never know. That little scenario is pure speculation. All we have is the tantalizing fact of a humble female guard buried in a tomb taken from a man of very high status. Ain’t speculation grand?

This post is a recap of : Kanawati, Naguib. "A Female Guard Buried in the Teti Cemetery" IN: BULLETIN OF THE AUSTRALIAN CENTER FOR EGYPTOLOGY. V.12 (2001) p.65-70.

I tried to locate further information online about Merinebti, but I found no images and no details from the excavation. I did find this:

From Wikipedia:

Dr. Naguib Kanawati is the founder, in 1989, of the Australian Centre for Egyptology, which coordinates all Australian excavations in Egypt with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Reports: 17) Naguib Kanawati & Mahmoud Abder-Raziq, with contributions by L. Horácková, Ann McFarlane, T.H. Schmidt-Schultz, M. Schultz, Sameh Shafik, Eugen Strouhal, Elizabeth Thompson, Naguib Victor and Roxie Walker, The Teti Cemetery at Saqqara, Volume VII: The Tombs of Shepsipuptah, Mereri (Merinebti), Hefi and Others, (Warminster, 2001). ISBN 0-85668-806-1.

I also found this fascinating bit of information about a lady I assume is Mereri's wife (the disgraced official who gave up his tomb to Merinebti). Now, it could be that this is a different Mereri - on the other hand, the website I got this information noted that the tomb was from the Old Kingdom. Teti was the first Pharaoh of Dynasty 6 of the Old Kingdom and his son, Pepi, was one of the longest ruling Pharaohs ever. This Mereri's wife was a priestess of Hathor. I don't think it's a coincidence:

The red scarf was worn as a part of the costume for priestesses of Het-Hert during the Old Kingdom. It is a long, narrow piece of fabric that is tied around the neck with its ends trailing down the back like streamers. It was also worn by dancers, though draped in a different way.

Outside the Old Kingdom mastaba tomb of Mereri at Saqqara there is a false door of his wife Nebet (aka Ibi), a priestess of Het-Hert. The false door of a tomb is the place where the Seen and Unseen Worlds connect, allowing the ka of the deceased to partake of the offerings placed there by loving relatives.

The carved relief from this false door shows Nebet wearing a long scarf and carrying two cloth sacks and two sistra (one of which is sticking out of the sack on the right). It looks as if she also might be wearing a menat necklace around her neck. One of her titles was "Priestess of Het-Hert in all Her Places."

It seems that Pharaoh Pepi was merciful and did not have the name of Mereri's wife erased from eternity forever, as he might have done as a punishment for Mereri. (By the way, I believe the red scarf on the false door carving was emphasized by Photoshopping).

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...