Egypt has been ruled by valiant men of power and authority, but there came a point when a queen, the female pharaoh Sobekneferu, actually led the country like a man. As the queen of the 12th dynasty, Sobekneferu (1760 – 1756 BC) served with all her might when her reigning father, Amenemhat III, ended his rule and her brother died shortly after ascending to the throne.
In this article, you get the chance to read a full account of the events that brought a female pharaoh on the throne of Egypt.
Who Was Sobekneferu?
Sobekneferu is recognized as the first female pharaoh of Egypt. Her name means “the Sobek is the beauty of Ra,” a unique meaning for the ruler of ancient Egypt.
As the younger daughter of Amenemhat III, Sobekneferu was not the first in line to the throne. It was her elder sister, Neferuptah, who was really groomed for the royal seat, but she died before the passing of her father. When also the son of the previous pharaoh, Amenemhat IV, died, Sobekneferu assumed the throne.
The priest Manetho was the most reliable person to attest to her royal appointment. Apparently, she did not want to be addressed as the king’s wife or the king’s consort. You can recount that she wanted to be called the female pharaoh of Egypt.
The Rise to the Throne of Sobekneferu
The demise of her brother, who was also her husband, left Sobekneferu with no choice but to ascend to the throne as the king of Egypt because they did not have a child. She came into power at the time Egypt needed a faithful king, like her father. Needless to say, her position as a pharaoh gave her the chance to be strong, which she displayed in full traditional queenly pride.
Although she was designated as a king, she did not try to portray herself as a man, which made her royal presence intriguing. Previous female rulers presented themselves as male rulers to avoid conflict with the people’s perceptions, but Sobekneferu was bold to reveal her real self before the nation.
The Image of Sobekneferu: Male or Female?
As we explained so far, Sobekneferu has made a brilliant name as one of the few queens who governed Egypt. She has also earned recognition for being the first queen to acquire a full royal protocol. Previous female pharaohs disguised themselves as men and were hesitant to disclose their female persona because the ruler’s position was predominantly occupied by men.
However, you can also notice that some of her images depict her wearing male clothing and emblems on her throne. Because of this, some contend that she was trying to present herself as male, but this could not be true because she also used female codes in her titles.
Nonetheless, there was an instance when she appeared in a sheath dress and a male kilt, then in a cloak with an intricate crown symbolizing a combination of the crowns of a king and a queen.
Historical researchers have tried to explain her appearance as an ambiguous bid to protect her royal title from her detractors, while some others believe that her style is an embodiment of her male persona as a king and her gender as a woman. They suggest that the popularity of the female rulers of Egypt was still ambivalent at her time.
Sobekneferu was observed to have ruled with determination, and she even built her own monuments as a woman of precise decisions and ingenuity. You can interestingly observe her deep connection with her father, particularly when she made a painting on the columns of the serekh of Amenemhat III. Clearly, this was an act that claimed legitimacy from the rule of Amenemhat III.
You should also know an interesting fact about this brave queen:
She was unveiled as the daughter of the pharaoh who saved Moses from the river and raised him in the palace. Whether this claim was right or not was insignificant in the history of Egypt.
As a fast learner and as a woman who was highly aware of the rules guiding leadership in Egypt, Sobekneferu learned the monarchy system with confidence. She ruled for approximately four years and was succeeded by Sobekhotep. You can see that her fate was short-lived, and she died with few legitimate records about her reign. However, we will share with you all that is known in the following section.
Queen Sobekneferu was poised to lead Egypt with a more open protocol. She is renowned as the queen who ruled Egypt like a king, at a time when the strength of the Middle Kingdom was waning. Anyway, this period was dominated by the popularity of Senusret III and Amenemhat III, who partially overshadowed this female pharaoh.
Senusret III commanded the military strategies in Nubia, Syria and Palestine, while Amenemhat III marshaled the development of Egypt and its diplomatic relations with neighboring countries.
For 45 years after that, King Amenemhat III secured a peaceful country until the end of his reign. He was succeeded by Amenemhat IV, who ruled for nine years. His term paved the way to the political scenario in Egypt in which Sobekneferu obtained the throne.
The Turin Royal Canon accorded her a reign of 3 year and 10 months. This text is also called the Turin King List and is the most comprehensive list of the kings who ruled Egypt from the time of Pharaoh Ramses II. In other parts of this account, Sobekneferu was credited for expanding the funerary complex of Amenemhat III and building constructions in Upper Egypt, particularly in Herakleopolis Magna.
How did Sobekneferu apply her royal power in Egypt?
Historical evidence demonstrated her leadership when the annual inundation of the Nile recorded one of its severe flooding in the third year of her regime. You could imagine how she had to present her strength as a king in times of natural disasters in Egypt, and might be glad to know that she succeeded.
Sobekneferu’s Royal Legacy
Although her reign was brief, Sobekneferu was able to produce references to her royal ascendancy as the first woman to rule Egypt. Researchers have discovered her inscription in the Eastern Desert records during the Season of the Emergence. Likewise, her name was written on a fine cylinder seal, which was made of glazed steatite.
You must know that she was also associated with the crocodile god Sobek and its mysterious character. Little has been known about this facet of her cult, but it is certain Sobekneferu embodied an enigmatic life as the first female pharaoh of Egypt.
Moreover, she was mentioned on the Karnak list of ancient kings of Egypt. She also appeared in several references, such as the Saqqara Tablet.
Nevertheless, she was notably missing from the list of kings of Abydos. Her absence on the list of acknowledged kings of Egypt was maybe due to the fact that, at the time the list was made, pharaoh were thought to be the earthly version of the male god Horus.
You might wonder what happened to her tomb. So far, we have no confirmed information, and researchers have failed to identify the exact location of the royal tomb.
Some archeologists claim that a ruined pyramid somewhere near the burial complex of Amenemhat IV at Mazghuna belongs to her while others disagree, believing that her royal tomb may not have been discovered yet.
Sobekneferu, the Egyptian queen who was famous for her royal combination of male and female dresses as the pharaoh of Egypt, was also believed to be buried in one of the unidentified pyramids in the northern part of ancient Egypt.
It is assumed that she died in 1802 BC without an heir to the throne. Some people have attested that it is difficult to identify her tomb because she was separated from the lists of male kings.
In short, although Sobekneferu was one of the most formidable women in the world, there is no hard evidence of the location of her remains. However, the lack of significant data to represent her reign does not diminish the reputation of Sobekneferu as the first queen to rule Egypt without concealing her gender.
As the female pharaoh, Sobekneferu was expected to protect Egypt from her rivals and secure national sovereignty vis-à-vis natural calamities and neighboring enemies. She was the daughter of Amenemhat III, who inherited the throne when her brother and husband, Amenemhat IV, the rightful heir to the throne, died.
When she succeeded to the throne, she did not want to be called the king’s wife or the queen consort alone. She managed to be recognized as the first female king of Egypt. History was written with that staunch determination to lead the cradle of human civilization.
To understand her persona, you should know that her name was associated with the daughter of Ra, Sobekneferu, the Lord of Shedet who gave all life. As the last ruler of the 12th dynasty of Egypt, Sobekneferu proved that leadership was meant for men and women of courage.