God´s Wife of Amun; The Divine Adoratrice
The first time this title appears is in the 10th and 12th Dynasties. (Shafer, p 14) It was then held by non-royal women serving Min, Amun and Ptah.
Later, in the beginning of the New Kingdom, it was held by the wife of the king and sometimes the mother of the king. Often it was used in preference to the title of King's Great Wife. The first royal person carrying this title was the wife of Ahmose I, queen Ahmose Nefertari (c. 1470-1505 BC) who passed it on the her daughter Meritamun. From her it was handed to Hatshepsut who held this title before she ascended the throne. Then she had to let go of it and passed it on to her daughter Neferure. From these days onward the title was exclusively used in the cult of Amun, and from the reign of Thutmose III to Thutmose IV the God's Wife of Amun was held by women who married into the royal family only.
A title called 'Divine Adoratrice' (Gr) or duat netjer (ancient Egyptian) also developed alongside of the title of God´s Wife during the New Kingdom. It was held by the daughter of the high priest of Amun under Hatshepsut ( 1473-1458 b.c.) and under Thutmose III (1479-1425 b.c.) by the mother of the great royal spouse. At this time it´s power was much diminished and during the Third Intermediate it was held together with the title of God's Wife of Amun.
In the 19th dynasty it was reinstated but seems not to have any greater importance attached. Ramses VI, (1143-1136) bestowed on his daughter Aset both the title of God's Wife and of Divine Adoratrice, thereby turning it into a political post. From then on it was held by the king's daughter, who therefore became a celibate priestess, barred from marrying, and probably having much political power. Instead they adopted a successor, preferably the daughter of the next king, to ensure the office stayed where the power was. The office now held great religious and political responsibility and prestige in Thebes and was a means for the king to ensure this power, and at the same time prevent an elder daughter from marrying possible claimants to the throne. This made the God's Wife the highest ranking of Amun's 'concubines', which were all virgins and all with adopted successors.
During the 25th and 26th dynasties (747-525 b.c.) the office of god's wife of Amun was at its height politically and economically and was often combined with that of the chief of the priestesses of Amun at Thebes and in southern Egypt. It was during this time held by princesses from the ruling family in Tanis in Lower Egypt, as a means to secure peaceful relations with the Delta area. It included an 'oracle' function, through which political decisions were sanctioned as coming from God.
At Medinet Habu, by the eastern gate, are 'chapel-tombs' where several God's Wife of Amun from the 25th and 26th Dynasties were buried; Shepenwepet II, Amenirdis I, (adopted by the former, and a sister of Shabaka, 716-702) Shepenwepet III and Mehitenweseket. There is also one Amenirdis II who was adopted by Shepenwepet II in the reign of Psamtek (664-525). She is not buried there though, but here is an unbroken line of adopted successions to the office of God's Wife of Amun.
The 26th (Saite) Dynasty still kept its hold over Thebes thanks to a great lady by name Ankhesneferibre, daughter of Psammeticus II and adopted by the Divine Adoratrice Nitocris. She took up her office in 584 BC and held it fore almost 60 years.
For a long time it was thought that the role of God's Wife referred to the myth of the divine birth of the king, wherein the queen was impregnated by Amun-Re to give birth to the next king. However, there were queens who were mothers to kings without having this title, namely the mother of Hatshepsut and the mother of Amenhotep III. So the god's wife was a priestly office, first associated with royalty in the reign of Ahmose I, beginning with his queen Ahmose Nefertari. Since then royal women included the title in their titularies and were even depicted without any of the insignia of a queen. But
This is an alternative title for God's Wife, which supposedly refers to the hand with which the Creator god masturbated to produce Shu and Tefnut. The word 'hand' is feminine in ancient Egyptian and therefore was easily personified as a goddess. So it is thought that these two titles God's Wife and God's Hand most likely had sexual connotations. Perhaps the meaning was to stimulate the creator god sexually (by ritual?) so that he would keep his fertility and thereby cause the world to be recreated. While we don't know what this meant in temple practise, we do know that it was forbidden to engage in sexual activities in the temple or on the temple premises.
There are scenes in the chapelle rouge, a shrine erected by Hatshepsut at Karnak, where the God's Wife and a male priest is seen facing each other and holding a firebrand, next scene shows the God's Wife turning away and perhaps lighting a brazier (partially damaged). Next, the God's Wife and the priest face each other again, now holding semicircular fans on long handles, with images of bound captives on them. The last scene, also damaged, shows the queen once again turned away from the priest, now perhaps to burn the image of the captive in the lit brazier. There exist other evidence of such rituals for destroying names or images of enemies of the country.
There are other scenes elsewhere, where the God's Wife is seen partaking in worshipping the gods, entering the sacred lake for purification, and following the king into the sanctuary. What we know is that when the king was absent, a deputy priest had the responsibility to take care of the rites. What is not known is if the God's Wife performed these rites if the king was absent.
Along with the office of God's Wife went land holdings and a staff of male officials for administration, as well as possibly also musicians associated with he cult of Amun. This brought quite some authority with it and often the title God's Wife of Amun was preferred to other royal titles like 'King's Wife', 'Great Royal Spouse', 'King's Principal Wife'or 'King's Mother. Often queens chose only one of their titulary, and this became a significant one. Ahmose Nefertari seemed to have mostly chosen the title of God's Wife of Amun. Hatshepsut seems to have kept it when she became regent for Thutmose III and Robins (p 150) suggests that the title was so important that this was a means to gather authority for Hatshepsut before she claimed the throne. Her daughter Neferure used the title in the same way as her mother, which might tell us that its' importance was meant to continue. However, during the rule of Thutmose II, it greatly diminished in importance and we have to look for the 25th and the 26th Dynasties to see it rise to same heights again.
After the title became associated with royalty, it became part of the titulary, and often used at occasions when royal insignia were worn. In a few depictions we can see royal women wearing only the priestly attire: a sheath dress which was sometimes tied at the waist, a short wig, a thin fillet knotted at the back of the head and with the loose ends hanging down. This dress is reminding of the one worn by priestesses in the Middle Kingdom.
The office of God's Wife remained, except for some intervals, an important one, after the 18th Dynasty the priestly attire disappears almost totally, in favor of the queenly insignia. From the reign of Ramesses VI, the God's Wife was a king's daughter rather than the wife of a king, but she was still wearing queenly insignia. At this time she is also seen performing the same rituals as had been the king's prerogative until this time and we find her offering and presenting Ma'at to the gods, and also the gods are seen purifying her and offering her life. She was shown almost as a double to the king, her name and titularies imitated the king's.
The Priests of Ancient Egypt - Serge Sauneron
Temples of Ancient Egypt - ed: Byron E. Shafer
The Ancient Egyptians - A. Rosalie David, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1982.
People of the Pharaohs by Hilary Wilson, Michael O´Mara Books Ltd, London 1997.